Introduction to Astraxialus

I suppose at least a small amount of explanation is warranted, but ideally this will be the only post here that is not fiction.

Astraxialus is a name I made up, of all things, for a NeoPet some 7 or 8 years ago.  Astra- came from my long-time interest in things astronomy related, or “astral”.  The rest just made it unique, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the name already being in use.  It has since been used for emails and user names in some cases.  I’d also used Ra5pu7in in years prior, but was finding it wasn’t unique – so this had the benefit of being pretty one-of-a-kind.

I personally pronounce it Uh-strax-ee-ull-us, but usually just have to spell it out.  (And, by no means is this the only difficult name I’ve come up with.)

This particular wordpress blog is being created for use with the Google+ Flash Fiction Project and for writing fiction in general.  Some of what I add here may have been written years ago – I have hard-bound journals, scraps of paper, and text documents on my computer.  More will be what I write from here going forward.

Just Getting Started

((This was a challenge made on the WOW Sentinels US forums to write about how our character would have handled the early quests in the game – when they were just getting started on their career. I wrote several as I have a lot of characters. The bold, all caps is the character name for that short story. ))

ADALINARA

Brushing at the scraps of hand-me down leather, she spreads a bit of dirt here and there, smudging some on her jaw. She picks up a chipped dagger, definitely looking the worse for wear and in need of some repair, hefting it and turning it in her hand. With nary a glance in the looking glass, she raises one hand to the silky fall of hair, catching it in a loose tail, then slicing and hacking through it roughly and letting the strands fall to the floor. A shake of her head and the rough bob completes the look – child of the streets, scrawny, weak, unkempt. Slipping out without alerting anyone, she heads for the glade the new recruits are directed to.

She opens the small envelope, rereading the task she’s been assigned. The feral creatures have been allowed to overpopulate the glade and must be thinned for the balance of nature to be maintained. Her soft chuckle follows the quick thought “Is that how they convince the soft-hearted to bloody their hands?” The thought is tucked away for future consideration as she hears a faint crackling sound and turns.

A nearby druid channels the energies of nature, a swirl of green leaving his palms and slamming into a nearby saber. Utter shock fills the man’s face as the creature whips around and runs toward him, a second burst of nature energy cast in a panic all he manages before he is beset. Claws connect with armor and flesh, the man yelping and swinging a long wooden stave wildly about. With a lucky crack, the cat lies limp before him. Time seems to slow as stunned, the stave falling from his hands, he drops to his knees before the still corpse.

She turns away, not wishing to encroach upon his difficult moment, seeking a more private area for her own encounters. She’d rather none of the other recruits, nor even the trainers, catch on to how many she plans to slay, how her dull blade hacks them apart afterward, finding evidence in their stomachs of less successful hunts by past recruits. The odd array of coin and armor soon fill her pack, and she returns to the center of the glade seeking a merchant, and if she’s lucky a trainer who will allow her to advance without asking questions.

PYALI

“Cats and pigs. There’s a war going on outside and they send us to kill cats and pigs. Baby ones at that.” She hears these, the inner ramblings of her mind, thoughts she has learned never to mention to others. Talk to yourself too much and people think you’ve gone crazy. Who knew what they’d say if she mentioned the second voice.

They can’t send you to war yet. Some of these children will never have the strength to fight or the will to shed blood. It’s a winnowing process.” This voice, she knows it only to be other, not her own. Silky where her own is husky, high-pitched where her own is low, it has never named itself nor does she name it. Never has she trusted it, though it has yet to steer her wrong.

Shoving all thought aside, she targets the first animal she spots, a young nightsaber who watches with no fear in his eyes across a small clearing. Raising her hands she begins the small spell, performing it exactly as the instructor had demonstrated earlier. A flare of Holy light flickers over her skin, then vanishes to reappear slicing diagonally through the beast, which roars in pain, covering her own surprised and pained cry. “Oh Ancients, it burns.”

She collapses to her knees, clutching her hands together and rubbing at the unmarred flesh, failing to heed the charge of the feral animal. Enraged by her attack, it swipes, claws tearing through her flimsy sleeve and leaving bloody trails down her arm. “Up! On your feet. Ignore your pain and do what you’re here to do.” The voice should be frantic or loud, not smooth and calm as it is, yet somehow the words penetrate, jolting her to her feet.

The walking stick she carries is swung and slams into the nightsaber’s side with a resounding crack. “HURT!” Swinging again, this time catching one of the flailing paws. “Hurt!” Each swing becomes more focused, more directed for maximum damage, her mental scream diminishing to a mere mantra, until one last strike shatters the saber’s skull and it drops lifeless to the ground.

Impressive, Pyali. Remember. You can’t hide from pain; embrace it or you’ll be the winnowed.” The sting of numerous cuts and scratches brings her eyes down to the tattered remains of her pants. Once again a flare of Holy light burns over her skin, flowing to the wounds and encouraging the skin to patch itself. Her teeth dig into her lip, the only outward concession she makes to the pain channeling Holy magic brings her.

ZWANISHKA

It worked just as she’d hoped. Some well-positioned tears in her already skimpy leathers and a wicked curl of her tail – the men just couldn’t resist. It was truly a simple task to select the biggest and dumbest of the volunteers begging her for the right to slay those pesky moths and carry her bags. She even made sure to give a little hobble walking back to the ruins, letting her tail sway side to side as he fell behind, knowing his eyes were glued to the sight. She’d get off this island without dirtying her fingertips once, and if she was really lucky this chap wouldn’t even remember what her face looked like and she could ditch him on some less discerning female when he was no longer of use to her.

