An Ogre Needs Saving

My good friend and writer, Rebecca Williams, has written a lovely short story for a guest post this week!  If you enjoy her story, you can find out more here.

 

“Help!” 

Vivvy tripped backwards when a large brown eye filled the window. She caught herself before knocking over the stack of bandages and crashing into IV poles.

“Hello?” she asked to the eye that fixed on her. 

“Help!” 

Vivvy observed the rumbling voice and the wart above the eyelid. An ogre.

Drawing closer to the window, she called out: “LARGE mythical folk can seek attention at the GIANT’S ward on the other side. We regretfully cannot accommodate you here.” As she spoke, she motioned to the room—tiny by ogre standards, filled with beds for small patients.

“Closed,” the ogre said, and his eye blinked. Her trained ears heard pain in that voice. She pulled back the curtain further and peered out to assess her unusually large patient, and the nurse smelled the injury before she could see it: ogre blood stank worse than ogre sweat. There, on his left leg, a bandage oozed with patches of sticky brown ogre blood. 

“Your leg!”  

The night visitor stepped back so Vivvy could see both his eyes, which now stared at the ground.

“Gimbly Mountain,” he mumbled. 

“Gimbly Mountain—but that’s covered in bittersnag.” Vivvy looked now at the wound in horror. The ogre’s expression told Vivvy he already knew the lethality of the mountain’s spiny plant.

“Help,” he said again. 

Vivvy’s hands went to her hips. “Yes, but—I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Paul the Ogre.” Ogres in those parts had simple names. 

“Right, Paul, the only cure for bittersnag is oil from the scales of a behemoth.” 

Paul nodded, hope shining in his large eyes. Vivvy looked from one to the other because at such close range she couldn’t look at both at the same time.

“I found behemoth. I take you.” Without further explanation, Paul the Ogre reached inside the window and grasped Vivvy with two fingers, lifting her out of the ward and into his hand. 

Vivvy stifled a scream. “No, no, don’t take me,” she protested. The tiny nurse had been punched and kicked by patients, but none had attempted to do her so much harm as take her to a behemoth. Behemoths filled the folklore of the Balsam Woodmarsh, a forested wetland with firs and vines. Marshes interlaced the valleys between the mountainsides. Though undeniably real, the monstrous creatures slipped in and out of deeper streams with such stealth that they lurked out of view. People shared stories and fables of the beasts in fervent whispers. Preferring the valley though, behemoths never climbed to the mountaintops where most woodland creatures lived, and Vivvy hadn’t heard of a behemoth sighting in years. 

“W-where?” she asked as she struggled to get out of Paul’s grip. With limping strides, his long legs distanced them from the hospital at an alarming rate. She could have called for help, but the hospital sat on the rim of an outpost facing the jungle forest. No one would hear her. 

“In valley. I show you.” The ogre swung his arms back and forth as he lunged ahead, and Vivvy grew dizzy. 

“Why me?” She turned her head to watch the hospital lights grow dim behind them.

Paul the Ogre grunted. “You get scale and heal wound.” 

The little nurse squeaked. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t collect medicine. Sprites do. We chispas work in the hospital.”

“Chi-spa help me.”

“Chee-spa,” she corrected, sounding it out. 

“Sprites not here,” he added, and Vivvy frowned. Her luminescent wings flickered on her back. That morning, the medical sprites had left to gather eel’s tooth, a plant that bloomed one night a year on the eastern side of Hale Mountain. Meanwhile, the other chispas slept in their dorm inside the outpost—now perhaps half a mile already behind them, and she alone covered the night shift of their empty ward that evening.

“Couldn’t you get it?” she asked, trying to squirm out of Paul’s grip as they took a sharp descent. An ogre seemed a better match for a behemoth. 

With his free hand, Paul motioned to his size and then to hers without breaking a step. “Behemoth notice Paul. Behemoth not notice you. You fly and get scale without behemoth notice.” 

Vivvy’s palms broke into a sweat, and she fingered her wings behind her back. Fly? With her left wing damaged, she could no longer soar over the mountains like she once had. Now, she could only hover. She hadn’t met Paul before though, so he didn’t know. 

“Please?” asked Paul. They had already covered far too much ground for the kidnapped nurse’s comfort. How far away was this behemoth? Vivvy knew from nursing school that only fresh oil of behemoth scale would heal bittersnag wounds that could overtake victims within hours. Paul would not survive the wait for the sprites’ return.

For several minutes, Vivvy searched her mind for any excuse, but before she could answer, Paul dove to his belly on the soft marshy ground in the valley that seemed 1000 spans from her safe hospital ward. They had descended her mountain and breached the border of a marsh. He caught her eyes and nodded ahead. Her gaze followed until she saw the outline of a shadowy colossus in the marsh, rising up like a small mountain from the ground. She stifled another scream. 

“Behemoth smell blood. Paul stay here.” He then opened his hand as if expecting her to fly off towards the behemoth without hesitation. But Vivvy did hesitate. 

“Paul, I can’t fly,” she said, red-hot heat flushing her face.

“You fly. I believe.” 

Vivvy wavered on his palm. If only it were that easy. In her mind, she could hear the soft chime of the hospital ward’s clock as if she stood next to it, reminding her that Paul had an hour—maybe two before the poison would overtake him. Too choked to speak, she unfolded her butterfly-shaped wings and began to beat them, the soft whir imperceptible to larger creatures like Paul or the behemoth. Hesitating one more time, she looked at Paul and saw hope still lighting up his face. She sighed.

Vivvy lifted herself above his palm, hovering, but only hovering. She didn’t know how she was going to fly UP to a behemoth, but dredging an ounce of courage from somewhere in her faltering heart, she turned and moved out over the shallow water, refusing to look back at the safe, dry spot on Paul’s hand. 

No other noise filled the marsh; behemoths scared away even the crickets, and the beast’s large shadow took form as she approached. Closer, closer—she could see the glint of scales in the moonlight. The beast’s body loomed twenty times larger than Paul’s. She could hear the hum of deeper water on the other side of the beast, which appeared to be asleep next to the marsh’s outlet where it could easily slip into the dark waters that plumbed the unknown depths of their valley. 

Trembling, Vivvy hovered towards its face. Thick crusty scales along the backs of behemoths yielded less oil—enough for a dozen little folks and perhaps enough for a dwarf, but certainly not an ogre. The best scales for oil lay above a behemoth’s eyes. Vivvy knew from textbook sketches were to look, and sure enough, there in the starlight, she could see brown scales with a bluish tint of softness on its brow. 

I’m a nurse, I help people. I’m a nurse, I help people, she repeated in her head as she came to the edge where water met the snout of the behemoth at rest. With all her might, she beat her wings and gained perhaps an inch of height over the water. She tried again, another inch. Again, another inch. The tiny chispa inched until she reached the level of the bluish scales. Edging closer, straining to keep her height, she stretched out her arms between the behemoth’s closed eyes and touched the closest scale. 

Fearfully, she glanced at the eyes. Neither one flickered. Taking all the care she could, Vivvy wrapped her fingers on either side of the scale as tall as she was and pulled. Such scales did not give easily. Yet something from her learning told her to shift the scale to the left and then upward. As she did, beating her wings and willing them not to lose her altitude, the hard scale loosened. Vivvy pulled it back with one swift break and clasped it close to her chest in disbelief that she held a genuine behemoth scale, fresh from the very beast’s forehead. Its absence left a miniscule opening on the large brow, and for a moment, the trained nurse looked for any broken skin that could risk infection, and thankfully, she found none. Her concerns for the predator were interrupted however when both enormous eyelids popped open, and the behemoth’s eyes clapped on her. 

Vivvy stopped breathing, certain she was about to die. Behemoths notoriously left no attacker alive. 

Its eyes shifted between her and the stolen scale. 

As Vivvy’s anxiety turned to panic, she saw the creature focus on her wings. They were unique in size and shape, larger than wings of sprites who normally hunted such animals for their scales. Their butterfly shape and iridescent color glimmered in her hovering movements and reflected dim moonlight in the darkness. 

