Tag Archives: fantasy

Custodian, Lindsey Hodder

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Shadows blew across the ground, gently caressing the streets of packed dirt. Ghostly echoes of the clouds that threatened to blot out the moon the shadows provided ever growing opportunities to be taken advantage of, if one wished to remain unseen. One did. Emme hovered in the meagre shadows cast by the piles of debris that were all that was left of the shipwright district. Misty clouds of wasted breath hung before her in the cold night air. She hugged her shawl tightly to her ribs as she waited for a brief break in the clouds to pass.

In… out – mist, in… out – mist; she narrated her breaths with a single minded concentration. Overhead the clouds thickened as rain began to spit down, adding a layer of damp to her freezing form. She jolted herself to movement once more. Darting from one dark shadow to the next. Always on the lookout. Always listening for a hint of activity. She swore her staccato heartbeat could be heard back through the city all the way to the citadel proper itself. It mimicked the tramping of soldier’s boots, and she shook her head at the thought. Not now. Not tonight.

She paused beside a blackened shell. Once a house, the roof was now gone – the walls dark with ash that would never wash off, no matter how hard it rained. These houses, this district, had once been the pride of the city. It had been the first thing the invaders destroyed. She shook her head again, harder this time. She had to keep her mind sharp. This was the most important part. All her care was for nothing if she was spotted now. Living on the streets she had been constantly on the wrong side of the law simply to survive. This was so much bigger than all of those times. She wouldn’t be able to wriggle her way out if she they realised what she was caught up in. She’d be thrown in one of the dungeons in the cold and damp and dark to rot and –

Shrink back against the wall. Let your eyes lose focus. Watch for movement. Count three times to one hundred. The memory of the spoken words calmed the hammering of her heart for a moment as she forced her thoughts away from capture. She wasn’t going to get caught. She ground her teeth together in frustration. She hadn’t been so jumpy since she was a kid. The rain was growing harder, the smell of burnt wood filling her nostrils as the ground was slowly soaked. She wrinkled her nose and tried not to think about that either.

She reached her third one hundred, forcing herself to make the full count despite growing winds that tore at her, lifting her hair and thrusting the cold deeper into her bones. One last glance up the street and she was satisfied she was alone, pushing off the wall with sweaty palms. One, two, three steps… her heart began racing anew. She darted across the last laneway, each step propelling her faster. The pile of rotting wood on carefully disguised hinges protested at its abrupt opening as she thrust it into the air, the screeching sound caught by the wind to echo down the street. Emme jumped down through the trapdoor, almost landing on the figure that caught the timber before it could slam back down.

‘Were you seen?’ Nicolai’s words were harsh, abrupt. She shook her head, the pounding in her ears subsiding now she was safely inside. He stood behind her as she secured the latch of the trapdoor. She could feel his glare on her as she tied the knots he couldn’t. The knots he should have re-tied after his own arrival. The reminder that she bested him, in this at least, once would have soothed her. Tonight, she hated it. ‘Are you su –’

‘I wasn’t seen!’ The words came out louder than she intended. Who was he to question her? To doubt her? The older boy’s face tensed and his arm jerked halfway to her face. His glare deepened before he closed his eyes and relaxed with conscious effort, his hand returning to his side. He hated the situation even more than she did. She turned her back and started walking deeper into the makeshift shelter. Last week he would have hit her. The strain of their situation was forcing him to civility even as it was turning her into a cowering wreck.

She didn’t make it two steps before he lunged forward to drag her back.

‘You have to convince him to stay.’ She could hear fear and anger in his voice, mingled with familiar disdain. What was he afraid of, anyway? He wasn’t going to have what she was sure would be the entirety of the continent after him. ‘He won’t listen to me. Tell him tonight’s no good.’

Emme yanked her arm out of his hand. ‘What good do you think it’ll do, huh?’ She turned and started down the corridor again, pretending it didn’t bother her even as she wrapped her arms around herself once again. The damp wool of her jacket smelt of wet ash. The entire district smelt of wet ash in the rain now. It used to smell like freshly sawn wood and drying varnish. Usually, she hated the new smell; yet another reminder of the war. Tonight she desperately wished she were back outside – anywhere but here. On the threshold of the old cellar she paused. How did you get into this mess? The sound of Nikolai’s footsteps in the hall jolted her to action. She wouldn’t let him see her moment of weakness. She hugged her ribs tighter, disgusted with herself for needing the extra comfort, and forced herself into the old cellar.

Light flickered from a sputtering candle, illuminating a frail figure hunched over an old door balanced on piles of rubble. The makeshift desk had been buried in precarious stacks of moulding paper and rotting books for months now. Paper, Elias had told her, was precious, fragile. It was meant for palaces and libraries – not the damp air by the docks. It had been the first time she’d seen books up close, though she’d tried to hide her interest. Palaces and libraries didn’t welcome the likes of her. The papers and books that had covered the desk had been a fraction of Elias’ collection. Yet they had been all the scholar could save when he fled from the citadel during the war.

Now the desk before the old man was almost empty – the books and papers burnt, though their musty smell still lingered. Emme hadn’t seen the fire-blackened base of the door that had served as his makeshift desk since they first pulled it from the wreckage of the house the next street over. Being the closest to the docks these streets had borne the brunt of the destruction, though the invaders hadn’t neglected to ruin the rest of the district. Setheyi’s famous shipyards were now ruined, holding only the crude shelters the invaders had thrown together to hold their prisoners. The shipwright district itself had been abandoned, the jagged remains serving as a ghostly reminder of just how broken the city had become. It was, Elias had explained when she had first been roped into helping him, the perfect place to hide.

The candle flame flailed in an errant gust of wind from the building storm outside. Nicolai rushed to Elias’ side as their shadows danced on the walls, fiddling with the shutters on the old lantern until the flame was strong once more. Elias remained still, his attention on the thing in front of him. Emme watched as Nicolai opened his mouth once, twice. Hovering.

‘Are you sure there’s no other way?’ Nicolai’s last ditch objection burst forth, breaking the old man’s concentration.

Elias finally turned, his eyes meeting Nicolai’s. ‘It must leave the city. It must have the best chance. There is no other way.’ His slow, careful way of talking infuriated her almost as much as Nicolai’s general manner. Elias turned to her and her annoyance faltered; the lines etched across his face were deeper than she remembered from even yesterday, the mouth turned further down at the corners. ‘Emme is its best chance.’

‘But –’

‘Alchemy is a feared art, Nicolai, you know this. Misunderstood, but its accomplishments must be saved. And my time has run short.’

Emme shivered. The thing still gave her the feeling of spiders crawling up her spine. Her brief annoyance seemed petty in the face of fear. It was suddenly so very real, what she was helping them do. She had been the one to learn the guard was getting close to locating Elias, the one that had pushed Elias’ plan into motion. She and Nicolai had debated hard that night, on the same side for once, for him to simply move his hiding place, bide his time.

