Tributaries Cover In Sight, In Mind Cover Blackwood Cover

Break Time: Dual Citizenry

In the Author’s mind, a fight broke out.

“It’s on!”

“It’s off!”

“It’s on!”

“It’s off!”

“Look!” Nyx snapped, pointing at the flat screen TV’s power light. “It’s dim!”

Elmiryn squinted at it. “It isn’t dim.”

“It is!”

“It isn’t!”

“Oh my god you idiots it’s ON, okay!?” Quincy shouted from the couch. She held up the remote control and pointed at the power button. A little red light was on next to it. “See!?”

The redhead pumped a fist. “Yesss! I win!”

Nyx tongued her cheek. “Okay. So why aren’t we getting anything on the screen then? The DVD is in!”

Elmiryn kicked the TV stand. “I connected the HDMI cable right!”

Nyx pinched the bridge of her nose. “Did you plug it into the right plug?”

“There’s only one plug for HDMI!”

“No there’s not,” Quincy declared from the couch.

The redhead stared at her, hands high on her hips. “What?”

“There’s a reason there’s HDMI one and two, Cable Guy.”

Elmiryn glared at the TV stand, one eye twitching. “I’m not moving this fucking thing again.”

“You gonna let the furniture beat you?”

“Honestly? I’m not sure why I’m working so hard for a Michael Bay film. I may as well go to YouTube and watch a compilation of things exploding for the next two hours.”

Nyx tried to keep her face neutral as she went to flop onto the sofa chair. “Maybe we should just play Scrabble instead?” When the other women gave her withering stares, the girl shrank in her seat. “It was just a suggestion…” she mumbled.

“Why did we have to get a new TV?” Quincy groaned. She tossed the controller onto the coffee table and put her feet up. “The other one worked just fine!”

Elmiryn sat at the other end of the couch and leaned on the arm rest. “Because we’re Americans, and Americans go big.”

The wizard raised an eyebrow. “Does that go for stupidity, too?”

Nyx frowned. “Wait. We’re Americans?”

Elmiryn glanced at her. “Well, sure. The Author is in America. She started writing our story while living in America. Ergo, we’re Americans!”

“But that isn’t in our story!”

“Think of it as dual citizenry. Or…something,” the redhead shrugged.

“Technically, if the Author’s life affects us, then that would mean that you’re both bisexual!”

“The hell I am,” the warrior and wizard snorted in unison.

Nyx shook her head. “You can’t have one thing without the other. Elle, if you think you’re American, then you’re also bi.”

“No way.”

“I’m serious!”

Elmiryn laughed and leaned over to smack Quincy’s shoulder. “Are you hearing this?” But at the brunette’s look, she faltered. “Hey…Hey come on, don’t tell me you’re buying that!”

Quincy looked at her sidelong, her lips puckered. “Mmm…well. Her logic is sound.”

“No it isn’t!”

“If you’re going to arbitrarily pick details from the Author’s life and declare it applies to you, then what’s stopping a person from attributing all the other details too?”

“Do I look like the sort of fucker who would watch anime?

Nyx curled up in her seat, her lips tilting up. “Actually, you’ve got that one video…”

Elmiryn held up a hand, her cheeks blushing. “That’s just the one! And I only got it as a gag. I mean honestly, how many things can a girl fit into her–”

“This is an example of the kind of things I don’t want to hear,” Quincy said loudly, hands over ears.

Nyx’s face drew long. “Oh… Oh no!

The others looked at her with quizzical expressions. “What?” they asked.

She peered back at them with a wince. “If the Author is expecting a baby…does that mean that we…?” When she trailed off, she gestured at them all weakly.

Elmiryn jumped from her seat, waving her arms in a panic. “No! No, no, no! Can’t be! No way!”

“But why?” Quincy pressed, her eyes fogged in a curious far off look. “Why can’t…why can’t we have that too?”

“Because we’re not real!” A voice called from the kitchen.

All heads turned to see Lethia stepping out, a sandwich in her hand and some peanut butter and jelly on her cheek. She finished chewing with a loud swallow, then said next, “Obviously we are going to be influenced by certain aspects of the Author and not others. But we were created to be imaginary people with our own unique personalities and stories… So there’s no need to worry!” The blonde shrugged and started to walk away.

Nyx and Elmiryn let out a sigh of relief.

“Well that’s good to hear,” the redhead said with a grin.

The Ailuran puckered her lip in thought. “Still…I wonder what it would be like if the Author turned one of us into a mother in our story?”

Quincy stared at the black television screen, still on mute, still not displaying the latest blockbuster.

“Yes. I wonder…” she breathed despondently.


Back to Chapter 40.2 | Forward to Chapter 40.3

Breaktime: Distractions…

NEW! Eikasia e-books now available at Smashwords!


Nyx stomped into the common room, her eyes ablaze. “Where is everybody!? I’m the only one on set!”

 

Her eyes fell onto Elmiryn at the computer. “Elle, what are you doing?”

 

Elmiryn didn’t even turn her head. “Huh? Oh. I’m playing Bioshock Infinite. Nyx you gotta see this. There’s this girl named Elizabeth, and she can—”

 

Nyx grit her teeth and turned her eyes toward the living room. There she saw Lethia, Quincy, and Hakeem all staring up at the widescreen television. “And what are you three doing??”

 

“Watching Legend of Korra,” Lethia said with a glance over her shoulder. “We hadn’t watched it yet. Omigosh, Nyx, it’s sooo—!”

 

Nyx pulled her hair. “You guys! We have an update to make! People are waiting!”

 

The girl nearly fell over at the chorused response she received.

 

“But we’re almost done!”

 


No, really guys! I’ll get back to it. I don’t know what happened this week. I got…well…distracted. 😛

–Illise Montoya


Back to Chapter 37.2 | Forward to Chapter 37.3

Break Time: Pain Chasing Agony…

Life had become quiet in the Author’s mind.

After another sad but expected family death had visited her life, the writer had become content to realign her energies to become more positive and healthy. It sounded like something out of a chick flick, but the Author didn’t care about the appearance of it, even if her Characters did. She watched cat videos, sitcoms, and cartoons. She exercised and cooked her own food. She tried to find things to laugh about.

And in turn, she made Quincy grumpy as hell.

“She’s driving me nuts,” the wizard intoned one day in the break room.

Elmiryn was sitting next to her,  balancing an empty Coke can on her head. “Who is?”

“You know who…”

“Okay. But why? Would you rather be watching the Lars von Trier marathon with Nyx, again?”

Quincy paled. “Gods no! A person can only take so much art house creepiness!”

“Hey, hey! Remember Antichrist? Okay, okay–who am I?” Elmiryn scrunched up her face and said in an eerily accurate voice, “Chaos…reigns…”

The wizard smacked the can off of her head. “Damn it, Elmiryn! Now I’m going to be thinking about the self-disemboweling fox for the rest of the fucking day!”

“You’re going to think of that and not the genital mutilation–?

Quincy stuffed her fingers into her ears. “LA! La, la, la, la, la! I can’t hear you!”

The other woman just laughed and wiggled her fingers at Quincy as though she were trying to bewitch her. “You can’t unsee what has been seen!”

“Idiot!” Quincy smacked Elmiryn’s hands and stood from the table. She pressed her wrists to her eyes. “Ugh. Why are we just sitting here in limbo while the Author sorts out her ‘feelings?'”

Elmiryn shrugged. “The hell should I know? When it really comes down to it, we are the Author’s feelings. She can’t just pick up our story and start writing willy nilly if we’re all out of sorts, now can she?”

“That’s stupid,” Quincy snapped, leaning onto the counter. She glared at the polished silver handles of the cabinets, the garish assortment of refrigerator magnets, the coffee stains along the counter surface. Her ears tweaked to the dull cut of the ceiling fan subtly marking the passing time. “People write to make sense of life. We can help her, if she’d just give us a chance!”

“Oh, so I suppose Quincy the Orphan can help understand what it’s like to lose a grandparent? To have that pain chase the agony of having a family member ripped out of your life without any warning?”

“Her aunt died last year! That was months ago!”

It still hurts,” Elmiryn bit out, her face going red and her eyes flashing like blades.

Quincy turned to stare at her, taken aback. The redhead quietly met her gaze.

“It still hurts,” she said again, quieter. “I know. I’ve lost people that way too, and it never stops hurting. You just make room for it, because you can’t rationalize it. Not through science, and not through art. It just is. Let the Author deal with it, Quincy. She’ll get back to us eventually.”

The wizard broke eye contact. The ceiling fan once again took the doleful role of filling in the void of sound.

Thwip, thwip, thwip…

“I know what it’s like.”

“Huh?”

Elmiryn blinked at Quincy. The woman in question glanced at her, her thumb idly picking at a coffee stain.

“I know what it’s like to lose someone suddenly, too. My mother…” the wizard’s voice trailed for a moment. “The Morettis, I meant to say. When Paulo’s parents died…I didn’t know how to deal with it. So I didn’t try. I just kept doing what I knew how to do. That’s why I became rivals with his brothers. I let my greed take over.”

“Not your greed. Your fear. You didn’t want to feel what they felt. In the end, you just grieved differently…” Elmiryn murmured.

Quincy nodded. “You’re right. I’m not suited to help the Author with what she’s going through right now. That’s not in my Character. But I know pain too, Elmiryn.”

The woman nodded. After a moment, her lips puckered in thought. “Soooo…are you going to tell me you’re human, too?”

The wizard rolled her eyes and smirked. “Bite me.”

A pause. “Hey…You mentioned your mother.”

The smirk faded. “Can’t. Status quo.”

The warrior snapped her fingers. “Damn. Guess I’ll just have to wait till our story continues.”

“Yep. I will say this, though.” Quincy turned so that she was leaning back against the counter. She crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes drifting to the ceiling fan. “The dead do not suffer tragedy. The living do.”

“Amen,” Elmiryn muttered, reaching for her soda can under the table. The chair creaked as she she went for it. She straightened, turning the aluminum can in her hands and observing how the cheap light caught the contours.

Another stretch of silence.

Then…

“Hey.”

Quincy turned her head. Elmiryn was balancing the soda can on her head again.

“Do you think the Author will watch more videos of that Japanese cat?” she asked.

“Maru? You mean that fat cat that dove head first into a diet box?”

“He’s not fat, he’s a Scottish Fold!”

“What the hell is a Scottish Fold?”

“It’s a cat pure breed!”

“Ooh-ho! Nyx has turned you into a cat person!”

Elmiryn grinned. “What can I say. I like my pussy.”

Quincy smacked the can off of the other woman’s head again.

She nearly missed, she was laughing so hard.


Back to Chapter 34.2 | Forward to Chapter 34.3

Artifacts of Childhood

For the FREE e-book versions of N is for Nyxand The Reflection (re-titled Reflections), please download them at Smashwords.com!

Dramatis personæ:

Nyx – A precocious Ailuran often concerned with being inherently good and all the appearances that go with it.  Usually sullen or in some way melancholy as she often feels misunderstood or unappreciated, even by her family.

Elmiryn – A child born of noble blood.  Though she was made to live by such standards, the girl took after her mother in that she never cared nor believed in the conventions of noble life.  As a result, she can be a little too honest sometimes, is very tomboyish, and has an odd sense of humor.

Quincy – A shy girl, uncoordinated, and easily made to cry.  Never leaves her home unless forced.  She has a fascination with stories and loves hearing tales of heroes and heroines unburdened by the world. She is Hakeem’s quiet shadow.

Hakeem – Quincy’s older friend.  Is rough and tumble and has a quick temper.  He thinks Quincy is weird but finds her strangely attractive.  He dreams of what adult life is like to a great extent, and tries very hard to emulate his father, thus making him more serious than is typical for his age.

ARTIFACTS OF CHILDHOOD

Act I

“The Reflection”

The Manard House knew something of an awakening when summer came around, because the first week of the month brought about a heavy surge of activity with the weeklong Ortian holiday.  The servants bustled putting up fresh curtains, lining the archways with golden wreaths, hanging up sun discs with beveled faces, and sprinkling potpourri along the windowsills. Three days into the special week, Warner was in his study making political arrangements for the new year, Brianna was trying to find some peace in her bedroom, painting, and Elmiryn was being fitted for a new birthday dress in her bedroom.  She found it hard not to fidget.

“Lady Elmiryn, I mean it, I don’t want to poke you.  Please be still.”  Her attendant, Julianna, was a pretty twenty-something with rich caramel colored hair that had streaks of bright gold here and there.  Her freckled nose wrinkled as she pinned up a bunch of baby blue silk.

The girl gave a melancholy sigh.  “Why must we do this now? Can’t we do this next week?”

“You know very well that your seventh birthday will have passed by then!  Don’t you want to look pretty for your party?”

“Don’t I always look pretty?” The girl asked guilelessly.  Her mother told her this so much that she had started to take it as a fact–and as most facts went, it lost its charm on Elmiryn.

She watched as a dust mote floated towards her face.  Her eyes crossed as it came too close for her to follow.  She heard Julianna laugh at her, and the girl gave a happy smile.  She loved making adults laugh.

“Yes, lady Elmiryn. You are very pretty. Now unless you’d like to be a very pretty pincushion you’ll mind my warning and cease your fidgeting!”

