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About Varied / Hobbyist Lindsay28/Female/United States Group :icongrievances: Grievances
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100 GT theme challenge: Darkness
Gabby was restless, feeling overly warm and sweaty in her cargo pants and navy blue jacket. The night was mild and rather pleasant, but her layers were making her feel overheated and constricted. Trapped. Very trapped. Or perhaps it was simply her own nerves. Probably nerves. Nerves over her situation. Her...stupid and bizarre and very frightening situation. She gulped at the air as she tried to keep the every growing probability of a panic attack at bay, though she had managed some form of dignity throughout the day. From the bizarre meeting with the giant-not-giant-man-guy-thing-dude who called himself Elliot – even though that wasn’t his real name – to the weirdest trip to the grocery store ever, wherein the only items she purchased were a bulk case of tampons, three king sized chocolate bars, a bottle of ibuprofen, and five rolls of aluminum foil. The last one being a suggestion from Elliot.  
Her backpack was stuffed to bursting with her newly purchased ware
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100 GT theme challenge: Hide
Her Psych 101 textbook was laid open on the small coffee table as well as half a ream's worth of printer paper, all of them print outs from various websites from the obligatory Web MD to spiritualists forum posts. Two days worth of study, the knuckle scraping scouring of all available resources available to a student of Bridgewood University and the only thing she had to show for it was a migraine, sleep deprivation, and the one inescapable fact: She was crazy. Well and truly crazy, because there was no other explanation. She considered the idea that perhaps she had been slipped something during the party and had some sort of allergic reaction and then there had been all the alcohol. Though in truth, she had only indulged in a can of hard cider and a single shot of tequila. But she was a light weight and it had been her first real college party.  
She sighed angrily, tossing away a stack of papers, and fell back against the plush sofa’s pillows to stare helplessly up at the
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100 GT theme challenge: Cooking
Astrid watched from her comfy spot near the windows as Bastian went about his morning routine. The tall dark haired Feirgian ambled out from the upstairs bedroom as he did most mornings, almost tripped on the small rug at the bottom of the steps as he did most mornings, went on to curse at the small rug at the bottom of the steps as he did most mornings, and then blearily stumbled into the kitchen to set the kettle on to make tea. As he did most mornings.
“Mornin’, squeaks,” he yawned, mouth stretching wide to show off the pointed fangs indicative of the Feirgian giants.
Watching as he dug inside the fridge for his usual breakfast fare of pickled fish and Rhrpatche, a weird lumpy kind of pancake made with onions and fried in lard, Astrid picked at the crust left over from her own breakfast and munched on it. Cyrus, as the only one of the Feirgian pair that held a job that required an actual commute, awoke very early in the mornings and had taken up the mantle of feedi
:icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 1 0
An Unconventional Homecoming (One shot)
The wind was rushing passed at such a loud roar that it completely deafened the sound of the great beating wings keeping them aloft. The metal mesh pouch would have been vastly less hospitable without the thick red pad, as thread bare and worn as it was. However, it was very large and shielded her from most of the wind as well as the hard metal circlets of the metal mesh’s weave. The reaping chill of the cold night air she was shielded from as well not only by the sake of the pad, but also the enormous barrel chest of the ferocious dragon of whom she found herself victim. The metal mesh pouch and pad having been strapped quiet securely to the creatures breast by virtue of several stiff, strong, and well oiled leather straps. The hard cream colored scales radiated heat and had her current circumstances been different or even forgotten, she would have been perfectly comfortable. As it was, her circumstances remained just as dire and she just as terrified.
The beast had come in the
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“Um...Jae?” she called out into the dark. “I can’t see anything...”
“Give me a second,” Jae replied from somewhere ahead of her. And suddenly the space around them exploded with opaque light. Jae stood next to the wall to her left, his hand falling away from a large orb set into a metal bracket on the wall. He regarded her with a smug grin. “Impressive isn’t it? Maevis made them for me and Hev made the brackets. Connar and helped me put them in since I haven’t the first clue on this kind of thing. I mostly watched and held his tools for him. Oh-! Connar’s another human. He hangs around Hev’s workshop, but he kind of has his own space near the stables. He was probably the one to make your marker there.”
Nenani touched the metal trinket resting against her clavicle. “They said there were four other humans plus me.”
“Yep. You, me, Barnaby, Connar, and Sawyer. And Kent, but he passed away a few
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Briar's Bio :icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 4 3 Briar The Wood Spite :icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 3 1
Gemma pt 1
“What’s taking so long?”
Amecius flicked his gaze up to peer over his newspaper to see the top of Useili’s head as the boy paced around the front of the cafe booth, having wholly abandoned his minced meat pasty. It sat sadly neglected on the small white plate with only a single paltry bite missing.
Amecius frowned at this, whiskers twitching.
After he had made such a fuss over it too, thought the textile merchant. Though his face remain unconcerned and placid, his tail twitched in annoyance under the table.
“It takes time,” Amecius replied lightly, soothing his natural loathing for waste by taking up his coffee cup to slurp at the rim, taking in a light sprinkling of the bitter black brew so it coated his tongue. Miss Penelope’s coffee was not to be guzzled. Besides being the most flavorful cup to be had on the north side of Hendleton proper, it was served at a temperature more suited to the melting of steel than a pleasant patron’s passi
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The rock banged once against the back of the chair before dropping with a loud clang into the pewter mug bellow it and a chorus of groans and a few cheers rose up. Kol raised his hands above his head, a smug grin spread across his face. Farris and Bart sat at the head of the table, watching and laughing at the antics of the younger staff. Kol rounded the table in an odd half run half drunken jig. As he passed Nenani on the table, he teasingly tapped her on the head, danced behind Farris, and gave Bart a quick hug before dashing away from him before the larger giant could do more than snarl and swipe at the baker.  
“Okay, lads, pay up, pay up!” Kol said, shoving his hands at his fellows who were all begrudgingly reaching into their pockets for coins. Kol took his seat with a flourish and, loudly, began to count his winnings.
The game was simple enough. A chair with an empty mug was set up at the end of the kitchen and the boys took turns trying to throw small pebbles i
:icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 7 6
Dead Walls Rise part 2
Even though the pocket was dry and the enormous body just on the other side of the fabric was very warm, Jae shivered uncontrollably. He wavered between soundless, body wracking sobs to bouts of anger and misplaced bravery.  
‘I’ll wait till he puts me down and run’ said the braver part of his brain. ‘And if he tries to grab me again, I’ll find something sharp and stab him in the eye! Both eyes even!’
Then the other side would rear its head and whimper in a small shattered voice, ‘No, don’t do that! They’re so much bigger than you. They’ll just squish you with their feet, with those ginormous boots. Don’t cause trouble and maybe they’ll let you go. Maybe they really wont eat they said.’
‘Yeah right! They’re liars and murderers. Even if this one doesn’t eat you, the bigger one sure will!’
The braver voice was becoming more quiet as the giants walked along, insouciant abo
:icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 5 0
Despite the run in with the four blue Rangers, Nenani ended up learning quite a lot that afternoon. Most of the herbs and spices that the new Queen had brought over with her were either for tea or pastries. Once Yale had the lot labeled and inventoried, they migrated into the kitchen to see if the bakers, Quinn and Kol, were in need to any of the newly named ingredients or help in general. And if their expressions of pure exasperation were any clue, the answer was yes. Please, yes and thank you.
Kol was a face she recognized as he was the giant who had spoken to Farris before Rheil had taken her to see the King. He was the shorter of the pair with chestnut brown hair and eyes to match. Quinn was a tad taller than Yale with hazel eyes and a mop of dirty blond hair. Curiously, Quinn was the only giant she had seen with blonde hair. Both seemed nice enough, sparing her a smile when Yale sat her down on the table.    
“What is marzy payne?” asked Kol, running his hand
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Maevis and Barnaby :icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 9 0
Nenani stood on the wood table that had been set up on the far edge of the courtyard. Thankfully upwind of Bart and his helpers who were at their own table. Bart would reach down into a large barrel of water and pull out a long black wiggling creature that was easily eight feet long with a bright yellow stripe down its belly. As Yale had described, the eels had distinctly large puffy lips. They looked rather comical if they were not so huge and did not frame long sharp teeth. Bart and his ever trusty cleaver would dispatch the creature and then he would hand the twitching body to Herit, a mousy brown haired giant, who had the task of actually skinning the smelly thing and then gutting it before passing the carcass to his fellow helper. Gjerk, a red haired giant with large ears, had the task of butterflying it and flattening it before adding it to a layer of other previously processed eels. Once a layer inside the crate had been made, it was covered with copious amounts of salt. Then th
:icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 5 3
Her dreams were strange. She was smaller than she remembered being, held tightly to her mother’s chest, traveling in a group through a dark forest. It was cold and she could see her breath leave her mouth in a thick mist.
“Don’t move,” said her father, pressing a hand to her mother’s shoulder. He ran a calloused hand down Nenani’s head when she began to babble at him in confusion. Her mother pulled the blanket over her little face. Around them, the forest was silent and strange. No crickets chirped. Even the wind was still. The others of their group were silent, hunching into their cloaks, and looking around the dark trees.
The air smelt wrong.    
“What is it?” someone asked. “Are there giants?”
“Shhh,” her father hissed. His hand gripped the hilt of the sword at his belt, the emblem of thorns adorning the guard, before the world exploded in a horrendous crash of sound and trees. The blade drew from t
:icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 10 9
The room was the equivalent size of a school gymnasium, high bare ceilings exposing the metal structural beams that held bright white lights, and giving the floor a sense of sterile control. There were rows of plastic tubs, square and deep, sitting atop small metal carts and arranged in a grid pattern that ate up the majority of the floor space, looking not unlike a hospital’s nursery ward. Towards the entrance was a long table where an intern and two volunteers enthusiastically greeted people as they came inside, politely asking if they were registered. If the affirmative, and after confirming their names on their lists, they were given a brightly colored sticker to wear upon their person that marked them as being eligible to adopt from the event while those without a sticker were merely there for the novelty of viewing the wares on display.
The wares being Humans beings.
All the potential adopters and casual voyeurs alike were Feirgian. Beings who were very similar to the human
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Astrid remained silent and still at the bottom of the pack compartment. There was an unpleasant tightness in her chest and every breath she took seemed to send shivers down her body. Faro’s words echoed hauntingly in her head.
Fifteen or so minutes later, the giant returned. He was balancing two white plates in one arm while the other held onto a bundle of white fabric. With careful movements, he set the plates down first and then the bundle. One plate was piled high with a mysterious goopy meat mixture and the other was a slice of dark bread, two oily fish, and the biggest lemon Astrid had ever laid eyes on, three times the size of a large watermelon easily. The giant picked the plate with the goopy meat mixture and sat it on the floor.
“Finally!” Tippan said happily and there came the sound of joyous gluttony from below the table. “Food, food, food! Oh glorious food!”
Faro chuckled as he turned his attention to the red leather pack.
“Now it’s
:icontransformergirl:Transformergirl 1 3



Gabby was restless, feeling overly warm and sweaty in her cargo pants and navy blue jacket. The night was mild and rather pleasant, but her layers were making her feel overheated and constricted. Trapped. Very trapped. Or perhaps it was simply her own nerves. Probably nerves. Nerves over her situation. Her...stupid and bizarre and very frightening situation. She gulped at the air as she tried to keep the every growing probability of a panic attack at bay, though she had managed some form of dignity throughout the day. From the bizarre meeting with the giant-not-giant-man-guy-thing-dude who called himself Elliot – even though that wasn’t his real name – to the weirdest trip to the grocery store ever, wherein the only items she purchased were a bulk case of tampons, three king sized chocolate bars, a bottle of ibuprofen, and five rolls of aluminum foil. The last one being a suggestion from Elliot.  

Her backpack was stuffed to bursting with her newly purchased wares in addition to her clothing –
several shirts, a pair of shorts, two pairs of pants, and five rolls of socks – all expertly rolled up into small tubes so as to make room for as many items as possible. Then there was the mini first aide kit, a pocket knife, a stick of deodorant, her hairbrush, travel sized toothbrush and toothpaste, as well as a bar of Irish spring soap. She had debated rigorously about packing shampoo and conditioner, but a vague recollection of a camping trip in middle school decided her. The last thing she wanted to have to endure on top of all of the craziness was washing shampoo out of all her clothes because the bottles burst. But then of course, she also remembered her wallet. It was a small red faux leather square with only enough room for a few credit cards, some pennies, and a few bills. Made more for ease, style, and size than for practicality. But it held a small family portrait taken just the year prior not long after she had graduated high school. And she was loathe to leave without it.

The address on the business card that Elliot had given her, after a quick google search, revealed itself to be an old bus depot at the edge of Bridgewood. It was away from the bulk of the town, closer to the railway yard. From her spot on the old wooden bench, Gabby could hear the grinding of many wheels and the sound of a train’s horn echoing across the depot like a ghostly wail.

It was late, it was dark, and she was alone. Waiting for someone – or some thing – to come collect her. As quickly as the notion came to mind, she banished it away just as fast. She required no reminding of the circumstances that landed her in such a mess. She attempted to placate herself by drawing circles in the sandy dirt that had long ago broken up the concrete sidewalk. Without a watch or her phone, she was at a loss to tell what time it was. The card instructed her to be at the meeting place at 10:00 PM sharp and once she was packed and ready to go, Gabby was loathe to linger around the sorority house where her state of dress and mood was sure to garner attention and questions.

Best if they know nothing, she reminded herself. Elliot said he would be handling her...disappearance. Or rather, her death. Even though she was remiss to understand how he was going to fake her death if there was no body to…

...oh god she hoped there wasn’t going to be a body.

No, no there would be no body. He had promised her. No one was going to get hurt. Besides, where was the logic in him setting this whole thing up if he was just gonna go kill some random person to stage her death? He was only doing this to keep her from being killed. Her. A total stranger who just happened to have witness him change into a very tall giant-man-dude and then kill a guy. Troll. Troll-guy. Troll-guy-dude. She was beginning to wonder if she had made some horrible mistake by believing Elliot. What if this whole thing was a set up? Oh god...