The alchemist had declined, caring more for its safety than his own. He repeated his words tonight, eyes unfocused, staring past the patched walls of the cellar into a past she had no part in. ‘I am tired of hiding in the damp. I wish to see the citadel one last time.’ If she’d known what his plan had been that night she would have argued harder. If she’d known from the beginning she would have abandoned them both long before she’d grown to care for the patient old man.

Now he moved away from the worktable, holding his hand out to Emme. She crept forwards, hesitant to the last; still wary of the trust he’d managed to steal from her. Nicolai couldn’t come, for all the alchemist’s apprentice had fought to be a part of saving his master’s creation. He had even been willing to put up with her. But he was on the run as much as Elias was, though the price on his head was smaller, and the mannerisms of a privileged life made him too noticeable. Elias was too old, and he didn’t want to go. The task fell to her, the street rat who’d made the mistake of trying to steal from an alchemist. She was the hateful thing’s best chance, the one with the personality to adapt and the skills to hide in plain sight.

She stepped up to the bench. Propped up on the old vase filled with the ashes of Elias’ precious books the manikin sat with its long spindly limbs splayed across the table – the old man’s life work. She was to take it far from where it would surely be destroyed. Elias had been cast out of the citadel for daring to believe the thing possible even before the invasion, and both sides of the war had been earnestly looking for the old scholar before he could complete it. Once they learnt that he had… she would be pursued without restraint. Even in the midst of a war, the existence of such a thing was a blasphemy that must be destroyed. She was to take it out of the reach of all of them, to the place Elias had told her its protection would be ensured. Then it would no longer be her problem.

Pulling the rucksack off her back she placed it on the table beside the manikin and opened the flap. An army of spiders swarmed up her spine as the manikin picked itself up, dusted itself off, and stepped in.

 

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From Fae’s Labyrinth, Eva Matheson

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‘Everything is simpler than you think and at the same time more complex than you imagine‘

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 Bonnie is the new school councillor after the usual one ‘disappeared’. Sarah must routinely visit the councillor, due to her home situation. Hayley is Sarah’s mum’s best friend.  For the past five years she has been the carer of both Sarah, and her mum.

Harry holds his distance from Sarah in social situations, but is aware of her every move. We don’t know his true intentions yet. He is fairly good-looking, but has dulled down his looks in an effort to appear more human. He has half-human blood (as does Sarah, which she has yet to discover) and half-Fae blood, from an elfin bloodline. Harry is Scottish and Sarah is English. The setting so far, is London.

 

SARAH

 

I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. After talking to Bonnie, the school councillor, at my redundant weekly session, I was convinced the weekend holiday was not a good idea. Then after seeing Harry, talking to Harry, I felt strangely…. adventurous. It wasn’t much like butterflies in my belly, more like a whole bunch of beetles wiggling for space till I could barely stand it anymore. A blend of nerves and excitement I hadn’t felt since I was a kid going away on holidays. Long before Mum got sick. I arrived home from school, the front door creaked, and Hayley’s dogs barked from the back garden.

‘I’m doing the dishes!’

I walked to the den of a kitchen where Hayley stood facing the window.

‘Hi Hayley, looks like rain this weekend. What are your plans?’

Man I was talking fast. Hayley stopped washing the dishes, her pink-gloved hands still in the bubbles. She glanced back over her shoulder. I knew she was onto me.

‘Could you look after Mum?’ It was lame, but I pouted anyway.

‘Do you mean the whole weekend?’ Hayley went back to the dishes.

I lent my elbows on the kitchen bench next to Hayley and fiddled with the silver locket on my chain. ‘Some friends are going to the countryside. We’d be staying in their Auntie’s house, honestly.’

Hayley made a tutting sound with her tongue. She was always doing it. When she watched bad news on T.V, she tutted. If the newspaper was delivered late, she tutted. At the rising price of fuel, she tutted a lot. It was her way of disapproving of bad things, and occasionally her way of teasing the good.

She looked out the window as she washed the dishes. I followed her gaze. Mum was sitting at the table on the lawn. Her hands in her lap, her body completely still. Hayley’s two golden retrievers dozed at her feet.

‘No trouble at all Hayley. Go, pack, don’t worry about your Mum, we’ll be fine.’

I was relieved at how quickly she agreed, after all, it meant giving up her entire weekend to cook meals, bathe, walk, and put Mum to bed.

‘Thanks, I owe you,’ I replied, and squeezed my arms around her.

Hayley smiled and pulled the sink plug.

‘You can pay me back by doing your own dishes sometime!’

I grimaced as I bounced up the stairs behind her.

I didn’t pack much. Two changes of clothes, toiletries, and a book called Little Women to read for the umpteenth time. I turned the first page and read Mum’s birthday message inside. I was 11 years old then, the last birthday before she got really sick. A week later Hayley moved in.

I walked back down the stairs and that seed of guilt began to grow in my gut. How could I leave my Mum?

They were sitting at the kitchen table, the room now smelly from a slow cooked dinner. Mum stared at a wall with her hands around a cup of tea that would be cold and untouched. Hayley was chatting away about the cafe she was planning to visit for lunch the next day. Her cup was long empty. I knelt beside Mum.

‘The bus comes in ten minutes so I’d better get going… Mum?’  She looked like a fragile porcelain doll, except for the roots of silver in her hair, and the wrinkles that dolls never get.

I rested my hand on the back of her chair. Mum didn’t respond, so I touched her shoulder. She glanced over, looking at me, but her expression genuinely blank.

‘Mum, I’ll be back on Sunday. Will you be okay without me?’

She stared at me for a long moment; her blue eyes had tiny dots for pupils. Her eyes didn’t look like they even worked. Then her lashes flickered.

‘Sarah.’ She confirmed softly.

I froze. Mum hadn’t spoken in weeks, let alone recognised me.

‘Yes Mum….will you be okay here, with Hayley?’ My throat grew tight. Somehow this stopped tears.

Mum looked across the table to where Hayley sat, silhouetted by the window. Hayley was smiling back.

‘Yes.’ Barely a whisper. Then I could see in her eyes, she was fading again.

‘Pinkie promise?’ I reached my hand up, offering her my arched pinkie like I had done so many times when I was little.

Mum raised her hand and linked her finger with mine. Her mouth twitched at the corners. Then she looked to me and in the slowest motion ever, placed a warm, frail hand on the side of my face, cupping my cheek and chin.

‘I know you,’ her voice was hoarse, leaking with confusion.

I could only nod and place my hand over hers. It hurt when she was lost inside herself, and it hurt when she wasn’t.

‘I’ll be back soon. I love you Mum.’

As quickly as she had returned to the land of the living, her eyes glazed over and the porcelain doll face returned to the window. She was gone, somewhere deep inside her mind, somewhere out of my reach. I looked to Hayley, calm and collected, Mum’s best friend; and the only reason I had stayed out of foster care all these years.