The behemoth snuffed and exhaled a hot breath she could feel around her feet, and she wondered why it didn’t strike. Could she get awayNo. With the heavy scale, she couldn’t fly fast, if at all. 

Interrupting her thoughts, the behemoth rose back on its haunches, scooping her up on its rough nose and towering above the tree line. Its eyes never moved from the chispa, and Vivvy stood fearful and still. Then the creature’s tail curled to one side. Glancing at the movement, she noticed a scar stretching down its thigh. Only two things leave scars on behemoths—the claws of another behemoth, the damage of which can be life threatening, and the treatment of snarffle root that can heal the behemoth’s tough skin. 

Snarffle root grows on mountaintops though. How had the valley-bound behemoth gotten there? 

Glancing between the eyes and scar, Vivvy wondered if she truly grasped the gesture. The behemoth must have had help. Had it been from another chispa? The beast seemed to recognize her wings, and she wondered if he was trying to tell her something.

Vivvy nodded, to let it know she understood (perhaps). With the delicacy of one trying to slip away from death, she beat her wings until she hovered again. Meeting the behemoth’s gaze, she backed away, high above the marshy ground, and the mythical beastly creature made no move to stop her. 

Further and further she retreated until she was halfway back to Paul, still at the height of the behemoth’s eyes. At that point, the creature blinked, lowered itself to the ground, and rolled into the deep waters beside its resting spot. She saw the water ripple outward from its exit. Signs of the behemoth disappeared as shallow marsh water filled the impressions of where the beast had slept. 

Quivering, she watched the empty space for a moment until she remembered the scale gripped in her arms, its scentless oil clinging to her hands and tunic. Spinning around, she hurried back to Paul the Ogre and his poisoned wound. With such an abundant amount of the cure, they should have just enough time to stop the poison and save his life. 

Dragon Sight

I am not ashamed to say that I did not go quietly to my death.  

I bucked, kicked, and fought all the way down the gilded hallways with their velvet draperies and marble statues.  I caught one guard squarely in the shin as we passed under the baleful ruby gaze of the stone dragon that stood sentinel outside the hidden room.  The guard cursed me as the dragon seemed to mock me in the otherwise deserted corridor. The guard smacked the back of my head hard enough my eyeballs nearly left their sockets.  Chuckling, he a button on the bottom of a sconce.  With my head still spinning, I was dragged from opulence into the dank shadows of a secret cave.

            Once my vision cleared, my chest heaved, and my nostrils flared.  Before me stood King Hiclyr and his wretched daughter, Princess Marguerite.  

            All my life, I’d been told the Creator had blessed me to so closely resemble Renvale’s beautiful princess. I never gave it a second thought until I was stolen away in the dead of night to take her place as the Dragon Sacrifice.  

            The Sacrifice took place every ten years.  Every girl in the kingdom aged thirteen to twenty-one had their name entered.  I thought I was safe.  There was no way I could have foreseen this treachery.  Ice ran through my veins.

            “Be still,” Hiclyr said.  “The Dragon will not want his prize bruised.”

            I spat at him.  Wrym.  He wiped his face disdainfully.  

            He clapped once.  A timid maid rushed from the shadows into the circle of light cast by the torch bracketed on the wall.  

“Make sure she is Marguerite before she leaves this tunnel.”  His voice was hard like granite.

            My gaze landed on the princess.  We’d been friends once.  Some deep place inside me understood why this was happening.  We had all lost someone we’d once loved to the Dragon.  The King had lost his son, Marguerite had lost her brother, and I had lost my best friend.  Hiclyr was desperate to save his remaining child.  

But this was wrong.  

It was wrong to steal me away.  Wrong to sacrifice me instead.  Not because my sacrifice wouldn’t be worthy, but because my sacrifice wouldn’t be enough.  If I went instead of the girl rightfully chosen by lot, King Hyclir would break the treaty that had existed between the Kingdom of Renvale and the Dragon Lords for over a century.  It would bring open war down upon us if ever discovered.

            So, while I was here, I’d use every means within my power to fight for my life.  But if I couldn’t escape before dawn light lit the sky, I’d have to put on the performance of a lifetime to save my people and my country.  At the expense of my own life.

            The next hours were full of forced pampering.  I was scrubbed, washed, shaved, styled, and put into a dress with a ridiculous number of pleats.  But at the end when they stood us together—the princess and the falconer’s daughter—even I had trouble telling us apart. 

            I fought like a banshee as the guards once more took my arms.  Thrashing and digging in my heels did no good as the soft satin of my slippers tore against the rough floor.  The guard cracked the door open and weak sunlight filtered in.

            I bit the inside of my lip hard enough I tasted blood.  There was nothing more I could do but continue the ruse.  I prayed it would be enough to save my kingdom—save my family.

            On wobbling legs, I stumbled to the wooden platform raised on the beach beside the castle.  The ocean’s waves lapped calmly, lending me their strength with their soothing swooshes.  Terror seized me as memory flooded my mind with images I’d refused to acknowledge for the past ten years.  Fire, gaping teeth, blood, smoke, screams, and Daniel’s face as he’d been caught in the crossfire.  I relived the Dragon’s teeth closing over his body, taking him from me forever.

            A sob choked out and I would have fallen to the ground had the guards not been holding me.  My friend.  And now I would meet the same fate.

            The ropes cut into my wrists as they tied me to the stake.  The drums beat, the wind howled, the waves began crashing in fury.  

            I saw the Dragon’s aura before he came into view.  Fiery red and streaked with yellow that caught the sun and set spots dancing before my eyes.

            His grating shriek pierced the morning and screams of terrified villagers echoed off the crags.

            Creator be merciful…

            Unable to hold back a wail of terror, the breath left me in a staggering rush as the Dragon morphed out of the clouds, his black talons outstretched. 

            The Dragon blotted out the sun.  Leathery wings folded and sent sand pounding against my sides.  Bright scales, eyes like fire, and a face framed in horns stole the breath from my lungs.  The wings creased, revealing an odd-shaped hunch on the creature’s back.  

            Before I could see any more, the talons crushed around me, lifting me and the stake into the air.

            Dignity left far below, I screamed as the beast rose into the air, wings beating the winds into submission.

            Soaring, wheeling, gliding over the clouds would have been exhilarating if it hadn’t meant certain death.

            At last the beast landed on a high crag, tossing me and the stake into an enormous nest.  A groan escaped then turned to another scream as flames bit through the ropes binding me to the stake.  I tore my hands away from the ropes as the fire stopped.  

            Shakily I stood, mouth falling open as a dark figure slid from the Dragon’s back, favoring his left side.  Throwing back his hood, the sun caught the marled, puckered skin of his cheek, the wide red rope of scar from scalp to chin.  But the eyes.  Those crystal blue eyes were the same.

            “Daniel.”

            The scarred mouth wrinkled on one side before pulling into a frown.

            “Marguerite?”

            My mouth dried as my eyes grew larger.  

            “Emma.”

            It wasn’t a question this time.  His eyes lit with excitement.

            “Emma?  It’s you, isn’t it!”

            “Daniel,” I whispered.  I was incapable of anything else.

            The smile died on his face.

            “This is my father’s doing.  Truly, it was my sister’s name drawn from the lottery?”

            I saw no point in keeping the ruse now.  “Yes.”

            The Dragon snorted and my knees quaked in terror.

            “It’s alright.  She won’t hurt you.”  He stroked the amethyst scales covering the beast’s flanks.  His eyes found mind again.  “My father may have just started a war he cannot win.”

            “What do we do?”  I had to save my family—save the kingdom.

            “We must go appeal to the High Dragon Lord.  Will you come with me?”

            He stretched his hand to me, tiny scars crisscrossing his palm.

            Dread lodged in my throat.

            His fingers were cool around mine.

Kelpies

Kelpies are said to be giant water beasts that live in rivers, streams, occasionally the ocean.  They’re most often horrid creatures who lure innocent victims to sit on their backs, then drag them down into the water, drown them, and eat them.  Charming creatures!

 

It.  Reeked.

Never again would I trust that red-headed scoundrel.  It was his fault I was here, gasping for breath, gagging at the edge of the Kelpie pen.  