As she pondered such a horrible notion, the sound of a bell striking startled her from the miasma of her mind. In a panic, she leaped to her feet and jerked her head about every which way in search of the noise’s source. But all she saw was darkness and the orange haze of the town street lights off to her right. She waited with bated breath for the bell to ring again, but when there came no such sound, she carefully eased herself back down onto the bench.

Beside her, the darkness shifted.

“You the kid?” came a gruff voice from the empty darkness.

Gabby squawked indignantly and fell away from the voice and off the bench. Her backpack followed after her. Looking all around, she saw only darkness. Wait...what was that smell? Cigar smoke? Scared and now confused, Gabby began to ease herself up out of the dirt and happened to glance up. There was a dot of orange light, the end of a lit cigar, high above her head. The paltry light of the cigar gave off just enough light to illuminate the face of the being puffing at it. The very large face. The very large face very far up. Gabby opened her mouth to scream, but before she could do anything but squeak, the creature repeated its question.

“So, you the kid or what?”

She choked on her own scream and gaped, unsure how to – or if she should – answer the question. Inanely, she asked. “Uh...kid?”

“Yeah,” replied the giant’s gruff voice, slightly muddled by the cigar between his lips. “The kid.”

“What kid?” she asked.

“The kid kid,” replied the giant impatiently in a voice that sounded vaguely north eastern and pulling the cigar from his mouth. He tapped the end to knock off a wad of ash and tt fell not but a foot from where Gabby lay sprawled in the dirt. “The human kid. The kid I’m waitin’ for. Elliot’s goof up.”

“Oh,” she answered stupidly. “Um...yeah. I guess that would be me.”

“Fantastic,” the giant replied with mock enthusiasm. “Well, let’s get on with it then.”

With that, the giant leaned down and plucked Gabby off the ground as easily and effortlessly as someone picking up a barbie doll. This time, she did scream.

“Oh, whoa! Hey, now!” snapped the giant in confused annoyance. “Stop with the squeakin’ already, kid. This is supposed to be a covert operation, don’tcha know?”

Faced flushed with equal parts fear and mortification, Gabby squirmed around thick digits holding her.

“Dude! Warn a person before you get all grabby and shit!”

“Ah, can it. I ain’t hurin’ ya, sweetheart.”

“Don’t call me sweetheart, jerk face.”

“Well don’t be callin’ me jerk face then, pop-tart.”

“Don’t call me –! Wait, did...did you just call me a pop-tart?”

“Yeah,” replied the giant, one eyebrow arched. “Ain’t that an insult here or somethin’? Thought I heard that once.”

“No. It’s a...uh, type of food.”

“Ah. My bad then,” the giant replied, almost genuinely apologetic. “Just, try to keep yer squeaker on mute, huh? Gonna get us both caught at this rate. And I’m gonna level with ya kid. No ways am I gonna go to the slammer on account’a one’a Elliot’s charity cases.”

Charity case? Well. Gabby would have been offended if she did not think the description apropos. But still.

“How about a trade then,” she offered, a little winded. “I won’t scream as long as you don’t grab me like that again. I can’t help it if I scream when someone I don’t know – a very big someone – suddenly grabs me up in the middle of the night in a very dark abandoned bus depot. Today has been beyond stressful and I am running on almost 100% animal instincts at this point, dude. Er, sir. Dude, sir. Sir dude.”

The cigar light was enough for her to pick up on the slight twitch of the giant’s mouth, an amused smirk. “Got yerself a deal there, sweetheart.”

“Don’t call me sweetheart,” she growled and the belatedly added, with a little more sincerity. “Please.”

He huffed a laugh. “Well, gonna tell me what I should be callin’ ya or should I just settle for pop-tart?”

“Oh. Um, my name,” she stammered, recalling what Elliot had said about names. She had worried  about picking a name that fit both the requirement of being easy to remember and being a name she would instinctual answer to. After a few minutes of deliberation, the answer came to her in a stroke of deceptively brilliant inspiration. Her mother’s name. “It’s Allison. Or Ally. Y’know...for short.”

“Seems to me like yer short enough as it is,” chuckled the giant. “But whatever ya like, kid.”

“So what happens now?” she asked tentatively, swallowing nervously. The shock of abruptly being swept up off the ground was fading and she was beginning to grow acutely aware that she was high up. Being held by a person. A very tall person. A very tall-has-no-business-existing-type-person.

“I do my job,” the giant replied simply.

“Which is…?” she pressed nervously.

The giant’s eyes moved to pin her with a look and Gabby – no, Ally – was aware that perhaps she was pushing her luck.

“A word of advice, Ally,” said the giant, chewing at the end of his cigar. “Don’t be askin’ so many questions. One day you might get an answer yer not too keen on. I do my job, you keep all yer limbs, everyone’s happy and none-the-wiser fer it. That’s all ya gotta know.”

“O-okay,” she replied, trying valiantly to ignore the portion of that statement involving losing limbs. Her limbs. “S-sorry. It’s my first time...being a witness to...stuff. And I’m still kind of freaking out...a little?”

“Just so long as ya keep it down, freak away, Ally.”

“ Thanks?”

“So,” said the giant, using his free hand to reach up to his face and pluck the cigar out from between his teeth. “Best we be getting gone before any scabs show up and ruin both of our nights.”

Without another word and without ceremony, he flicked the lit cigar out into dark. It fell in lazy an arch to the ground where it crashed, scattering sparks and ash. The little flecks of orange light failed to settle and fade into the darkness. Instead, they began to dance and swirl around in odd geometric patterns fast enough that their wake created lines that Ally’s eyes could follow. The wind began to pick up and the smell of cigar smoke filled her nostrils and made her cough.

“Wow. That’s...that’s pretty cool,” she said absently, eyes transfixed on the lights. “Really cool.”

The giant chuckled. “It’s just a door.”

“’s all glowey is it doing that? I mean – I know you said no questions, so just mark that a rhetorical. But really, that’s cool. How can you think that isn’t cool? How is that not cool?”

He shrugged. “Ya seen one door, ya seen a million. Oh, that reminds me. Elliot told ya no gadgets right?”


“Yeah. Gadgets. Trinkets. Whatcha-ma-whosits and diddley-bobbers,”At her blank expression, the giant sighed heavily. “That weird metal and glass stuff you humans obsess over.”

“ mean technology?”

“Yeah. That stuff. Ain’t got none of that nonsense on ya do ya?”

“Uh, no. Elliot told me to leave it.”

“Good.” When the giant took a step towards the embers, she called out to him. “Oh, wait! My bag!”

“Hm?” He looked down and spotted the sad fat little backpack. “Oh. Sure. Gimme a sec.”

Ally’s entire world tilted and fell as the giant bent down to retrieve the wayward thing and her stomach seemed content to stay nearer the ground when he straightened back up. “Now we good to go?”

“Y-yes. Thank you.”

“Good. Cause I had plans fer t’night before Elliot loaded this mess on me,” said the giant as he stepped into the hectic swirling maze that was the dancing embers.  “So if we’re quick about it, I still might be able to salvage what’s left of it.”

Before Ally could formulate any sort of response, the orange lights began to dance faster and fast, the burning of their lights growing brighter and brighter, banishing away the thick darkness of the night until all she knew was orange light and the overwhelming smell of cigars.
Her Psych 101 textbook was laid open on the small coffee table as well as half a ream's worth of printer paper, all of them print outs from various websites from the obligatory Web MD to spiritualists forum posts. Two days worth of study, the knuckle scraping scouring of all available resources available to a student of Bridgewood University and the only thing she had to show for it was a migraine, sleep deprivation, and the one inescapable fact: She was crazy. Well and truly crazy, because there was no other explanation. She considered the idea that perhaps she had been slipped something during the party and had some sort of allergic reaction and then there had been all the alcohol. Though in truth, she had only indulged in a can of hard cider and a single shot of tequila. But she was a light weight and it had been her first real college party.  

She sighed angrily, tossing away a stack of papers, and fell back against the plush sofa’s pillows to stare helplessly up at the popcorn ceiling. The sorority house was nearly silent at this hour with most of the girls either at class, out and about the town, or sleeping off the prior night’s over indulgences. While she was very grateful for the privacy, she was also aware that perhaps she could do well with a second opinion. But then. Well. How did you explain to someone that you witnessed a murder and when pressed about what the victim or assailants looked like...well.

They were tall.

Like...really really tall. She’d been too scared, too confused, and...perhaps a little too drunk – tipsy? – to go to the police. Or to tell anyone. She sighed again, grabbing at her hair in frustration. “Stupid. This is stupid. Stuuuuuuupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid pants.”

She turned her head to stare at an old portrait of a young women dressed in old fashioned clothes, high collared, proper, prim, and pressed. And free of the burden that was witnessing...well, whatever the hell it was that she witnessed. Somewhere in the swirling confusion that had become her brain, she was aware that she should be angry at Peter. He neglected to show, leaving her alone under the overpass in the cold foggy night. Stood her up. Well screw him. If he didn’t want to hang out with her, then he could have just fucking said no like a man and then she would not have been there when it happened. When they happened. Whatever they – or it – has been. Other than a murder.

A steady, hollow tapping broke the silence of the house and startled her badly. After a moment to compose herself, and with a little effort, the girl managed to pull herself from the sofa and make her way to the front door.

“Coming,” she called out when there came a second round of knocking. “Just a second.” She turned the cold metal doorknob and pulled the heavy oak door open and as she opened her mouth to greet the visitor, she froze and her mouth hung open in mute horror.

“Hi there!” Said the man cheerily, waving his hand.

She slammed the door shut and pressed her back against it, heart hammering and mind racing.
“Hey – !”

Belatedly, she turned her body over to reach up and lock the padlock and slid the chain into place. Stepping back, she watched door warily. There was an expectation that the door would burst open any moment and she went through her mental inventory of possible defense weapons. There were knives in the kitchen and iron pokers near the fireplace and...she paused and looked over at the small decorative side table pressed against the stairwell. A letter opener made to look like a tiny sword sat on top of a small stack of letters. She grabbed it and faced the door again.

“I’m just here to talk, kid,” came the muffled voice of the man. The very regular man. The very not monster tall killer man thing she had the other night. How was he small? Smaller. How was he...why was he? How did he find her? Oh gosh. Oh...frick. Fuck. Fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck!

“So,” he continued. “Can we talk? Face to face maybe? Kind of suspicious looking to be talking to a door. People might think I’m a little loopy in the head.”

Loopy in the head –? Oh he did not just –!

“Go away!” She yelled back. “Or I’ll call the cops!”

He laughed. “And tell them what, sweetheart?”

“Don’t call me sweetheart, jerk face.”

“Fine,” he replied lightly. “Say you do call the authorities, Gabby. What exactly are you gonna tell them?”

Bristling at the flippant use of her name, she floundered for sort of response. “W-why do you know my name?”

“I know lots of things when it’s my business to know.”

“Why are you here?” she asked, real despair beginning to color her voice.

“You know why,” he replied simply. “You saw.”

Gabby was aware that her hands were trembling. “I don’t know what I saw. Please, just go away.”

“Believe me, kiddo. You don’t want me to go away,” said the man, his once chipper and light hearted voice turning somber and serious. “You want to hear what I have to say. Maybe not right at this moment, but in a short while you will. And by the time you come to regret your choice not to let me in and here me out, it’ll be too late.”

She was quiet and considered his words. “That sounds a lot like a threat, dude.”

“That’s because it is, dude.”

Despite herself, she laughed, but it died in her throat quickly and she was left staring down at her feet.
“Look. Gabby,” the man’s voice was softer, like his face was pressed close to the wood. “If you want this to go as smoothly and with as little to no casualties as possible, let me in. We’ll sit down and we’ll discuss your options.”

“Casualties?” Her voice was quiet and squeaked more than she would have liked.

“An unfortunate statistic. One I can mitigate, but only with your cooperation.”

“Is that a threat too?”

“No. It’s a promise.” The weight of it all was heavy on her shoulders and her belly protested, aching with anxiety and oh, how easy it would be to just open her mouth and scream bloody murder until the man went away.  The man that was not really a man. Or was he? A man who could also be a monster-thing-giant-person?

“Gabby?” She’d been quiet too long and she could sense the man-not-man’s patience thinning. “Gonna need an answer here, kiddo.”

“If I let you in and we, uh, talk,” she asked, feeling as though she were in a hostage negotiation. “D-do you promise no one gets hurt?”

“No one gets hurt.”

“No one?”she pressed.  

“No one. That includes you too,” he answered. “Cross my heart and hope no one dies.”

“You just said –!”

“I know, I know! And I mean it, just...I was trying to be clever. Lighten the mood some.”

“...please don’t do that.”

“Sorry. Gallows humor. Kind of comes with my line of work.” She groaned as she undid the chain and went to turn the deadbolt. Her fingers clasped the knob, but hesitated. Gabby could not help but be aware that she was, in the most literal sense of the phrase, opening a door to a new phase of her life. With a simple turn of the deadbolt, everything was going to change. Even though it already had. She thought of her sorority sisters still sleeping upstairs, the other students, and beyond them she thought of the towns people. The things she saw that night...she was no fool in thinking that they could hurt – or kill – whoever they wanted.

Resigned to the tide of fate she had fallen into, Gabby turned the deadbolt and opened the door. The face that greeted her was grinning. Someone might have called the man handsome in his tan denim work jacket and faded gray t-shirt and wranglers. Even small he was still tall, taller than her by a good foot or so and she was not a short person. He looked so normal it weirded her out. He could be anyone. Blonde hair, tan skin, and a rough stubble. His looks were completely disarming and average. Like he had been plucked from the cast of Seventh Heaven and tossed onto the streets of Bridgewood.

Had she not known – not seen – him for what he really was, she would think he was just a nice guy, an average working man. She turned away and walked over to the living room, hearing the man’s boots as he crossed the threshold and closed the door behind them. Stiffly, she stood near the sofa and gestured at it for him to sit. The man gave her a nod and sank into the overly plush sea foam green cushions.

“ you want something to drink?” she asked inanely.

“No need,” he replied. “Hopefully this won’t take long.”