The next day, when Elmiryn was making her dolls swan dive off her dresser into a deadly vat of broccoli soup (smuggled in from the kitchens), her mother, Brianna, came into her room, Julianna and two slaves, a Santian and a Fanaean, behind her.

“Elle, we need to decide on a hairstyle for your birthday party…and what is that? Soup? What have we said about bringing food into your room!” The girl’s mother was dressed in a slate gray dress with jeweled shoulders, the cut opening at the front in an hourglass shape to reveal creamy lace. Wrapped about her waist was a glossy forest green ribbon that tied into a rose-shaped buttress in the back. An abalone clip pulled her warm brown hair back, and her ears held matching earrings. The woman’s face broke into her wide smile, and she sat on her daughter’s bed. “Oh, nevermind that. Come here, sweetest!”

Elmiryn would have protested, but Brianna knew that the youth was less likely to resist her request than Julianna’s. The girl pouted, but without an objection, she went to sit next to her mother, whilst Julianna stood off to the side. The slaves, each carrying a silver tray bearing hairdressing accessories, set their burdens onto the dresser. Then they turned in unison, bowed, and quietly left the room. The child attendant sat at the floor of her house mistress, and carefully she reached over and took up the white-bristled silver brush, which had a mirror fixed into the back of its head. The attendant held the mirror-side to the girl and her mother, and Brianna pondered the reflected image.

“What do you think, dear? What style do you wish to see on your birthday?”

“Can’t we just comb my hair?” Elmiryn mumbled, her lip pouting further.

“You know that isn’t an option. Come! Would you like to see braids? A bun? We can put flowers in your hair–now wouldn’t that be just darling?”

“Okay. Whatever you want me to look like, mother.”

Brianna frowned in the reflection. “Oh, Elmiryn! You make this such a chore! Not many little girls your age are given a chance to decide their appearance, you know.”

“She’s right, lady Elmiryn,” Julianna said earnestly. The girl’s eyes fixed on her attendant’s pretty face. “Take another look at the mirror. Pretend it’s magic, and whatever you imagine will appear. Now think of all the things you like–from art, from the stories we tell you, from what you see in the city–and think what would you like to see?”

Elmiryn’s frown deepened, but her lower lip pulled back to a contemplative curve. Her little hands went to the sides of the mirror, and her cerulean eyes lit up with thought. The girl took a deep breath. “I see…”

When the girl trailed off, her mother patted her knee. “Yes, Elle? What do you see?”

“I see branches sprouting out of my head!” Elmiryn giggled out. “And they’ll bloom into pretty red flowers!”

The attendant tried and failed to contain her laugh.

Brianna gave a suffering smile. “That’s…nice, dear. But I’m afraid we’ll have a little trouble growing that within less than a day, let alone getting your father’s approval for such a thing!”

Elmiryn’s pout returned full force. With a heavy sigh, she said, “Fine then. I see a ponytail.” She didn’t even look at the mirror this time.

Julianna gave an enthusiastic nod. “A ponytail is good, milady! Very elegant! Very pretty!”

“If you want flowers, we can make a crown for you, sweetest. But not red, I think. White is more appropriate.”

Elmiryn just let out another sigh.

Then the day of her birthday came. A small ball was held at the Manard estate, and the newly-turned seven-year-old was the center of all the attention. She sat aside her mother whilst Warner sat on Brianna’s left. Their head table was decorated with silver and gold linings and generous amounts of confection. Across the room was a long table weighed down with presents. Elmiryn stared at them longingly.

“Sweetest, your gifts won’t up and walk away,” Her mother murmured to her. “Why don’t you go play with your cousins?”

“Because they’re stinky,” Elmiryn said primly.

Brianna blinked down at her daughter. “Now why do you say that?”

“They play boring games and think they can bully me. Can’t I just open my presents?”

Her mother frowned reprovingly. “Now Elle, you know your cousins love you very much, and they came all this way to celebrate your birthday! Just play with them a while, sweetest, and I promise that the time will pass quickly.”

“But mother—”

“Elmiryn,” Warner said, his eyes managing to cut across at her even as he did not move his head. “Do. As. Your. Mother. Says.”

Elmiryn shot up very straight at her father’s look. The last time he’d looked at her that way, she wasn’t allowed to play outside for a week. “Yes, father!”

With that, the little girl slid from her seat, her puffy baby blue dress hissing with each step she took. Her eyes gave one last longing look toward the presents before they flickered to her four cousins gathered near it. There was Roark and Lydia, asymmetrical twins with pumpkin colored hair and wide slate-gray eyes flecked with gold. Then there was Berian, the dirty blonde with pickle-green eyes with red sauce on his white night shirt. And finally…

“Hi Adara…” the redhead mumbled as she approached her eldest cousin. Adara was nine-years-old and had long wavy brown hair.

“Hullo baby cousin,” Adara said, giving her best adult smile.

Elmiryn resisted the urge to scowl. “What are you playing?” she asked in as neutral a voice as she could manage.

“Family. Roark and Lydia are the babies. Berian is the father. You can be the mother if you’d like.”

At this, the seven-year-old blinked. “What are you going to be?”

“I’m like a director. Have you ever seen a play? I tell everyone what they’re supposed to do.”

“But don’t the father and mother say that?” Berian interjected sullenly. He was just a few weeks younger than Elmiryn, and the girl actually liked him quite a bit. They both liked racing and wrestling, and once, the boy had eaten an earthworm, which the girl still giggled about to this day.

Adara tilted her head back and gazed at him coolly. “How old are you, Berian?”

The boy drew himself up. “Six-and-three-quarters!”

“Well I’m nine-and-a-half, so I know more about Family than you do! That makes me director.

Berian’s shoulders slumped, defeated.

It went without saying that Elmiryn hated Adara. The older girl was bossy, snobby, and vindictive. It didn’t help that once her cousin had snitched on her when the redhead tried to sneak to a party being held at the slave quarters. That was the time Warner had barred her from the outdoors, all thanks to Adara.

Roark and Lydia, who wore matching white and black outfits with silver ribbons, exchanged looks. Elmiryn did not dislike the twins, but they were very much followers and had little to contribute to any game save to just nod their heads. Nothing was duller than two human dolls for playmates.

But Elmiryn wasn’t going to give over the night.

“Well it’s my birthday tonight, and I say, I’m the director,” she declared with chin thrusted out.

This earned her a sharp glare, but the others seemed to perk at the idea. Berian stepped forward quickly, grasping Elmiryn’s shoulder. “Yeah! It’s Elmiryn’s birthday! We have to do what she says!”

Adara huffed. “Well what does she want to do then?”

Elmiryn smiled, showing all teeth. “We can’t play Family without good toys…”

____________________________

Within a few minutes, the children had managed to escape the watchful eyes of their attendants under Elmiryn’s leadership. Giggling at the audacity of their slipping away from supervision, the group followed the birthday girl from room to room, collecting items, before they finally ended in Elmiryn’s bedroom. There, they laid out their prizes on the girl’s bed sheet: a wooden toy horse, a small porcelain doll, a monocle, a pretty pink ribbon, and the silver mirror brush.

Elmiryn handed these out to everyone, but kept the brush for herself. “Okay, now we all have what we need!” She gestured near her toy box. “This is the children’s room,” she pointed toward her large bookcase, “That is father’s study,” she pointed at her small vanity dresser, “And this is mother’s room.” She waved the brush through the air. “Dinner will be ready soon! Everyone has to get ready. I’ll come around so that you can tell me what you want to look like.”

The children went off to their respective spaces, but in a few minutes, they were intermingling and slipping into their make-believe roles with excitement and giggles. Even Adara seemed to forget her earlier power struggle in favor of playing the haughty mother. Berian grumphed and harrumphed a lot, smoking a pretend pipe and squinting at everything through his monocle—a very accurate depiction of his—for his actual father had died years ago. The twins cooed and rolled around, playing with Elmiryn’s toys.

The redhead took to her role of “director” with relish.

“Roark, you have to pretend you’re a doggie. Of course children do that! I did when I was a child! And Berian, put your finger under your nose. There! Now you’ve got a mustache! Adara, look Lydia is crying. Stop being a bad mother and go make her feel better!”

When enough time seemed to have passed, Elmiryn announced it was dinnertime. She came around with her silver brush mirror and held it up to everyone. “Now what do you see yourself wearing tonight?”

Berian announced he was going to wear a cloak of snails. Roark and Lydia decided they too wished to wear a cloak of snails. Berian complained that the twins were copying him, so they changed to wearing diapers and golden crowns with big fat jewels. Adara whined that they were ruining the game. Elmiryn snapped that she wasn’t even trying to be a mother, just a snob. This made the older girl declare that they were all stupid children in real life, and she didn’t want to play with them anymore.

And just like that, the fun was over.

As her cousins left to return to the festivities, Elmiryn stayed behind to hide her stolen “toys” under her bed. A clear voice reached her from the doorway, and the girl froze, her face turning red. Turning, she saw Brianna and Julianna standing there—her mother with her hands on her hips, and her attendant with one hand over her mouth. Standing behind them with downturned heads were her cousins.

Snitches! Elmiryn thought with clenched teeth.

“Sweetest, come here please,” her mother said ominously.

The girl sighed and obeyed. Gripped in her hand was the silver brush.

Brianna raised an eyebrow at her as she reached down and took away the brush. “Elle, what, may I ask, were you doing with all those things?”

“Playing Family?” she mumbled.

“Are these things yours to play Family with?”

“No…”

Brianna just shook her head with a slight smirk. “Sweetest…” With two fingers, she gave the girl a smack on the forehead that stung, and then pointed down the hall wearily. “Just get back to the party before your father sees.”

Elmiryn didn’t need telling twice. She ran, her cousins in tow, back to the guest hall where the partygoers were just settling in for their first serving of dinner. The redhead glared at Adara. “You snitched, didn’t you?”

“Did not!” The older girl snapped back. She pointed at the girl’s face. “It was your mother’s mirror brush that got us caught! She was looking for it to freshen up before dinner was served!”

Elmiryn pouted, but said nothing further. The rest of the evening went well enough, and Warner never heard of her daughter’s antics. That night, the girl received as presents: a new doll house, a rocking horse, many new dresses and accessories, and a young horse, which she excitedly named “Scabby” due to how the filly’s ruddy brown coat reminded her of the scab she had on her left knee (but this was vetoed by her mother and father both, who quickly renamed the animal, “Rose.”)

That night, when Brianna was tucking Elmiryn to bed, she stroked the girl’s hair and said with a smile. “Sweetest, mother has one more present for you. Are you ready?”

Her daughter gave an eager nod, all appearances of sleepiness fleeing her, and her mother laughed. From beneath the bed, she pulled out a slim white box, and held it out to the girl. Elmiryn took it and opened it quickly. She gave a small gasp.

Inside was her mother’s mirror brush.

“I know you liked it, so I wanted you to have it, Elle.”

Elmiryn gave a huge grin, hugging her mother. “Mama, thank you!”

Brianna laughed, hugging her daughter back. “Mother, not Mama…but you are welcome, Elmiryn. I love you very much.” She pulled back, holding the mirror side up to her daughter’s face. “Well? It’s a new year for you! You had fun playing Family with your cousins, didn’t you? And what role did you play? I think I see a very lovely wife in the future!”

The girl just blinked at her mother. “That’s not what I see.”

Her mother gave her a puzzled look. “Oh? Then what do you see?”

Elmiryn smiled at her mother as if she were being silly. “I see me, mother. Just Elmiryn.”

Brianna laughed again, a full and beautiful sound. She thought the girl was just being overly literal to make herself seem more mature. She kissed her daughter goodnight and left her to sleep. Elmiryn settled into her covers with the mirror brush clutched to her chest, more secure than she had ever felt before, because in her heart, she knew she had answered the very question her mother had meant.

What do you see?

I see me, the girl thought with a sleepy smile. Just me.

____________________________

Act II

“The Watch and the Sword”

He scratched at the dried mud on his knee and felt the day’s heat reach its peak.  He was seated on a wicker basket with ashy legs stemming out straight as though daring anyone to walk over them.  His feet were like old man’s feet because he went around barefoot, despite his mother’s nagging to put on shoes.  Hakeem didn’t care.  He liked feeling the soil between his toes.  He wanted tough feet like his father’s. Ba-Kafeel was so powerful that the boy was certain none would dare cross him.

Habari-kuz, Hakeem.”

The boy looked up, his dark eyes meeting clear azure. “Habari, Quincy.”

The little brunette was dressed in a simple cream dress, her fine hair teasing her face as the wind played with it. Gripped in her petite hands was a rusty sword—a gift from her father, which she rarely parted with and which everyone tolerated because she could hardly lift it let alone swing it.  It was also notoriously dull, failing to make an impression even on the softest of wood. She made circles into the dirt with her toes. Quincy used to wear shoes until the village children teased her for her tender feet, and then she did away with them. It was not a little frustrating, waiting for her tender feet to catch up when they walked through the jungle sometimes. Even after a year, she was still tender-footed.

“Play?” the girl mumbled shyly, her eyes on the ground.

Hakeem looked past her to see Tobias poking his head out of their hut down the trail. At the boy’s notice, the man quickly pulled out of sight. He gave a crooked smile. “Play,” he returned with a nod.