“Hold this,” he’d said.  “I’ll be right back,” he’d said.  Were I not so new at this school, were I not desperate to fit in after being kicked out of the last three schools I attended, were I not so distracted, I would have realized that the thing he handed me wasn’t a wet suit, it was a Selkie skin.  And said Selkie had come marching down the hallway in all her nakedness shooting sparks from her eyes not one minute later.  

Guess who was left holding the bag.  Literally. 

My first week at Magik Prep Academy, and I was already serving detention.  My punishment was to clean this stinking Kelpie pen.  While taking care not to touch the beasts.  Because they’d happily drag me down and eat me for dinner.  Wonderful.

I snapped on the long rubber gloves to protect my skin from the ick in the water and any accidental Kelpie grazing.

“My, aren’t you a tasty looking morsel,” a watery voice said.  

I brandished my long cleaning pole.

“Unless you want to swim around in your own muck, leave off, and let me do my job,” I growled.  I was in no mood for teasing.  Or to become a snack.

“She’s a feisty one,” another voice joined the first.

“Mm.  I think the feisty ones have a nice spicy flavor,” a third voice whinnied.

Three squelchy horse heads bobbed in the water, transparent, but fully corporeal.  They weren’t quite opaque, and I could see the tiled floor below them at the bottom of the pen.  I poked at them with the bristled end of my long scrubber.

The first one snapped its teeth at the bristles then reached out and clamped its watery teeth on the handle, nearly jerking me into the water with them.  I let go and stumbled back, glaring at them.

“Fine.  But I’m the only one scheduled to clean in here this week.  Your choice.  Algae or fresh water.”

“Leave the poor girl alone,” a new voice said.  

I looked up in surprise at the deep male voice.  A regale horse head rose from the water, taller and larger than the others.  

The three made loud whinnying noises that bordered on shrieking.  

The male lunged up, spraying water everywhere as his front hooves churned the pool into frothy waves.  The noise that echoed from his mouth sent the hairs on the back of my neck racing to attention and sent the other three Kelpies splashing into the dark water at the far side of the pool.  

            I sat cowered and damp against the wall.  The big Kelpie sunk back into the water up to his chest.

            “Sorry about them.  Brood mares.”  He seemed to roll his liquid eyes.  I didn’t move.  I was thoroughly freaked out.  

He gently swished to the abandoned long-handled broom.  He clipped it with his teeth and with a powerful fling of his head, tossed it back to land beside me. 

“I certainly won’t stand in your way.”  With a bob of his majestic head he turned to submerge.

“Wait!”

His ears pricked forward as he turned back to me.

“Thank you.”

The Kelpie inclined his head.

“You’re welcome.”  He swam closer to the edge.  “I’m Kai.”

I swallowed, unsure if he was being nice to lure me to dinner, or because he wasn’t as nasty as his female counterparts.  

“Lara.”  I slowly got to my feet and retrieved the scrubber.

“Lara.  I’ve not seen you here before.  Toss me that short brush and I’ll help.  You can talk.  We don’t get many visitors in here.”

I threw him the brush and set to work with my own pole, still wary and keeping the big Kelpie within sight at all times.

“Tell me how your classes are going,” Kai encouraged.

“Well, I only started three days ago.”

“And you’ve already landed yourself with Kelpie clean up?”  He snorted.  I glared.

“It wasn’t exactly my fault.”

“I’m all ears,” he said as he scrubbed the tiles at the waterline.  

Without meaning to say anything, the story just came tumbling out.  I was lonely.  

“And that’s why I was kicked out of the last school.  I can’t control it.  It just bursts out whenever it feels like it.  These giant fireballs.  At my last school I accidentally lit the library on fire.  That was the last straw.  The headmaster said I had to go.  So, here I am.  At yet another school, hoping they can teach me how to control this energy inside me.”

Kai looked at me.  “I know it doesn’t smell as nice in here to humanoids like you as it does to us, but there’s nothing in here that you can burn up.  If you suddenly start to spark, it’s no trouble for me to send a little wave and put it out.  You’re welcome anytime.”

I glanced up at him.  This giant water beast somehow recognized the pain and loneliness echoing in my chest and homed in on it.

“You’re not just inviting me…to be dinner?”

Kai snorted and slapped the surface of the pool with his soggy hoof.  “If it makes you feel any better, I’m a vegetarian.  The three harridans you met earlier would be happy to have you on a seaweed sandwich, but I won’t.  And I’ll make certain you’re safe while you’re here.”

A spark flared to life in my chest and cinders formed at my fingertips.

“Oh, no!”

A gentle mist appeared over my fingers, quieting the burn and sending the scorching fire back to sleep inside me.

“See?”

Kai’s eyes, though still see-through, held kindness.  Something I never expected from a Kelpie.

“Why would you do this for me?”

“You are not the only one lonely on this campus, Lara.”

I smiled.  Maybe Magik Prep would be a good fit after all.

Please Welcome a Special Guest!

This week Facts, Fantasy, & Fascinations is welcoming author David Michael Williams! :). Enjoy his fresh take on fantasy creatures and some info on his books. 

See you next week, back at the halls of Magik Prep. ;). Next week there will be Kelpies…

Cultivating a New Fantasy Creature: the Fosyth

By David Michael Williams

Jon gave her a confused look as she burst out of the water and sprinted toward him. She hardly noticed. The green thing behind him was a cross between a tall cactus and frilly fern. Mak knew it couldn’t be either because it hadn’t been there a moment ago.

Sure, I’ve written stories about elves, dwarves, and goblins. Fantasy novels are filled to the brim with amazing creatures from many different mythologies. Without mystical animals and larger-than-life monsters, it could hardly be called fantasy.

But what happens when five live-action roleplaying (LARPing) fans find themselves in a magical world that is somewhat familiar but also unlike any fantasy setting they’ve ever read about?

One of the challenges I set for myself while writing The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot was to come up with new, unique creatures. I wanted Othwyr—the sword-and-sorcery setting where the Earth-born adolescents end up—to hold some surprises for my would-be heroes and readers alike.

Throughout the story, Sir Larpsalot and company encounter the almost-elflike Anthar, battle the beetle-shelled Chitine, and hear whispers of the Taarec, a shrewd race of shamans whose minds are as sharp as their many spines. But of all the species I invented for this book, my favorite are the Fosyth.

So many of fantasy’s staple races stem from the Animal Kingdom. Combine a human and a horse, and you get a centaur. Slap some wings on a steed, and a pegasus is born. Yet very few fairytales or myths feature intelligent plant life.

And the Fosyth are intelligent, in spite of their impulsive nature.

Here are a few more facts about Othwyr’s plant people:

· Fosyth are neither male nor female; like the plants of Earth, each encompasses both genders.

· While the Fosyth roughly resemble humans in shape, they lack mouths and must communicate telepathically.

· Fosyth receive sustenance from “the Golden Eye of Nihs”—in other words, the sun. (And when you think about it, photosynthesis is pretty magical.)

· The Fosyth’s greatest enemies are the Taarec, an aggressively herbivorous species.

· Unlike ordinary plants, a Fosyth doesn’t stay rooted for long. You never know where they might wander.

There’s definitely a lot of wandering in The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot. Half the fun of discovering a new world is exploration, after all. As for the other half, well, it wouldn’t be a fatnasy adventure if there weren’t some danger too…

David Michael Williams has suffered from a storytelling addiction for as long as he can remember. His published works include the sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels of The Renegade Chronicles and The Soul Sleep Cycle, a genre-bending series that explores life, death, and the dreamscape. Learn more at david-michael-williams.com.

 

The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot

As the first day of high school creeps closer, five friends agree to one last LARP before splitting the party and ending their geeky game forever.

But the real adventure is just beginning…

Mistaking the teens’ costumed characters for actual warriors, a sorceress summons Sir Larpsalot, Elvish Presley, Brutus the Bullheaded, Master Prospero, and Tom Foolery to her world to complete an impossible quest. To succeed, they must become the heroes they only ever pretended to be.

And if they can’t find a way to win, it’s GAME OVER for real!