Gabby was happy to hear that and took a seat in the Hepplewhite suit chair close to the bay window. If things went south she could always jump out the window. Though the thought made her ill.

“So,” she started awkwardly, fiddling with the letter opener. “H-how long have you been a giant?”

The man laughed, scratching at his nose. “All my life. But you’re asking the wrong question. You want to know why I’m small.”

“Dude, even when you’re small, you’re not small. You’re like six feet tall.”

“You say that like it’s impressive,” remarked the man. Giant. Giant-not-man. Small giant-not-man-person-thing.

“Because it is. For normal people.”

He raise an eyebrow and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “You mean for humans.”

Gabby paused at that. “Yeah. For...humans.” She closed her eyes for a moment to let the absurd sentence take hold in her mind. “So. You’re not human? Well, duh, I knew that. Kind of. I didn’t know that. Not because I didn’t know know, it never occurred to me to think you were anything but even though you’re clearly not. Are. Are not. Okay.” She sighed. “So, not human?”

“No,” he replied with an amused smirk, gray eyes sparkling. “I’m not, nor have I ever been, a human being.”

“So, that makes you…?”

He shrugged. “It makes me what I am.”

“And that is…?” she pressed again.

“The fella trying to save your life,” he replied flatly. “Look, as entertaining as this is, I don’t have time to indulge your curiosity. And the truth is, you don’t either. I’ve bought you some time, but not much. You saw me – as I really am – doing my job. Which is bad. Let’s leave it at that.”

“Okay. Bad bad?”

“Bad enough that when – not if – when it’s found out you’re a material witness to these events it’s gonna catch the attention of some folks.”

“Bad folks?”

“Real bad folks,” he echoed in a severe tone and then abruptly lighted and added, “And also some not bad folks who – like me – are just doing their job. Except their job is to neutralize leaks. And with me being one of those leaks, naturally I’m already on their radar. And now because you witnessed that little rendezvous the other night, that includes you. Sadly.”

“Oh goody.”

“No. Not really. The first group I can handle easily. The other guys are a little more...more.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Something you’re going to have to come to terms with.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, she threw her hands out in an accusatory gesture “ what? Y-you pull, mob style hit on some guy-thing-monster-man-dude and now I have to go into some type of witness protection thing? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“You’re fast on the uptake, kiddo,” the man said, leaning back into the sofa with his arms crossed, looking pleased. “Bolds well for you. Good indicator of strong self preservation instincts.”  

“Yeah,” she replied dryly. “I’m kind of allergic to dying. And pain in general.”

“Aren’t we all?” he replied lightly and appearing far too at ease to seem appropriate for the current topic.

There was a lull in the conversation where she took a moment to study him. After a time, she blurted, “Are you a cop?”

He laughed, throwing his head. “No. No, I am most definitely not a cop.”

“Then why do you give two shits if...if I’m in trouble because I saw what I saw. Which – by the way – I’m still not entirely sure what it was I saw. I was pretty upset at the time and possibly drunk. Okay, not drunk, I was tipsy. A little. But I was kind of preoccupied with other stuff and whose to say I–”

“With what?”  

She blinked at him. “Huh?”

“You said you were preoccupied. With what were you preoccupied?”

“Oh...uh. A guy. Peter. He was supposed to meet me under the overpass near where...y’know. All that...stuff went down,” she ungracefully elaborated. “But he was a no show and then you were the show and now we’re here. Talking about the no show that became a show. So...yeah.”

He nodded sagely and not for the first time did Gabby resist the urge to stab him with the letter opener.

“So,” she said instead, taking a deep breath. “What’s next? I mean...”

The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card, slightly crumbled, and stained with what looked like coffee. Or possibly dried blood. She decided it was coffee. More for her peace of mind than anything. He held it out to her. “You pack a bag and go to this address. Be ready, alert, open minded, and on time.”

Taking the card, she glanced over the address. She did not recognize the street or the zip code despite it saying that it was located in Bridgewood. She glanced up at the man, eyes almost pleading. “What do I tell the school?”

“Nothing,” he replied simply.

“Huh? Nothing?” she gaped at him. “I have to say something. I can’t just –”

“You say nothing,” he stressed, raising a finger. “To no one.”

“What about my parents?” she continued, voice becoming desperate as the true depth of reality to her situation was becoming clear. Gesturing to the corner of the room, as though her parents were standing there, she cried, “I have to say something to them, I mean – !”

“No one, Gabby,” he stressed, standing. She followed his example, pushing up from the chair.  

“I can’t just disappear!”

“You won’t.”

Those words put a pause on her panicking and she took a moment to simply breathe. “No?”

“Of course not,” he replied as though it were all so obvious. “We want the folks who want to do you harm to think that harm has already been done to you.”

“...why? Why is that what we want them to think?”

“Because they can’t kill a corpse.”

“Okay, so pretend that I’m an idiot and…”

He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “If they think you’re dead then they won’t come looking for you. If you just run off, they have plenty of nice folks from all over to pick from to use as collateral to get to you. That’s how extortion works, kiddo.”

“All because of what I saw?”

“Yep. Sucks, huh?”

The room was spinning and she head the clattering of metal before she was aware that the letter opener had fallen from her hand. “Why would they care what I saw? Why do you care that they care? Why? Just –! Why…?”

“They have their reasons. None of which will make anything of this more palatable,” he said with a shrug. “As for my reasons, they’re quite simple. Guilt.”

“Guilt,” she parroted. “...just guilt?”

“Pretty much. I don’t have anything against humans. You’re entertaining when you’re not trying to invade and conquer everything. In small numbers, you little guys are actually quite endearing. Had I done my job properly, you wouldn’t have seen a thing and you’d have just gone home disappointed about being stood up by Peter the jerk face,” With one hand he gestured to the books and papers scattered about the coffee table. “Instead of terrified and questioning your own sanity.”

“But I did...and I am. So…?”

“So I do my job. Properly.”

“And that means faking my death and hiding me...someplace?”

He nodded. “Quick on the uptake again, kiddo.”

Swimming in her own head, she began to slowly pace the room, not really seeing the space around her, but seeing it as a representation of her own life. Present and at the same moment, slipping away quickly and being taken into someone else’s hands. Trusting someone she did not know based on...based on…

She had seen this man, the man standing just over there, change into a tall impossible giant and kill another man. No...not man. The murder victim, the target, had been a grotesque being. Monstrous and tall, not as tall as the giant man, but taller than any human with oddly green molted skin and huge jaws and long teeth a troll. The giant and the troll had wrestled for a bit before the giant got a hold of him proper and...just pulled him. Not apart. There had been no blood. But the troll’s spine had cracked, loudly. Loud enough for her to have heard it snap. And then the troll was still. Unmoving. Dead. She had stayed to stare, but the man – the giant – had seen her. He saw her see him and she had ran. All the way back to the sorority house.  

A thought came to her then and she turned back to the man. “How did you even find me?”

He reached back into his jacket and pulled out a bit of white plastic, holding it out to her. Taking it, she looked down to see her own face staring up at her. It was her fake ID. The one she used to get into the party. She had not even noticed it had been missing. Belatedly, she realized she was crying. “This is stupid.”

The man did not say anything, only standing and watching her. He seemed to be waiting for an answer.

“Where...where would I be going?” she asked, voice small. Hurt. And scared. “Will I ever come back?”

“I wish I could answer that.”

“Which one?” she asked, a little hopeful.

“Both.” The small spark of hope died with an undignified squeak.

“You can’t tell me where I’m going?”

“It wouldn’t mean anything to you for one. And secondly, I don’t know. That way if by some miracle on the other fellas’ parts I’m nabbed, your safety won’t be compromised.”

“So I go to this place and just...hope for the best?”

“The people I’m entrusting you to know their business.”

“Like you know yours?” she snapped accusingly.

“Better,” he retorted. “Which I why I am entrusting them with you.”

“And why should I be entrusting me with you? Myself with you. My safety with you?”

“Because the alternative is to go on with your life like this is all an unpleasant dream until the day, very soon, they find you and neutralize you. Neutralize being the nice clean professional term for killing you. And anyone else they feel is connected. Rightly so or not. People could get hurt. People could die.”

“I feel like you’re just trying to guilt trip me into trusting you,” she grumbled, sniffing miserably, and wanting nothing more than to be anywhere else.  Anyone else.

“That’s because I am,” he replied. With a tilt of he head, he regarded her curiously. “Is it working?”

She glared at him, scrunching her nose up distastefully and in a low guttural growl she replied, “Yes.”

The man immediately brightened and clapped his hands together. “Good! Then my work here is done!” He moved around the sofa, heading towards the door with an almost skip to his gate. “Like I said, be at that address tonight. Be on time. Can’t stress it enough. And pack smart.”

“Whoa, wait up a moment there, Chuckles!” Gabby ran after him, meeting him as he was already half way out the door. He paused, one hand on the outside doorknob, and waited expectantly. She floundered. She had so many questions and so many thing she would like to say – many of them unkind things and several choice phrases and some elaborate curse words – but instead, all she could manage was a bumbling stammer of, “S-so...what...what do...s-should I pack?”

“Comfortable clothes. Stuff you can run in, easy to clean,” he replied and began to consider the matter further. “Nothing electronic. No phone, no laptop, not even a digital watch.”

“Why can’t I bring –?”

“Just because. Trust me,” he replied shortly. “And whatever...lady things.”

She stared. “Lady things?”

“Yeah, you humans have weird reproduction habits,” he elaborated with, to her slight amusement, a little red in his cheeks. “You might are lacking where you’ll be going. So. Yeah. Lady things.”
“I’ll add it to the list,” she replied dryly. “Anything else, Doctor Oz?”

“Aluminum!” He replied abruptly as though he had struck mental gold.

“...what?” she asked, the odd suggestion throwing her for such a loop that she forgot for a moment hat she was suppose to be freaking out.

“Yeah, that’d be good. Bring a couple rolls of aluminum foil.”

“...any particular reason why?”

“You’ll thank me later.”

“How many?”

“As many as you can carry.”

She stared with abject incredulity. Her fear was quickly being replaced by irritation and she could do nothing but shake her head in disbelief.

“And remember,” the man was saying as he began to close the door behind him. “Be on time!”

She startled out of her ire and lunged for the doorknob and yanking it back open. The man stood on the porch, open faced and inquisitive. “Wait! Just...what...what’s your name?”

He looked taken aback. “What?”

“Well, you know my name,” she explained with a half hearted shrug. “And it only seems fair for me to know yours’re trying to help and all.”

He turned his body to fully face her. He slipped his hands into his jacket pockets and smiled. “You can call me Elliot.”

“I’m guessing that’s not your actual name,” she replied without much surprise. “Huh?”

His smile widened and he pointed at her with his finger in the shape of a gun. “So quick on them uptakes.”

“I’m just noticing a pattern is all.”

“I will say one more thing,” Elliot added. “Names are important. They’re special things. Take care of it and it’ll take care of you. So be careful with who you entrust it to.”

“So I need a fake name?”

Elliot winked at her.

“Any suggestions?” she sighed and leaned against the frame.

“One that familiar and that you’ll actually answer to,” replied Elliot. “You’d be surprised at how little thought some folks give to their alternative name.”

“Okay,” she replied absently. “Sure.”

Elliot paused, hands in his pockets, and stared down at her for a moment. “I think you’ll love it.”

She returned the stare. “What’s that now?”

“I mean, sure, you’re kinda backed up into a corner and all,” he said. “But in the end I think you’re gonna have some fun too. Just remember to live too. Surviving doesn’t mean much when you forget to live along the way.”

“Uh, sure...okay. Uh, thanks for that...bit of advice.”

Elliot turned on his heals and walked down the steps of the sorority house, whistling. “Remember,” he called back to her. “On time with an open mind.”

She watched him as he sauntered down the sidewalk and out of sight. “Why do I have the feeling the open mind bit is the part I should have asked about?” She sighed once more and pulled herself back into the house, already doing a mental tally of her belongings and where she could get aluminum foil close by.
100 GT theme challenge: Hide

A college freshman witnesses an incident of ‘mythical’ proportions and it totally ruins her day. And a lot of other things too. College is hard, but it wasn’t suppose to be dangerous.

Warning: Some cursing and mentions of violence.

Astrid watched from her comfy spot near the windows as Bastian went about his morning routine. The tall dark haired Feirgian ambled out from the upstairs bedroom as he did most mornings, almost tripped on the small rug at the bottom of the steps as he did most mornings, went on to curse at the small rug at the bottom of the steps as he did most mornings, and then blearily stumbled into the kitchen to set the kettle on to make tea. As he did most mornings.

“Mornin’, squeaks,” he yawned, mouth stretching wide to show off the pointed fangs indicative of the Feirgian giants.

Watching as he dug inside the fridge for his usual breakfast fare of pickled fish and Rhrpatche, a weird lumpy kind of pancake made with onions and fried in lard, Astrid picked at the crust left over from her own breakfast and munched on it. Cyrus, as the only one of the Feirgian pair that held a job that required an actual commute, awoke very early in the mornings and had taken up the mantle of feeding Astrid before leaving for the day. It was discovered in her first week with the pair that Bastian, as well meaning as he was, could not be held accountable for the feeding of the small creature that he had brought into their home at any time before noon. His particular occupation required long late nights sitting in front of a large console in his office filtering through codes and endless looping numbers that Astrid could not comprehend even when Bastian had attempted an explanation.

“They call us code divers,” he had told her when the more technically accurate explanations failed to take root. “I fix broken codes for big companies who never bothered to convert to the newer systems in the 80’s. So to fix little problems in their systems, they pay people like me a lot of money to go through their computers and fix whatever is wrong.”

As such, he was not a morning person and quite unintelligible until his first cup of tea.

“” Bastian was saying, blinking inanely at her from across the room as he waited for the tea to steep. “Fed?”

“Uh-huh.” she replied, having deigned his meaning from the disjointed words that made up Sleepy Bastian Speak for ‘Did Cyrus feed you?’. It was another fifteen minutes before Bastian was alive enough to start speaking in coherent sentences, by which time Astrid had gone back to her puzzle box. She had almost solved it three times already, but there was always one piece that didn’t match and she would have to redo the whole thing. She liked the puzzle boxes her two new Feirgian guardians gave her because if she solved them, there was a chocolate inside. But whenever she solved one, they’d give her a more complicated one.  