‘Go Sarah, we’ll have fun, and so should you.’

I didn’t move.

‘Tut tut tut. Go.’

I nodded, and wrapped my arms around her; my throat was feeling tight again.

She was right, and it was in this moment that I realised just how wrong Bonnie was. I wasn’t being selfish like she had said.  I was just trying to be like a normal teenager with something that resembled a social life.

‘Thanks Hayley.’ I pushed my chair back. Mum didn’t react in the slightest to the scraping noise. Hayley leaned forward and gave me her serious face. She played the role of Mum, in Mum’s absence.

‘Be safe, have fun, and please don’t worry. She will be safe as long as she’s with me. I promise’.

I looked back one last time as I left the kitchen. For a moment I thought Hayley’s face seemed sad and worried, even though she gave me a smile and a wink. I hoped I wasn’t making a huge mistake.

 

HARRY

 

There she was, Bonnie, the school councillor, standing in the shadows to the rear of the platform. She was dressed in a full-length black dress; her hair fell about her shoulders, her pretty face painted with pretty make-up. She watched the small crowd entering the train station. Even in the dark she looked beautiful, and if I didn’t know better, I would have found her striking. But I did know better. I knew exactly what she was. And she was waiting for Sarah.

A water witch cleverly transformed. Naturally grotesque webbed feet, much too wide for human footwear; Bonnie wore long dresses all the time. That was my first clue. But the biggest give away was the smell leaking from her flesh.

A smell like clothes left to go damp in a laundry basket. The first time I met her, the smell was so subtle, but that odour and her feet were enough to give away her disguise. And yet, as clever as her disguise was to the inexperienced, this witch sure wasn’t good at spotting others in camouflage.

I looked at the clock on the wall above the platform. Bonnie hadn’t seen me yet, and the train would be here in five minutes, and that meant Sarah would also be arriving at any moment. I needed to get rid of the witch before she could get her claws into Sarah’s mind and convince her not to get on the train.

I knew what had to be done. It wouldn’t be the first time, and there really wasn’t any other choice.  My job was to protect Sarah and bring her to the manor where the others waited, no matter what it took. I walked lightly on my feet towards Bonnie, adjusting my backpack over my shoulder as I went. Bonnie was hidden in the dark, and distracted by her goal.

She didn’t notice me until I was standing close to her, just behind her right side. I glanced around; no one was looking our way. I pulled my dagger from my jacket pocket, and held it out of sight, but ready nonetheless. It would take only one strike through the heart, and she would be finished quickly, and quietly.

But Bonnie turned and I was caught.

‘Harry! What are you doing here?’

Bonnie smiled in a friendly sort of way, but I noticed her mouth twitch. I had caught her off guard. ‘Waiting for Sarah,’ I replied.

Her smile disappeared. She eyed me up and down with suspicion. Her eyes tore at my skin like invisible fingernails, as she tried to see if anything lay beneath my outer appearance. Is he human? Or is he not? Her eyes questioned.

I took a step closer and gripped my hidden dagger. It had to be done, now. Suddenly, Bonnie’s eyes widened, and she stumbled back.

‘Romus!  I can see you… No, please Romus, no. I will leave her alone. Please don’t do anything.’ Bonnie began to cower and shrink before my eyes.

This was murder. This was not how my clan had raised me. I had only done it once before, cornered in a cave by a pissed off red-cap goblin. It had to be him or me. Today, it was me or Bonnie.

Maybe I could let this witch walk away? I hesitated, my dagger still by my side, but Bonnie embraced my hesitation as her opportunity. Her pretty face turned grey, her smile transformed into a jaggered, diseased grin of teeth.

My arm twitched.

Bonnie whipped a hand up to the spot behind her neck and drew a long thin knife, concealed by her blanket of hair. She cocked her head, cracking her neck.

‘Oh, it feels good to be me.’

My fingers tightened around my dagger.

She was fierce in her lunge as her jaw clenched, but I was faster, and my dagger dug deep up through her ribs, destroying her heartbeat. The witch dropped to her knees as I withdrew my dagger, and in her final breath, she transformed to her true appearance. Her body was grey all over, with gills carved up and down her throat, a hunch back, twisted bony arms, and a face and chest wet as though coated in Vaseline. Her eyes were hollow now, and black, cocooned by a drawn and sagging human-ish face.

Bonnie’s knife fell to the ground with a tinkle, followed by her limp, grotesque body. No one noticed a thing tucked away in that dark corner.

I managed to control my shaking enough to wipe the grey blood matter from my dagger, onto the witch’s dress. I couldn’t help but wonder if this kill was just the beginning. There was still a long way to go. I pushed her body back against the wall. It was already shrivelling, and soon she would be just a pool of dark water and wet clothes. In my stomach, and in my head, I was queasy, and there was sweat beneath my clothes. It might have been easier if I hadn’t known her, and it didn’t help to see the gruesome corpse transformation. Then I heard the train approaching, and as I did, I watched Sarah step onto the platform, her eyes searching for friends.

I moved along the wall, concealed by the shadows. I approached Sarah far from where the witch lay.

‘Hey! I’m real happy you came,’ I smiled, and shoved my sweaty hands in my pockets.

‘Hey, Harry. So, where are the others?’ Sarah asked, glancing around.

‘They’re catching the morning train. Dunno why, they didn’t go into detail.’

I knew I was talking too fast. I was sounding contrived. I imitated a yawn.

‘Thanks for meeting me. I probably would have gone home if no one was here.’ Sarah shrugged; I thought I saw a small smile.

The train doors slid open as we talked. People were beginning to find their seats.

‘Come on. It’ll be warmer on the train.’ I reached out my hand, but I knew I shouldn’t have, not to her. It wasn’t my place, even though we were on the human side. I could hardly believe I was about to succeed in bringing Sarah back. I didn’t want to let her go. The others would be waiting. She took my hand, and we stepped inside the train.

 

SARAH

 

We sat in a strange, easy silence. The train seats were like lumpy rocks. They smelt of feet, or bad food, or both, and were structured in rows, dappled, with people all facing the wrong way. By the time the train left the city, it was so dark that I could barely see a field or a tree. Harry and I piled up our backpacks and propped our feet on them like footrests. I glanced at Harry’s reflection in the window. He looked so deep in thought. I hardly knew him, even though he’d been hanging out with my group for most of term. I’d see him at the shops and movies, or whatever was going on that weekend.

Most of the time he just sat with the boys, not that he was anything much like them. He was…kind of weird, polite in an old fashioned way, holding doors open and saying, ‘After you.’ And he always looked so serious.

‘I heard about your mum.’

‘Heard what?’ my words cracked like a whip. ‘You heard she’s brain damaged? Gone crazy? A vegetable? A retard? What?’ Oh god shut up Sarah.

Harry was staring, his mouth parted.

‘Forgive me, I didn’t mean to –’

‘Don’t.  Don’t pretend you understand.’ It was so dark outside I could only see my face in the window.