In the months since Quincy had first arrived in Kimbia, she had yet to become fluid in Fanaean. She knew enough to communicate basic needs to the villagers, but she could hardly keep a conversation. Luckily for her, Hakeem was interested in learning Common, and so they shared a hybrid of the two languages.

The boy held up a finger and slipped into his family’s hut. Inside, Ma’Nguele was preparing dinner for the day, her face sweating over a large pot of iguana stew. Seated on the ground near the fire was his father, who frowned over scrolls. In his native tongue, he said to them, “Mamu, Babu, I am going into the jungle with Quincy.”

Ba-Kafeel looked up from his work. “You are going into the jungle?”

“Yes, Ba.”

“Wait.” His father stood, his cloth skirt slipping over his powerful thighs. He strode past Ma’Nguele to a small satchel behind her, from which he pulled out a small item. “You remember how I taught you to keep time, yes my son?” He held out his hand, and from it slipped a silver watch on a chain. “I want you both back here by the fifth hour. The suns are deceitful this time of year, and the night has become dangerous with the new jackal threat.”

Hakeem took the watch. “Yes, Babu. We will be back by the fifth hour, then.”

Ba-Kafeel smiled at his son and gave a rub of his curly head. “Have fun, and be safe.”

As the boy turned to leave, he heard his mother call after him, “And if you see any, bring back a bunch of plaintains! We are low.”

“Yes, Mamu,” he said over his shoulder.

Putting the watch chain around his neck, he went to Quincy and jerked his head toward the jungles to the north. “Let’s go,” he said in Common.

Together, the two children traveled through the village, where they passed other children playing. Hakeem waved to some of them, but Quincy just kept her eyes on the ground, her shoulders even hunching at the sight of some of the others. The boy didn’t blame her, but he didn’t think she helped her case by dragging around her rusty sword. The adults laughed about it, stating, “You always know where little Quincy goes for the line her useless sword makes in the dirt!” As much as Hakeem liked the girl, it frustrated him that such silliness followed him around.

As they left the village proper–the musical weave of Fanaean conversation, and the comforting aromas of stewing meats dissipating from around them–the two children breached the cool jungles. They took to a well-known trail, leading up a hill and past a grove of spiny gora-gora bushes, to a small waterfall.

Hakeem checked his watch. It was only one. Taking it off and placing it on the rocks near the treeline, he immediately ran up the steep hill to the top of the waterfall, his face grinning in anticipation of the jump he was about to make. Quincy watched him go with pressed eyebrows, her hands tightening around her sword’s hilt. Once at the top of the waterfall, the gentle stream flowing about his shins, Hakeem gave a wave. “Watch!” he called out.

With a deep breath, the boy took three steps back, and then with a whoop he did a flip off the cliff edge. He landed into the water with a big splash.

After returning to the surface, Hakeem looked to see that Quincy still had not joined him. He frowned. Normally the girl was backstroking in the water by now. “What wrong?” he asked, spitting water from his mouth.

The girl bit her lip and looked up at the top of the waterfall.

Hakeem’s eyebrows rose and he swam to the shore of the little lake. “Go up?” he asked dubiously. Quincy wasn’t afraid of heights, but she was notorious for getting hurt. The last time she had attempted to climb the steep hill, she had slipped and sprained her ankle.

Quincy didn’t respond. She only went to the hill going up to the top of the waterfall. Then with a grunt, she lifted her sword and stabbed it into the soil. Pulling herself up, she managed to pull the sword out, and though she wobbled dangerously, she did it again. Hakeem watched, fascinated, as she slowly made her way up to the top of the waterfall.

Once there, she looked back at him, panting. Then she grinned.

The boy could feel a warm funny feeling blossom in his chest, and with more excitement than was probably warranted, he cheered and clapped his hands.

Quincy jumped off the cliff with a high laugh, brighter and fuller than any he had heard in a long time.

They stayed and played for hours. The tree cover made it hard to see the passing of the suns. Hakeem didn’t think to look at his watch again until it became hard to see his own feet in the darkness.

Tai’undu!” the boy cursed. Dripping wet and shivering from the evening air, he snatched the watch from its place on the dry rocks. “Late!”

“Late?” Quincy returned, frowning. As there were no large predators in the jungles near Kimbia, they were used to being able to play even into the dark. But the girl didn’t know about the jackals that had come to the area.

Hakeem grabbed her hand, his father’s watch clenched in his other fist. “Run!” he said.

Together the two children ran through the jungle, their feet skipping over the rough but familiar terrain. Hakeem could see the lights of their home ahead. He picked up his speed, forgetting that Quincy was clumsy and still very tender-footed.

She cried out, tripping on something unseen in the dark. Hakeem lost his grip on her as she fell, and he skidded to a halt. “Quincy!”

That’s when they heard the beast growl.

Both children froze, their eyes wide as they turned toward the source of the sound, which came from amidst a collection of ferns at the base of a mango tree. Haunting eyes glowed from within the reaches of the leaves.

Hakeem tried to move slowly toward Quincy. “Quiet!” he whispered. “Slow!”

The girl said nothing, her eyes fixed on the animal that watched them. Her hands gripped tightly around her sword, and even in the dark, Hakeem could see her tremble.

He touched her arm and tried pulling her up. “Go! Quiet!”

Just as the girl began to get up to her feet, the animal burst forth, knocking both of them to the ground. Hakeem was the one who ended up on his back, and so the beast went to him first, snarling. Quincy screamed, and the boy gave a hoarse yell as he jerked his face away from the jackal’s snapping jaws. He managed to dodge one strike, but in the fraction of a second it took for the jackal to attack, the boy knew he would not be able to fend the animal off again, let alone get free of it.

It was around this time that Quincy hit it in the back of the head with her sword.

The jackal let out a yip, its body going weak just long enough for Hakeem to push it off of him. He scrambled to join Quincy, who was looking at the sword to the jackal and back as if she couldn’t believe what had just happened. The boy was equally impressed, and he stared at the girl with amazement and a strange sort of pride.

Then the jackal’s growls returned, and their attention snapped back to the situation at hand. Hakeem pulled at his friend. “Run! Run!” he shouted, but inwardly he knew the jackal was faster. They were dead. He should’ve listened to his Babu. He should’ve kept his eye on the time…

There was a loud rumble as the earth trembled beneath their feet. Both children stopped, struggling to keep their balance. Within a few seconds it all stopped, and both children looked to see that the jackal was gone, the soil churned and raised where it had once stood.

Tobias stepped out from the cover of trees, his face a displeased white mask in the darkness. “Children, come.”

Ducking their heads, they did as they were told.

Back at the village, both Hakeem and Quincy received lectures from their respective caregivers. The girl was sent to bed without supper and the promise of extra chores in the coming days. The boy was put over his father’s knee and switched.

The next day, Hakeem limped over to Quincy’s hut to find her outside, sullenly skinning potatoes. Lying next to her feet was her rusty sword. Still around his neck was his father’s watch, and Hakeem was very conscious of it. He had five minutes to say what he needed to say before he had to do his own chores.

Habari-kuz, Quincy.”

The girl looked up at him, startled. “H-Habari, Hakeem.”

He smiled at her. “Thank you.”

She blinked at him, “For what?”

Hakeem tapped the back of his head. “Sword.” He pointed at it. “Save me.”

“Oh…that…” She shrugged and said, “I don’t know how I lifted it! I was just so scared the jackal would hurt you!”

The boy didn’t understand her words exactly, but he got the gist of her meaning. His smile widened. “Quincy strong and brave.

Quincy blushed and looked down at her skinned potatoes, but Hakeem could detect the hints of a pleased smile on her lips before he turned to return to his hut.

____________________________

Act III

“N is for Nyx”

Nyx was in the middle of practicing her Common alphabet when Atalo shoved a banana in her ear.

Koen!” she screamed, standing up so fast that her chair was knocked back onto the floor. Mushy banana bits clung to her hair and she tried to bat these away, managing to get her palms and the side of her face covered in sticky slime. “Ugh, you little monster, what’s wrong with you!?”

Atalo, meanwhile was laughing so hard his face was beet-red. Thaddeus was also laughing from his place in the hallway entrance. “He got you good!”

“This isn’t funny!” Nyx shouted, her eyes teary. “Why doesn’t he do these things to you?

Her older brother shrugged. “Because I don’t react to him like you do.”

Nyx bared her teeth and whirled on Atalo, her hands before her like claws. “Well let’s see if he likes this reaction!?”

Atalo screamed, his eyes wide, but he was still smiling as he scrambled to dodge his sister’s violent lunge. They ran around the kitchen table, displacing chairs. Fotini came through the door just as Atalo ran for it. He collided into his mother, and Nyx just managed to slide to a halt. With his new refuge found, the little boy clung to the woman’s leg. Their mother stared at them all, a basket of leeks on her arm.

“Sweet Aelurus, can my house not be the host of chaos every time I step away?”

“It’s like this even when you’re here,” Thaddeus mumbled with a smirk.

“And after dinner, when you’re arrogance comes running like water from your ass, do not ask you’re A-ma to help you wipe it, Thaddeus,” her mother said with a sharp look.

“A-ma! You would poison your own son?”

“Poison? Gods no! I was only referring to your tendency to eat like a pregnant pig.”

Nyx laughed as her mother moved around her, the older woman grunting as she dragged Atalo along. The boy, in his stubborn refusal to let go, had wrapped his legs around hers. Thaddeus just held up his hands and backed into the hall, where he was no doubt going to retire to his room until supper. Fotini glanced at her daughter over her shoulder as she set her basket on the counter.

“Now what was the commotion about?” She gave a weary sigh. “I imagine it has something to do with the slime all over the side of your face?”

Nyx pointed at her little brother, who only stuck his tongue in response. “He smashed a banana into my ear!” A thought occurred to her, and she returned to her place at the table, where her Common alphabet book still lay open. Large chunks of banana were on the pages. The girl’s eyes teared up as she stomped a foot. “He got it on my book!”

Fotini massaged her brow with one hand. “Atalo, apologize.”

“Sorry, Koah.” But the boy’s face was lit with an impish smile as he ran off to his room.

“That’s all you’re going to do?” Nyx whined. “Some of the words on my book are even ruined!”

Fotini looked at the girl over her shoulder. “Really? Which ones?”

The girl sniffled back more tears as she pointed at the page. “These ones! The first letters of the Common alphabet and some of the other vowels too!”

“Vow-els? Are those really so important?”

“This book translates Common to Ailuran, of course it’s important A-ma!”

Fotini closed her eyes with a suffering expression. “All right, all right, my little night shard.” She fished into her apron pocket for some coins, then held them out to the girl. “Here. Why not go buy a new book at the market?”

Nyx scowled. “But they only sell Ailuran books!”

The woman let out a sharp hiss and grabbed the girl’s hand. She forced the coins into her palm. “Nyx, enough. A-ma’s head hurts and she’d like to get started on dinner before the next disaster strikes!”

Nyx’s face crumpled and she slammed her fist onto the table. “This isn’t fair! This book was A-pa’s, and you don’t even care that Atalo ruined it! You never care!”

Fotini stared at her daughter, taken aback. “Nyx! That isn’t–”

But the girl snatched the book off the table and was running out the door.

____________________________

“Well, you can say goodbye to your ears, then.”

Nyx stared at her friend, mortified. “You’re not helping Taila. Why would you say something like that?”

“Because it’s true?” Taila gave an unconcerned shrug.

They were sitting on a rock near Taila’s home, the hum of bees comforting in the mild weather. The suns peered around large white fluffy clouds and the breeze was gentle. There was no erduk that day, and they were all glad for a variety of reasons.

“Maybe…maybe she won’t pinch your ears?” Ampelos said, twirling a long piece of grass between his fingers.

The girl smiled at him gratefully. “Thanks, Amp.”

He looked at Nyx shyly before ducking his gaze with a blush. “M-Maybe she’ll just give you extra chores instead?”

At this, Nyx’s face fell.

Taila threw her arm over the girl’s shoulder. “Aw, c’mon Nyx! Your A-ma tried!” The older girl gestured at her friend’s hand, which still gripped the coins Fotini had forced unto her. “You can get a new book with the money she gave you!”

Nyx scowled and slid off the rock. “You can’t replace this book. It was special…” She looked at her book in one hand—the cover was a dull sea-green, the faded title a tired wine-red that said in Ailuran, “Common Alphabet”—and the coins in her other hand. Baring her teeth, Nyx pulled the coins back, ready to throw them out into the high grass when something shiny out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.

Blinking, she turned her head to see Marq coming down the trails from the northwestern hills, his large pack on his back, jingling with trinkets. As he neared, the girl saw his slim face break into his usual haggard smile. “Kitten! It’s good to see you again!” he said in Ailuran. “Have you been practicing your Common as usual?” this he said in Common.

The girl swallowed and held out her book, tears pricking her eyes again. “Hullo Marq. Yes. I try, but stupid brother got food on alpha-bet book. Made ink bad. Can not read some words anymore…”

The elf frowned. “Must’ve been cheap ink to get so easily fouled up! What did he get on your pages?”

“A…how do you say? Anade?

“Ah. A banana,” the elf chuckled. “Your Atalo I take it.”

“Yes!” Nyx snarled as her friends joined her at her sides, their eyes curious. “He is a cajeck!

“Nyx,” Ampelos whispered. When the girl looked at him, he mumbled, “Maybe ask the elf if he can help?”