“Auuuuuugh, Cyrus!” Bastian abruptly cried out from the kitchen. Astrid peaked over to see Bastian holding a plastic pouch. An empty plastic pouch that Astrid recognized as the one that Rhrpatche came prepackaged in. “He could have at least thrown the empty package away!”

Disgruntled at the prospect of a Rhrpatche-less breakfast, Bastian tossed the empty puch in the bin and slammed the top back down with a little more force than was really necessary. “Hito Rhrpatche vares. Perkul!”

Astrid perked up at Bastian’s use of Feirgish as he rarely spoke it when she was around. Even Cyrus has gotten into the act of speaking English exclusively in the apartment so as not to leave Astrid out of the loop. Unless they were saying things they did not want her to hear. Like on the rare times they fought or when someone was cursing. And seeing as Cyrus was not around...

“You said a bad word!” Astrid called out while pointing at the offender with an accusatory finger. All twenty something feet of Bastian froze and he turned to gap at the little human.  

“No I didn’t,” he replied.

Astrid grinned. “Yes you did. I don’t know what it means, but I know you said it.”

Moving around the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room, Bastian made his towards the small sofa in front of which Astrid was sitting. He squatted down and leveled a mildly annoyed frown at her before the thin veil he had been hiding his guilt behind melted. He sighed. “If I give you a cookie will you pretend you didn’t hear anything?”

“A cookie and you solve the puzzle box for me,” Astrid countered. “Then we got a deal.”

There was a flash of surprise on Bastian’s face before he laughed and quirked an eyebrow at her. “When did you become such an extortionist?”

She just grinned and held up the puzzle box.

“Alright, alright, little miss loan shark,” Bastian replied and plucked up the little puzzle and, much to Astrid’s consternation, solved it with only four simple turns. Even with giant fingers. The top popped open and he held the small object out to her. She took it and retrieved the brightly colored foil wrapped chocolate bon bon. Instead of stuffing it into her face, she got up from her spot and walked over to where he bed was set up and placed the bright confection near her pillow.

“I’m gonna save it,” she said in answer to Bastian’s mildly inquisitive expression and then gestured expectantly with her hands. “Cookie?”

He laughed and reached out to scoop her up. “Alright, alright. Cookie it is.”

As Astrid munched away on her cookie, a hard square biscuit with a lemon sugar glaze, Bastian went about the kitchen and began to pull out various utensils, pots, and ingrediants.

“What’cha doing?” Astid asked around a mouthful of crumbs, kicking her feet idly off the top edge of the counter just above the sink and facing Bastian.

“Well, since Cyrus is a dirty pancake thief,” Bastian replied, pulling out a large container of white flour from the cupboard. “I’ll just have to make my own Rhrpatche.”

Astrid tilted her head and made a face.

“What?” Bastian asked, body drawn up in offense. “I can cook.”

“Not according to Cyrus,” she replied. “Isn’t that why all the food you buy is already made?”
“Convenience is not the same as lack of ability,” he said, pulling out a bowl and scooping flour into it without measuring. “I’m lazy, not stupid. There is in fact a difference, kiddo.”

“Don’t you usually measure flour?” Astrid asked.

“You only measure if you’re baking,” Bastian replied, grabbing the glass bottle of milk from the fridge and pouring half of it into the bowl with the flour. He waved his hand in the air as though to disperse any incredulity that might be hanging in the air. “This is cooking. Totally different.”

“Oh. Okay,” Astrid relented and went back to munching on her cookie. “If you say so.”

“Say so, I do.”

She watched him struggle with the onions next. She had watched Cyrus cook several times and he made it look so easy that the true level of difficulty was only highlighted by Bastian’s near complete lack of skill. She winced several times, fearing the dark haired giant would end up slicing his fingers open as he attempted to dice the yellow onion. After a good ten minutes and with some tears in his eyes, Bastian added the onions to the flour and milk.

He held a small jar in front of his face, examining the small printed words on the side. “Mum always added baking soda to her Rhrpatche.”

He tipped the little jar over the mixture and liberally sprinkled the baking soda into it. And then a little more for good measure. “I guess it’s what makes ‘em fluffy.”

Next came the frying part. A wide shallow pan was heating on the stove to which Bastian added several large spoonfuls of pale translucent lard. As the kitchen began to fill with the smell of bacon, Astrid stepped down from the top counter to the main one, standing amongst the carnage of onion skins to get a better look at what Bastian was doing.

Bastian spooned a great heap of the batter and held it above the hot lard, but paused. He looked down at Astrid standing close by and his eyes flickered to the pan. A spark of concern furrowed his brows and wordlessly, he put the spoon back into the bowl and used a single hand to usher Astrid back a good bit.

“Trying to fry Rhrpatche here,” he said with a smirk. “Not little humans. Best keep away from the really freaking hot oil, Squeaks. Can’t think of a way to explain to Cy why I had to rush you to the vets with horrible burns. Y’know. Without sounding like an ass.”

His eye widened at his slip of the tongue and he glanced down to see if Astrid had caught on his use of the curse word. And her triumphant grin informed him that yes. Yes, she had. With a sigh, he fished out another cookie and handed it to her.

“You’re gonna get so fat,” he muttered, giving the batter a good stir before lifting up a heaping of it.

“Then stop saying bad words!” Astrid retorted with a mouth full of cookie. Bastian just smiled and turned back to plop the gooey mixture into the bubbling lard. It splashed and hissed viciously, sending out fleck of burning oil as the heavy goop landed. Bastian leaped back from the flying lard, wiping at his arms where little spot of the hot stuff hand landed.

He was very proud of the fact that he was able to keep from letting out a string of curses that immediately sprang to his lips. And keep one more cookie out of Astrid’s hands. For now.

“Hooooboy,” he said, flashing a grin at Astrid. “Good thing I kept you back huh?”

But Astrid was not looking at Bastian. She was watching the pan. The batter had swollen into a near perfect sphere and was lazily trailing about the hot pan in a circle, it’s spherical shape causing it to turn all on its own. Bastian watched for a moment, transfixed by the sight.

“That does not look like a pancake,” Astrid supplied inanely. “It’s like...the opposite of a pancake.”

After the odd ball of dough had turned an acceptable shade of golden brown, Bastian sat it aside to cool before he cut it in half. The inside was hollow and the outside hard and crispy. He and Astrid exchanged dubious glances.

“Oh well,” Bastian replied with an unconcerned shrug, holding up one half of the ball. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

He tossed it into his mouth and Astrid watched with reserved concern. As he chewed, his eyebrows raised up in a thoughtful expression. “Not bad. Weird, but not bad.”

He offered he the other half and she shook her head.

“What? It’s not poisoned. Try it.”

“Full,” she replied lowly, holding her middle. “Tummy hurts.”

Bastian threw his head back and laughed. “Well no wonder, you silly thing! You ate half your own weight in cookies!”

She stuck her tongue out at him.
The wind was rushing passed at such a loud roar that it completely deafened the sound of the great beating wings keeping them aloft. The metal mesh pouch would have been vastly less hospitable without the thick red pad, as thread bare and worn as it was. However, it was very large and shielded her from most of the wind as well as the hard metal circlets of the metal mesh’s weave. The reaping chill of the cold night air she was shielded from as well not only by the sake of the pad, but also the enormous barrel chest of the ferocious dragon of whom she found herself victim. The metal mesh pouch and pad having been strapped quiet securely to the creatures breast by virtue of several stiff, strong, and well oiled leather straps. The hard cream colored scales radiated heat and had her current circumstances been different or even forgotten, she would have been perfectly comfortable. As it was, her circumstances remained just as dire and she just as terrified.

The beast had come in the night, under the cover of heavy rain clouds, just as the small caravan had settled in for a night’s rest under their colorful tents and wagons. Having spent the day transversing the rocky outcroppings of the Volum Stratus plateau, none of the travelers heard the low rushing sound until the light of the fires illuminated the great horned monster as it flew over their camp. In its wake, the gust of wind sent several tens flying and a shower of golden embers from the fires flying about. Her master’s wagon caught fire first and the dry straw packed in with the heavy silks and brocades and more expensive fabrics were aflame within mere moments. The gilded sign on the green wagon’s side reading ‘Thomas Towley Traveling Tailor’ was being chewed up by the smoldering heat from the burning wares. Her master was shrieking at her, his treasured and carefully powdered wig was askew and his face contorted into a facade that was almost comical in its panic.

“Water! Water, girl!” he shrieked, batting uselessly at the flames engulfing his name and painted likeness with a deep purple dinner jacket and cried out in dismay when it too caught the flames.

Yanna grabbed a water skin from one of the horses and dumped it onto the flames, but such a small amount of water did nothing against the roaring flames now. Towley waddled over to her as she watched the wagon burn and drew his short stubby hand across her face. She fell to the ground, shocked and in pain.

“Go to the water wagon and fill this bucket you simpleton!”

She scrambled away fervently from the enraged man, carrying the bucket he had thrown after her. He was a short stoutly fellow, but his temper made up for any other inadequacies he possessed, hidden behind fine clothes and wigs and a false air of superiority. To Yana, he was a tyrant and a scoundrel. And the only person who ever showed her a lick of kindness since her mother passed away. If you could call it that. He gave her a job as his servant and paid her with food and board. It kept her off the streets and warm enough to live through the brutal northern months when they were not traveling the trade routes.  

But it was not an easy life. Made even more difficult by the sudden attack.  

The water wagon was begin assaulted by several other members of the caravan, crying for the driver to fill their buckets first. Yana was dimly aware of other tents and wagons catching flame. And then that terrible roar.

It split the air and shook the ground. People were flying away from the wagon, even the driver had abandoned his seat and was running. Belatedly, Yana looked up and saw the dragon’s vestige descend from above, talons as white as porcelain outstretched and yearning…

The bucket left her hands and plunked to the ground. The same ground that was moving away from her feet at an expeditious pace. There was a firm pressure around her middle and arms, an exuberant wall of heat above her and an intake of breathe that held the same likeness of sound as that of a blazing furnace. At first, she was too confused, too shocked, to realize what had happened. A moment void of cognitive understanding until a frigid gust of wind blew right through her, whipping her skirts around her legs, and drawing her back into herself. The dithering void gave way to horrid realization and she screamed.

The sound was carried off by the wind, dropping away from her like a stone. She struggled between the dragon’s talons, pulling at the creature’s fingers in blind futility fueled by primal fear. As unpleasant a notion as falling to her death was, that of being devoured by a giant winged lizard was far more so.

There was a displeased rumble from above her that made her bones vibrate. Movement ahead of her drew her attention and abruptly, she found herself face to face, er – face to snout, with the dragon, features illuminated by moonlight. His reptilian eyes stared at her in a peculiar way. Almost...admonishing? The edges of it’s mouth pulled downward, almost like a frown.

“Stop squirming so much,” the creature said in a voice that was startlingly human in sound. Despite the deep rumblings from his chest, the dragon’s voice was not a deep baritone or gravel sounding, but a soft tenor. “Or I’m libel to drop you.”

Yana starred, mouth agape. He was speaking Yazki. Her language. Not the common tongue spoken by colonials, but pure unaccented Yazki. The beast’s reproachful frown turned upwards slightly, amused. “I also suggest you close your mouth. Else you might catch a bird in there.”

She closed her mouth obediently, but continued to stare. However, the dragon seemed satisfied enough and flew on, giving no more notice to his captive. The shock lingered for a good while, thoughts and miasmic fear churning her insides into liquid and making her feel wholly ill. Somehow, knowing she was dealing with a sapient creature with enough intelligence to know, let alone speak with fluency, such an obscure tongue, made Yana hope she might reason with the dragon. Perhaps she could convince him not to eat her. She was small, too skinny, and surely after spending two months sustaining on hard biscuits and pickled eggs, she would taste ghastly.  

The dragon made for an innocuous ledge under a shallow sloped outcropping, made visible now that the rain clouds had dissipated, giving way to bright moonlight. The relatively small space was dominated by shrubs and brush, but the dragon did not seem to care and landed heavily into the thick of them. The talons released her and she tumbled back into a prickly bush. As she struggled to untangle herself and free her skirts from the groping ends of the shrub’s dry brittle foliage, the dragon rummaged around, poking and prodding and seeming to be searching for something.

“Ah-ha!” he said finally, pulling up from a collection of shrubbery a large sheet of metal mesh, the edges framed by strips of leather while still more leather, thicker and done up with buckles, looped around and connecting at each corner. Again, he delved back into the foliage before pulling up a thick pad, wide and flat, and covered in a well worn red fabric. The edges were worn down and the whites of its inside could be seen from a small tear on one end.

Taking advantage of the dragon’s momentary distraction, Yana removed herself from the bush and crept along the edge of the rocky ledge only to stagger back. They were incredibly high up, more so that she first wagered, and there was no easy slope down to the gully floor, but a sheer drop.

“Best keep back from the edge,” the dragon said in an easy tone. “Be a shame to lose you now after all that work.”

Yana yelped, and ducked for a cover of a large bush, peeking up at the large lizard. He had hopped up to the larger outcropping, a good ten feet above her head, and was struggling with the metal mesh sling. He had one leather strap settled on one shoulder while he fiddled with the buckle of the other one, the mesh square hanging across his chest. Now that she was some distance away from him, she could see his form proper and make out his coloring. From snout to tail, he must have reached an easy forty feet, with forearms close to ten from talon to shoulder. His neck another ten. Scales the color of ripened wheat ran the length of the beast while its chin, chest, and underbelly was a softer, lighter shade like fresh cream.  

At her startled squawking, his attention left the task at hand to her as she fretted beneath the inadequate shelter of a bramble bush and he regarded her curiously. “You do understand what I am saying, do you not?”

She nodded slightly.

“Oh good,” he replied, returning to fixing the leather strap. “I would hate to think I was yammering away uselessly. Good to see you were taught proper language at least.”