Available at Amazon.com as of Oct. 6

 

The Academy and the Kiss: Part IV

PART IV

ETIANNA

I was entirely unprepared for what waited on the other side of the door.

Caked in dust, cobwebs, and strings of fluttering magic, the most majestic of all beasts stood solitarily in the middle of a tiny stone chamber.

A unicorn.

The golden horn was wrapped tightly with magic, though pieces of it hung in strips and whole pieces of what looked like a magic-spun cloth were dripping from its white form like ripped pieces of a funeral shroud.  Cobwebs stretched from the beard to the chest and what would have been shiny golden hooves were dull and brassy with age.

“Oh,” Cariss gasped.

The nostrils flared.  My heart slammed into my throat.  Fenn’s tail pressed against my leg.

Ever so slowly, with a noise like cracking plaster, the eye lids fluttered, breaking free of their ancient crusts.  

Then, with no warning, the creature shrieked and shook the dust from its coat.

The noise echoed in my chest and sent me cowering on the ground, my hands clapped over my ears, eyes and ears both smarting from the bits of magic flung from the unicorn.  All of us were huddled, in awe and fear, staring at the creature of legend before us.

“What has happened to the magic?”  The unicorn’s voice, rich like dark chocolate, smooth like velvet, and hard like diamonds, thundered in the tiny space.

We were too shocked to answer.

“What has happened to the magic?” the unicorn bellowed.

“A…a girl, a werewolf, fell onto Yggdrasil’s roots.”  Cariss was the first to find her voice.

The unicorn snorted.

“We’ve no time to lose.  Come.” 

The unicorn stamped his front hooves, the sound reverberating around us.  In awe, we watched as the dirty hair and strings of magic fell away.  The coat grew thick and shiny, the hooves and horn glowed with the inner magic the unicorn possessed.  

“Wolf, you may change back.  No harm shall befall you whilst in my company.”  

Fenn bobbed his head at the unicorn’s words.  

I gathered his clothes into a neater pile on the ground where I’d dropped them then nudged them towards him and turned.  He quickly shifted back, and I let myself sag a little in relief as he took my hand once he was back in skin.

***

The trip back through the twisty, winding underground took a fraction of the time with the unicorn confidently leading the way.

I was fairly bursting with questions, but I didn’t think it would be appropriate to barrage a creature so rare that it had nearly faded into legend.  It seemed too irreverent.  

Instead, I clung to Fenn’s hand, trying not to think how much I was going to miss it and him once our world was righted.  Assuming it could be fixed.

***

The hall was pitch black and deathly quiet as we crept from the belly of the earth.  

“You may extinguish the torch.”  

Tatianna did as the unicorn told her.  With a toss of its mane, light seemed to emanate from the unicorn.

“Have you any mode of transport that will take you quicker to Yggdrasil?  In my day we’d have had to round up some wild gryphons and tame them or make the journey on foot.”

“We’ve got a Jeep,” Fenn offered.

“A Jeep.  What manner of beast is this?  Some new hybrid, perhaps?”

“It’s…a mechanical beast.”  Fenn rubbed the back of his neck.

The unicorn snorted.  “All this magic and they still tinker with mechanics.”  The front doors of the school loomed ahead in the shadows.  

“Please, Sir, do you have a name?” Tatianna asked tentatively.

“I am called Lazaren.”

Tatianna introduced each of us.  Lazaren nodded gracefully but said nothing.

Wind and hail lashed around us as leaves and magic bits zinged and flew across the parking lot.  Yet nothing touched us in the circle of Lazaren’s glow.  

“That thing is a Jeep?” Lazaren whickered in disdain as we reached the vehicle.  “I shall meet you at Yggdrasil.  See that you are not detained.”  With that, he broke into a gallop and took his inner light with him.  We were left again in darkness, and the sudden downpour of hail and flickering magic his absence brought.

***

Yggdrasil was tempestuous, leaves stripped from its branches, magic gone but for a few bare tendrils stubbornly clinging to some odd twigs.  It was terrifying.

Lazaren stood beside the guardrail next to the glowing amber encasement where Lexie must have gone over.  I hoped she was okay!  I suddenly realized I didn’t know what exactly had happened to make her topple over in the first place.

Lazaren asked my question in his next breath.

“What transpired here?”

Fenn rubbed the back of his neck again.  “She tried to kiss me,” he started, and I felt my own hackles raise, even in my human skin.  I had no claim on Fenn, but Lexie certainly didn’t.  She wasn’t even a member of our pack.  

“It wasn’t Fennrick’s fault,” Cariss interjected.  “I tried to stop her.  I grabbed her arm.”

Had Fenn not tried to stop Lexie?

“She jerked back and tripped.”

“And I wasn’t fast enough to stop her,” Fenn interjected.

“And once she hit the roots, the world fell apart.”  Cariss shrugged, her misery clear on her face.  I squeezed her arm, and she gave me a grateful ghost of a smile.

Lazaren looked hard at each of us in the group.  My skin tingled.  Not in a bad way, but in an anticipatory sort of way.

Gingerly stepping over the guard rail, magic flared to life beneath his golden hooves as they touched Yggdrasil.  It didn’t spread, but illuminated Lazaren, and cast light back onto the pulsating amber glow over Lexie.

“You tried to take something that does not belong to you,” the unicorn said over the quivering amber.  I was close enough I could see Lexie’s eyes widened, though the rest of her body stayed still.  “I will let you out, but until the wrong has been righted, the magic will not be reversed.”  He glanced back at us.  “No one touch the magic or the tree.”

Raising up on his back legs, Lazaren shrieked into the air and brought his flashing hooves down, and Yggdrasil’s roots quivered on impact.

My skin shivered as beads of frantic magic skittered over my skin.  With one long pointed look at me that dropped my stomach to my toes, Lazaren wrenched his horn through the crust of swirling amber and a noise like thunder crashing over the ocean echoed around us.

Without meaning to, I gripped Fennrick’s hand.  His fingers squeezed tight around mine.

Gasping and spluttering, Lexie sat up.

“Lexie!” Cariss said in relief.  

“Phoenix, seal the gap once she’s up,” Lazaren instructed.  

Tatianna nodded and Owen reluctantly let her step closer towards the barrier.  

The unicorn prodded his horn at Lexie, and in a show of great humility on his part, let her maneuver herself up using his mighty horn as leverage.

As soon as Lexie had cleared her magic cocoon, Tatianna called her inner blaze.  I got chills as the flames licked up her eyes before they shot out in a stream of white-hot fire over the gap in the amber crust.  It sealed together like it was welded with lava.

Storm clouds still thrashed overhead, and magic and lightning lit the sky as they clashed together.  Sparks flew and shattered on the ground.  Fenn tugged me closer so that my arm brushed against his side.

“I…I’m so sorry,” Lexie whispered brokenly against the gale that whipped the leaves into little funnels around us.

Lazaren stared at Fenn solemnly.  “T’was you who was wronged, Wolf.  You must right it.

Fenn’s face paled, and his throat bobbled as he swallowed.  Slowly he turned to me.  Lightening flashed and showed me his hazel eyes, full of questions and hope.

“Etta,” he rasped.  My heart sped up.  “Lexie tried to take what’s rightfully yours.  I mean, mine to give, but only for you to take.”

Understanding dawned and my lips parted in surprise.  Alpha pheromones flooded the air around us.

“You want me?” I whispered.

“Yeah.  I really, really do.”  He smiled, though uncertainty crept into his eyes.

Tingling rushed through me and rightness settled over me.  His hand dropped mine and tentatively rested on my waist.

A hot rushing wind funneled through me and my answering smile lit up his face.

“Yes.”  I breathed the word.

Fenn’s eyebrows crinkled as his eyes turned serious.  Wind whipped hair into my face, but before I could move it, he nudged it aside as his hand cupped my jaw.  Tilting my face, his hand feathered into my hair as his lips closed softly over mine.

Literal sparks exploded around us.  We jerked apart, startled, and watched as magic whirled in the sky and came streaming, rushing, swirling back to Yggdrasil.  Leaves whirled from the ground back into the leafy boughs.  Sunlight broke through the black clouds and bathed the ground in iridescent sparkles that came up and flitted around us.