I looked back at Harry.

‘I didn’t think you had green eyes.’

Harry was staring ahead. He dropped his eyes, and turned to me.

‘I don’t. They’re brown.’

As the train rolled on, Harry got a message on his phone. I pretended to stare through the dark window, but I was carefully watching his reflection. He looked worried at first, but when his phone beeped with a reply message, he smiled.

The motion of the train was winning. I closed my heavy eyelids; it was what they wanted. I didn’t know how long I slept for, but when I woke, my head was on Harry’s shoulder, and the train was slowing.

 

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When the World Turned Grey, Lynda A. Calder

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Bringer is a Young Adult Fantasy that begins in the real world and takes Jemima Jennings into the mystical world of Maladria where she meets Lamasuard Ingan and his horse, Amicus. Both of them are searching for something but they will both find more than what they are looking for.

 

When the clouds rolled in and the rain wouldn’t stop, Dad knew there was something wrong with Mum. He insisted the weather was the barometer of Mum’s moods. No one believed him. Not even me. Why should I? He was the pragmatist in our family: the engineer, the scientist. Facts only, not omens of impending doom. That was Mum’s domain: the artist, the writer, the gardener. She was the one who looked to the sky or put her hand to the dirt, and could tell you how your day would go. Anyway, only Dad had dark moods. Mum made them evaporate. She was the bright light.

No, there was nothing wrong with Mum. But what did I know, until that day when Mum finally cracked it.

 

Two more wake-up calls and then I’d get up.

Mum was so predictable. Every morning it was, ‘Jemima, dear, time to get up. Wakey, wakey, you’ll be latey.’ And she did that three times, five minutes apart.

Yes, ten more minutes. I huddled under my covers and took in the smells of cooking bacon wafting from the kitchen.

Stomp, stomp, stomp. My covers disappeared.

‘What?’ I spun around and sat up. ‘What was that?’

Mum thumped out of my bedroom door.

‘Psycho,’ I mumbled, rubbed my eyes, and swung my feet to the floor.

I don’t know how, but hair has a way of spending the night tangling itself into impenetrable knots. I tugged at the brown bird’s nest twisted down my back. CRASH! I winced at the noise from the kitchen.

I twisted up the tousled mess and shoved a beanie over it.

Lingering over a cold bowl of cereal, I eyed off the burnt bacon and eggs still filling the kitchen with grey smoke. Shards of crockery intermingled with a splatter of porridge on the lino floor.

The rain streamed down the kitchen window. Great.  Another day fighting with umbrellas and wet raincoats on public transport. But today it was really pouring; torrential.

‘It’s raining again,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ Mum said, peering out the window and clutching a steamless cup of coffee.

‘The bus is going to be crowded with wet people, again. And I’ll get soaked walking to the bus stop.’

‘Probably,’ Mum droned, not moving.

‘You could drive me to school?’

Mum spun. She blinked as though not expecting to see me sitting there. Then she returned to looking out the window, at the greyness.

‘Ask your father.’

‘Dad’s at work!’ I scraped the chair back from the table, making as much noise as possible. ‘You don’t care.’

Mum still didn’t move. She just stared. I stomped from the kitchen.

It bucketed all day; I had wet shoes. After the walk home from the bus stop, I was soaked through to the skin. Mum was still in the kitchen, staring out the window, with three half-finished cups of coffee beside her.

Water dripped from the tips of my long hair and uniform onto the kitchen floor.

‘I got wet.’

‘Mmm.’

‘I’m soaking wet and you’re just sitting there. I could get the flu. I could die.’

Mum turned, and again she blinked at seeing me in the room.

I held out my arms. Hello! Wet here! Soaked through and it’s your fault.

Mum took a deep breath and returned to the window.

‘ARGH!’ I dumped my sodden bag onto the tiles and squelched to the bathroom with an armful of dry clothes. Ah, a hot shower. The best thing after being damp all day.

Amid the welcome drops of warmth, I remembered: Miss Wendy’s today! Miss Wendy was my fastidious, perfectionist violin teacher. She wasn’t even a great violin teacher. Most other teachers have students who win Eisteddfods. Not Miss Wendy. I could have won Eisteddfods, if only she had been a better teacher.

I turned off the shower. If I could just get dressed and hide in my bedroom, maybe Mum, in her staring-out-the-window state, would forget, and not take me to another hour of useless torture with Miss Wendy.

I snuck into the hallway. No movement in the kitchen. Sliding along the wall, I backed into my bedroom. With an ear to the gap, I eased the door closed, until it clicked shut. No violin lesson! I spun in triumph. Mum stood up from my bed. My back slammed against the door.

Mum’s purse was over her shoulder, my violin case by her feet.

‘Time for violin.’

‘Why? I hate Miss Wendy. She’s annoying. She makes me do things over and over and again, and she doesn’t even tell me why!’

Mum’s nostrils flared. ‘I need you to go to violin today.’

I crossed my arms. ‘I’m not going. You can’t make me.’

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. We stood in silence. She then released that breath, slowly, through clenched lips, and sucked it back in through her nose. Her eyes snapped open. ‘Pick up the damned violin and get in the bloody car!’

Was it Mum’s first ever swear word, or was it her first ever yell? Whatever it was, I had that violin case in my hand and was in the car before I’d given it a thought.

Most parents would drop their sixteen-year-old daughter off to a violin lesson and go home or wait in the car. Not my Mum. She insisted on coming inside. She sat behind me, in the same chair, every lesson, and faced the stairs, or, more exactly, a round, stained glass window under the stairs.

The window was beautiful. It contained vibrantly coloured glass: a unique round bottomed chestnut violin with leaf ended F-holes on a field of jade-green grass framed by ruby red and golden yellow flowers. In the background, stretched violet and indigo mountains beneath a sky the colour of Mum’s eyes: cobalt blue.

When it was sunny, the picture’s colours would project onto the floor at Mum’s feet. As the lesson progressed, the colours would climb up her legs and rest on her lap.

Today, though, there was no sun and no colours. It was as grey outside as it was inside Miss Wendy’s. Yet, Mum took her seat and watched the darkened window.

There was this one music piece in particular, that Miss Wendy was forcing me to learn. I know Mum asked Miss Wendy to include it in my repertoire, but it was not on the list of ‘allowed’ pieces for my studies, yet, Miss ‘everything must be done by the rules’ Wendy was still forcing me to learn it. It was a really hard arrangement of Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter’. Mum loved it. I hated it. My fingers couldn’t get across the strings fast enough, and my bowing was messy and the violin squeaked and squealed. But, I’d played it enough times that I could see the music in my head without needing the manuscript in front of me.

Miss Wendy asked me to start playing ‘Jupiter’ that day.

She frowned. ‘I can tell you have not been practising every day.’

She was right. Mum hadn’t been on my case, lately, so I hadn’t practised. I hated practising; it was a waste of time.