Her eyes widened. “Good idea, Amp!” Returning her eyes to Marq, she asked. “Can you fix?”

The elf merchant blinked down at her. “Ah, I don’t know kitten.”

She held out the coins. “I have money!”

The man bit his lip at the outstretched hand. Then he gave a small shrug and said, “Okay. Give it here.”

Nyx handed him the money and book eagerly, turning the latter to the page where the banana had fallen. Marq looked over it shrewdly, scratching at the paper. After a minute, he snapped it shut and handed the item back. “Nope. Nothing I can do.”

Taila hissed at him, not understanding Common but understanding enough to know the merchant’s meaning. “If he can’t fix it, then he should return your coin, Nyx!”

Nyx looked at the elf imploringly. “Marq can no do anything?”

The man rubbed the back of his head, “Uh. No. No, I can’t, Kitten. I’m sorry.” He thumbed eagerly at his backpack. “But I have more books in my backpack if you’d like to see!”

Taila kicked him in the leg, but Nyx was already walking away, her heart sunk.

Nyx pushed her food around her plate at supper, and though Thaddeus, Fotini, and Atalo conversed animatedly, she did not come out of her shell, not even when her little brother moved Thaddeus’s plate of curds beneath his elbow. Quietly, she cleared the table, then retired to her room. Her mother watched her go with a sigh.

Later, Fotini appeared at Nyx’s bedroom entrance. “Little night shard?”

Nyx didn’t answer. She lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling.

She heard her mother slip past her bead curtain and felt her sit on the bed. “Sweet Aelurus…I didn’t have to deal with such behavior from Thad until he turned fourteen at the latest! But then again, I forget how much more mature you already are when compared to him at eleven, so…” she trailed off. A few moments passed, and the woman took a deep breath. “Nyx.” The name came with a great rush of air, and Fotini shook her head. “I’m sorry I was insensitive about your A-pa’s books. I know they mean a lot to you. I’ve talked to Atalo about it, and he won’t be allowed near any food unless it’s mealtime and I’m there to watch him eat it.” The woman rolled her eyes. “Gods, that I was born such a wild child.”

Nyx rolled onto her side, facing away from her mother. Fotini looked at her, pained. Touching her daughter’s little foot, she said quietly. “Yes, Atalo is wild, but I love him for his antics, as I love you for yours, my little night shard. I love that you love books and that you are so capable of learning so much. I want you to know that I do care for you and the things you find important, but sometimes we must compromise, yes? It’ll be an exercise for the both of us, kitten.”

The girl looked at her mother. Slowly she sat up. “A-ma. I’m sorry I ran away.”

“You were frustrated and hurt, my love,” Fotini said, smiling as she hugged her daughter. “I will try to be a better mother. I will try, so please forgive me when I fail?”

Nyx turned her face into the woman’s neck. “Okay…”

The next day after breakfast, Thaddeus opened the front door, intent on checking a squeaky window from the outside, when he came across something on the front step. Frowning he picked it up and came back inside. “Nyx?” he called.

The girl was practicing her Common handwriting from the good pages of her alphabet book. “Yes?” she said, blinking up at him.

Thaddeus held out a small scroll to her, which was attached to a leather pouch. “This is for you.”

Nyx blinked and took the items from him. Opening the pouch first, she was surprised to find it was filled with the same coins her mother had given her the day before. Turning next to the note, she unfurled it and read the shaky Ailuran,

Dear Nyx,

You’re friend was right. I shouldn’t treat my best customer with such shoddy service. I had no right to take your coin when I couldn’t perform the task you wished of me, so here is a once-in-a-lifetime refund! But you know, I went poring over my personal collection of books, and I realized that maybe all it took was a bit more effort from me. So here is a list of the words ruined in your book, alphabetized, with examples in both Common and Ailuran. You’re lucky, kitten, that there was only one page that saw your brother’s terror! Otherwise, I would have had to give you something else for free…perish the thought!

 

Your Trusty Provider,

Marq

Following this was a short list of words and examples in both languages, as the elf had promised. Nyx was grinning so hard, her face ached.

“What was it?” Thaddeus asked, pulling a chair out next to his sister.

The girl slipped the note into her alphabet book and took up her leather pouch. “Nothing! I’m going shopping!” the girl exclaimed, still smiling.

The soldier watched her go with wide eyes. “Damn, what’s the rush?” Then he sat up straighter in his chair just as his sister ran out the door. “Oh! Hey! You aren’t going to see that filthy elf are y–!” he was cut off as the door slammed shut behind Nyx. Thaddeus let out a hissing breath, his eyes turning onto the note that his sister had slipped into her book. Pulling it close to him, the man opened it, and his eyes were drawn to one thing on the note…

A is for Always, as in, “Nyx will always love her family, and will always be loved in return.”


Back to Six Tales of Arachne | Forward to Chapter 32.1

Six Tales of Arachne

The Willing Fly – Part 1

As told by Lethia Artaud

 

I’m sorry that I’m laughing!  It’s just…I find it strange that you would ask me these things. You see, I was sheltered in a tower for much of my life, and the views I had of the world were all simulated through dreams and thoughts shared between myself and my…um…with Syria.

 

I saw vast mountain ranges, dark forests, seas of sand, sprawling oceans, and lush jungles, all within the safety of my mind. Did my former mistress actually see these things herself? I believe she did, many of them, as her personal accounts and other external sources would attest. But there were some stories she told that were…so fantastic, even my childish mind found it hard to believe.

 

One such story, she told me upon the day of my twelfth “birthday”. These were bittersweet occasions every year, because while it was a joyous time for us to celebrate our fated meeting, it was also a yearly reminder of my shrouded origins. For this reason, I was always caught in a fractious sort of joy, and Syria was not a little frustrated by my antics.

 

So that twelfth year, she said to me, “Lethia Artaud, thou art like the willing fly!”

 

I replied, “Mistress, I don’t understand. How am I a fly?”

 

She patted the seat next to her on the bench, just outside our tower. Behind her, the fragrant jasmine bushes filled my senses. Pouting for some reason I cannot recall, I sat next to Syria, and she smiled at me.

 

“Do you know of the Legend called Arachne?”

 

Frowning, I shook my head.

 

Syria feigned surprise. “Oh! My goodness! My sweet girl still has yet to hear this particular tale, hmm?”

 

I clapped my hands, my pout melting into a grin. “A story! Please tell me! I promise I won’t forget anything you say!”

 

She took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “You see, once long ago, I was traveling the deep mountains of the north, unknown by all save the dwarfs, and even their knowledge was piece meal at best.”

 

To which I jumped and cried, “The Spider died!?”

 

And then…

 

…No wait. I skipped a part. I’m sorry! Hold on let me just try to um…remember.

 

____________________________

 

The Incident at Gaime

As told by Elmiryn Manard

 

I’m not Nyx.

 

I mean, yeah, I bet you’re thinking, “I know that, idiot. Kind of hard to miss the red hair.” But I feel like I gotta say that, since you’re coming and asking this of me. I mean hell, you wanna know about Arachne? How’s this for a story–

 

A prostitute, a nobleman, and Arachne walk into a tavern—

 

—What? Aw hey, jokes are stories too!

 

Oh fine!

 

 

Uh.

 

Well.

 

O-kay.

 

How about this?

 

When I was very young, Thendril, my former training master, told me a story. Now don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t the coddling, nurturing type. He told me war stories. Really bloody tales about warriors and champions who fought and sacrificed for greater causes. One day, I griped that all the heroes he talked about were men.

 

“Then let me tell you of Arachne,” he said. This made me wonder if he’d taken too many blows to the head—Thendril had such nasty cauliflower ears—because after all, Arachne was always the villain in my parents’ stories. “There’s more than one side to a tale,” my training master assured me.

 

Too often, you hear people bitch and whine about how heroes vanish and no one knows what became of them. Not so, with our little arachnid. Anyone well versed in the history of heavenly champions, and the Legends that rose among them, can tell you where Arachne ended up. That story in Tobias’s book? It’s only one version of a pretty famous event. I mean—it’s a little hard for the world to ignore hundreds of god-appointed champions coming together to kill one mortal. But no one asks where these people came from and who they were before heaven came and shoved a purpose up their butt. In true fashion, no one knows for certain where Arachne came from, either.

 

I’d like to think I’m the exception to that rule.

 

I mean, you have to take into consideration my source. Thendril was a war veteran. Thendril was also older than a corpse’s fart. He was a young man when the halfling clan of Tor began their bloody campaign across Talmor in the year 3500. He was born there, in a Fiamman trading fort called Gaime, but was raised as a native son on foreign soil. The Torians nearly overtook the lands surrounding his home. He was barely fourteen-years-old at the time.

 

The fort had slaves. Fiammans like slaves, I guess. They’re like assorted chocolates to us. Well, Gaime had a pretty exotic bunch of ‘em, because in their midst were Omatts. Have you ever seen an Omatt? They’re ape people—and I’m saying that without irony. They have long grabby tails, wide flat teeth, big lumpy heads, round monkey ears, and long arms. The fort had one in particular, with green eyes and deep violet hair. She was a young girl who refused to speak—ever—even upon threat of beating. After a time, people thought she was simple, and let the matter alone.

 

As Thendril put it, they weren’t close or anything. This isn’t a tale of forbidden romance, or one of those corny buddy stories. His was just the story of an observer, of a boy who cobbled together accounts from those around him. Maybe some of it was rumor, but my old training master didn’t place too much stock in bullshit, so I trusted what he said.

 

This is a long introduction isn’t it? See, I’m not a storyteller like Nyx. Thendril was a good one though. He started like this:

 

On the longest day of summer, the invading Torians could be seen from Gaime’s watchtowers. The men were on edge, because many of them had families back home, and it was said that the halflings could not be defeated. “They’re invincible,” the soldiers whispered furtively. “They say they are blessed by the gods!” And they weren’t exaggerating. Reports kept coming in of Torians being stabbed, only for them to pull the swords free from their bodies with no wound left behind.

 

Well, Thendril’s father, Hetrius, didn’t want to back down, even after the royal courts back at the kingdom had abandoned them. The Torians arrival was estimated to be about some two or three days. He put the slaves to work, bolstering their defenses and forging more weapons. Thendril’s job was to carry messages between the different working parties.  That was when he saw her.

 

The Omatt was sitting under the shade of a table, contemplating the chain that hung limp from her neck collar. Her long tail was curled around her, and her small bony body was slouched—or relaxed, however you’d like to see it.  Naturally, the boy was alarmed. He called out to her, and though her round ears flickered to him, she didn’t look up or make to run away. Confused, Thendril ran to get help, and the Omatt girl was locked up again, chained to a heavy stone wall where she was to remain until she was punished.

 

“Damn strange,” said one of the guards as they walked away. “How’d she get free of her tether? There were no marks on the chains to show they’d been struck, nor any welts on her neck or hands to show that she’d struggled! You think someone set her free?”

 

His companion answered. “Who on Halward’s plane would be dumb enough to do that?”

 

While they wondered this, Thendril instead asked, “Why didn’t she run?”

 

And to this, no one had an answer.

 

The next day, the boy resumed work as usual, only to hear a shout draw his eyes to the top of the fort’s tallest watchtower.

 

Sitting there, with hands on knees and her eyes to the horizon, was the young Omatt girl. The guard beneath her was shouting and waving his hands at those on the ground as he pointed up at her, while his partner tried bravely (or stupidly, however you’d like to see it) to climb atop the sloped roof to retrieve the slave. After the man nearly fell, he gave up his effort, and one of the older Omatt slaves was sent to collect the little renegade.

 

This commotion had been enough to slow down work for the day, and Hetrius did not like this. He was, after all, Fort Commander. With whip in hand, the large man stomped over to where the Omatt girl was being held at the bottom of the watchtower. He ordered her turned around and uncoiled his whip, pulling back for a blow. Then he stopped.

 

“The back of her shirt,” he said, squinting. “It has been torn, and there is blood on it! You there,” he pointed at the soldier holding the girl. “Is this the slave that had escaped yesterday?”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

“But there are no marks on her back! She should have been punished!”

 

The soldier was about to respond when his thick brain managed to put two and two together. “I…I don’t know what to say sir. I was there when she was whipped myself!”

 

Hetrius’s jaw thrust forward and his thick veins bulged. He looked like a livid tomato. The commander pulled back his whip with a scream and let it lash out.

 

While the Fort Commander’s reaction wasn’t altogether bizarre, it’s kinda important to add that the Torians were now steering their march toward their home. The few women and children at the fort, aside from the slaves, had fled in the hopes of reaching the town of Akii, whilst the men folk worked to buy them time. The Torians were expected to strike the following day, if not that very night. Tensions were high, and little patience was spared over puzzling the mysteries surrounding annoying young slaves.

 

That night, Thendril stayed up with his father, listening to the leaders as they discussed their options. Morning came without any blood being shed, but the Fiammans awoke to the pants-shitting sight of at least a thousand halflings surrounding their scant hundreds. Hetrius, unrattled, ordered the men to suit up and take their ranks. The armies stared each other down. The Torian leader, bearing the black and gold heraldry of his clan, came riding out onto the field. The Fort Commander rode out to speak with him. Tense moments passed as both forces watched their leaders converse. Finally, Hetrius spat on the ground and rode back at full gallop.