Tatianna laughed as some of the sparkles landed in her hair and lit it up like a halo.  She let the flames rise in her eyes and let loose a stream of fire towards the rising sun, lighting a path from us straight over the top of Yggdrasil.

Fenn kissed the side of my head while we watched, but I turned and tugged his head back down for another, longer one.

He pulled me flush against him, his scent closing in around us.  His smell slowly began to change, and I realized his hunt for the other half of his pair—for me—was over.  

“Well done, children,” Lazaren said.  “You have saved your world, but if we do not return quickly to the school, without my stabilizing presence, so many different kinds of magic in one place will cause another explosion.  I will not be able to save you should that happen.”

We raced back to the Academy, magic swirling happily once more, though anxiety sat heavily with us.  Lexie remained silent in the back seat.  Lazaren again awaited us as we pulled into the parking lot and hopped out.

Relief was potent as I saw Professor Capra waiting at the double doors.  He bowed low as Lazaren approached and we followed behind.

“Lazaren.  Old friend.  Thank you once again for your sacrifice.”  The old faun’s horns were perpendicular to the ground as he used his cane to help him show his reverence.

“Capra.”  Lazaren inclined his head towards the professor.

“Children, follow me once more into the labyrinth.” 

We didn’t dare question him, so we once more made the long trek into the darkness of the underside of the school.  Lexie trailed uncomfortably behind. It wasn’t as scary this time with Lazaren’s glow and with Fenn’s fingers laced with mine.  I sighed in contentment.

We reached the tiny stone chamber once more, the door still standing open.

Lazaren stopped just outside the door.

“You will be the next generation of leaders of this place.  Capra will not live forever.  Remember my existence.”

And with that, he went in and stood in exactly the same spot and the same position as when we found him.  

With a twist of his head, my mouth fell open as strands of magic begin winding around his horn, funneling over his sleek body, coiling and weaving together in a magnificent tapestry of swirling, sparkling magic.

Once the magic had encased his full body, he turned his face to us.  He gave us a sleepy wink with one drooping eyelid, then he went still.

Our world was safe once more.

Part III

PART III

ETIANNA

Fennrick held onto my hand like it would keep him from drowning.  In spite of our current heinous circumstances, it sent a curious warmth shooting to my middle.  I liked the way his hand felt wrapped around mine.  It gave me a fleeting feeling of security along with a wild rush of emotion.  And then there was his smell.  It was mouth-watering.  I knew it was his Alpha pheromones hard at work, but it was nearly enough to make me forget our dire situation.

“Where do we find a unicorn?” Owen asked, the tips of his pointed elf ears going as pale as the rest of his ashen skin.  His question jerked me back to the present.

“What was it the professor said before he disappeared?  ‘Look below?’  What does that mean?” Fenn asked the group.  

Cariss had a crease between her eyebrows.  “Look below,” she repeated.  “Below where?”

“Below, like below a bridge with the trolls?” Owen snorted.

“Below the ground?” Tatianna offered.  She leaned into Owen, her inner fire going down to a simmer as he looped an arm around her shoulder.

“Below ground?  Below ground where?”  Cariss tapped her lip.

“What if he meant below the school?” I offered.  The suggestion sounded ridiculous the moment it left my lips and I felt my cheeks heat in response.  Fenn looked at me.

“No.  What if he did mean below the school.  He tapped his cane right before he disappeared.  Could there be a place below the school?”

Cariss cocked her head to the side.  “Well, the school is, what, a thousand years old?”

“No one has seen a unicorn in a thousand years,” I murmured.  

“Could that be a coincidence?”  Fenn’s fingers squeezed mine.  A faraway look flashed through his eyes.

“Would the library still have original blueprints of the school building?” he asked.

“Let’s go look.  We’re not getting anywhere just standing in Professor’s office,” Tatianna said as she stalked towards the door.

***

The halls were eerily silent as we made our way down the old Gothically arched paths towards the library.  The students racing around earlier were either gone or had moved somewhere they felt was safer.  Even the wraith-like creatures were gone.  Erratically flickering bits of magic were the only noises as they hissed and creaked in the top-most cracks and crevices of the arches.  

The library doors were open, just like they would have been on a normal school day.  The floor to ceiling bookshelves were crammed with everything from ancient scrolls to modern day paperbacks.  

“In the resource room?”  Cariss shrugged.

“Good a place as any to start,” Fenn replied.  My skin tingled as he touched my back to move me in that direction.  I needed to get a grip.

The smell of dust and age-old magic ticked my nose and I clapped a hand over my mouth to catch my sneeze.

“Bless you,” Fenn whispered, still close to my side.

“Thanks,” I sniffled.

“Guys, where do we start?” Tatianna asked as we broached the resource room.  There were tall scrolls and heavy ancient tomes scattered all over the large room.

“Time for the wolves to come out to play.”  Fenn nodded to Cariss and me then wasted no time and jerked his arms backwards and took his shirt off in that way only guys do.  I’d seen him shirtless countless times over the years growing up in the same werewolf pack.  But his abs were a lot nicer now than they were a few years ago.

Cariss elbowed me and I blushed to the roots of my hair.

“Right.  The older the document, the mustier it will smell,” I stammered, fervently hoping Fenn didn’t notice.  Cariss and I quickly ducked behind a heavy-laden bookshelf and shifted to our fur. 

I sneezed again as spangles of magic tickled my wolf’s nose.  Following Fenn’s instructions, we quickly put our noses to work and it wasn’t long before we’d unearthed a stack of ancient scrolls tucked neatly away in a box in the corner.

“Hurry up and shift back, guys,” Tatianna said as she poured over the scroll.

“I think this might be it.  Look!” Owen nearly shouted.

We were all back in skin and taking in the prints within a minute.

“It’s like a labyrinth.”  I shuddered. 

“Roll the prints up.  We’ll take them with us.”  Fenn took charge and Owen carefully rolled the blueprints.

***

Minutes later the five of us stood facing a heavy brass bound door at the end of a seemingly abandoned corridor deep in the belly of the Academy. 

“I don’t like this,” Cariss whispered.  I knew how she felt.  Night had fallen.  It was pitch black but for the occasional spatter of unhealthy magic and the glow of the one torch we’d been able to successfully light with fragmented strings of partially exhausted magic.

Fennrick reached for my hand.  I didn’t object.

“Tatianna, keep your flames close in case that thing goes out,” Owen said.

“No problem with that,” she replied, her throat visibly moving as she swallowed hard.

“I’m going in with fur,” Fenn said.  “Carry my clothes?” he asked me.  I swear a light blush crept into his cheeks.  I hoped the shadows covered my own reddening skin.  

“Sure.”  He didn’t need to explain that his wolf had better night vision and a better chance of defending us should it come to that.  

Cariss opened the door and a long dark cavern opened before us like a giant black mouth.

A smell like wet death filtered up from the black hole before us.  I shivered and Fenn’s tail brushed against me. 

“Let’s go.”  Cariss’ voice wavered.

Tatianna held the torch high and Fenn went in.  We followed.  

The stones were damp and there was the occasional squelching noise that I refused to think too hard about.  Deeper and deeper we went into the ground.  First through bricked arches, then into rough stones.  They’d been cut by a mason, but not finished.  

“How old do you think this is down here?” Cariss whispered.  I’d been wondering the same thing.

Fenn growled low in his throat, his ruff standing on end.

Wind whooshed up the rough corridor and sent my hair flying as a scream built in my throat.

A deep roar boomed up from the depths.  Fenn planted himself in front of the group, his own deep warning echoing back and mixing with the echoes of the thing until it made my ears ache.  

The torch flickered and Tatianna screamed.  Her eyes flashed once in the dark before a white-hot stream of lightening-like fire streaked down and illuminated the entire hallway.  

A black apparition wavered in the dark shadows.  My body froze, terror crawling over my skin like a hundred spiders.

“Light the torch, Tachi,” Owen commanded.  “Don’t char me in the process.”  