‘Start again! No sighing.’

Yet, I sighed anyway, and looked around at Mum. At that point, I would have forgiven her for the harsh awakening that morning, and allowing me to get sodden in the rain, if she would just turn and look at me. I needed one of those encouraging smiles with her cobalt blues – that’s how Dad described her eyes, ‘the first time we met, those cobalt blues saved me. They still do.’

No. Mum’s eyes were fixed on that stained glass window under the stairs. But the gloom outside was not going to allow any coloured light to play at her feet this afternoon.

Mum! Look at me! I thought. Damn her. Snap out of it! Come on, this was stupid. Nope. She wallowed in her own private self-pity. She deserved my anger.

I jabbed my bow onto the strings and played the first few un-jolly notes. I squinted at the music, intent on making it through ‘Jupiter’s’ tricky part without Miss Wendy interrupting and telling me to repeat it again.

My shadow appeared across the score. I glanced over Miss Wendy’s shoulder at the window onto the street. No sun. Rain was still pounding the pavement. Where was the light coming from?

I played on. The light grew warmer. The paper seemed to shine as the room filled with a golden glow. Mum’s chair creaked. Bowing, I began to turn, but Miss Wendy tapped her fat 2B pencil on my music.

‘You must keep your violin pointing forward and pay attention to –’

I thought Miss Wendy was going to poke my eye out, but she thrust the pencil over my shoulder to point at the stairs.

‘No, Mrs Jennings. You must not touch my window, it is very special to – Oh no!’

It feels so clichéd to say it, but time actually seemed to slow down at that moment.

The pencil dropped from Miss Wendy’s hand and spun its long way to the thread-bare carpet. Her hands retracted to grip her face. I stopped playing and my long plait flew outwards as I turned my head. Golden light shone from under the stairs.

And then time resumed its steady progress. I could have sworn that the stained glass window was projected onto the chair where Mum had sat. But where was Mum? The room faded to the dullness of outside.

‘Mum?’ My eyes wandered the room. ‘Mum? Where are you, Mum? Miss Wendy, what happened to my Mum?’

My teacher was still frozen in her own pocket of time; her mouth open, eyes wide.

‘Miss Wendy?’

Blinking, she returned and dropped her hands. She looked me up and down. ‘Lesson over, time for you to go home.’

‘But, Miss Wendy, where’s my Mum?’

Miss Wendy already had the phone’s receiver in her hand and was dialling.

‘Mr Jennings, Sir. I need you to come and pick up your daughter. Your wife has… ah… done a very strange thing. She just walked out the front door and has disappeared down the street…’ Miss Wendy drew back the curtains to peak out onto the street. ‘Yes, she just left her car outside… No, Sir, she does not appear to be coming back. This lesson is over and I have another student coming soon. You must come and pick up your daughter now… Thank you.’

Miss Wendy’s eye’s wandered over towards the stairs and snapped back to me. ‘Pack up your things and wait on the porch. Your father is on his way.’

‘But Miss Wendy, my Mum didn’t walk out the front door.’

She puffed air from her cheeks. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, girl. Did you not see her walk past us and out the front door? That will be enough.’

With my violin shoved into its case and before I could argue, I was on the porch with the front door slammed behind me. The rain had stopped; the first time in ages. Water dripped from the leaking gutter and bounced from the tiles to spray my violin case, sneakers and calves.

Had Mum gone out the front door? Had I missed her walk past? No. Miss Wendy had pointed to the stairs, hadn’t she? But I didn’t actually see Mum walk towards the stairs. But there was light from the window; the colours projected onto the chair, even though it was grey outside. Impossible!

Dad arrived in a taxi half an hour later. No new student arrived for tuition with Miss Wendy. Dad paid the driver and beckoned me from Miss Wendy’s porch. We sat in Mum’s car, abandoned on the side of the street.

‘Dad, Miss Wendy’s lying –’

He held up his hand and shook his head.

He was silent as he drove us home. His concentration was on the road. I watched him. Was that a tear dropping from his eye, or just a drip of water?

He pulled into the driveway and his hand went for the door handle.

‘Dad, don’t you really want to know what happened to Mum?’

‘She’s gone,’ Dad said, his face downcast. With a big sigh, he opened the door.

‘Yes, she’s gone. But she didn’t go ‘out the front door’ like Miss Wendy told you. She’s lying.’

Dad turned on me. ‘It’s not nice to call someone a liar.’

‘But she is. Mum went under the stairs.’

Dad put a foot into a puddle. ‘Then Mum is gone.’

 

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Underside, Dennisse Ruaix

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The room was drowning in the scent of wild flowers. The double bed in the corner was buried in ball gowns and shoes. The balcony door was open to let fresh air in.

‘Will you stop fidgeting?’

Jolie clasped her hands together. Sweat built around the top of her lip. Jolie was standing in front of her vanity mirror brushing her un-kempt hair. Her skin was a sickly white, her cheeks burned with anger and her eyes shone like silver swords. She carefully parted her hair on the side and took unconscious care not to drag the brush across her long pointed ears.

‘Fix your hair,’ her mother ordered. ‘No one will want to look at you if your hair is standing on end like a peacock’s tail.’

‘At least it’s as colorful as one,’ Jolie replied. Indeed her hair was a mass of colours; red, pink, blue, green, purple and silver. No one would call it dull.

Jolie’s mother looked at her for several intense seconds without blinking and turned away towards the door. ‘Wash that out. It looks awful and unfit for a Lord’s daughter.’

Jolie trudged to the bathroom. The citizens of Underside call themselves Undersiders and within the citizens are ranks of family, at the top are the aristocratic elite. They were families linked directly to the Elders who ruled in the government. These families called themselves the Black Lords and Ladies of the Court.  She was a Black Lord’s daughter, and daughters of the courts must remain dainty, chaste and weak. And they absolutely could not step outside the city walls. For outside the city walls were the tunnels the led out in to light. Step out in to the light, and any Undersider would burn. Well, that was according to the prophesies of Isaiah, the prophet that led the remaining of Earth’s other-world creatures down in to the Centre of the Earth to escape the sun’s fatal heat.

Her mother never approved of the tournaments she participated in. She would rather have had Jolie at home learning how to boss the servants around and treat them like flies on toast. Tournaments were the only thing that allowed her to participate in combat, weapons fighting and dragon riding in an acceptable way.

The annual Ball for the family of the court’s Lords was being held tomorrow. The court’s stuffy dignitaries would all be there including the prospective suitors for Jolie’s hand in marriage. At nineteen she was the perfect age for the ritual. Marriage was a dead act of love; it was all about power and position in the court.

Jolie stepped out into the balcony and looked over onto the edge of the city. Far in to the distance, like ridges on a dragon’s back, were the walls that kept anyone and anything from accidently entering the tunnels. If only the world above the ground was possible. If only Jolie could breathe fresh air.