Yana did not understand why it would matter to a dragon whether or not his dinner understood him. Perhaps he had a taste for Yazki? Perhaps he held a preference to the tanned flesh of the natives than that of paler pinker colonials.

“We’ll be off again soon,” he told her with a frustrated grunt, pulling on the bands. “Once I fix this damnable strap!”

After another moment of muttered cursing, he seemed satisfied with it and then tucked the old red pad into the sling, sandwiched between the mesh and his chest. The dragon swung his head towards her, looking pleased. “All ready.”

Yana felt her chance to negotiate slipping away and as the Dragon made a move for her, one clawed hand reaching out to her, and she stammered in a high pitched plea, “Y-you don’t have to do this!”

The dragon paused and put his hand down. He looked confused.

“Y-you don’t have to take me anywhere,” she continued, slowly getting to her feet and edging away, mindful of the drop.

“No?” the dragon asked, lips pulling up into a slight smile. “Well, what shall I do with you then?”  

Yana felt a dangerous trembling to her limbs, fear and spent adrenaline having left her legs feeling gummy. “You could...let me go?”

“Let you go?” parroted the dragon as he settled himself down onto the ledge. He draped his forearms over the side, causing small bits of rock to chip off. “After all that work to get you? Would be an awful waste.”

She gulped. The flippant disregard he showed for her sank her meager hopes of escape. The playful glint in his eyes made him seem all the more predatorial. Like a great cat playing with a mouse.  

“And what would you do if I did?” he continued. “Stay here on this ledge? Wait for the vultures and scavengers to pick at you once the elements have torn you down?”

He tutted at her. “Such a shameful waste.”

She had no answer. Somehow, in her mind, she had assumed she would be more sure worded in her arguments. Fight a little harder. In reality, she could not even muster the courage to speak the words ‘please do not eat me’ for she fear that if she did so and he answered her with a rebuttal, all she would have accomplished would be to affirm her fears. And as odd as it was, Yana did not want to be told that she was going to die. No matter how true or certain. So barring that, she could pretend a little. Linger on for whatever time she had left bathed in blissful ignorance.  

The dragon was still watching her in gleaming amusement that turned her face red in anger and resentment. “Well?” he asked when she offered no protest. “Shall we be off?”

She did not answer. Instead she pulled into herself, looking away from the large imposing form of the beast, and tried to keep the tears back. The dragon seemed to mistake her silence for assertion and easily plucked her up from the clinging bramble before slipping her down into the metal mesh rigging he had affixed to his chest. The cushion under her was stiff and old, the passing within compressed from years of use, but it was not uncomfortable. The scales of of the dragon’s chest were smooth and hard and did not pinch her as she would have thought. Overall, it was more pleasant than dangling front his claws.

As they went aloft, she quietly sobbed into the folds of her skirt.

She was jostled awake as the Dragon landed. Her sleep had been deep, but unrefreshing and she felt exhausted and ill and dreadfully cold, despite the warmth from the dragon’s body. The flat stone expanses of the plateau was gone, replaced instead with mountains, shallow slopped and green with a light frost. A frigid mist settled over the valley below.

Yana rocked with the sway of the dragon’s gate, still strapped to his chest. She twisted within the sling, trying to get a better view of where they were just in time to see the mouth of a cave open before them. There was a soft amber glow from within the darkness and as the dragon entered, she could hear muffled voices that abruptly stopped as they approached. The cave was warm, heated by a lit brazier that sat within a large round hole in the ground, some thirty feet wide and eight feet deep. Gathered around brazier were several other people. No, not just people…

...children. Much like her. A few looked her age, a couple younger than her, and one a little older perhaps. But they were all decidedly young, no older than fourteen. There were three boys, all dark haired and tanned skinned. The tallest had a round baby face and was noticeably plumper than the rest. The next boy was rail thin, lanky with a mop of wild and unwielding curls of black hair, wearing a green tunic and brandishing a stick that he had been poking into fire, the ends burnt and smoking. The last was a boy of perhaps nine, small and meek, his face hidden behind tendrils of long black hair secured by a red leather head band. Of the girls, there were two. One looked a little older than Yana, wearing her hair tied back into a neat braid down her back and dressed in a maid’s uniform, the kind worn by those in service to the great houses of Port Yardley. Yana knew the place well, having visited many times as her Master had a sizable portion of his clientele there. The last girl and youngest of them all was a small girl, no older than six or so, dressed in brown rags and silently sobbing. She had the same rough textured black hair as they all did, but her eyes were a startlingly bright blue instead of the warm honey tones of native Yazki. She was mixed. Part Yazki, part colonial.

It made for a bewildering sight and Yana wondered why the dragon had gone to such trouble of collecting Yazki children. Perhaps he hoarded children instead of gold or jewels? Or perhaps he intended to gather enough of them to make a fitting meal. One of them would hardly satiate the appetite of a forty foot dragon, she was certain. They all regarded the approaching creature with open fear, the smallest girl making a strangled sounding wail as the older one tried to comfort her, holding her close and rocking slightly. The boy dressed in green held his smoldering stick like a sword while the two other boys huddled closer to the far wall, not looking at the dragon.

The dragon studied them all, seeming pleased. “Good, you’re all here, then. No more escape attempts?”

He seemed to be speaking to the boy in green, who just glared back and raised his stick. Ignoring the boy, the dragon began to undo the strap at his shoulder and once he had loosened it a bit, he reached into the sling and pulled Yana out. He sat her down at the bottom of the hole with the others, nudging her towards the brazier with one long clawed finger. “Go warm yourself. It won’t do to have you catch ill.”

Yana willingly went to the fire, holding her hands up to the blazing light and allowing the heat to thaw out her chilled fingers. The dragon was thoroughly perplexing and Yana was no longer certain that he intended to eat any of them. Aside from the original snatching, he had given her no true reason to fear him. He had spoken to her with gentle tones and the amusement she had interpreted as being patronizing, but she was no longer sure of her initial assessment. Before she would entertain the idea of asking outright, the dragon had turned away and was gone.

No one spoke to her as she warmed herself, but she did notice that the boy in green was watching her as well as the older girl. But their was no malice in their eyes, only reserved curiosity. The smaller girl had calmed down some now that the dragon was gone and after a little while was fast asleep in the elder girls arms. Sufficiently warmed, Yana chose a spot against the wall and sat down.

“What’s your name?” asked the older girl.

Yana blinked at her for a moment before replying. “Yana.”

“I’m Edee. And this is Olive.”

She nodded, looking down at the sleeping Olive. She did not look peaceful, appearing despaired even in her dreams. They all looked as downtrodden and morose.

“How long do you think he’ll keep us here?” Yana asked, keeping her voice low.
Edee shrugged, looking absently over at the fire, dancing embers reflected in her eyes. “I’ve been here two days.”

“Do you know what...that is, did he say why?” Yana asked, thinking that perhaps one of the other children had been brave enough to ask their captor his intentions.

Edee shook her head. “Not really. He doesn’t tell us much of anything. Just makes sure we’re all accounted for, that we’ve slept, that the fire’s still lit, and we eat whenever he brings food. He gets grouchy when he thinks we haven’t eaten enough.”

Yana frowned at that.

“Got to make sure your cattle are well fed,” muttered the boy in green, poking the ground with the end of his stick. “You want them nice and plump before the slaughter.”

A chill ran down her back. “Is that why we’re here do you think?”

“Of course it is!” he replied acidly, looking up at her. “What else would he need us for? No, he means to fatten us all up. Make better eating of us all. We may be here for a few days, maybe a month. We can’t move about much. All we can do it sit and get fat. Like Anki.”

The largest boy, doughy and round bodied, jerked to attention, glaring at the boy in green. “Stop it Faer.”

“He’ll probably eat him first,” Faer continued on, ignoring the other boy.

“Shut up, Faer,” growled Anki.

“Since he’s plump enough already,” Faer retorted, glancing sidelong at Anki with an expression that made it obvious that the smaller boy was intentionally trying to rouse the larger one. And it worked. With a roar of rage, Anki jumped up and ran at Faer. The two tumbled into the dirt and rolled, fists flying and fingers grabbing hair. Olive had woken up at the kerfuffle and was sobbing again.

“Stop it!” cried the third and smallest boy, rising from the floor and rushing over to his fighting fellows. He started pulling at Faer’s arm, trying to pull him off of Anki. “You’re not helping any. He’s gonna hear you!”

“STOP THAT AT ONCE!” The dragon’s voice was painfully loud and Yana flinched, curling into a ball and clamping her hands over he ears. He loomed over the hole, glaring at the two entangled boys who were now fervently pushing away from each other, sending nervous glances towards the clearly angry lizard. Faer got to his feet first and made to move back to his spot against the wall. However, the dragon reached down and swept the boy up in one large clawed hand, bringing the boy up close to his face, lips pulled back into a sneer and showing off rows of deadly sharp teeth. “What do you mean by this continuous anarchy?”

For a moment, Faer did not seem able to answer, unable to tear his horrified eyese away from the dragon’s mouth, so very close to him now. Yana had scooted closer to Edee, watching on in horror and fully expecting the dragon to kill the boy any moment.

Reptilian eyes narrowed. “I asked you a question.”

“N-nothing! I don’t mean anything!” Faer stammered. “He attacked me first!”

The dragon’s gaze flickered over to Anki for a brief moment, the other boy visibly flinching in resposense. With a humorless huff, the dragon turned back to Faer.  

“Unprovoked as well, I assume?” he asked dryly, one eye ridge tilting upwards. “First that silly escaped attempt and now openly provoking fights? Must I keep you strapped in the harness for the rest of our time here?”

“N-no, sir,” Faer replied, looking pale. “I-I’ll behave.”

The dragon could not look less convinced.

“I promise!” Faer pleaded, squirming fervently. “P-please...”

“You’ve two strikes now, boy,” the dragon replied in clear displeasure. “Best make sure that it does not become three.”

The dragon lowered Faer back down, allowing the boy to scramble away, but followed him with slanted pupils. Faer found a spot well away from the others and sat down, thoroughly cowed and shaken. Looking over his captive audience and sensing the near palpable tension, the dragon sighed, all the ire draining away. “It won’t be long now, children. The others will be here soon and we will be done with this horrid business for good.”

Yana felt ill. His words were very non-reassuring. What horrid business could he mean? It certainly sounded foreboding.

“P-please, sir,” Anki pleaded in a quivering voice. “W-what’s gonna happen to us?”

For the first time, the dragon appeared quite apologetic in his mannerisms. He lowered his head closer to the lip of the hole and when he spoke, his words were soft. “Do not be afraid, children. All will be well. There is much you do not understand as of yet, but you are in no danger. Those demons cannot reach you here. They’ll never hurt you ever again.”

There was a confused murmuring from the children and they exchanged bewildered glances.

“Demons? W-what...what demons?” Yana asked.

“The invaders,” the dragon replied as though it was obvious. “Those...colonials.”

“So,” asked the smaller of the boys, the one with the red headband who had tried to break the fight up. He spoke with reserved expectation, just a spark of hope. “You’re... not gonna eat us?”

At this, the dragon’s head snapped up, neck pulling back as though struck, and his eyes widened into large orbs. Looking thoroughly scandalized, his head turned to each child in turn, lingering a tad longer on Olive as she quietly whimpered into Edee’s chest. His expression was wholly mortified as sudden understanding washed over him. “E-eat you…? Oh, Gods above, no! Is that what has...oh, dear. That’s why you’ve all been so terribly frightened! No. No, dear children, no. That is not why you are here. Not in the least!”

There was a moment of silence as the dragon’s words sunk in and there was a palpable release of tension from them all. Anki burst into relieved tears. The dragon regarded them all sadly, slit pupils widening. “What a fool I am for not seeing, for not thinking of it. I assumed you all would...ah damn it all. Of course you would think that. Of course you would. You do not know the Yazki ways. You see me as the invaders do. A man eating monster.”

Yana was somewhat startled to find herself giggling, running a hand through her hair, and feeling washed in comforting reassurance. Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes as her body and mind began to relax.  

“T-then...why? Why did you steal us away? Did we do something wrong?” Edee asked, honey eyes pleading for further understanding.

“No, you’ve done nothing wrong at all,” assured the dragon hurriedly. “In all of creation I daresay there are no creatures as innocent as you lot. As for the rest, I protest your choice of words. If anything I have stolen you back. I have rescued you.”

Yana felt very confused. Rescued? From what?

“What have we been rescued from?” she dared to ask and could not help a small startle as the dragon’s attention turned to her. His eyes narrowed.

“From the invaders!” he replied with fiery ire. “Those kidnappers and murderous devils. They came to our lands years ago, attacked our people, and stole your parents away from us. Made slaves and beasts of burden of them. We have search and schemed and tracked them across the continent, but for many of them, we were too late. The six of you are all that is left of the original seventeen who were lost to us. We did not, could not, rest until every person with even a hint of Yazki blood was returned to us. We’ve waited many years for this moment, for you all to finally be delivered home to us, to our people.”

Relived that she was not destined to become the dragon’s dinner, Yana was no less confused. Rather, now she was very much bemused as to what the dragon was referring. She knew her mother and father had been captured by colonials and sold into service, but...what was all this talk of them being of the same people? As far as she knew her own heritage, dragons were not Yazki and Yazki were not dragons.

“...are dragons and Yazki...friends?” Yana ventured.  

The dragon looked confused and perhaps a little insulted. “My dear, girl. I am Yazki. Just as you are.”

She turned this bit of information around in her head, repeating it and still she found it incomprehensible. “I...I do not understand.”

The dragon grumbled something under his breath, but she did pick out a few choice words. “You will in time. Perhaps when the others arrive, they can explain it in terms that I cannot. But yes. I am Yazki. Head of the Zolto family. Each of the five families have sent along a winged clansmen to bare you home to our valley. In fact, they should be arriving by midday.”
An Unconventional Homecoming (One shot)
A little one shot I wrote up a while ago after bingeing on Dragon related media. :la:

I had it posted on my tumblr but completely forgot to post it here. Oops. 
“Um...Jae?” she called out into the dark. “I can’t see anything...”