Breathlessly, we waited for the thing, listening, straining our senses.  My hands gripped Fenn’s clothes hard enough my knuckles cracked.

Flames engulfed the torch, igniting frayed bits of magic and sending the fire bursting onto the stone ceiling.  

The apparition hadn’t moved.  It wavered there on the outskirts of the torchlight.  

Fenn growled low in his throat and scented the air.  All I smelled was toasted magic and fear.  Possibly my own.

“I don’t think it’s real.” Owen whispered.

“You sure?” Tatianna said.

“If it were alive, I’m pretty sure your flame fest would have fried it.  Look.  I think it’s just a magic illusion,” Owen explained.

Fenn nudged me closer to Cariss with his tail, looked at Owen, then stalked down the dark hallway.  

“Be careful,” I whispered.  So softly I wasn’t sure anyone but me was aware I’d spoken.

I held my breath as Fennrick tracked down the hallway.  His growls echoed off the stone walls.  

About halfway down the hall towards the floating black mass, his posture relaxed, and he turned and trotted back to us.  

He yipped once and I felt my shoulders relax.

“Not real then?” Owen confirmed.  Fenn bobbed his head and met my eyes before jerking his head for us to move forward again.  

He brushed against my side as we went down the corridor, sending flutters into my middle while reassuring my jagged nerves. 

The apparition disappeared the moment we stepped within a few feet of it.  It was nothing but wisps of ancient magic, long forgotten by its users.  

We trudged on.  What felt like hours of wandering and multiple stops to consult the blueprints, we finally came to the deepest point marked on the prints.  A solid door fitted with an iron latch stood between us and whatever waited on the other side.

Fenn nudged me and Cariss behind him again and nodded to Owen.  

Grasping the doors as Tatianna’s eyes flashed with contained flames, Owen pulled the latch.  A loud CLINK echoed down the stone corridors and sent ripples of goosebumps down my skin. 

The ancient door swung open.

“The Academy and the Kiss” Part II

PART II

FENNRICK

We raced ahead of the storm, trying desperately to beat the roiling waves of magic and flashing lightening to get back to the Academy—to warn the others, and find Headmaster Capra.  If anyone would know what to do now, it would be him.  

“Step on it, Owen,” Cariss shouted as gravel spun beneath the tires of his Jeep.  The other two cars followed as we sped far faster than was healthy down the backroads.

“No signal.  Anyone else have a signal?” I asked as I jammed my finger over the home screen on my cell phone.

“Nothing,” Cariss replied, a slight edge of hysteria in her voice.

Breaking all the speed regulations, we got back to school within fifteen minutes.  The magic that normally lay dormant or that zinged through the hallways like little strings of colored light, frizzed and sparked.  Centuries-old magic rose from the stones like a thick cloud of dust.

I leaped from the car before it came to a complete stop.  Screams echoed from inside as a young centaur burst through the double doors and galloped out of the parking lot.

“Go check in with the pack, tell them what happened,” I ordered the rest of the girls as they pulled in.  Without question they peeled back out of the parking lot. 

“Etta!” Cariss shrieked as a honey-blonde head appeared.

My heart slammed in my chest.  She was still here.  Tatianna, Owen’s girlfriend, came rushing out behind her.

“Cariss!  Something’s happened!  The magic, it’s gone unstable!  Everything is changing!” Etianna yelled as we covered the distance between the front doors and the vehicles.  Etta’s wide blue-green eyes were large in her face, her freckles standing out sharply against her pale skin.  My hands twitched to reassure her, though I could offer no such promises.

“I know.  I think it might actually be partly my fault,” Cariss hiccupped.  “Lexie’s encased in Yggdrasil.”

What?” Etta said, dumbfounded.

“Come on.”  I ushered them back towards the building, surprised how the urge to take charge just came out.

“Tatianna, have you seen Professor Capra?” Owen asked, grabbing her hand.  We jogged and were quickly back in the building where several students ran in the halls.  Magic careened and dipped, smashing wildly into the stone walls and sending showers of spangles dashing into the air.

“Let’s try his office.”  Tatianna’s eyes sparked with her inner phoenix fire.  She was on the edge of her control.

Hearts hammering loud enough my heightened senses could pick them out over the melee, we ran through the ancient halls, dodging shards of magic and some disturbing phantom-like shadows that seemed to wail and scrape their ghoulish fingers towards us.

“What are those?” Etta gasped as she bumped into my shoulder to avoid one.

“I don’t know, but I don’t think they’re a natural phenomenon.”  I put my hand on the small of her back, herding her to the center and taking the outside edge of the group.  

“They’ve got to be a product of whatever this insanity is.” Cariss batted a torpedo of neon magic out of the way.

Owen jerked the door to the main office open.

“Duck!” he shouted as a swarm of the wraith like creatures flew over our heads, their shrieks deafening in such close proximity.

Without thinking, I pulled Etta to my chest and curled myself over her like a human shield.  

“Go!”  I pushed her forward into the office.  Owen slammed the door shut behind us.

“Professor!  Professor Capra?” Cariss shouted as we moved towards the back of the office to the stately oak door banded with heavy brass hinges and inlaid gold scrollwork.

We halted in front of the door.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and my werewolf senses tingled.

The door creaked open.  Etta gasped.

“Professor Capra!” Tatianna’s whisper dropped in the silence that descended.

The professor stood in his doorway, his rotund belly stretching at the gold buttons of his velveteen vest, his goat legs planted heavily on the floor.  He gripped his cane.  His whole body flickered.  Like he was desperately hanging on to his corporeal form.

“The magic,” The aged faun halted as his form shuddered in and out of visibility.  “It is…taking us…old ones.  Too much…magic…stored inside.”

“What do we do?”  The words sounded like my voice, though I wasn’t sure I’d spoken them.  Etta put her hand on my shaking forearm.  

“You need…a unicorn.”  His body shivered violently and when it returned, he was completely see-through.

“Look…below…”  He tapped his cane.

POOF!

With a wail that sent the group of us cowering, Professor Capra burst into a cloud of black and went screeching out the door, a phantom ghost himself.

“This is so bad,” Tatianna whispered.  Her eyes were fully enflamed, only just keeping her fire inside. 

“A unicorn?” Cariss said.

I realized Etta’s hand was still on my arm.  I gripped her hand.  

“Nobody has seen a unicorn in a thousand years,” Etta breathed.

We were screwed.

Part I

FENNRICK

I wouldn’t have come if I’d known Etianna would get roped into some after school project.  Who did after school projects on a Friday?  But instead, here I was, hiking up the dirt path with some school friends and a gaggle of female werewolves from my own pack along with Etianna’s cousin, Lexie, who couldn’t keep her hands to herself.  

It wasn’t entirely her fault.  At eighteen and next in line to be Alpha, my body was starting to secrete its own kind of Alpha pheromones and they tended to drive the unpaired females into a sort of frenzy anytime they were around me.

It was exhausting.

Etianna’s sister, Cariss, smiled apologetically.  She’d been the one to invite me after school with promises that Etta would most likely be coming.  But her familiar honey-blonde ponytail was missing.

“Fennrick,” Lexie cooed.  “Tell me more about becoming an Alpha.”  Her fingers fluttered near my arm and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

“Well, I’m taking a few classes for it this semester.  Brushing up on diplomacy, leadership, that sort of stuff.”  I rubbed the back of my neck.  Lexie didn’t even go to Magik Prep Academy.  But she was thinking about transferring next semester.  I really hoped my budding Alpha genes weren’t the cause.  

“But what’s it actually like?”

Grueling, I thought.  “Dad and I spend a lot of time together, which is nice.  He’s teaching me everything not covered in the books.”

She smiled and batted her eyelashes.  

“Fenn, did you catch the game last night?”  Owen, an elf friend, attempted to save me.  

“I did,” I replied.  Probably with more enthusiasm than I needed as I broke away from Lexie to walk beside Owen.

We hiked another half hour before we started feeling the pulsating threads of magic that surrounded Yggdrasil—the tree where all the magic in our world originated.  It was a popular destination.  Touching the tree itself was forbidden but basking in its glow was encouraged. 