*          *          *

       ‘You’re human,’ said Jolie.

Jolie could not believe it. There was a human sitting in front of her, she was taught all her life that humans only existed in myths, tales and legends. Her fingers were itching to touch his face where the skin looked smooth and was brown and orange like terrariums setting over the sea.

‘Yes, for the thousandth time in the last two hours I have known you,’ Julian replied.

‘Well tell me the one thousand and one time,’ Jolie couldn’t stop staring at this human adolescent that was running sand through his fingers. ‘You’re extinct.’

Julian cocked an eyebrow, ‘Clearly.’

‘No. According to the Prophecies, ‘All will perish left on the surface.’

‘Well how racist of Isaiah to only lead, ‘other-world’ creatures down here and leave us all to supposedly die.’

Jolie just stared. Awe scratched all over her face.

‘Look, as far as I know humans are real. We live on continents all around the world in peace, ok no that’s a lie, there are wars going on all the time and we kill each other constantly. But, we are definitely not extinct.’ Julian finished by throwing a handful of sand in to the sea.

‘How did you get down here?’ Jolie asked.

‘There was a massive earthquake that raked through my town and now Main Street is in two.’

Without hesitation Jolie demanded, ‘Show me.’

*          *          *

       Jolie walked down the giant stone steps along with twenty other late-teen and early-twenties women. Like birds on show they were looked at, pointed and whispered about as they paraded around the hall. Eligible single men watched them with intense stares. A mass of gentle waves of black hair caught her eye.  It was Mark. A court’s son and friend since she was six years old.

Jolie made her way to Mark and said, ‘you clean up good. Dance with me? Otherwise I’d have to dance with those men, their eyes look hungry.’

‘Then don’t dance with me, because I’m starving,’ Mark said.

‘Don’t tease,’ Jolie tugged at his hand and pulled him to the dance floor.

‘Guess what?’ she pronounced as he led them on a slow waltz, ‘I found a human.’

Mark stopped dancing, his eyes wide. ‘Ok. If you say so.’

‘It’s true. I’ll take you to meet him,’ she said.

‘Him?’

*          *          *

       ‘Any human that knows about us will be hunted and killed.’ Mark said.

‘They can’t do that. What about the law?’ Jolie demanded. They could not just punish someone who doesn’t even belong in their world.

Mark’s eyes were wide and fearful, ‘That is the law,’ he said. Guardians were law abiders, through and through. The rules are simple.

‘What do you mean? As far as anyone knows humans are legends,’ Jolie said.

Mark took a deep breath, ‘There are Undersiders called Guardians who were sworn to keep the secret of the surface and the human world. I’m one of them.’

Jolie had nothing to say. There were too many thoughts fighting for attention inside her head. Humans existed and now her best friend had just told her there were Undersiders who knew all along.

Finally, a question made itself clear, ‘What do Guardians do?’

‘We make sure no Undersider make it to the surface and no human makes it down to us,’ Mark answered.

‘And what if you fail at the border?’ Jolie asked.

‘Then we hunt them down,’ Mark said.

‘Julian has to be safe,’ Jolie said under her breath. ‘Will you protect him?’

The question hung in the air un-answered.

‘Jolie I can’t break the law. If I do, if I protect Julian, other guardians will not only hunt me down, they will kill anyone else that was involved. They will come after you.’

*          *          *

       Why couldn’t Julian just stay put and waited for him to bring him back to the surface? Now it was Mark who was being tracked down. Mark sprinted down the alleyway, blood dripping from his arm to his palm, coating his gun in red slime. The concrete at his feet slick with sweat and sewage seeping from the broken pipe threatened to trip him over. The air around him that was as hot as the inside of a stone oven burned his lungs. The buildings flagging the alley way didn’t have any fire escapes, no way to hide if they catch up.

A corner turn was coming up, he couldn’t slowdown in time to safely swing around the corner and so his shoulder smashed in to the brick building. A sharp pain reverberated through the joint down his arm. Dammit. He didn’t have time for bruised nerves.

Twenty cars were parked haphazardly in a small opening in the alley like dice thrown at random in a square box. A screech echoed behind him. He ran faster towards the nearest car; a blue Toyota with broken windows. He opened the unlocked door and tore open the glove box, in it was a key. He wiped his forehead in relief; his racing heart relaxed the slightest.

He had no idea how to get to Julian’s house. He had never been outside the city before and driving to the country was far from foreign, it was otherworldly. Mark knew how to drive a car, he was taught modern technology at a young age so that Guardians can track and blend in the human world. Prosecuting your own kind should be illegal, but that was the law.

‘What the hell Julian? I told you to wait for me at the gate!’ said Mark.

‘I told you! There were guards after me already. They would have caught me if I didn’t run,’ Julian said.

‘Will you two stop arguing? They’re almost on to us,’ Jolie said.

All three ran towards the cover of the woods just outside Julian’s hometown. After Mark surfaced on to the human world Jolie heard rumours among the elite that there was a funeral being arranged for a young aristocrat, Mark’s name was mentioned. The Craft was an ancient magic older Undersiders have forgotten to use whilst the younger generations were never taught. Jolie’s grandmother belonged to the last generation who wielded magic. She had taught Jolie everything she knew. It was a secret; no one knew except Mark that Jolie had mastered The Craft. Armed with her powers Jolie set off on to the surface to find Mark and Julian.

Jolie took deep breaths as her legs pumped along the field. She had never been more terrified or exhilarated her whole life. The feeling of breathing in fresh air could only compare to the feeling of being on a dragon’s back for the first time as it flew along the underground sea.

Just twenty meters from the first trees of the woods a flap of gigantic wings seared through the air around them, encircling them in a light twister. Above them was a dragon twenty feet tall. Hooded beings, Guardians, were saddling its back with guns pointed at Jolie, Mark and Julian. They were not shooting, their gun only poised to shoot for intimidation.  Jolie closed her eyes, whistled and punched the air in front of her with palms open. Another dragon, as big as the other darted from the woods as quick as a flash of light and tackled the dragon above them. The Guardians were knocked to the ground as their dragon was hit so hard it was buried by the crevice it made in the field.

Only a few, the more skilled and advanced Guardians regained their balance in a second and proceeded to run towards Mark, Jolie and Julian.

The quickest, a man six-foot tall lowered his hood, gun raised, reached them first, ‘you did a good job, hunting them down little brother. Now be a good boy and hand them over,’

Jolie gasped as she recognized Erik, Mark’s brother. She looked over at Mark expecting the same reaction but only a hard stare escaped Mark’s face.

‘Jolie, I knew you would be the one who would eventually shame my brother in front of the entire Court,’ Eric spat.

‘Leave her out of it,’ Mark said.

Eric turned towards Mark, ‘You really should stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. I told you she was trash.’