 

“Ready the archers!” he roared.

 

The Torian leader had also ridden back to his line, and his frontline infantry readied their spears. Shouting could be heard on both sides as all prepared for what was most likely going to be a massacre.

 

Then the Omatt girl appeared.

 

She walked out from among the Fiamman ranks, her collar still about her neck, and her chain, once again, trailed limp along her large feet. Both sides seemed to pause, bewildered by the appearance of this little Omatt just standing clear out into the open.

 

Hetrius was the first to recover. “Who let her out!?” he thundered.

 

But she didn’t stop walking, and none went to fetch her. Fluttering about her were the tattered remains of her shirt, barely white and mostly bloody, but there, in the clear morning suns, you could see—

 

The Omatt’s skin was free of all wounds.

 

While the Fiammans gaped at her audacity, and the news of her miraculous healing spread amongst the ranks, the Torians were less impressed. The halfling leader spoke to one of his archers, and the man took aim with his bow.  The silence was so heavy, that you could hear the thwip of the arrow being loosed.

 

But it didn’t hit.

 

Instead, it just hung mid-air, just before the girl’s face, before fading away into dust—then not even dust. Just nothing. As soon as it vanished, the little girl, who could not have been older than nine, charged toward the Torian forces. The men on the other side seemed too stunned to react. Too stunned, or too scared, however you’d like to see it. Then the leader gathered enough of his wits to call the charge.

 

Hetrius, in reaction, also called for his men to charge.

 

But before the forces could meet, the Omatt girl reached the enemy first, and what happened to them was hardly to believe.

 

She undid them.  Just as she had undone the arrow, so did this little freak unleash a wrathful wave of ruthless power.  All the men around her perished, first becoming dust, and then from dust, nothing.  Their fellows, less in number now, were quick to notice this.  Though they still vastly outmanned the Fiammans, the Torians proved to be shit-eating cowards in the face of death. It was the whole invulnerability thing gone to their heads.

 

So what did they do?  They ran, of course!

 

The Fiamman soldiers went out of their minds with joy as their enemy retreated. They threw their helmets into the air, hugged each other, shouted and whistled…but not the Fort Commander and his son. They watched as the Omatt girl stared at the soldiers and their jubilation. Then without a word, she turned and began to walk away, northward, away from Gaime.

 

“What sort of magic was that?” Thendril asked. “I’ve never even heard of anything like it!”

 

His father shook his head. “I’m afraid I do not know.”

 

“She’s walking away. She means to leave for good this time. Why didn’t she just do so before, if her power was so great?”

 

“Perhaps she didn’t feel like it, like all those times she didn’t feel like being chained up anymore?” Thendril didn’t miss his father’s ironic tone.

 

“Should I fetch someone to get her, father?”

 

“No, son,” Hetrius said slowly. He turned his horse and rode back to the fort. “There is no catching a spider in its own web…”

 

And that was that.

 

Now, don’t mistake things. Arachne wasn’t called Arachne until many years later, and though she defeated the halflings at Gaime, the Torians went on to resume their campaign across Talmor. They almost took it all too, were it not for the efforts of a different Legend by the name of Toshihiro, who lead the Talmorian city-states in a rebellion that took the halflings down. And with that, my friends, I end the earliest story I’ve ever heard of Arachne, also known in some regions as the Spider of the West. What was her real name? Why did she become associated with the Western world? Well, you’ll have to ask someone else that question because I’m all storied-out.

 

Unless you’ll let me finish my joke?

 

So a prostitute, a nobleman, and Arachne walk into a tavern…

 

____________________________

 

The Willing Fly – Part 2

As told by Lethia Artaud

 

Would it bother you much if I skipped forward a portion? I’ve always had this problem with longer stories. Even as a child, it was a challenge reading me a bedtime story, because I would forget how it all started and who was in it. It frustrates me to no end, but I am determined to tell you this now, good or bad.

 

Well, at any rate, this was some ways into Syria’s narration, but I’ll try to explain as I go. So. The reason I thought Spider had died–

 

“Don’t close your eyes! Don’t!” Syria cried, as she tried to staunch the flow of blood from the young female Omatt’s head. Dark life matted the Spider’s violet hair, and her round green eyes rolled in their sockets as her eyelids fought a losing battle to stay open.

 

The guardians of Hudisyg, who had defended the sacred dwarven rituals until the pair of women had stolen them, were bearing down the carved out tunnels, their torches warming the darkness with their blood lust. The Spider’s hands fisted her gray robes, her breath coming in frosty clouds before her face. Their only torch sputtered on the ground, where in the sphere of light, the golden handles of a pair of scrolls winked with the fire’s dance.

 

“You didn’t have to take that trap for me,” Syria sniffed, trying to keep her shivering in check. “And you call me the idiot.”

 

The Omatt didn’t respond. In fact, her eyes closed, but she smiled faintly and said, “Web is quiet. Still no flies…” And she went limp, her breath fleeing her.

 

My mistress—I mean—Syria, was torn. She could either defend the Spider, or she could flee. The question was a pressing one, as at that time, she was not at the power she had become famous for.

 

But Syria was always sharp, and so she checked to see the Spider’s pulse.

 

She found none.

 

With her answer, the woman reluctantly lowered the Omatt to the soil, and whispered, “Thank you. If it were not for you, I would not have found the scrolls! This will help many people!” Kissing two fingers, she pressed them to the Spider’s lips before turning and fleeing, away from the shouts that drew closer.

 

Thus why I cried, “The Spider died?”

 

 

Oh! OH!  Wait, wait, wait.

 

I just remembered!

 

Can I say that part I had missed before?

 

Ahem.

 

This was back on the bench, before Syria had begun her story. Remember she mentioned she’d been searching for something in the northern mountains? Well she went on to say, “I was searching for hidden texts regarding dwarven enchantment techniques—rituals that saw whole groups of dwarves impervious to pain. It was a lost art in enchantment, and I wanted to use it to better treat the wounded.

 

“Well my search brought me to a lost city, high up in the frosty bluffs. Investigation revealed to me that it was Hudisyg, the dwarven center for magical arts. It was no easy feat getting there, child, but it was soon revealed that the real challenge was in getting out alive!”

 

I didn’t interrupt, my twelve-year-old body clenched in anticipation.

 

Syria’s eyes were on the blue sky over us. She was always looking up that way, and it wasn’t until I became much older that I wondered if she were waiting for something. She continued, “There were many traps still active in some of the facilities and temples—acid bombs that ate through metal, spikes that shot up through the floor to impale you, great scythes that came out of the walls seeking to cleave you—and those turned out to be the least of my problems. Hudisyg was not abandoned. There were guardians there, dwarven men laced with some dead magic. They were little more than beasts working under a strict spiritual ban, their minds twisted by the power that had no doubt sustained them for an age. They babbled in ancient dwarven, and their clothes were torn and dated. They hunkered around as apes, but in their hands they clenched dwarven weapons. Can you believe, my Lethia, that such creatures would corner your mistress? I could not sense their thoughts, something of their savage natures escaping my notice so that I was caught unawares.

 

“They pressed in, and as they did, I saw how runes glowed all along their skin—runes that, in the heat of the moment, I still recognized as Talmorian in origin. Why would the dwarves carve such things into their body? I didn’t have time to answer, of course, because just then an Omatt dropped behind me and struck me in the back of the head…”

 

 

…Uh.

 

…I–I’m sorry. I s-seem to have…er…lost it, again.

 

 

____________________________

 

The Stone in Bondage

As told by Hakeem

 

The Spider? Ah.

 

I…suppose I can tell you of her.

 

In my home village of Kimbia, we had little to do with Legends save for two men and an Omatt, who appeared one stormy night in a dreadful storm. Quincy does not like that I tell this story, but it is not her story to tell, it is mine. She was living in another part of the world, you see, so she hadn’t come to live with us yet.

 

The men were named Jack and Tobias, and they were servants to the gods Njord and Tellus respectively. And the Omatt? The men never named her in my presence, and as I came to understand it, no one knew who her patron was. She volunteered nothing about the matter. She hardly even spoke, in fact, and when she did, it was with a clipped accent that seemed less like a foreigner, and more like a child still learning the proper tones and cadences for speech. She was older than I was—around fifteen, I heard Tobias say—and she was an Omatt. I’d seen Omatts before. Plenty of them had come to Fanaea to trade and explore the jungles. But her green eyes were rare, and they fixed on me beneath a crop of dark bangs, holding me there like I was caught beneath her power.

 

 

I pressed into my mother’s soft side, still too young a boy to understand that I had to act strong, like my father. Ba-Kafeel was not the leader of our village, by any means, but he was a well-known and well-respected man in the region. Even so, it was strange that these people, these agents of heaven, came to our hut and not our village chieftain’s.  The two men spoke in our native tongue, while the girl just sat there, watching me.

 

“Kafeel. It is good to see you again, my friend!” Jack said as he shook my father’s hand over the fire. He was shorter than Tobias and about level with my father, his warm brown hair overgrown so that it flopped into his clear blue eyes. In hindsight, the family resemblance between he and Quincy was unmistakable. Again, she does not like that I say that, but it is true. “We are heading to Santos, but this storm has delayed us! Not a problem for me you see, but I must think of my companions.” Jack gestured at Tobias and the Omatt.

 

“Perhaps it is a sign of doom?” my father ventured.

 

“Nay! It is the work of that blowhard, Ludovico, son of Santos and Eate’s fatheaded champion.”

 

“Perhaps we should be careful in naming the pantheon in the same breath as our curses…” Tobias muttered.

 

“I will when their novices quit acting as fools!” Jack bit out. He struck his knee, and gesticulated angrily with his other hand. “Do you know that he has sent such storms across the skies that the common folk now believe it is Njord’s doing? What heresy!”

 

“Has he a reason for it?” Ba-Kafeel asked carefully.

 

“Delegation,” Jack said with disgust. “He is using his heavenly power for earthly politics, for heavens sake! How much more reviling can one get?”

 

“It isn’t unheard of, brother,” my father responded with a sardonic smile. “The gods have numerous times been involved in the affairs of man. Your patrons’ protests aside, what makes this any different?”

 

“He’s being paid for it,” Tobias said with a sad shake of his head. “And those who try to flee Santos and its turmoil are captured as slaves, under the commands of his henchmen!”

 

Ba-Kafeel frowned. “That is a grave thing indeed! Surely his patron would cast him down in disgrace for such behavior!”

 

“Aye, one would think. But the gods are veiled in their intentions. We know of our own patrons, but we cannot speak for other gods.” Here Tobias looked at the Omatt, pointedly it seemed, and that was when he noticed her intense focus on me. Blinking, he looked my way. “And Kafeel? Your son? He is up late for a youngling!”

 

Ba-Kafeel looked my way and chuckled. “This is Hakeem. He is suffering from nightmares.”

 

The other men smiled as Ma’Nguele rubbed my back. The Omatt smiled at me, and scooted forward, around the fire. I shrank further into my mother’s folds, ready to cry, when the girl held out her hands. From the dirt floor, the sands drew up as if the grains were individually plucked by invisible hands, floating in the air, and over this, her fingers worked like she were manipulating it all. Then the sands melted together, turning bright and hot, and within an instant, they darkened and cooled into the shape of a small stone doll. With a small gesture, the doll rose to her waiting palm, and this she held out to me, her smile still in place.

 

I took it shyly, my eyes wide with wonder as I looked the stone doll over. It was as though it had been chiseled from a larger rock, with no signs of the sand it had once come from. It was even smooth, and yet chiseled into its base in clean precision was the letters, “X-I-A”. I didn’t know what it meant then, and to this day I still do not. The stone doll had a collar around its neck, from which trailed a chain, and that wrapped around its geometric body to the end of its right leg, where it linked to a large stone. The doll had no features—no face, no genitals, nothing. A faceless slave. Still, its fantastic creation was enough for me to get excited.

 

I looked at Ba-Kafeel and he gave me an expectant look. Blushing, I said, “Thank you,” in my native tongue.

 

The girl said nothing, except to grin wider. She stood to her feet, her long tail raised and curled at the tip, and she turned and left our hut. Neither of her companions moved to stop her. Tobias was even grinning.

 

He said to my father, “Forgive her. She does as she pleases, and likes the weather best when it is fierce.”

 

And so the three Legends remained with us until the morning, when the storm cleared and the skies were blue. I rose early, stone doll in hand, to stand with my father outside of our hut. My brothers and sisters were still too content to remain sleeping—but they didn’t know the wonder I had seen last night, and I was excited to see more.

 

“Thank you, Kafeel,” Tobias said, thumping my father’s shoulder. “For the food and the warm beds, thank you!”

 

My father waved this away. “It is nothing. You have done so much more for me than I can hope to ever repay.” And here he rubbed my head vigorously, like I was the prize.

 

The Omatt stood apart from the men, her eyes on the sky toward the west, where they would be heading. She must have sensed my eyes on her, for she looked my way, and once more she smiled. She gestured for me to come closer, her ape-like tail swaying behind her. With a gulp, I neared, and she crouched down. That was when I heard her speak for the first and last time.

 

“When Santos free, he free.” She pointed at the doll and winked. I could only gaze at her, open mouthed. I didn’t understand her, of course, and it was only until after they left that my father translated for me.