We rounded the final bend and there it was in all its glory.  It was stunning.  I propped a foot against the low guard railing and took it in.  An array of colors too many to describe flew from its branches, tangling, weaving into the sky to form a multi-colored halo of magic around the tree.  

Every time I visited the awe was fresh.  I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, the scent of pure magic washing over me and filling that aching tiredness inside.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Lexie said as she joined me at the railing.  She’d stayed next to me the whole hike, peppering me with questions, scenting me frequently, though I don’t think she knew I could tell.  

I nodded.

“Fennrick, did you know my grandpa was an Alpha, too?”

I stared at her, confused where this conversation was going.  She stepped closer, her arm brushing mine and sending the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

“Lexie,” I started.

“Kiss me, Fenn.  Seal our fate together here, beneath the most magical place in our world.”

Shock dropped my mouth open and had my eyes bulging in their sockets, but she must have taken it as encouragement, because she leaned in.

My brain was frozen.  I did not want Lexie’s lips on mine.  Tradition dictated that I save any kisses for the one who would be the recipient of all my kisses, but my body was sluggish, refusing to move.

“Lexie!”  Cariss grabbed Lexie’s arm.  “What are you doing?”

Lexie shot Cariss a murderous glare and yanked her arm from her grasp.  But as she did, the back of her legs hit the low guard rail.  

In stupefied horror, I reached to grab her before she fell, but I wasn’t fast enough.

Lexie toppled right over the edge of the railing and hit the curling roots of Yggdrasil snaking up out of the ground.  Her scream pierced the air as her back smacked onto the roots and an amber glow immediately encased her.

Lightening cracked across the sky and a violent wind whipped through Yggdrasil’s leaves, sending a rush of them over us.  The colored threads of magic flickered and lost their curving waves, becoming jagged, harsh, and static.  

Thunder boomed.

“Lexie!” Cariss shrieked.

The sky opened and rain, hail and flickering bits of magic sizzled onto the ground.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” someone shouted.

“What about Lexie?” Owen called over the din.

“We have to leave her,” Cariss said.  Terror clouded her face as her eyes met mine.

There was nothing we could do for her.  We couldn’t pull her back.  The amber glow from the roots covered her.  I looked at Lexie’s face.

Her eyes were round in shock, her mouth frozen into a gash of horror.  Her hands were stiff, fingers splayed as if to catch her fall.  Amber light pulsated over her prone form.  

A leaf whacked into my cheek, breaking into my racing thoughts.

“Cariss is right.  We have to go get help.”  The Alpha part of me took charge.  “Go.  Back down the path.  Now.”  My words came out with a punctuating growl.

We’d just unleashed fury like our world had never seen.

Come back next week for Part II!

“A Brownie and Some Advice”

Brownies are members of the lesser fae (fairies) that have a penchant for cleaning. I need a few to move into my house…

***

“No one cares for the brownies anymore,” I grumbled as I swept my broom over the dusty hall.  The stones of Magik Prep Academy had hundreds of years of magic stored in them.  Unfortunately, that did nothing to dislodge the dirt and grime from student traffic during the day.  

I grunted as my lower back twinged again.  I straightened and narrowly missed slinging my long white beard right into the bucket of soapy water.  

“What next,” I muttered.  “Soon they’ll forget to feed me and then I’ll have every reason to back out of this cleaning contract.”  I stomped and then coughed as a cloud of powdery violet magic came loose.  

Rolling my eyes, I swirled my finger in the air and made the magic useful.  The loose bits flung themselves down and scattered the dirt into the air.  

Cupping my hands, I sucked the air through and brought the dust whirling in like a tornado and straight into my waiting bucket.

Nodding in satisfaction I shook my beard out where a stray string of green magic clung like a barnacle. 

“Off, you pesky thing!”  I frowned at the offending string and would have said more to it, but my overly large ears picked up the faintest sniffle.

Odd.  It was far too late for students to still be afoot.  They should all be at the dormitories or off doing whatever teenage creatures did.  Only we brownies and the old ogre that made up the cleaning staff were still here at this time of night.  

Finding the sniffle of more interest than polishing the flagstones, I hobbled off in the direction of the interruption.

I passed half a dozen empty classrooms and finally came to the cloistered courtyard open to the air and bathed in the magenta glow from the fading sunlight.  And there, huddled miserably against an ancient stone wall, was a lump.

A large lump compared to me.

“I say, why be you here?” I called up to the lump when I was in speaking distance.

A head jerked up; tear tracks visible on the pale cheeks.

“Oh, bless my soul, you’re a faun.  What be you doing here?  It’s after hours, laddie.”

The young faun just looked at me, surprise and maybe a dash of fear lingering in the dark brown eyes below the mop of curly hair and little horn buds.  

“I…what are you?”

“Saints preserve us.  What do they teach at this school?  I’m a brownie.  Have ye never heard of us wee folk?”

“Oh.  I’m sorry.  I’m new here.”  He cleared his throat.  “No, I’ve never seen a brownie.”  

I raised a bushy eyebrow.

“But I read about one once?” he offered hopefully.

I rolled my eyes and blew a raspberry through my lips.

“And what be a young laddie like you be doing out here at this time of the evening?”  I didn’t like repeating myself, but the poor thing looked right miserable.

He scrubbed his wet cheeks then wrapped his arms around his knees. 

“It’s my first time here.  I…I was feeling a little homesick.  I didn’t want the other boys to see.”

“Aye.  The sun always shines brighter on the morrow.  There, there.  Haven’t ye got any friends here?”

The brown curls shook, and his lips tugged down.

“No.  I’m the eldest of my clan.  I’m the first since my parent’s generation to board here at Magik Prep.  And it’s not that I’m ungrateful!” he added quickly.  “I’m just…lonely.  I’ve never been away from home.  The other fauns have been here longer.  They all know each other and know all the rules of the school.   I don’t.”

Poor lad was lonesome.  I knew how that was.  My old cantankerous heart stretched a mite as a seed of compassion bloomed.

“I know how that is, laddie.  Ye didn’t know me now, did ye?  Most folks have forgotten us brownies even exist.  And for the most part, so long as we’re fed, we’re happy to go on about our business.  But it does get lonely, being forgotten.”

The faun nodded.

“I tell you what.  You see this stubborn string of green magic here?” I tugged the silly thing free of my beard and coiled it around my finger.  “You take this here to class with you tomorrow.  You put it in your hand and see if it doesn’t point to another lonesome student.  Then the two of you can befriend each other.  There’s no rules saying you have to keep to your own kind.  Magik Prep has more mix breeds and off shoots and oddities than I’ve got whiskers.”  I shook my heavy white beard for emphasis, then placed the coil of magic into his hand.  His eyes lit up like I’d given him a great treasure.  I sprinkled a dash of my own brownie magic on the coil to be sure it behaved itself.

“Thank you,” he said reverently.  

I patted his hoof.  “You go find yourself a friend.  And if no one else in the whole school is lonely, you just come on back here and I’ll keep you company myself.”  I cracked a rare grin.

“I will.  Even if I find a friend.  I mean, if you’d like the company.”

A laugh bubbled right up.  “What be your name, boy?”

“Alek.”

“Pleased to meet you, Alek.  You go on.  You may see me time to time.  And I’ll be around if you need.”

“Thank you, Mr…”

“Milis.  Just plain old Milis.”

“I will remember you, Mr. Milis.”  The brown eyes held a sincerity that I hadn’t seen in a long time and it warmed my old bones right down to the marrow.

“You go on now, before it gets full dark, young Alek.  Go find someone tomorrow that needs a friend worse than you.”

A smile tipped one corner of his mouth.

I found an odd jaunt to my steps the next evening as I cleaned.  I hurried with my regular cleaning, intent on checking for my lump of a friend.

He was not there, but what he left behind brought a smile to my lips and set my belly grumbling.

I picked up the note, which was nearly as large as me.

Mr. Milis,

I haven’t forgotten you.  I used your green magic coil today and I think I’ve made a friend.  I was invited to go bowling tonight, but I didn’t want you to be lonely either.  I did some research, and brownies are supposed to love cream.  I hope this is alright.  