Mark moved quick as lightning, he charged, slid on the ground and kicked at Eric’s knees, a loud crack reverberated throughout the wood and the open field.  As Eric fell down, hand still outstretched with a gun in his hand, Mark elbowed the gun out of Eric’s hand and in the same motion smashed Eric’s nose.

‘Lets go,’ Jolie said as she ran for her dragon that was already in front of them in a kneeling position.

Without hesitation Mark followed Jolie and climbed on the dragon’s back. Julian was hesitant for a second until Mark held out his arm and pulled him on to the giant lizard’s rough back. Jolie was up front, whispering to the dragon under her breath, eyes closed. The dragon flew in to the air, climbing as high as it could go. With one last murmur from Jolie the dragon disappeared from the sky with only a fleeting light left in its wake.

*          *          *

       ‘How the hell are we going to survive now?’ Julian asked.

They were on top of a hill somewhere along the Italian coast.

‘Blend in.’ Jolie said, her eyes shining like reflected light from silver metal.

‘We’re going to probably die. You know,’ Mark said. But he too was smiling a small, excited smile.

‘Whatever. We’re out,’ Jolie said.

Julian looked from one elven fairy to the other.

‘You two are insane. There’s nothing special about the human world. Not enough to risk your lives,’ Julian said.

‘Maybe to you. But to us its new territory,’ Jolie said.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said Mark.

Jolie looked at Mark, smiled and threw the rock she had been rolling around her fingertips, at him.

‘Look at your world Julian. The rolling green hills, the boundless oceans and the limitless sky. My dragon is going to love it,’ Jolie said.

‘You know you’re going to have to keep it out of sight during the day, humans will freak-out if they see it,’ said Julian.

Jolie turned to Julian. ‘Of course.’

‘Or she could make a leash and walk with him in to town. That’d be fun.’ Said Mark.

Jolie laughed, a big real laugh from the gut.

‘Bloody fairies,’ Julian said.

‘Badass fairies,’ Mark said.

Jolie said, ‘Half-elves. Thank you. Do you see wings?’

 

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Co’viri & Sera, Joshua Spudic

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The gates to Trinawine Cemetery stand before me. It’s surrounded by the townhouses of my home city, Lundinium. The gate squeaks as a gust of wind barrels through the cemetery. The flames flicker on my staff, made of oak with a crystal at the summit. Some of the leaves that litter our path sail through the air as the wind sends a chill down my spine. Sera, who decided to accompany me, snuggles underneath my cloak. She gives me such a warm feeling in my heart. It’s hard to believe that we were just friends for most of our relationship. Now, she is in love with me and I am in love with her.

We were only eleven years old when Sera and I first met. She was sitting right in front of me in our first class of Elemental Magic at the Academia Magus. Our professor, an elderly man in red robes, asked us what we thought of using the elements as a magical weapon. Sera was the first with her hand up. My hand shot up as well, but was hidden behind her hand, also raised. When she spoke, my ears felt like they went to heaven. Her voice was soft yet sharp and clear. Her knowledge was apparent when she answered the question with even more than I knew. When that class was over, I walked up to her.

‘That was a good answer,’ I said. That was when I saw her beautiful smile for the first time.

‘Thanks, um…’ she said.

‘Co’viri.’

‘Sera.’

Ever since that day, the two of us kept each other company. We were considered inseparable by some of our friends, a notion that rang true when we realised our feelings for each other when we were sixteen. Since then, I have never had a thought that wasn’t about Sera.

‘We need to split up, Co’viri,’ Sera says as she breaks my trip to the past. She is right; it would be faster to locate Helmut Grinvolt’s tomb if the two of us cover smaller sections of the cemetery separately.

‘Take the east side, I’ll take the west side,’ I say. She releases her hold on my arm and runs to the right. I walk to the left.

A lot of these gravestones corrode as fungi take over them. Some of them are in such poor shape they are impossible to read. I brush off each one I encounter. Does it read Helmut Grinvolt? No. How about this one? Nope. Is this even the right Trinawine Cemetery? It has to be.

I gaze upon Sera, who is scanning each gravestone on the other side. She isn’t having much luck either. Helmut Grinvolt must have wanted to keep these staffs well hidden. Then again, they are considered the most powerful staves in the world. According to the story, he created the staves for his wife as well as for himself. He spent years in his workshop, carving wood from an elder tree and searching for the perfect pair of crystals. This is where the power comes from, as it is said that the love between two people draws out its power.

She is staring at another gravestone when I squat down next to her.‘Why are you helping me?’

‘That’s an odd question to ask, Co’viri,’ she said.

‘I know, but you could have said no.’

‘True.’ She averts her gaze upon me. ‘I have two reasons. The first is my love for you. Ever since I fell for you, I can’t let go of you. It hurts my heart when we are apart.’

‘I can say the same thing,’ I add.
‘Then there is my family. My baby brother has gotten ill, a rare disease that will eventually kill him, Co’viri. He is so young.’

I grab Sera and wrap her in my arms. Tears flow down her cheeks as she rests her head on my chest. She continues, although her voice is muffled a little. ‘Possessing one of these staves could give me the power to cure him, as everything else has failed. My family and you are the most important people in my life. This staff could protect all of you.’

I smile as Sera finishes talking. This is out of selflessness, better than one of my reasons for the staff. ‘We better keep looking,’ I tell her. We scan the gravestones together. Again, we come up short as we pass most of the gravestones. Where is the gravestone? Why isn’t it here? This is frustrating me.

‘Co’viri, here,’ Sera says. She stares at a rather clean gravestone. I read the name: Helmut Grinvolt. This is it. Sera found it. I smile and kiss Sera on the cheek.

‘Thank you, Sera,’ I say. ‘Now… something on this gravestone must be the key to the location of the staves.’

‘Be careful, Co’viri,’ Sera says as I run my fingers over the gravestone. As I run my fingers over his name, a green light emits from the letters. I take a step back as the whole gravestone is covered by green light. It flashes, forcing Sera and I to cover our eyes. The ground begins to shake. The dirt of the grave starts to sink. Stone stairs begin to appear. Once the dirt disappears, a small corridor reveals itself. This must be the entrance to Grinvolt’s tomb. I quickly glance at Sera. She nods. We must investigate this, so I lead the two of us right into the corridor.

The corridor is tight, small and dark. I lead the both of us further into the abyss of darkness. I sincerely hope I did not lead Sera to any danger. I periodically look back at her. She is always smiling. Is this her way to show there is hope in this situation? At times, I would wonder why I decided to undertake this journey. At first, the power the staves give to their bearers can never be described with mere words. But power isn’t everything to me anymore. It was when I saw Sera’s smile that I found a new reason.
The staves float in the middle of the chamber as we enter it. The circular room is all stone. Our footsteps echo throughout the room. The emptiness feels wrong. Something should be protecting the chamber and its contents. But we encounter no resistance. Was this too easy?