“Give me a second,” Jae replied from somewhere ahead of her. And suddenly the space around them exploded with opaque light. Jae stood next to the wall to her left, his hand falling away from a large orb set into a metal bracket on the wall. He regarded her with a smug grin. “Impressive isn’t it? Maevis made them for me and Hev made the brackets. Connar and helped me put them in since I haven’t the first clue on this kind of thing. I mostly watched and held his tools for him. Oh-! Connar’s another human. He hangs around Hev’s workshop, but he kind of has his own space near the stables. He was probably the one to make your marker there.”

Nenani touched the metal trinket resting against her clavicle. “They said there were four other humans plus me.”

“Yep. You, me, Barnaby, Connar, and Sawyer. And Kent, but he passed away a few years ago,” Jae replied. He turned his back to her and walked down the tunnel. Just as the orb’s light seemed to be fading, another orb lit up, banishing the shadows to the farthest reaches of Nenani’s peripherals. As one orb illuminated the tunnel, the one before dimmed back to dark. It was as though the light inside was following them, bouncing from orb to orb as they transversed the stone tunnel’s pathways. Ahead of them was a small collection of steps. “Most humans who find there way here don’t stay very long. The war’s still pretty fresh on a lot of folk’s mind and most of them haven’t really forgiven Vhasshal for everything that happened. Most either go back to where they came from or join one of the hill tribes. Warren’s set aside a good bit of land for them to settle and make their own. Most giants stay away since it was made illegal to bother them without express permission.”

“What was the war about?” she asked.

Jae stopped to stare at her. “You don’t know?”

She shook her head. “Everyone always talks like I should already know, but no one ever really explained why the war happened.”

“Well. Long story short: someone killed the crowned Prince of Vhasshal. Never found out who. But they were human, whoever they were. And it happened in Silvaara. The Blood King got pissed and utterly destroyed Silvaara over it. Killed the King of Silvaara and every blood relative and most of the nobility for that matter. My family fled with most of the capitol. We weren’t some members of a noble house or anything like that though. We made shoes,” he said, continuing on and up the steps. “The Blood King earned his name, killed a shit ton of people, brought back the ancient tradition of eating humans, and got all but one of his sons killed because he was a fucking nut job. Until Warren and the last few folks with their sanity intact rose up and killed him.”

“...what happened to your family?”

“The war was over. But I didn’t know it at the time. We’d been hiding from the blue coats up in the hills for a few days and were making a move for Dander Pass. It’s a clear shot to the nothern plate from the moors that way. We stopped to rest our ox and to get a drink, but I was asleep in the cart. Someone had poisoned the pond. I only woke up when the ox died and it flipped the cart over. Everyone was dead. My Dad. My Mom. Everyone.”

“...I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. They were hardly the only ones who died and theirs was quick and painless. Not many got such a luxury,” he replied. “Anyway, Warren and Keral showed up not too long after. I tried to hide, but Keral sniffed me out pretty easily. I guess I was pathetic enough to earn the King’s pity because he took me in and I’ve lived here since. He even taught me to read and write. Kent showed up about two years after that and Connar and Sawyer….hm, about three years ago? No, Connar was three years ago and Sawyer was two. And now you.”

“Who is Keral?” Nenani asked. “I keep hearing that name.”

“Have you not met him either?” Jae asked. “Damn. I’m gonna have to take you on my rounds and introduce you to everyone. Keral’s Captain of the Rangers. The blue coated bastards walking around like their shit don’t stink.”

Nenani gulped, as she recalled her recent and unfavorable meeting with the blue coats. “...I’m don’t think I wanna meet him.”

Jae paused and looked back at her with genuine curiosity. “Why’s that?”

“...I’ve already met a few of the Rangers,” she replied. “It wasn’t a good experience.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Which one?”


“Him? Ha! That fucker’s half-a-penny short of a half-a-penny,” replied Jae as he turned and continued on. “What’d he do?”

“He tried to eat me,” she replied acidly.

“Ooooh, that’s not good. Anyone tell Keral about it?”

“Bart did, yeah.”

“Ah, well, then there’s no worry. Thrist’s gonna regret ever looking at you wrong after Keral’s done with him. It’s a big no-no to mess with any of us with markers. We’re under the King’s personal protection. So messing with one of us is paramount to giving Warren the finger. Oh, Warren’s the King’s name. Don’t know if anyone’s explained that to you yet. I never call him by any honorifics though. Special privileges, being his ward, I guess.”

Jae paused and turned back to Nenani and pointed to her. “You should probably stick to all the formalities though.” He turned back around and continued onward. “Anyway. Keral’s a decent guy. His sense of humor sucks, but he’s a good fella’ overall. He’d never hurt ya. Especially since your Farris’s.”

Nenani made a noise of confusion.

“On the account of them being brothers and all,” Jae replied casually.

Nenani stopped in her tracks, regarding the older human ahead of her. “Farris has a brother?”

“Yup. Twin actually,” he said and then laughed. “But they’re really easy to tell apart. One’s always grinning like an idiot and the other always looks like someone pissed in his ale.”

Nenani smiled at that and then hummed as she contemplated the notion of there being another giant walking around who looked just like Farris. Someone with the same red hair, same square jaw, and the eyes…

A blue coat Ranger with sharp green eyes. Her heart skipped a beat as vague memories surfaced. She could almost feel the chill of a cold night from so long ago brush against her arms and the smell of trees and dirt. An echo of a voice…

‘Hello there, my little sweetling...’

There was an uncomfortable knot in her stomach, but Jae seemed to pay no notice as he continued through the tunnels, making a sharp right and up another flight of stairs. The light followed them, bouncing from orb to orb, illuminating their way. She jogged up the stairs to catch up, her head reeling a bit as she tried to make sense of the jumble of thoughts and feelings bouncing around in her skull.  

“Maybe another day I’ll introduce you” Jae was saying. Her head snapped to attention and she opened her mouth to decline the offer, but found her voice failed her. “He’s a guy you want on your side, that’s for sure.”

Nenani picked at an uneven section of her fingernail, trying to find some words to spit out, but found her mouth too dry. Her heart hammered in her chest.

Why did these memories scare her so much?

“You okay?” The concern in Jae’s question startled her out of her thoughts and she looked up to see him regarding her with a curious, but slightly worried expression. “Is it the tunnels? I know they’re kind of creepy, but there’s nothing down here. Just us. None of the other humans even use them. Connar and Sawyer never really come inside the castle and Barnaby never leaves the library without Maevis. So it’s just you and me.” A pause. “Are you afraid of the dark or something?”

Nenani saw an opening to dismiss her behavior and jumped on it. “A little,” she confessed. “I’ve never been inside a castle before all this. It’s...a little strange for me.”

Jae just smiled indulgently and gestured for her to follow him. He waited until she was on the same step as her and put his arm around her shoulders.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I know these tunnels like the back of my hand. Better even. I never pay attention to the back of my hand. Heh. Anyway, we’re almost to the big stairs. Those will take us to the tower. That’s where the big library is. It use to be a watch tower during the war, but Warren gave it to Maevis and he filled it with books so now it’s the big library. Or King’s library. But Warren never goes up there. He has his own study. It’s pretty impressive too.”

“The one with the big window? The colorful one?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Jae nodded. “You’ve seen it?”

“That’s where I was taken for judgment.”

“...judgment?” Jae asked with a suspicious raise of an eyebrow. He smirked at her. “What’d you do?”

She shrugged. “...I stole fruit from the kitchens.”

“Why?” he asked, sounding genuinely confused.

“I was hungry,” she replied defensively with a furrow of her brow.

Jae laughed at her pouting. “So you thought it was a smart idea to steal from the King of Vhasshal? Didn’t your parents tell you the horror stories about this place? Giants are suppose to eat naughty children, right? That’s what the stories say. Well, I suppose the ones who would actually eat you don’t give a rat’s ass whether you ate your vegetables or finished your chores that day.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “I knew the stories. But I didn’t mean to come here. It was an accident. I got stuck in a basket that was on its way here. For the wedding.”

Jae seemed to consider her as though he was only now getting a true look at her. “Where are you from, anyway?”

“The Southlands.”

Jae choked on empty air, staring at her with wide eyes. “Wow! not a small distance. You spent, what – how many days in that basket? By wagon? Damn.”

“A few days, yeah,” she replied. “Yale caught me when I tried to run. I was taken to the King later and he gave me to Farris. I met Lolly too. I like her. Her and the other ladies. They’re nice. They made me this dress.”

“Oh, sure,” Jae replied, making a face. “So long as you’re on her good side. Do me a favor if you see Lolly, don’t tell her you saw me. I’m hoping the whole gravy fiasco will blow over in a week or so and I can sleep in my own room again.”

They continued on through the tunnels until at last they were standing at the base of a wide set of grand stairs. Each stone step was wide enough for eight men to stand side by side and had inlaid carvings of figures and trees and rivers. An example of exquisite mastery of the masonry arts. Each step was different and seemed to tell a story as one climbed upwards. Along the walls, flashed colored tiles. Deep blues, greens, and gold. A small spot of red among waves of orange and yellow. Figures dressed in finery walking through forests, hand in hand. A castle upon a hill. A winding river. It was a marvelous work of art. It seemed such a waste for it to be lost down in some dingy tunnel. And then the thought struck her that it seemed quite odd that within a giant castle, were tunnels that were decidedly human sized.

“Who built these tunnels?” she asked as they began to climb the large stairs.  

“That’s the great mystery!” Jae replied, his eyes alight with a fierce passion. “I’ve been trying to figure that out since I found them years ago. It was an accident that I even found a door, but they’re all over the place. All hidden in plain sight. Like servant’s doors. But then why all this?” he waved to the mosaics and fine masonry. “I can get to pretty much any part of the castle through these tunnels. But the weird thing is that no one seems to know why they’re here. I mean, obviously they were made for humans, but why? Warren didn’t know they were here and he was born and raised in this castle. Barnaby scavenged through every book in this place. Nothing.”

“How odd,” Nenani remarked, running a hand along the tiled mosaic as she moved up the stairs. “They’re so pretty.”

“Yeah. Barnaby did some sketches of them for Maevis a while back since he cant’t come in to see them. He has some theories, but just that. Personally I think they’re all hooey.” A pause. “Don’t tell him I said that.”

At the top of the stairs was a carved archway. The stone had been carved to appear like two willowy trees growing from the slate flooring and up to meet in a delicate archway, their branches intertwined.

“It’s so pretty,” Nenani breathed, eye eyes darting around to take in all the details of the stonework. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“I guess I’m so use to it now,” Jae commented. “That I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. There’s other parts of the tunnels that have some nice masonry and mosaics, but I’d have to say this area has the nicest of them.”

He walked up to the center of the archway and put his hands against the seemingly solid stone. A fine line of bright light formed at its center as he pushed and the stone parted into a set of double doors. A gentle gust of wind blew towards them, bringing with it the scent of parchment and ink and the deeper rich smell of mahogany.

Jae walked through with easy strides while Nenani took her time. She eased into the new space, blinking as her sight adjusted from the dim gloom of the tunnels. Once her vision cleared, she was met with a magnificent sight. It was obvious that the big library was housed in a tower by the impossible tall cylinder shape of the room. A set of ornate mahogany and iron spiraling walkways swirled around and around to meet at a platform at the ceiling hundreds if not thousands of feet above them. And the walls were covered, every visible inch, in shelves that were filled to bursting with books and tomes and manuscripts and scrolls and all manners of writings. The floor was a gorgeous pattern made of light and dark wood patches that looked as though they had been woven together into the floor. The wood mosaic floor had been flawlessly polished, leaving such a reflective surface that Nenani could see her own reflection. It seemed presumptuous to walk across it with her dirty shoes. At the center of the round room was a table, made with the same level of craft and skill as the floor. The four thick legs were beautifully carved and finished with inlays of mother of pearl. A single door, set in between the books at the ground level and partially obscured by a purple velvet curtain was the only other feature to the room.

Nenani stood still, looking up and all around her, her jaw hanging open in wonder. Jae regarded her with a smug grin. “Impressive, huh?”

She nodded dumbly, spinning in slow circles as she tried to take in the room fully.

“Halooooo!” Jae called out, walking further into the room towards the large table. “You up there, Barnaby?”

“Indeed, I am,” came a muffled voice from above them. “Just putting the finishing touches on the new pages. Come on up and take a gander, young master Jae.”

“Be right up,” Jae replied. He glances over his shoulder and gestured for her to follow him. As she did so, she was wondering how in the world they were going to get on the table from the floor. She had been expressly forbidden from table climbing. Even if she had not been so, Nenani would have not been at all keen at doing so. Perhaps it was a trick of the eye, but this table seemed much higher than the one in the kitchen.  

And then she noticed a feature to the table that was very unexpected. Set within the one of the legs, carved from the thick dark wood, was a human sized staircase. Hidden from view unless standing under table, there was a groove cut into inside of the leg, sloping upwards in a gently arch, hidden by the decorative arched panels on the table’s sides. Jae was waiting at the bottom. He held his hand out to her and she took it with a smile and he helped her up the first few steps. They were much more narrow than they first looked and part way up, she bent down to all fours and began to climb it more like a ladder than stairs. At the top was a landing, set into the table top and a single step up to the table’s surface proper. She waited on the landing until Jae came up beside her.

The table was a mess.

Giant sized books were sprawled out at one end as well as several glass jars and tubes filled with various liquids in varying colors of vibrant hues.  The other side was dominated by an oddly sized book, too small for a giant and far too large to be of practical use to a human, and it was propped up on an easel. She surmised that if it were placed on the ground, it would be as tall as a fully grown man. A human sized table sat close by and pallets of color paints and inks and water colors and dozens of brushes, both clean and used, sat about in organized chaos. A bucket of murky colored water sat to the other side of the easel. From behind the bulk of the book, a hand appeared and dipped a brush into the water and disappeared before reappearing on the other side where it was dipped delicately into a small tub filled with yellow paint.

“So I brought you a surprise,” Jae said as he walked closer. Nenani followed belatedly behind. “One I think you’ll actually like.”

“Oh?” asked the voice from behind the book with a chuckle. “That would certainly be a nice change, wouldn’t it? What would it be then, my lad?”