 

We followed the three Legends well outside the village, where there they took off into the sky. Tobias held onto Jack, whilst the Omatt soared into the sky alone, her ascent less like the smooth flight of her companions’, and more like she were pulling and swinging on ropes unseen. She paused, halting in mid-air upside down to look back at my father and me. Grinning wildly, she gave a wave, and flew away.

 

A week later, the chains on my stone doll were gone.

 

I never again met the Omatt, for her adventures took her elsewhere, and soon the names “Arachne” and “Spider of the West” began to float to our little Fanaea. But in the years that came, she came to affect my life in ways I hadn’t imagined—in ways that Quincy hadn’t imagined, for her life soon was every bit a part of mine. And do I hate the Spider for all the pain I went through?

 

…No, I cannot say I share the same loathing that Quincy does, but then again, my wife has many more reasons to hold enmity against the Legend.

 

I will say, however, that upon the destruction of my village in Kimbia, one of the few belongings I was able to find again was that little stone doll. As I plucked it up from the ashes, all blackened with soot, I felt my breath catch.

 

The collar and chain were once more around the doll’s neck.

 

It wasn’t until Quincy and I joined the pirate ship that we learned how the marauders came to find us, and how it was allowed to happen. Once this knowledge became clear, my then future-wife demanded that I throw the stone doll away. I did not, feeling compelled to keep it. Perhaps for a sign. But whether through accident or design, Quincy had lured me off Tulki’s ship, and so it sailed off with my belongings. Among them was the odd little trinket. I do not know what became of it…

 

Now that I mention it, I wonder if it is still under bondage?

 

____________________________

 

The Willing Fly – Part 3

As told by Lethia Artaud

 

Sigh…well, I’ve got it all again…sort of. What if I just returned to when Syria fled from the guardians, then?

 

My former mistress could hear the wild dwarves shouting and hollering in excitement as they came across the Spider’s corpse. She didn’t stop, for fear that some of the guardians still pursued her, but with time it became clear that she was no longer being sought. With scrolls in hand, Syria knew that she could unlock the secrets of the ancient dwarven enchanters, but something held her fast.

 

“I cannot leave her,” she breathed. “I must bury her. It is only right.”

 

With a resolute nod, Syria returned to the dark stone city.

 

There she came upon the frost-covered central square, where the Spider was strung up like she were on a web of her own. Ropes held her spread-eagled between two metal spires, where her battered body was free to bleed out onto the icy stones. All around her were the dwarven guardians, their eyes and runes glowing blue in the dark of the buildings. Syria tried to hide behind a low crumbling wall, but she underestimated the intelligence of her foes, for one on patrol found her, and in short order, she was subdued and brought forth. As an enchantress, her only real defense was in psychic attacks, but again, these dwarves seemed immune to all enchantment.

 

The woman was forced to her knees as one of the guardians came forth with a great sword.

 

Then the Spider spoke, blood dripping from her pale lips, and everyone gave a great start. “All…flies…here. Thanks…idiot,” she said with a quivering smile. Laboriously, she lifted her head and her eyes flew open.

 

“You were bait!” I exclaimed, when Syria first told me this story as a child.

 

The woman broke off, and I shrank beneath her stern gaze.

 

When I was young, I didn’t interrupt much except for when something absolutely shocked me to the core. Now being sheltered, you’d think I’d have been surprised in such a way all the time, but not so. As a youth growing up, because all of my knowledge of the outside world was second-hand and seen through mental simulations, it felt detached. Not unexciting, but certainly not something that made me jump or squeal as though it were happening before me. I was always aware of that meta-existence, where I seemed to hover impervious to everything I witnessed. And so it was with Syria’s stories, as fascinating as they were.

 

Argos, on the other hand…do you know that once, when Syria was telling us of the time she was caught by a pair of cannibals, he went running outside to relieve himself because he was so excited? He didn’t quite make it, the poor dear. Oh, he’ll be embarrassed if he finds out I’ll tell you, but he managed to sprinkle a bit as he scurried out the door. Syria wasn’t all that amused, and Argos’s tail remained firmly tucked between his legs until—

 

Huh?

 

Oh, I’m sorry. I was telling a story?

 

…Um…which story was that again?

 

____________________________

 

The Battle of Hazmes

As told by Paulo Moretti

 

Eh…I’m familiar with Arachne, but what I know of her isn’t so nice. That is what you want, I bet. You want something nice. See, Arachne isn’t too popular with the Santian Kingdom. You have all those crem lias and crem dons who spit just at her mention—and it is quite a sight to see a noble person spit! But why wouldn’t they, when she helped lay to waste their biggest source of income? Even the common folk can’t seem to embrace her entirely. She was wild. Carnal. Pér ya. You want nice? I’ll see what I can do.

 

This story I learned about in my schooling. It took place near my home village of Felico in the year 3509, when my father was a young man. The coastal city of Hazmes was a trading city that made most of its profits from the slave trade. That year, the city’s slaves were rebelling, and certain estadentias—politicians—tried to “help” them by providing them with arms. Now, don’t get me wrong, eh?  I don’t like slavery, but even I could see the baloso move that was. With weapons, the frustrated slaves could act out on their anger and rage. So yes. There were revolts. De reán, me soque, Eate! Even for someone who wanted to stir up trouble, I can’t see how these estadentias could be okay with these slaves hurting so many innocent people.

 

Eh. But they did. The reason for this was that, in creating a scandal over the slave issue, the plotters could discredit the reigning duke, Signor Niccolò Jutien Mercando, who was slated to be the next Chief of Commerce. There were rumors going around that Ludovico, our beloved champion of Eate, was somehow using his godly powers in less than godly ways to aid in the profit making—profits that hurt the lower class, of which my father, at the time, belonged to.

 

But champions came to fight this, and they were the agents of Njord and Tellus. But the real interesting one, was a young Omatt who the poor called Arachne. Did you know? It was the Santians who so named her. No one but those champions she traveled with knew her real name, and it was rarely uttered, if ever.

 

Well, while her fellow champions set about hunting down Ludovico, Arachne was quick to address the problems in the city. First, of course, were the slave riots. Now how could one person, Legend or no, handle such a broad nightmare as this? The slaves made up nearly half of the population of the city, and with arms their disorganization was balanced by their sheer numbers. Noble families were being slaughtered in their homes.

 

As many of you may already know, Arachne is famed for her inseño brand of flight: The Omatt could move through the air as though she were climbing and swinging along threads invisible to the common man. But what people don’t understand is that these “threads”? They were connected to everything, not just the air.  The world was Arachne’s web, and all she had to do was get a good grip on you to undo everything you were.

 

Espero. Wait. I know what you’re thinking. But she didn’t kill any of the slaves. Didn’t even take away their weapons. You want to know what Arachne did?

 

She raised an army.

 

Not an angry mass of unwashed thousands acting independently of one another—I’m talking about a unified fighting force that struck down the local government. Arachne could see the anger and misguided terror that hung over Hazmes, and with clever fingers, she undid this. Maybe some would call it a form of enchantment. Me? I call it a damn good bit of politicking, ha! Afterwards, none of the slaves felt out of sorts or as if they were coming out of a spell. The Omatt had simply taken their similar wishes, and bonded them into one single goal.

 

With her at the head of this new army, the random destrucíon ended, and the fight was taken to the duke’s castle overlooking the city.

 

Niccolò came out with his chamberlain and small guard in all his gold and blue finery—you know, que los crem dons pusieron: The soft velvet cap with the big sweeping feather, a quilted half skirt, the puffy shorts, and tasseled shoulder guards made of gold and silver. With all of this cacare on, the duke raised his polished rapier and shouted. “You demonios overstep your station! Ludovico and the king’s men will come, and they will see you all hang!

 

The chamberlain was the only one who survived to translate Arachne’s response. And you want to know what she said?

 

You first.

 

And he was. The Duke of Hazmes, Signor Niccolò Jutien Mercando, was pulled up by his neck by some invisible rope, along with all of his guard, and the peasant army cheered as the nobles’ eyes bulged, and though they struggled, with time they turned still. The former duke’s chamberlain, Signor Corelo Manuel Duras, was tasked with taking a message to the king. An ultimatum, in fact.

 

Either the Santian Kingdom outlawed slavery, or the royal family would be overthrown.

 

An easy decision, yes? Conio, of course not! The royal family was in a compromised position. If they didn’t do as was demanded, they were very likely going to die, but if they did do as they were asked, then they would be losing untold amounts of gold to the Fiamman Kingdom, which, to this day even, still wholly support the slave trade.

 

Today, this situation simply could not happen—Santos’s army has increased tenfold since that century, and they have become a great deal smarter about security. But then? The common folk made up the majority of the kingdom, and they were not hurt by the slave riots at all. In fact, most joined in. Only the nobles had any reason to object—and why not, when their lives were on the line? It was a very bad time to be rich, then.

 

These were all things that had been building up to this moment. The Kingdom of Santos is a good example of what happens when the majority of commoners get fed up with the minority of rulers. Our entire government transformed, shifting more power from the monarchy to the people. This all came at the cost of much blood and loss, and yet I’d like to say that the Santian people are not calgatos. We are good people—passionate maybe, but so were our neighbors to the north, eh?

 

So when the Spider revealed her intention to march on the king, regardless of his response, many defied her. This pissed the lia off, yeah? And in her anger, she destroyed their beloved harbor, before taking to the skies, like a brat throwing a tantrum.

 

Days later, the champions of Tellus and Njord returned, a defeated Ludovico at heel. When they inquired about the Spider, they learned of her antics, and with great displeasure, moved to set her right. In their absence, the people of Hazmes started to clean up their ravaged city. Much pain and damage had been caused, and compassion appeared to chase away all those mal sentiemants.

 

The common folk were unprepared then, when the royal army appeared within sight of the city, ready to assert the King’s power once more. With the bloodlust gone and their weapons in disrepair (those people had no idea how to properly care for a weapon, let alone how to use it) they had no chance. Leaders were sent to beg the generals for forgiveness, but they were denied.

 

“You’ve made your choice, bestiales!” the soldiers barked. “You will all pay for your crimes!”

 

On the day the army was to march on Hazmes, the common folk made one last plea.

 

“Please!” they cried. “It was that damned Arachne! She misled us!”

 

Again they were denied. “Idi’utes! None so lead you when you first began your filthy revolts!”

 

The archers were readied. The horseback soldiers got into a position for a follow-up charge. The generals took a breath, ready to give out the order—

 

And the earth split open to swallow them whole. The wind whipped up just as the archers let loose their arrows, fouling their path so that they fell harmlessly, and the riders and their horses were taken up into the air, their bodies turning for a moment in suspension, like something held them fast—

 

The three heavenly champions appeared, descending onto the battlefield. The Spider’s tail was up and curled at the tip as she smiled at her new prey. With a glance over her shoulder, she once again stirred the courage—or the bloodlust, some might say—of the peasants. Emboldened, the hundreds of thousands of common folk charged forward and attacked the stunned soldiers with anything they had.

 

“Spider, nay!” The champion of Tellus shouted. “Innocent blood may be shed!”

 

“None innocent,” she returned before reducing the soldiers and horses in her invisible web to dust.

 

The battle was long and fierce and horrific, even with the aid of the Legends. Through the whims of the Spider, the champions could not unleash their power as they normally would, and so could not make the battle quick. Many of our people died, but many more were the King’s men. It was a high cost to pay, pér conio, sheer numbers won again!

 

The king finally answered the Legends and the people of Hazmes—yes, he would outlaw slavery.

 

The champion of Njord became quite cross with the Spider. “That was what you had us fighting for? We came here for Ludovico, not political agendas!”

 

The champion of Tellus intervened. “Brother, it was my fault the Spider got such ideas. I merely suggested that in helping the people of Hazmes, we could perhaps help the slaves too. I had no idea this was her intention!”

 

“And when does anyone know what this lunatic is thinking?”

 

A Jose Hartrand-Ines Consuelo, the young historian who eventually wrote all of this cacare down into a book so that I could fall asleep on it many years later, overheard this. But the account stops there. Did the Spider receive any punishment for what she had done? No. In fact, it’s said that she split ways with her fellows to go northward, into the Sibesona. And did the people of Hazmes beg the remaining Legends to stay any longer in the smoldering ruins of their city? Definitely not!

 

I told you, eh?  It’s hard telling a Santian story that’s nice about Arachne.

 

____________________________

 

The Willing Fly – Part 4

As told by Lethia Artaud

 

It…it is difficult to think of Syria, so I suppose that would account as to the reason my memory is shifting so. I hope I am at least in some way coherent?

 

Ah. Well…where were we before this part?

 

The Spider striking Syria. Right.

 

So my former mistress found herself facing down a large gang of these dwarven guardians when suddenly she was knocked to the ground with her eyes bursting with stars and her head throbbing in sharp pain.

 

“Idiot!” her assailant spat over her before she launched herself at the dwarves, her body like a rogue marionette doll, wheeling free through the air without ever touching the ground. Her hands and feet struck hard as she went. It was almost graceful, in a jarring, neck-breaking sort of way, and Syria was too awed to even get up from the floor. The guardians fled, and the Spider returned to my former mistress, helping her up. The woman tried to read the Omatt’s mind, but found herself blocked, just as with the guardians.

 

“Who are you?” she asked, disconcerted. “And…and why did you hit me?”