Sera approaches the two staves. She examines the neatly carved wood. A small white crystal sits atop of the staffs, glowing quite brightly. I approach the staffs, holding onto Sera’s shoulders. Sera turns to me. ‘We found them,’ she tells me. ‘We have found them.’
‘Should we grab them?’ I ask her. She simply turns around and hugs me. I felt her lips locking with mine. Her tongue moves around in my mouth. A euphoric sensation.

‘This is what we have been looking for.’

‘I don’t think we should just simply grab them.’ I continue to stare at the glow from the crystal. It’s pulsating a bright white light. My eyes don’t want to turn away at all. I want to reach out for it, but something is stopping me. My gaze returns to Sera.
‘Hmmm…’ I agree. Grinvolt has hidden them, yet getting them was quite a breeze.

Sera is pacing all over the chamber. We are so close, yet so far. I must touch it. I want its power. No, I need its power. I reach out for one of the staves and grab it. The wood is smooth and light. I can feel a stream of energy channelling through my body. I feel more energetic. I just want to cast spells. Doesn’t matter what they are, I just want spells.

‘Co’viri, no!’ I hear Sera shouting. Her footsteps echo as I see her rushing to my side. I raise my hand.

‘Sera, I feel fine. In fact, I feel better than fine.’

‘Really? Should I… reach for the other one?’

I give Sera the go ahead. While one mage holding one of these staves is powerful, two who are close must be unstoppable. Sera slowly approaches the staff. She reaches out with caution. Does she fear some sort of consequence? When I did it, nothing happened. She should be fine. She clenches the staff and pulls it towards her. I could see the astonishment on her face as the energy of the staff flows through her body.
‘Grinvolt should have protected these better,’ she tells me with a smile across her face. She comes to my side once more and embraces me. My world is complete. The love of my life is by my side with the most powerful staff in the world of Gaia. I grab her waist and pull her even closer. I can feel her tender breasts upon my chest. Her soft lips occupy my own. I knew she wanted a powerful me. With this staff, we shall be unstoppable.

A gust of wind interrupts our passionate embrace. The torches surrounding the chamber extinguish. Sera and I hold the staffs tightly. The crystals glow a white light, illuminating our line of sight. I turn my head all over the chamber. It is still empty, except for Sera. She also scans the chamber. This is quite perplexing. Who or what is doing this?

A sinister laugh echoes through the chamber. I take a step back, taking Sera with me. We hold our hands as we search for the source. It rings throughout the chamber again. Where is it coming from? Is it the staves? They say searching for lost treasures can turn you into a psychotic mage. All of the students and professors thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to conduct this journey. I can’t wait to say that they were wrong.
I raise my newly acquired staff. A bright flame emits, further lighting up the chamber. I notice that the door is still open. Relief spreads throughout my body.

‘Sera, through the door,’ I tell Sera. She nods and we make a run for it. As soon as we are about to reach the door, it slams shut on us. This must be the defensive charms placed upon the chamber. As my mind brings in thoughts of defeat, a deep, cold voice echoes through the chamber.

‘So, who has come to take away the great Staves of Grinvolt?’

I turn to Sera. Her head is staring at the ceiling, but a frown paints across her face.
‘I am Sera Vintamosa, daughter of Gregor,’ she shouts. I smile and nod, knowing what I need to do.

‘I am Co’viri Bolzano, son of Ygridi.

A fog fills the chamber. A human figure approaches. It is a man, taller than the both of us and long, bushy facial hair. He wears a green robe with a hood covering his hair. He raises his arm. A staff materialises into his extended right hand. The fog stops as he removes his hood, revealing an elderly man with grey hair.

‘I am Helmut Grinvolt, keeper of this chamber and all that is contained in it,’ he speaks in that cold tone.

As the chamber re-lights itself, I point my staff in his direction. Sera raises her staff and points it to Grinvolt.

‘Grinvolt? Are you not… dead?’ Sera says.

‘I do not possess my original body, rather, my soul lives on through an unwilling volunteer,’ Grinvolt says. ‘You have, in your possession, unworthy ones, the greatest staves Gaia has ever seen. You cannot bear the power it produces.’

‘We shall see,’ Sera adds. Sera lights up her staff with fire and launches a fireball towards Grinvolt. Grinvolt summons a dome of blue light. The fireball strikes the dome, disintegrating. Grinvolt is untouched.

‘A mere fireball? Try to use it properly.’

‘You mean like this?’ Sera launches another fireball. This time, Grinvolt is struck on his chest. He is pushed back quite far. He lands with a thunderous thud. He gets up slowly, clutching his chest.

‘Not bad. Not enough to do anything, but you are catching on,’ Grinvolt teases Sera. ‘Now it is my turn.’ Grinvolt summons lightning from the tip of his staff. It ejects and heads towards Sera. She erects a blue dome of her own. I enter it as the bolt of lightning strikes it.

‘Co’viri, our spells can pass through the dome. Cast something on him,’ Sera informs me while holding the dome. I nod and slam my newly acquired staff into the ground and hold it there. The ground beneath us begins to shake. Grinvolt still casts the bolt of lightning and just stands there. One bolt pierces through Sera’s shield and hits her on her arm. Sera dispels her shield, panting. In an instant, however, two coned spikes of rock, one beneath him and one above him, impale him as I raise my staff in the air. Blood drips down the lower coned spike of rock. Cracks begin to show from above and below, starting from my earth spell. The chamber begins to shake. Rocks tumble down from the ceiling.

‘We need to go,’ I say, grabbing Sera’s hand. We both sprint for the entrance. A big chunk of rock narrowly misses us, forcing a sudden stop of momentum. We make our way around the rock and continue for the door. The stone door is stuck. I try to open it to no avail. Rock continues to fill the chamber.

‘Ready?’ I ask Sera as I point my staff to the door. She nods and does the same thing with her staff. Raw energy exerts from the staves, exploding the stone door. We rush through the opening as the corridor begins to fill with dirt and rock. A light pierces through ahead of us. My legs pump as hard as I can.

I make that final leap with Sera still holding my hand. The corridor that led to the chamber is no more, collapsing in upon itself. In fact, the chamber is now a pile of rubble. I lie on the ground as the shaking stops. I turn to Sera and hold her. My face snuggles up to hers.

‘Are you alright?’ I whisper in her ear. She gives me a smile. I rise to my feet and extend my arm to Sera. She grabs it. I pull her up. As she brushes herself, I take one glance upon the staff in my hand. Our mission is a success. The crystal still flashes white. I turn to Sera once more. I raise my staff in triumph. She does the same thing.

‘We have what we searched for,’ I say to her. ‘What now?’

‘I must return home, Co’viri,’ she tells me. ‘I have a brother to cure. Come with me, will you?’

I nod my head. I hold her hand and we walk out of the cemetery. As we walk, a strange, tingling sensation travels throughout my body. All of a sudden, I feel like I have more energy, similar to the feeling in the chamber. All I want to do is exert the energy, use powerful spells. No, I must not. What is… this sensation?

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