I’ll visit you soon.

Thank you.

-Alek

I inhaled the sweet aroma from the bowl of fresh cream.  Not forgotten indeed.

Unicorns

Unicorns are age old, beautiful creatures just like horses, but with a horn, and magic. This week Lacey Scott has gracious offered her story, “The Unicorn Races” for us to enjoy! Check out the sweet little plump Elmas sculpture, also done by Lacey. Check out her other sculptures on Facebook, Here There Be Sculptures, or on Instagram, @heretherebesculptures. Happy reading!

The Unicorn Races

By Lacey Scott

Unicorns were supposed to be elegant and beautiful creatures. With long willowy legs and graceful arching necks, their mystery and magic captivated the hearts and minds of humans for generations—but the ponies of Sobor were not unicorns. At least, not the kind you read about in fairy tales. 

            My family had lived on the secluded island of Sobor for at least seven generations and every single male, going all the way back to my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, had won the coveted trophy in the annual unicorn races. It was a tradition that was expected to be upheld by my father’s son and it probably would have been—except he didn’t have a son. He had me. Me and my nine sisters.

            There wasn’t a rule that said girls couldn’t enter the race, it just wasn’t done, which was probably why there had been such an uproar when I stepped forward into the group of rowdy boy contestants. Even now, as I waited for the judges to decide my fate, I could hear their taunts and petty jabs as they whispered around me. 

            I didn’t realize my hands were trembling until I felt a tug on one. Looking down my brows rose in surprise.

            “Take this, Phoebe!” My little sister, Josephine said. “It will give you luck!” She opened her tiny hand to reveal a butterscotch candy wrapped in yellow plastic. 

            In a family as large as ours, every penny counted, and candy was a luxury we could seldom afford.

             I smiled shaking my head.  “You keep it, Josie.”

            Her lips pressed into a thin line. Then before I could stop her, she stuffed the candy into my pocket and darted back into the crowd. 

            Thirty minutes later as I searched for a place to stand in the starting line, I began to have second thoughts. The judges may have agreed to let me race, but the boys weren’t going to make it easy. 

            “Phoebe!”

            I looked up and a fresh wave of butterflies fluttered to life in my belly. 

            Tag Jacobson waved me over. “Over here,” he called, shoving the boy standing beside him out of the way. 

            I nervously stepped into the empty space beside him as he grinned down at me. My neighbor, Tag, was older than me by a year, but we’d often played together when we were young. I’d had a crush on him as far back as I could remember, and his time spent in the sun on the fishing boats with his father had only made him even more handsome.

            “Don’t let what they say get to you. You got this.”

            His confidence gave me strength and I nodded getting into the starting position. The unicorns grazed peacefully in the field below, completely oblivious to the chaos about to ensue. 

            The horn of the conch shell echoed in my ears and I pushed myself into a sprint. I was small and fast, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t fast enough. The boys pulled ahead of me, their long legs eating up the ground carrying them faster than I could ever hope to be.

            A high-pitched whinny broke through the early morning air. Someone had reached the herd. I urged my legs to move faster but by the time I reached the field only one unicorn stood untaken. My heart sank.

            Like most island creatures, the unicorns had adapted overtime to a life of limited resources, shrinking them down to the size of a large pony. There were no predators to hunt them and that coupled with all the scraps we tossed out had made them lazy with stumpy little legs and large round bellies. They weren’t afraid of humans and had become so commonplace that they acquired their own names.

            I slowed as I approached the lone unicorn. His sleek black summer coat glistened in the early morning sun and he looked up at me through long wavy bangs. 

            “Hi, Elmas,” I greeted.

            Big blue eyes blinked at me before he returned to his grazing. All the unicorns were easygoing but Elmas wore his laziness like a badge of honor. No one ever wanted to get stuck with him. 

            I squinted down the field. The race itself was only a mile, but getting a stubborn lazy unicorn there was the real challenge. Some of the more relaxed unicorns meandered towards the finish line, stopping occasionally to nibble at the grass—much to their rider’s chagrin. Others were feistier, spinning circles and tossing their riders into the dirt. A lot of the boys wanted to try their luck with those, but it was a gamble, just because they were faster didn’t mean you could steer them to the finish line any quicker. 

            I sighed looking back and Elmas. Not once in all the years I could remember had anyone ever gotten him to move an inch—but I wasn’t about to give up.

            Backing up a few steps I took a running jump, throwing myself across his back, but I overshot and toppled off the other side, landing in the grass on my back. 

            Elmas cast me an uninterested glance.

            With a huff I tried again, this time grabbing a handful of his mane and pulling myself up. Once I was situated on his back, I lightly dug my heels into his flank. When he didn’t move, I repeated the motion a little harder, clicking my tongue. 

            His sides expanded as he took in a deep breath but other than that he ignored me completely. 

            I groaned sliding off his back. “Come on, Elmas!” I leaned my shoulder into his rump, urging him forward. “This is important,” I ground out between clenched teeth. 

            He stomped a golden hoof into the ground, tail swishing, but he didn’t budge. 

            Undeterred, I moved to his head, careful to avoid his shiny gold horn and tugged on his mane. You didn’t actually have to ride your unicorn all the way there, you just had to ride it across the finish line. The only rule being that you couldn’t do anything that might harm them. 

            “Emlas, please!” I begged, putting all my weight into it. My foot slipped in the grass and I fell back landing on the ground for the second time in as many minutes. I closed my eyes, struggling to keep the tears of frustration at bay. 

            After a moment a shadow fell across my face and I opened my eyes to find Elmas hovering above me. 

            “Come to mock me, too?” I grumbled.

            His nostrils flared, hot air rushing out as he sniffed around me, his snout eventually coming to stop at my hip. He snorted, nipping at my pants. 

            I frowned, sitting up. I dug my hand into my pocket “What are you—” my fingers brushed against something, the crinkling sound making his perk up with interest. I pulled out the butterscotch my sister had given me, and he whinnied, nearly snatching it from my hand. My eyes widened. I had an idea. 

            “Come on, boy.” I urged crinkling the wrapper. “You want the candy, don’t you?” 

            Elmas slowly began to follow me as I walked backwards down the field. Casting a quick glance over my shoulder I saw that my fellow racers had also been struggling. Most of them still fought with their ponies, with only a few still moving steadily towards the finish line at a snail’s pace. I grinned, picking up speed, and before long I was jogging backwards down the field, with Elmas trotting along after me.

            We gained ground, quickly passing each of the other contestants one by one until there was only one left. My heart leapt up a notch as we passed Tag, moving steadily forward, on a dappled unicorn. Our eyes met and a wide grin spread across his face.

            I could still hear his laughter ringing out across the field when we reached the finish line and I brought a panting Elmas to a stop. He whined as I climbed back onto his back, swinging his head around to try and grab the candy. I removed it from the wrapper, making sure to wave in front of his nose. 

            His teeth snapped together as he tried to swipe it from my hand, but I pulled back and chucked it forward. His eyes followed it as it soared over his head and landed on the other side of the finish line. With more speed than I thought possible for such a lazy beast, he lurched forward, nearly unseating me as he raced forward, carrying us to victory. 

            The roar of the crowd was deafening as I slid from his back, catching sight of my dad as they handed me the well-worn trophy. Even at a distance I could see the pride in his eyes. 

            “That was amazing!” Tag laughed, coming up behind me and clapping me on the shoulder. “Candy, huh? Who knew?”          

            “Yeah.” I averted my gaze feeing my face warm under his praise. I watched as Elmas munched happily on the butterscotch. “I guess he’s got a sweet tooth.”

            He cleared his throat and I looked back up meeting his warm brown eyes. “You know, it’s not that I’m not happy that you won,” he began. It’s just that I was hoping to earn some cool points before I asked.” His cheeks turned pink and he rubbed the back of his neck. 

            My brows pulled together. “Asked what?” 

            “Asked you out on a date.”

            My mouth fell open, eyes widening in surprise.

            “What you say, Pheebs? Do you wanna go on a date with me?”

            My blush reignited as I matched his hopeful smile. “Definitely.”