 

“Because,” The Spider snapped, already walking away.

 

“Because why??”

 

“Because you stupid.”

 

“Wait!”

 

The Omatt sighed and stopped.

 

Syria dared to venture closer, her hand still on the back of her head. “But…who are you?”

 

The Spider looked at her as if she were blowing spit bubbles with crossed eyes. “Spider.”

 

“Spider?”

 

“Idiot. Spider. Not say again.”

 

Syria nodded, eyebrows raised. “Spider. Very well. I am Syria of Albias. May I ask what you are doing out here, Spider?”

 

Here, the Omatt frowned, and turned away. “Spider’s business.”

 

Syria clasped her hands behind her back. “Are we perhaps searching for the same thing?”

 

Spider shrugged. “Spread web. Idiot shook it. Was too early.”

 

“Oh I intruded on something, did I?”

 

“Yes. Busy. Go away,” the Omatt coiled her legs as though she were about to leap into the air in that bizarre form of flight.

 

At this point, Syria confessed to being a bit desperate. She’d been searching for ages for this valuable knowledge, and the guardians were looking to be too formidable for her to handle on her own. So quickly, she blurted out. “I can find a way to stop all pain!”

 

This made the Spider pause, and she turned to fix her green gaze on the enchantress. “No pain–?”

 

WAIT! Wait. Okay. So I just remembered how the story…um…ends. Would it hurt if I said it now? No? Yes?

 

Well I may as well.

 

So—back to Syria and the Spider captured. I just was at the part where the Omatt had woken up.

 

She smiled at everyone up in her bondage, her wounds healing and her cheeks flushing with life. It was as though she were coming back from the dead. Then her eyes darkened and threads of light erupted from the center of her chest.  They coursed out through the air, where they each speared lightning fast into the chests of each of the guardians. Beads of light coursed along the threads, from the dwarves to the Spider. The guardians were utterly paralyzed.

 

“It looked painful for them,” Syria had told me as a child. “Their bodies were rigid, their veins bulging. Their skin started to deteriorate as the light went from their runes.”

 

“What happened when they were all gone?” I whispered, sitting on the edge of the bench.

 

She looked at me, her eyes blinking from the fog of memory. “The Spider freed herself, and said to me, ‘Does it hurt?’

 

“I was confused, naturally, so I asked her, ‘How do you mean?’

 

“She replied, ‘Your tomorrow.’

 

“‘And why would my tomorrow hurt?’

 

“The Spider shrugged at me. ‘Because. You already try to heal it.’ She pointed at the scrolls in my hand before grinning and leaping into the air until she flew out of sight.” Syria frowned at her lap.

 

I blinked at her. “Mistress, what’s wrong?”

 

And she replied…

 

 

…I can’t. I can’t do it.

 

…It—It isn’t that I’ve forgotten. I just…Now I wish I didn’t remember.

 

____________________________

 

Demon Etiquette

As told by Nyx

 

My brother Thaddeus could be an asshat at times. Before he went off to join the military, Thad had a thing where he would try to scare me if he got bored enough.

 

He was bored plenty, I assure you.

 

One night, when I was six, I was in my room, trying to study Common so that I could talk to Marq the merchant elf in his next visit. The elf was one of the few outsiders that came to visit Tosmai, and I was fascinated with the prospect of being able to talk to him. So far, I could say, “Hello,” and “I am the university,” the latter being a very rough translation of, “Och ne erduk,” which actually means, (when translated properly,) “I am a student at school.” With me saying these silly things over and over, it wasn’t hard for Thaddeus to figure out what it was I was doing. Naturally, he had to bother me.

 

“Kooo-ah…” he called spookily from the doorway.

 

I ignored him, a tactic I had learned from my mother when our bickering filled the house.

 

Thaddeus persisted, raking his fingers down the wall. “Koah!

 

I pursed my lips but managed to keep my eyes resolutely on the open page of my book. I heard my brother fully pass through the bead curtain. I could sense him hovering behind me and snapped my book shut with a little growl.

 

I turned to glare up at him. “What do you want, cajeck?

 

“I wanted to warn you,” he said with intense gravity in his tone.

 

“About what?”

 

Thaddeus sat on my bed and lounged back, a smirk firmly in place. “Did you know filling your head with weird ideas gets bad attention?”

 

“A-ma said you can’t bother me when I’m reading.”

 

“Well you’re not reading right now, are you tail sucker?”

 

My lips puckered. I didn’t even hesitate as I turned my head. “A-maaaaa!

 

Thaddeus jumped up, his hands going around my mouth. “Shhh! Cajeck! Do you want the Spider to hear you?”

 

After I shook off my brother’s hands, I looked at him as if he were crazy. “Spiders can’t hear!”

 

“Who says?”

 

“My books! Spiders feel sound, they don’t hear it!”

 

“You can hardly read those things!”

 

A-pa told me, before he left! And there’s pictures—”

 

“Fine, fine. But what if there was a really big spider that could feel what you’re saying now?” He crossed his arms and bore down on me with a malevolent grin. “What if she’s crawling along her great wide web to come get you?”

 

My body bunched and my face betrayed my growing unease. “Stop it. You’re lying. There are no spiders that big. My books—“

 

“Are worth about as much as Atalo’s soiled diapers. I mean, really Koah? What do you need to learn Common for? To speak with that elf beggar who comes rattling through town with his crap?”

 

“He’s not a beggar! He’s the only person that’s ever nice to me! He gives me candy.”

 

Thaddeus slapped a hand to his face. “My sister, doomed to be a monster’s meal all for her sweet tooth. You do know what they say about weird men giving candy to little girls, right?”

 

“Marq isn’t weird.” But even I knew I was being generous at the time.

 

“He doesn’t ask you to do anything, right?” My brother’s face darkened a bit, in that way I’d seen him get when I told him of how I was bullied. “Doesn’t touch you?”

 

I frowned, too naïve to understand his line of questioning. “No. He just tries to sell me things.”

 

“Huh,” Thaddeus said with a nod. The dark look cleared, but his frown remained. With a sigh, the teenager reached over and plucked a book off my desk. It was my book on parlor tricks—the chapter on sleight of hand was bookmarked. “That’s good then. I was afraid she’d have you for sure.”

 

I gave him a confused look. “She?”

 

He spared a mild glance as he looked over the book cover. “The Spider.”

 

“The Spider is a person?”

 

Thaddeus laughed harshly. “Oh. I don’t know about that.

 

“Then what is she?” I couldn’t help it. My brother was always good at leading me on.

 

“Remember how you learned about the Unnamed One in erduk?

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Well the Spider is like him, only no one knows who her patron is.”

 

I frowned. “But don’t champions have to say who they serve?”

 

Thaddeus offered a genuine smile. “You’re too smart for your own good, Koah.” He ran his hand through his curly hair and returned to sitting on my bed. Leisurely, he began to flip through the pages of my book. “In any other case, you’d be right. But the Spider is different. She has no name, no god, and no parents. Some people think she ate them.”

 

“She ate her parents?” I cried in horror.

 

“Maybe. Who knows? What you should be worried about are the facts.”

 

“The facts?”

 

“The facts.” Thaddeus leaned in towards me, and I leaned in towards him. He started to whisper with a grave face, “She eats people who stray too far from where they’re meant to be. That includes doing weird stuff, like learning Common to talk to dirty elves.”

 

I pulled back with a scoff—but my body was shivering. “That’s dumb!”

 

My brother shook his head emphatically. “No! It’s true!” He pointed a finger over his shoulder. “You remember Terius, the boy who ate snails and thought he could become one some day if he just sat still long enough? He’s gone! I just got back from going over to his home, and the whole place was covered in cobwebs!”

 

“You’re lying!”

 

“I swear on my life!” Thaddeus insisted.  “There was nothing but thick sheets of sticky silk all over the daikut!

 

“You’re lying, and I’m going to tell A-ma!” I snapped, close to tears and already getting out of my chair.

 

“Don’t! Do you want A-ma to get taken by the Spider!?”

 

I froze, my eyes going wide. “Why would she go after A-ma?”

 

Thaddeus feigned a frustrated sigh and got up to shove me back into my seat. He crouched next to me, tossing my book onto my desk. “Fine. So you don’t want to believe me about Terius. I wanted to spare you this, since you’re such a tail sucker, but if this story will squish the fleas in your brain, then maybe it’s worth it.” My brother cleared his throat and started, “The Spider of the West is a demon, Nyx. She has no home and no loyalty to anybody. Oh sure. For a little while, she worked like all good champions did—helping people, righting wrongs, punishing the wicked…but then her true nature came out, and she took to wandering. She started from the south, in Erminia, where she traveled up through Ginger Weed Country straight to the Ailuran Nation. While she was meditating one night in a forest clearing, three Ailuran boys came across her. They were running away from home, abandoning their families and their duties to find their fortunes with the Albian dwarves in Ulsmel, the northern colony.

 

“Seeing the Spider there, none knew what to do. They’d never seen someone like the Spider before. She was an Omatt. An ape person. You’ve seen a picture of them right? Long grabby tails, long arms, round ears? Right. Anyway, these boys had grown up together, and so they were very close. So close, in fact, that each relied on the other to complement the things they lacked when faced with a challenge. That’s why Alcae, the boy of strength, bravely stepped forward first.

 

“’What are you, little thing? And when you’re done answering, would you please move out of the way?’

 

“’No. Boy rude,’ the Spider said. She didn’t open her eyes or move from her spot. ‘Will not.’

 

“’You are in Ailuran lands, creature! You must answer!’

 

“The Spider’s eyes opened and the air stilled. Her eyes glowed green in the dark. ‘Boy came upon me. Who is he?

 

“’I am Alcae,’” Thaddeus made a show of thumping his chest with his fist. “’And these are my brothers in friendship, Eolus, and Cato.’

 

“’Hmph. Thou art babes. Go away.’

 

“’Babes!?’ Alcae roared and bared his fists. ‘You are a fool to challenge us!’

 

“The Spider’s eyes narrowed. ‘Not challenging. Sparing. Leave, or Spider change her mind.’

 

“’That a fool such as you can barely speak gives me confidence that I can rip off your tail and strangle you with it!’”

 

By this point I was riveted, my knees drawn up to my chest and my face half hidden behind them. My fingers gripped my legs, knuckle-white. My stomach was turning into knots, because I knew what came next would be terrible.

 

Thaddeus went on, relishing in my growing anxiety. “Alcae boldly entered into the clearing, and suddenly the ground lit up with a web of glowing threads. The threads were rooting into the ground, and they all went back to the center of the Spider’s chest where little beads came up from the ground and went along the lines to be absorbed by her body. The boy’s feet stuck to this stuff and he couldn’t get free. As he struggled, he lost his balance and fell over. The threads sprang to life and wrapped around him, holding him down. They got into his chest, and the Spider started pulling his soul out using her web.”

 

I was shivering at this point. “Didn’t his brothers do anything??”

 

“Eolus was going to, but Cato held him back. ‘Wait! You will just meet the same fate as Alcae!’

 

“But Eolus was cocky as much as he was quick. Confident in his speed, he just said, ‘Nay! I must save our brother before the demon has him! She will not be able to catch my quick feet, and I can step around these threads better than any dancer!’ And he went, fighting off his brother’s hands, into the clearing.

 

“At first it seemed he would be right. Eolus quickly and skillfully avoided the many threads of the Spider’s web, and reached his brother in no time at all. But up close, he saw how Alcae was wrapped in the threads. Taking out his knife, Eolus just grinned arrogantly. ‘I was fast and skillful enough to get this far, I can do this equally as good!’”

 

“No!” I murmured.

 

“Yes!” Thaddeus said with a wicked grin. “As soon as Eolus touched the glowing threads, they wrapped about him faster than he could even think, and he fell to the ground next to Alcae. Now two brothers were caught and both were unconscious. Alcae, having been there the longest, was growing smaller, his muscles receding as his skin turned sallow and thin. The only one left was Cato—but the last brother was different from the others.

 

“Instead of solving his problems using his body, Cato used his mind. He was very smart, and very clever. Seeing the Spider’s web, he knew he could not step forward to save his brothers by brute force or speedy skill. So he spoke to the champion instead. ‘Demon. You introduced yourself as Spider.’

 

“’Did not introduce…but did say was Spider,’ the Spider replied.

 

“’May I ask why you are here?’

 

“’I wish it.’

 

“’You are alone in a strange land. Our meeting here seems to show a common need for change.’ The Spider didn’t respond. She just narrowed her eyes.

 

“Smoothly, Cato continued. ’Our purpose was to seek our fortunes in the north, but I see now that we are too young and weak to even survive the perils of our own forests! Please. Accept my apology on behalf of us all and release my brothers. I cannot live without them.’

 

“’Can,’ the Spider replied. ‘Are doing it now.’

 

“’Just as well, I’d rather my brother’s be with me.’

 

“The Spider didn’t speak right away. She looked Cato up and down, her ape tail rising to curl behind her. ‘You say you leaving. What is north?’

 

“‘We heard tales of artifacts and riches that the dwarves were keeping for themselves. We wished to have some. It is said that great powers can be gained from some of these things.’

 

“The Spider thought for a moment, then without a move or even a blink, her glowing threads began to recede, back into her chest. Cato’s brothers were freed, but Alcae was reduced to a frail old man, and Eolus little better. As the Spider rose to walk away, Cato called after her, ‘Wait!’