“Well, if you look up from your paints for more than a second,” Jae said, though he was smiling brightly. “You’ll see for yourself.”

The face of an old man popped out from behind the bulk of the large book. Tufts of white hair sprouted from the sides of his balding head. The bare skin looked as polished as the floor far below them. A pair of thick spectacles rested on a curved hawkish nose. The glass magnified the pale blue eyes that peeked from behind them and they blinked curiously at Nenani as their owner made sense of what he was seeing.

“Oh my goodness!” The old man exclaimed. He rose from the small stool on which he had been perched and he came into full view. He was a lanky man of some years, marked by his white hair, ample wrinkles, and the slight stoop to his posture. He was dressed in a plain brown tunic and dark trousers with a tan apron that had splatters and flecks of colors from his various paints. His sleeves had been pulled up around his elbows and as he rounded the table, setting his brush down as he did so, he rolled them back down. He wiped his hands briskly with an old gray rag hanging at his hip as he ambled over to Nenani, a bright and happy smile stretching his face. “What a wonderful surprise indeed! It is very good to meet you, my dear. I am Barnabas MacVoy Devonshire, but it would please me greatly if you simply call be Barnaby.”

He reached a hand towards her and she instinctively offered her own. Instead of shaking it as Jae had done, the old man bowed lightly and brought her captured hand to his lips and placed a gentle kiss onto it. He looked up at her from his bow through his spectacles and thick white eyebrows, asking, “What may I call you, my dear child?”

“Nenani,” she replied, feeling oddly flustered at the formality of the greeting. “M-my name is Nenani.”

His eyes twinkled and he placed his other hand over hers, sandwiching them together. “Such a lovely name. It is my greatest pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Nenani.”

“She’s Farris’s new pet,” Jae supplied.

Barnaby frowned at the young man. “Now, you know how much I detest that word. That is a gross misrepresentation of our roles, as should you know, young man!”

“I’m just teasing you, Barney,” Jae replied with a grin.

Barnaby shook his head and murmured something under his breath as he turned his attention back to Nenani. His frown melted away back into a pleasant and curious smile. “So, Farris, eh? I hope he and those boys aren’t being too rough with you. They can be quite a rowdy group. Good souls, to be sure, not a bad apple among them. But we can hear their brawls from here some days.”

“They are, a bit. Yeah,” she replied with a smile. “But they’ve been nice to me. They tease me a lot, though.”

“Oh? How so?” the old man asked.

“The usual sort, probably,” Jae added. “Acting like they’re gonna eat you? Or put you into a pie? Or the stew? Like I was saying before, Farris needs some new material.”

“Oh, I do hope someone explained the rules to you,” said Barnaby, the joy gone from his face and replaced with a stern and serious expression. “King Warren has explicitly forbidden the consumption of human flesh in Vhasshal. It’s a grave crime indeed.”

“Doesn’t stop everyone though,” said Jae lowly. “Some got a taste for it during the war and have been having a tough time giving it up. Like Thrist.”

“Thrist?” Barnaby asked with distaste. “Is he not that foul mouthed Ranger who was found urinating on the portcullis during spring festival last?”

Jae seemed to ponder that. “You know,” he said. “I think it was him. Anyway, he tried to take a bite of this one. So Bart sicced Keral on him.”

“Oh my. Well that does not sound like you have had the smoothest of introductions to our strange side of the world,” the archivist said, patting her hand in sympathy. “Very unfortunate. But in any case, you should know you are perfectly safe here within these walls. A few simple rules to follow will make sure you’ll be avoiding any unsavory characters who might not have the purest of intentions.”

“Yeah. Warren’s done a pretty good job of weeding out the crazy ones who would rather have us as dinner than as an acquaintance,” Jae was saying. “But they’re kept in line for the most part. That’s why each of us is given to a Vhasshallan. Their job is to pretty much babysit us.”

“I would most certainly not refer to it as such, but yes. In principle, young master Jae is correct. Each human who lives on castle grounds is assigned a guardian,” said the old archivist. He pointed to Nenani’s marker. “That little ditty there is very important. Never lose it.”

He reached into his tunic and pulled out a marker of his own. The leather strap was well worn and the metal medallion hanging from it lacked the bright sheen that her own possessed. He pulled it from around his neck to show Nenani, flipping it so the Vhasshal Crown’s crest faced skyward. “This is the King’s seal here, my dear. That is very crucial. It means we are under the King’s protection. In a way, making us all wards of the crown.”

He pointed to her marker.

“Your’s there has Farris’s seal and the Crown’s. Meaning you’re both ward to the King and to Farris.” He flipped his marker over to reveal another crest. “And this here is Maevis’s seal and means he is the Vhasshallan who watches over me.”

“I still make the argument that you do more watching over him than he watches you,” Jae said with a grin.

“There might be some small truth to that, perhaps,” the archivist admitted with an amused grin of his own. “But we watch out for each other to be sure. We both can be forgetful or far too engrossed with out individual passions sometimes. It’s good to have someone to watch your back.”

“And remind you to eat,” Jae added. “Which reminds me: have either of you eaten today? I don’t see any breakfast plates.”

The archivist replaced the marker around his neck and tucked it into his tunic. His eyes trailed upward, a finger tapping thoughtfully against his chin. “We had some tea not too long ago. I think. What time is it?”

Jae rolled his eyes and looked to Nenani, waving at the older human. “See? This is why I make my rounds. I came up here once and neither of them had eaten for two days. How do you just forget to eat for two days?”

“Well, Maevis had made a profound breakthrough regarding one of his spell theories and I was in the throws of the most splendid inspiration, I simply had to finish the piece before the spark left me,” the archivist defended himself. “Oh, but you’ve still to see my current project! Come, come, tell me what you both think. This way.”

The old man pulled Nenani along and around the small table to face the other side of the large book. The left page was a wall of delicate text, written in gilded ink that shone when the light hit it. The border surrounding the wall of words was exquisite and intricate with fine lines weaving around a strong red line. Flowers and fruits were clustered at the corners. And then there was the right page. A full length illustration of two figures, a man and a woman, both finely dressed in gold and white and red, standing side by side with their arms interlocked. They were smiling at one another, their profiles revealing regally sculpted noses and flushed lips.

The man was dressed in a red knee length tabard with gold adornments, a long gold mantle with a gilded and bejeweled crown atop his head. The woman was dressed in a white and silver gown, the full skirt spilling around the front of her and the man’s feet, almost as though embracing them both while his golden mantle flowed behind them, doing much the same. The gold and white of their overflowing garments created a visible circle around the two, signifying their unity. The man’s shoulder length black hair was straight and without much other detail, but the lady’s orange locks were intertwines with gold and yellow and white so as to create texture and depth.

“Wow, Barney,” Jae breathed. “You did all this in three days? Your hands must be killing you!”

“Well,” Barnaby replied sheepishly, “It would have been only two days in truth. I spent the first day sketching mostly and organizing my thoughts as to how the passages would read. And also, no one seemed to be able to tell me with any certainty how the Queens’s name was spelled! And also, Queen Rosanna’s dress had such delicate patterned bead work, I wanted to be sure I got it right. Thankfully, Lolly was very gracious in helping me with both those problems.” He glanced at Jae with a small smirk. “I did take a bit of creative liberty and left off the gravy, however.”

Jae groaned and looked to the archivist, his face void of any amusement as if to say ‘Not you too’.
Nenani snickered though and got a mild glare in return.

A loud crash startled all three of them and they simultaneously turned to the door behind the velvet curtain. There was a cacophony of bangs and scuffles and muffled curses before the door burst open and billowing blue smoke spilled out. From the furling rolls of smoke emerged a tall figure, dressed in a long maroon robe. The ash brown haired giant stumbled blindly into the larger space of the library, coughing before he closed the door behind him and shut the curtain for good measure. Still coughing and sputtering, he turned around and waved the remainder of the blue fog away from his face.  

“My goodness, Maevis!” Barnaby exclaimed, moving towards the end of the table closest to the giant. “Are you alright? That was quite a bang.”

The giant coughed a few more time and adjusted his maroon robes, pulling down his yellow vest over his pot belly, and straightened the white leather gloves on his hands. “Oh yes, perfectly fine. Just a mild – cough – miscalculation. Forgot to carry over the variable element and when the primal sources don’t quite get along, see, they make quite the light show when they haven’t the proper buffers. Nothing to worry about, my friend. Nothing at all. Though, I will need some more Yewling Root now. Blast. And Farris has already left for the markets, I’d imagine. I suppose I might try Garrish Parsley...”

“Well, while you think of equivalent herbal exchanges, come greet our new guest,” Barnaby told the giant as he turned and made his way back over to Nenani and Jae. The giant’s honey colored eyes drifted up to follow Barnaby. They fell on Nenani and he smiled warmly.

“Well, well, well,” said Maevis amicably as he approached, pulling a chair along with him in the same motion. He sat lightly into it to bring himself a little closer to the three human’s level. His attention focused on Nenani. “What a pleasant surprise, indeed! What might your name be, little one?”

“Nenani,” she said.

His honey eyes began to sparkle. “Named for the Daehil Nenani river, I take it?”

She nodded.

“That name carries a great amount of history with it,” Maevis said said, gesturing with one hand. “Barnaby would be more qualified to explain the particulars, but I do believe it was tradition to name the – oh what was it? - the first born of the sixth child? Something to do with the golden ratio and symbolizing infinity. I think. Or renewal. It has been many years since I’ve read anything on Silvaaran naming customs. The book was rather large...”

Barnaby laughed. “Your memory serves you proper, my friend. That is correct. The first born of the sixth child. Daehil, if they be a boy, and Nenani, if they be a girl. It was widely believed for many years in Silvaara that what you were named greatly affected your life. Your name, your family, which patron saint’s star you were born under. Very superstitious lot we were. And also why our King’s all took the name Haeral upon ascension to the throne.”

“Yep,” Jae added. “Luckily, all that nonsense was reserved mostly for the upper crusts. Otherwise I’d be named Ruthren Feithchild, born under Timinus the Wise, and be destined to be a magistrate. But nope. I’m Jae. Named after my Dad who was named after his Dad and so on and so forth. Because shoe makers are boring. So instead of all that, I am destined to wander around a giant castle, spilling gravy on Queens and sabotaging hard won treaties. What a waste of my talents that would have become a judge.”

“Agreed,” Maevis said with a humerus grin. “Diplomacy and politics never did suit you, I’m sorry to say, my boy. But then again, we wouldn’t have you any other way.”

Jae laughed and waved a hand dismissively. “Oh stop Maevis, you’re making me blush.”

“Now, my dear Nenani,” Maevis said, turning back to the little girl and planting his hands on his lap with a flourish. “How might you have found yourself in our midst? We don’t get many new humans these days.”

“That is right!” Barnaby exclaimed, moving to his table and ruffling among a pile of papers, pulling out a leather bound journal and quickly grabbing up a quill. “I shall need to write this down.”

Jae turned to Nenani. “Told you he’s want to write it down.”

“Where...where should I start?” she asked, looking at her audience.

“Anywhere you feel is proper, my dear,” Barnaby replied as he settled on his stool, quill at the ready. “Anywhere at all.”

So she told them how she had found herself trapped in the persimmon basket for several days, trying to escape and being caught by Yale, how she had been sick with the red reap – much to everyone’s very clear shock – and how the King had ultimately given her to Farris. It did not take long to tell and no one interrupted her, but Barnaby had an odd look on his face as he scribbled with ardent flecks of his quill. When his writing stopped, he regarded her with a soft expression. “Forgive me if I am overstepping my bounds, but I feel I need to ask: where are your parents, my dear?”

“They died,” she said simply.

“May I inquire as to the circumstances?” he asked gently, but he was quick to add, “If it is a tender subject I will not press you, please understand. I do not wish to upset you.”

She could have made it simple and omitted the major facts as she always did, glazing over the painful details of that day three years ago. Or was it four? Almost four. Gods, had it really been that long ago?

She thought on it for a moment, sifting through the darker corners of her memory. “They...well. They went to visit a friend and left me with my Uncle. When it got late and they hadn’t returned, my Uncle went out looking for them. It was a rule that no one should be out at night. They found my Dad. He’d...he had been murdered. And his sword was missing. They think that’s what he was killed with. His own sword. Because of the marks.”

Jae’s face was unreadable, but there was an intensity to his eyes that she found surprising. Both Maevis and Barnaby looks horrified and sympathetic.

“And you’re mother?” Maevis pressed gently.

Nenani shrugged and in a small voice, she admitted, “They never found her.”

“How do they know she’s dead?” Jae asked.

“My Uncle was very insistent that I not hold onto the hope that she was alive,” she replied. “And I guess after a few years I believed him. I mean, if she was alive, she would have come back. I know she would have.”

“I’m so sorry, my child,” Barnaby murmured, carefully making notes in his journal.  

“So was it your Uncle took care of you?” Maevis asked. “After your parent’s passing.”

She nodded, allowing the ghost of a smile to break through.. “Yeah. He was a fisherman. He tried to teach me, but I was never good at sailing or reading the tides or anything. I can throw a line pretty good, though.”

“And where is he?”

“There was a fire. A...really big fire. It destroyed the village’s entire fleet. A lot of men didn’t come back. He was one of them.”

“Oh you poor thing!” Maevis exclaimed. “How awful.”

She could have left it there and let them be satisfied with what she had said. But something inside compelled her to keep talking. A strange desire for someone, anyone, to understand. She had mentioned it to Yale and had managed to not allow her feelings to get away from her. He had even smiled at the idea and it made it all the easier to believe him. But in that moment, the real dread was seeping through her carefully built defenses.  

“They said it was my fault,” she added, her voice almost a whisper. There was a pain in her throat as she started to choke back the encroaching emotions. “That they were dead because of me.”

“Why would anyone say such a thing?”

“They said I was cursed,” she replied, her hands clenching the fabric of her skirt hard enough to turn her knuckles white. “That my parents deaths’ were an omen and the fire proved it. That I was cursed.” She began to sob. “...and they kicked me out. They said…they said I was dangerous.”