 

“The Omatt stopped and looked back at him, and the boy pleaded, ‘Please! Restore them! I cannot have my brothers so! I cannot carry them home, and surely the wolves will do away with them should I leave to get help!’

 

“The Spider just smiled. ‘Asked for release. Not restoration. Gave them release.’ She turned and started walking away. ‘Spider is what others wish. Call her demon…then she is one. But Cato give information. Much desired information. Spider will spare him. Should not push luck.’”

 

“And what did Cato do?” I asked tremulously.

 

Thaddeus gave a sad shake of his head. “Cato was clever enough to survive the encounter, and even got the Spider to free his brothers, but he was also arrogant, and that one word—demon—cost him his two friends. He had to return home alone to get help, but before his brothers could be attended to, the beasts of the forest did away with them.”

 

“And the Spider?”

 

“She was gone. Probably went farther north. But see, Koah? If you stray from where you’re meant to be, than the Spider will come to get you!”

 

I swallowed hard at the lump in my throat.

 

That night, I tried to sleep, and after hours of fretting, I finally slipped away to nightmares of a strange ape girl with green eyes, sitting on a web of light, while I cowered in the darkness, hoping she wouldn’t see me. The next day, I told my A-ma the story, and she scoffed, rolling her eyes.

 

“Oh for heaven’s sake, can your brother not torment you for one second?”

 

“Was it all a lie, then?” I asked hopefully. At this rate, I was never going to sleep well again.

 

My mother faltered, her hand going to scratch her neck. “Ah…well…no. Some of it is true. Oh! But my little night shard, do not cry. Come here. Shh, ehna ehna.” My mother petted my hair and rocked me as we sat in the kitchen, the early morning light coloring the room a sleepy shade. “The story Thaddeus told you was partially true, yes. There was an encounter by some of our youth long ago with the Spider of the West, but all the boys survived in good health. She was only asking for directions.”

 

“Really?” I sniffled, looking up at her from her bosom.

 

Fotini smiled. “Yes, my child.” She took hold of my face and in her eyes I could see love shining. “Do not listen to your brother. You are not a freak. The Spider will not come after you for wanting to better yourself and expand your horizons!”

 

“Even for learning Common?” I mumbled.

 

“You’re A-pa knew Common. There is nothing wrong with that!”

 

Just then, Thaddeus appeared, dressed and ready for erduk. Toddling after him was Atalo, dressed only in his diaper and waving a wooden sword around. My oldest brother smiled as my mother and I spared him a glare. “Morning!” he chirped as he began his forage for food.

 

My mother spoke as she gently displaced me from her lap. “Now while your brother tells you tales about demons and spiders, perhaps he would’ve found better material in his dear A-ma?”

 

Thaddeus’s apple froze on its way to his mouth.

 

Soon, the sound of him pleading and yelping outside could be heard as my mother swatted his bottom with the broom handle. I watched from the window, Atalo on my lap, a satisfied grin on my face. Sitting on the table next to me was the Common book from last night. My little brother tapped the glass with his wooden sword, and gurgled out, “Thaddy…Ca-jeck.”

 

____________________________

 

The Willing Fly – Part 5

As told by Lethia Artaud

 

…Yes, I suppose you’re free to give me that look. I’ve been a terrible storyteller, and once I finally had the story completely, I refused to tell it. But I gave my word. Good or bad, this is the last of it.

 

If you’ll recall, the last part I had left off at was when Syria was trying to convince the Spider to stay and help her.

 

“No pain?” Spider said, her tail twitching. “Of heart, or body?”

 

Breathless, the woman replied, “There’s a possibility for both. I just…I need to find the magical records that can show me how! This is Hudisyg, the dwarven center of magical research! If there was ever a place where such knowledge was to be found, it’d be here! After all, what else are those guardians guarding?”

 

The Omatt blinked at her. Then she smiled slowly.

 

“Spider’s web trembles,” she breathed, so that Syria could barely hear. “Syria is the trembler. Does Syria dream?”

 

“Yes. All the time. For a better world for all.”

 

The Spider’s smile widened. “Should stop. Dangerous.

 

“And you? Do you dream?”

 

The Omatt laughed harshly. “Can’t. Never sleep. Too busy waiting.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Everything.”

 

And from there is where the rest of the story I’ve already told you happened. They found the scrolls, Spider saved Syria from a trap and seemed fatally injured, but in truth she was just baiting Syria so that my former mistress would bring all the dwarves to one place. I was never told why the Spider desired this, or what she took from those dwarves, but it’s my guess that she found a power other than what Syria had been seeking.

 

Back to my twelfth birthday, after Syria ended her story. She fixed her eyes on me and laid a hand on my hair. “I believe you can see and understand a great many things, child. But I think you choose not to see, sometimes. I think you walk into the hands of the enemy as the Spider did…as I did, like a willing fly. Do not get caught up in what does not work. The Spider’s dissatisfaction with the world was inevitably her downfall. She could not find appreciation in anything, and her values diminished until she was as the dwarven men—driven by some esoteric need that none could fully comprehend.”

 

I furrowed my little brow, and Syria just chuckled at me. “What is it, Lethia dear?”

 

I looked at her. “If getting that power was bad for the Spider, than why was it okay for you?”

 

Syria’s smile gained a shadowed hook as she responded to me.

 

“The difference between me and the Spider is, that I do not get bored. On the contrary, I become deeply involved.”

 

Obsessed, she meant.

 

Looking back now…I think I could have put it together, even at the age of twelve. Maybe then all of us wouldn’t be here, sharing broken stories about a broken Legend. The magic Syria found in Hudisyg…was that the evil she used in Albias?  Syria called me the willing fly because I gave into my aimless passions as a child, but it seems I gave into her lies just as well…

 

____________________________

 

A Hungry Nothing

As told by Quincy

 

…Nothing fills me with such disgust as hearing that creature’s name. I’m almost insulted that you would ask me to speak of it…her.  I’m sure you’d fancy something entertaining, though I fear what I have to say would entertain the sick and disturbed. And I know her true name. I know the name of this evil, this plague that was visited upon Gaia when she came puking and screaming from her mother’s rancid womb. I will not say it. It is a sin, I’m almost certain of that now, to give that damned ape anything befitting a moral sentient creature. The Spider of the West? Arachne? These could easily be used to describe a horrible beast, and she was just that, make no mistake.

 

I have no real story to give. Just broken accounts of what that demon did—to my life, to so many others.

 

I suppose I can begin by stating how we met. You see, there was a short time when Jack let me travel with him after my mother’s death, and one of our last trips was to the Indabe. There, at a little oasis town called Abija, we met up with Tobias and his new adolescent ward, whom they only called, “Spider.” Being older, she was much taller than I, and yet from the looks of her, I guessed I could beat her in an arm wrestling match. She was skinny—unhealthily so—and her green eyes had a cold glint to them that froze my blood.

 

“Quincy, this is Spider. Spider, Quincy,” Tobias gestured between us.

 

“Hello,” I said shyly. I think I was between the ages of five or seven at the time.

 

Instead of replying, the Omatt glared at Tobias.

 

The tall man faltered, scratching at his bushy eyebrow. “Oh! I’m sorry…I should mention that Spider has a special condition that makes speech difficult for her. As a result, her comprehension is fine but she cannot hold a conversation with others. I’ve been trying to help her with…” At my lost look, Tobias trailed off again, his cheeks coloring.

 

Jack just laughed and tousled my hair.  “Fledgeling, what your uncle is trying to say, is that Spider is mute.”

 

I blinked at her. “Oh.”

 

Spider just gazed at me guardedly.

 

We spent that night eating and carousing, my father and my uncle conversing with the locals while I took in all the strange sights and sounds of that foreign land. Only Spider seemed withdrawn, her eyes out on the moonlit sea of sand that surrounded our little haven. Her spine was curled and her tail wrapped around into her lap, where she stroked it gently. Finally, I noticed her reticence and moved to speak to her. “Is something wrong?” I asked.

 

She looked at me sharply, and I jumped. Then I remembered that she couldn’t speak. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just thought you looked sad. Where are your parents?”

 

I could see her nostrils flare and her round ears twitch but her face otherwise remained passive as she looked away from me. I bit my lip and sat closer to her on the pillow cushions. “Did you lose them? I lost my mother. Birds took her eyes.”

 

Spider looked at me sidelong and I looked down into my lap. “I love father, but I miss mother.”

 

“Miss. Okay. To…Miss,” came the lisping response. She spoke slow and thick like a simpleton would.

 

I looked at the Omatt in surprise. “You spoke!”

 

Spider’s face screwed up and her tail flopped in her grip. “Miss. Mo-ther. Love.

 

I nodded my eyes tearing up. “I did love her! I still do! Do you miss your parents?”

 

Spider shrugged.

 

I bit my lip. From my pocket, I pulled out a small brown and cream quill. “Here,” I said as I handed the item to her. The Omatt scrunched her nose up at it, but I pushed it toward her insistently. “Take it! That was my mother’s. Since you don’t have a mother, we can share. I think she’d like you.”

 

The Spider stared, bewildered by the gift. Then she smiled.

 

The rest of the night went merrily enough, and in a short time after that, we were as sisters.

 

This all sounds nice, right? But trust me when I say that it didn’t last long. In the coming years, my father would venture off for quest after quest, leaving me in the care of the others. Often times Tobias and Spider would go with him, and I would be left in the care of either one or both of them. But one day, word came that Ludovico, the champion of Eate, was abusing his powers for base needs. It was one thing for agents of heaven to oppose each other over their gods’ principles, but it was another thing entirely to use one’s powers to answer the whims of mortals. The direness of the situation demanded that all three of my caretakers go, so I was sent to stay with a friend in the Kingdom of the Sands whilst Jack, Spider, and Tobias addressed the problem on the other side of the world.

 

They later returned…without Spider.

 

“But where is she?” I cried. “She isn’t dead, is she?”

 

“No fledgeling,” Tobias said with a sad smile. “Spider just…needs time to herself. She’ll come around.”

 

But she never did.

 

In just a short year after that, I was sent to live in the Fanaean village of Kimbia, as my father’s work kept him perpetually in the southern hemisphere, and having me in the Kingdom of the Sands no longer became convenient. Our friends there argued that it was unsafe for me to be in Fanaea because of its wild and primitive society. They said I would be safer staying in the well-guarded kingdom, where my father’s enemies could not reach me. This objection was momentarily silenced when Tellus granted a sort of reprieve to Tobias, and he chose to stay with me in the village. Naturally, it wasn’t long before he was called on again, only this time he left in the dead of night without telling me. I had to hear it from Kafeel in the morning that my so-called uncle had gone to take care of something important that required his immediate attention, and he would be back soon.

 

Then the people of Kimbia, along with Hakeem’s family, were all slaughtered, and my caretakers were nowhere in sight. Hakeem and I were the only survivors left of a bloody attack from marauders—all enemies of my father. They searched the jungles for me for days afterwards, moving their camps hither and thither. We barely escaped their notice, but in all our movement, we could not properly gather food or find shelter, and so we were just barely surviving. It was the arrival of the pirate captain, Tulki that saved Hakeem and I, but even that solution was for the short term.

 

But what of the Spider? Yes. What of that despicable beast? I will tell you why it was Tobias left me unguarded in such a hurry, forsaking me in favor of her. I will tell you what my father was doing, hunting her along the Talmorian landscape until he reached her abominable jungle in the Indabe. And I will tell you what that creature did, to earn so much infernal attention.

 

On Talmor, there was once a town called Tabiz on the eastern coast. It was a prosperous farming town, and though they were small, they had many slaves. I have heard speculation that this was perhaps what set Spider off. She hated slavery, but she hated more those who surrendered to it. Perhaps this was why she sat in the middle of Tabiz’s market day. Perhaps this was why she let her overgrown bangs shade her eyes as men and women of different races, genders, and species, happily served their masters under bondage.

 

Perhaps this was why she undid them all, their bodies disintegrating into dark crimson dust before vanishing into nothing at all.

 

In a single sweep of her will, the Spider erased Tabiz and its people—slaves and all—from the face of Gaia. Conversations were cut short, handshakes were not completed, jumping games left undecided, lives were snuffed out because this one mkundu monster just decided she felt like it.

 

And the sick part? She left one old woman alive to tell the world of what had happened. Why the old woman? Because Spider wanted it that way. No other reason. That’s it. There is no moral to this story, no underlying truth. Just tragedy abound in that we were all too blind or too naïve to see.

 

Over the years following her downfall, I came to learn of how her so-called ‘heroics’ were little more than violent, savage excursions to fill her vast need for fulfillment. Through disconnected accounts—A Santian history lesson, an Ailuran fable, an Albian rumor—I gathered that the Spider had travled through the heart of the Sibesona to the far north, where there she found some sort of power. But even this did not satiate her insane demands for death and destruction.

 

That is why I call the Spider a beast, and I say I am glad that she is sealed away. And should she ever be released, I only hope that she rots in hell for all eternity. Since the day I met her, the Omatt had been looking for something to fill the black hole in her heart. Up until the moment she was cast down, it is my opinion that she never truly recovered from her starved life as a slave. It is my opinion, that her evil nature left that demon emaciated and hungry for a great deal of nothing.


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