Arms were suddenly pulling her forward and her face was pressed into someone’s chest. Jae’s voice spoke above her. “Don’t ever think any of that was your fault, kid. Never. Let those cowards and idiots say whatever the hell they want, but never – and I mean never – believe a lick of it. They made you a scapegoat for their own stupid fears because bad things were happening and they didn’t understand why. It’s not you. It never was. It was always them.”

“ can you know?” she breathed. “What if I am?”

“Well, there is a simple enough way for us to tell,” Maevis said confidently. Nenani turned him, scrubbing at her watery eyes.

“T-there is?” she asked.

He smiled kindly at her, nodding. “Of course there is! My dear, I happen to be a practitioner of the magical arts and while I am not one for shameless boasting, I freely admit to being quite good at it. I shall be able to sniff out any hint of a malicious spell about your person.”

Nenani’s heart leaped into her throat and she stood a little taller, looking into Maevis’s face with pleading eyes. “Y-you can? Really?”

He hummed in the affirmative and nodded. “If you’ll indulge me for a brief moment.”

Maevis carefully reached out to scoop her up into his gloved hands. He stood slowly and made his way over to a book shelf where a comparatively small chest sat between two large fat tomes. He shifted her to one hand and opened the chest up, reaching in and pulling out a magnifying glass before closing it shut. He walked closer to the center of the room where a bean of light from a window far above their heads shone down. Raising her up to eye level, he brought the magnifying glass to one eye and studied her, humming in contemplation as he did so. Nenani sat stiff as a board, heart hammering against her chest and watched him with wide nervous eyes.

The giant honey colored eye, made larger by the glass, shift and dart minutely as he studied her. Her arms began to tremble as she was overcome with the notion that she did not want to know after all. She could go on pretending that it did not bother her. Because what if she really was cursed? What if all those bad things were because of something she had done? Whatever it had been that warranted a curse be put on her head. What if her Uncle really was dead because of her?

Her father, cut down by his own sword.

Her mother, taken away and never to return.

All…because...of her.

Nenani saw the magician’s eye pause and the contemplative quirk of his mouth fell into a concerned frown. He took in a startled breath and her heart sank, fell through her feet, and crashed into a million pieces onto the floor so very far below.

Oh Gods, it was true! She was cursed! Despite herself, she hung her head and bite her lip. Fat droplets of water fell down her face to drip off her chin and she hiccuped out a sob.

“Well, there can be no doubt,” Maevis said with an air of finality as he moved back to the table, setting down the magnifying glass and bring his hand back up to cup Nenani in his hands. She was quaking now, terrified of the answer, but his eyes told her the truth. She was cursed. She was a wicked decrepit thing that had brought ruin and death to her people. Maybe it would have been better if she had died on that boat with her Uncle that night…

“Not a drop,” he said at last.

Nenani looked up with watering eyes. “Huh?”

Maevis smiled indulgently, his honey eyes soft and regarded her kindly. “You haven’t a spec, drop, or string of malignant magic about you, little one.”

“…n-no curse?” she asked with a small voice, not daring to hope that she had heard correctly.

“No curse,” he affirmed. The wave of relief that overcame her felt as though someone had poured cool water over her feverish head. But the tears did not stop. In fact they seemed to only increase and she covered her face as her shoulders rocked with relieved sobs. Built up guilt and fear that had dug itself into her soul and settled like sediment was breaking up and being washed away. The large hands below her shifted and she was tucked against Maevis’s chest as he took his seat, patting her back and murmuring to her. “Oh, oh, there now. Shhh. Poor little dear. Come now, let me see those pretty eyes.”

He pulled her from his chest far enough to bring a large white handkerchief to her face, dabbing lightly at her wet cheeks. Her cries were ebbing way now, leaving her utterly drained and exhausted.

“There,” Maevis said, looking down at the little girl with a sympathetic smile and tucking the piece of fabric back into his robes. “All better.”

He sat her back onto the table, catching her when her legs wobbled unsteadily under her, and waiting until she was steady on her own before pulling away.

“Thank you,” she told Maevis meekly, embarrassed at her display.

“Think nothing of it,” he told her. “In fact, I believe I have just the cure for such morose moods. Tea!”

With that, the magician stood up with vigor and walked back towards the velvet curtain, pulling it aside, and stepping through the door beyond.

“That does sound lovely,” Barnaby said, coming up beside Nenani. “Come sit, my dear. Have a rest.”

Jae was leaning against the table, watching her closely. There was an understanding in his eyes. It was a little odd for him to be so quite, but after a time, he seemed to shrug off whatever it was occupying his thoughts and he smirked at her.

“Maevis makes the best tea,” Jae said. “Grows his own plants and dries the leaves himself.”

“A man cannot have too many hobbies, my boy!” came Maevis’s cheerful voice from inside the far room.

“Do you know how tea is made?” Barnaby asked her. It was a clear attempt at steering the topic of conversation towards more pleasant topics. Which was just fine with her.

“No,” she replied.

“It’s a fascinating process. All tea comes from the same plant, but it is the manner with which those leaves are processed that yields all the vast varieties that we enjoy. Controlled oxidation and fermentation! First the leaves are allowed to dry. Then they are bruised. On purpose, mind you. Bruising is very important as it aids in the oxidation. The more oxidized and fermented the leaf, the blacker the tea. So to achieve a firm and robust black tea, the leaves are thoroughly bruised and oxidized while a lighter tea such as green or white, there is none to little bruising and the oxidation and fermentation period is much shorter.”

As Barnaby spoke about the peculiarities of the makings of tea, Nenani became aware of just how tired she was and her sobbing episode had done little to remedy that fact. Maevis was a magician, so surely he was the expert concerning curses and such and to hear from a professional that she was definitively not cursed was beyond anything she could have hoped for and she was very happy despite the tears.

So she sat on Barnaby’s small wooden stool as the archivist and Jae fell into conversation regarding their preference of tea. Barnaby was valiantly defending white tea as an incredibly underappreciated drink while Jae insisted that only black tea was worth drinking. Nenani decided not to weigh in as she had very little experience regarding tea. It was not a regularly consumed beverage in the Southlands, at least in her village. They simply could not afford it and their version of tea consisted of various weeds and grasses and sometimes seaweed boiled in water. She never liked the seaweed tea, even if the older villagers claimed it soothed their rheumatism. She preferred sour grass tea that, despite the name, was actually mildly sweet.

It was not too long after that Maevis returned carrying a small tray laden with a tea pot and several cups.  Giant cups. He silently sat the tray down near the three humans and Nenani wondered if he was expecting them to drink from giant cups. The idea seemed to be cemented when he began to pour the tea into the cups, looking to Jae and Barnaby and listening in on their conversation as he did so.

“How do you take your tea, Nenani?” he asked her.

“Uh...” she began.

“One cream, three sugars!” quipped Jae, raising his hand.

Maevis regarded the young man with a reprimanding, but amused tilted of his head. “Yes, yes, I am well aware of how you take your tea, Jae. I was asking Nenani.”

“Um...I don’t know,” she replied. “Is...there a correct way to drink tea?”

Maevis grinned and laughed. “Now that is a loaded question! Careful with that one, my dear. Wars have been fought over such questions.”

“What he means,” Jae explained. “Is that it’s a very personal choice.”

“How about this,” Maevis said. “One cream, one sugar, and that will give you somewhere to start and next time you’ll have a better idea, hm?”

She nodded, still confused as to how any of them aside from Maevis would be managing any tea drinking from a cup the size of a barrel. She watched the giant prepare all four cups according to everyone’s preference and once all were ready, he picked up Nenani’s. Maevis peeked at her from the corner of his eye and smirked knowingly began to shrink in his hands.

Nenani gasped, watching wide eyed with wonder as the giant cup shrank smoothly until it was perfectly portioned to human size, sitting innocently in the center of the magician’s palm.

“H-how did you do that?” Nenani asked with a bright smile, delighted by the blatant display of magic.

“Years of study and practice,” he replied, lowering his hand close to her so she could retrieve the cup.
“A remarkable and endlessly useful little trick, I must say. Especially when one’s friends tend to be on the -shall we say- shorter side.”

She grinned widely and watched with growing wonder and excitement as he repeated the trick with both Jae’s and Barnaby’s cups.

“Never seen magic before?” Jae asked, taking a long drink from his cup.

She shook her head. “Nu-huh.”

“Truly?” Maevis asked, sounding shocked. “Well, it pleases me greatly to be the first.”

She took a tentative sip from her cup and marveled at how far a cry the taste was from the tea with which she was accustomed. It was sweet, but not overly so and the cream mellowed out the deeper earthy flavor of the tea itself. It was delicious. She took a longer drink and hummed appreciatively.

“I believe she approves,” Barnaby said with a smile, sipping lightly at his own cup. “There’s nothing better than a good cup of tea. Especially as the season changes.”

“Wholeheartedly agreed,” Maevis added with a placid smile.

The settled into a content and largely silent spell of time where they nursed their drinks. The warm tea warmed Nenani’s belly and she could not muffle the yawn that rose up through her chest and stretched her mouth.

Barnaby laughed softly. “I do hope we haven’t tired you out, my dear.”

She was quick to reassure the man. “No, it’s just everyone downstairs gets up really early and they go to bed really late.”

“Well that won’t do,” Barnaby replied. “Children need their sleep. Much more than I’m sure their schedule allows for.”

“Is that why Avery was serenading the rafters with his caterwauling?” Jae asked with a laugh. “Trying to keep you awake?”

Nenani made a face. “Something like that...”

Maevis sat his cup down and stood up. “Well, I might have just the thing for you.”

‘Just the thing’, as it turned out, was a small bottle filled with violet liquid. He shrank it and handed it to Jae with the instructions of adding ‘just a drop’ to the remainder of Nenani’s tea. As she and Barnaby  questioned the magician on what exactly the liquid was, Jae was carefully eyeballing the small drop that dangled from the brim of the bottle over the tea cup. Maevis barked out a laugh at something Barnaby suggested and Jae started. A little more than ‘just a drop’ of the liquid spilled into the tea cup.

Jae hurriedly put the stopper back into the bottle and sat it aside to swirl the tea and potion mixture. He handed the cup to Nenani as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

“Now, it’s not the most palatable thing ever,” Maevis said as Nenani took a drink of her tea. She reared back at the taste hit her tongue and she squinted at the overly bitter and medicinal flavor. “But it should do the trick. A little ‘pick me up’, if you will. Very useful when the need for sleep interferes with one’s academic pursuits.”

Close to an hour later, it became apparent that they had a problem on their hands. Nenani no longer felt tired and the time passed smoothly through pleasant conversation. But, rather than feeling well refreshed and rested, Nenani became more and more energetic as the afternoon progressed. The time to return her back to the kitchens prior to Farris’s return was drawing nearer and nearer and her energy only seemed to be increasing.

Maevis was understandably concerned. Jae thought it was hilarious. Until Barnaby reminded him that he would be the one explaining to the Spice Master why his ward was, for lack of a better term, vibrating. As the humans and magician pondered helplessly for a solution, Nenani was content to bounce in her seat. One side effect, besides the seemingly boundless energy, was that she suddenly found everything very humerus.

“...maybe they won’t notice?” Jae suggested. Three pairs of eyes focused on Nenani who was quietly giggling at her feet as she swung them out and bounced up and down on her seat. Jae deadpanned. “Okay, maybe they’ll notice.”

He groaned and laid his head in his hands. “One week. One week where someone doesn’t end up pissed off at me. Is that too much to ask for? Am I being selfish?”

“Don’t fret,” Maevis replied. “This is not a permanent state. It shall wear off in time. My worry is that given the unknown amount she ingested, we do not have the full scope of how her metabolism might be affected.”

“You mean when the happy juice wears off,” Jae said. “She’s gonna crash and it’s now a question of when and how hard?”

Maevis nodded gravely, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Precisely.”

“Farris is gonna kill me...” Jae groaned.

“And I doubt that I won’t be far behind...” added Maevis.

Barnaby walked over to Nenani and held out his hands which she took with alacrity and hopped off the stool. “I think,” the archivist began, smiling. “The best course of action is to simply tell the truth. Lying will do us no good. If there is one thing Farris respects above all, it is the plain truth.”

“No bullshit,” Jae translated.

“Language!” Maevis chided.

So it was that Nenani and Jae bid farewell to Barnaby and Maevis, disappearing through the small door set into the ground and down the great stairs. After the door closed behind them, the first thing Nenani did was bound down the steps three at a time.

“Fucking hells!” Jae cursed, rushing down after her. He caught her arm at the bottom, frowning when she just giggled at him. “Don’t do that! Bouncing like a frog and laughing like an idiot is one thing, but I am not going to be the one to explain your neck being broken too!”

“But I didn’t break my neck!” she replied, smiling all the while. “And it was fun!”

Jae sighed in exasperation. “Let’s just get you back to the kitchens in one piece, alright?”

“Okay!” she chirped and began skipping back down the tunnel.
Yeah. All I gotta say is that life had a big stick and used it to beat the ever living crud outta me. Nothing to worry about though. But it did mean that my art and time for it suffered in a big way and I am trying to slowly get back into it. I also have a tumblr now where I'm going to be posting some G/T related art and stories. Check it out, I'd love to see you all there:
  • Listening to: Last Podcast On The Left and Moana
  • Reading: The Moth and The Bear
  • Watching: Rogue One
  • Playing: Candy Crush Soda
  • Eating: Breakfast tacos
  • Drinking: COFFEE!!!


Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
United States
Lindsay is a fried dough food and is popular in many countries and prepared in various forms as a sweet (or occasionally savory) snack that can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty outlets. They are usually sweet, deep-fried from a flour dough, and shaped in rings or flattened spheres that sometimes contain fillings. Other types of dough such as potato can also be used as well as other batters, and various toppings and flavorings are used for different types...oh wait, that's a doughnut.


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MythrilMog Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2017
Thanks for the watch!~
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Welcome. :)
pianorose17 Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for the watch! ^w^
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for writing such fantastic stories! :)
Jasperinity Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016
Happy birthday! :D
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
Jasperinity Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016
No problem! :3
Morgatron84 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Happy Bday L Pikachu Emote - PEACE 
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
StrikerBloodBlue753 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy bday!
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