ERELODY

“You no take candle!” Her silvery eyes flared in annoyance as yet another one screamed this now-familiar line at her. At least half of them didn’t have a candle, but that didn’t stop them from saying it like a mantra. Much like the parrot daddy had brought back from Booty Bay years earlier, mimicking words and phrases then repeating them. Surveying the other corpses around her as she swung wildly at the thing, leaving a deep groove that blood poured from, she sighed, blowing a chunk of green hair from her face. Nothing she did would keep it back in the short tail, and it was just one more bother she didn’t want to deal with.

Playing warrior like daddy was normally fun, but there was just no challenge to these creatures. A jabbing stroke this time and yet another corpse lay at her feet, one that yielded all of two shiny copper coins. No candles, not even melted ones or broken ones. Not enough copper to pay for that pair of gloves she’d planned to save for. But … that did make twelve dead, and buried deep in her heart was the hope that maybe this task would be enough, would prove to the folk here that she really was with them, that she too wanted to help defend Northshire and eventually Stormwind against all threats.

CASSIOPAE

Day in, day out, the same boring job. Watching the new recruits run past, some of them glowing with Light, others with Fire and Arcane magics, still others charging around like bulls with no feel for any magics, she eased her boredom by ordering the imp at her side to do tasks she knew he hated. But wait … she could feel it. Marshal McBride had pulled one of her tainted letters from his pack. Without moving, she let the spell on the envelope reveal the pair and show her this new trainee.

A woman, young and blonde, was shaking her head lightly. “No, sir. I’m fairly sure I’m not related to a Drusilla La Salle. My last name, if you look at my papers again, is LeSalle. Similar, but not the same. I’m just here for …” The Marshal didn’t like the letter he had pulled from his pack, hated keeping the stack with the others, and even more hated being corrected by a weak, useless recruit who’d fail and be a waste of everyone’s time. With an imperious glare, he shoved the envelope into her hands and waved her away. The woman’s expression notably soured, the envelope barely held at the tips of her fingers, as she hurried out of the abbey in search of the recipient.

The same woman now rushed up to Drusilla, briefly nodding to the imp as though it had a brain to care about being recognized, practically dropping the letter in her haste to be rid of it. Drusilla noted the unopened nature with an inward groan; probably another one of the self-righteous “I won’t be corrupted by power” snots who’d give up after a few weeks and change her mind, choosing some other path or running off to seek less arduous work. This one had the looks to make it in Goldshire at least. Some of the others … they were mostly useful as farmer’s wives or cleaning the houses of the nobility who remained in Stormwind. Ah well, let this lass sully her pretty little hands with theft, and most likely murder as well, and live with that guilt for the rest of her days.

Giving the woman mediocre directions, simply a tent over by the vineyard, Drusilla waved the girl off and looked down at her imp who cringed, not even waiting for the order he knew was coming. Steal the book, plant it by one of the tents. Always the same orders, always that same book … the one that bound him, the one he could not destroy unless given a direct order. And she would never give him that satisfaction, that freedom, preferring to torment him repeatedly in this way. Ah, there were some perks to this job at least.

PLAINSGHOST

She sat silently, eyes half-open, watching the top of the rise where the stone extended toward the sky. The small puffs of red dust couldn’t be attributed to the gentle breeze that riffled through her coarse white fur, but she knew better than to try to see what must be there. They chose when to be seen and the fancy drinks and ceremonies merely told them when one of the Shu’halo sought an audience. How she knew this didn’t cross her mind; it had always been so.

“KRISSA!” Her calf name brought her to her feet in an instant, ears laid back against her neck, the tone and volume warning her. She held her tongue, stood tall and proud, and saluted him properly. This he could not fault her on. She’d learned to wield a weapon and shield as befit such a proud warrior’s child, though with the sword her siblings used so skillfully she herself was amazingly clumsy. This entire trip to Red Mesa in southern Mulgore was, in fact, to seek a trainer who might have better success instructing her, a warrior her father respected greatly.

His eyes ran over her, frowning at the simple cloth and leather she preferred to wear, and extending even deeper as he noted the walking stick that was her only weapon. “We leave soon. I’ve left your armor and weapons with Harutt Thunderhorn. Seek him out after saying goodbye to your mother.” He spun on one hoof and strode away, each thundering step echoing through the soil as she reluctantly followed.

A quick embrace and they were gone, vanished along the trail and past the hills guarding this peaceful village. Plainsghost turned to consider the many strangers, wondering which might be Harutt. An odd swirl of air pulled her eyes in the direction of a small tent, a pair of eyes there in the shadows meeting hers for just a moment. That would not be a great warrior’s abode and she looked instead toward the largest hut. Near the opening stood a man looking out over the plains as though searching for something, or someone. “Excuse me, sir.” His eyes came to her and soon she found herself trotting off in search of his mother.

The well, and the woman resting nearby were easy enough to find, and she smiled in contentment. Loaded up with a pitcher full to the brim, she returned to Camp Narache with great care, not allowing a single drop to spill. Lowering the pitcher before the man she learned was Chief Hawkwind himself, she waited as he directed her on another task. Before she left, a young calf ran up and passed him a note, pointing toward Plainsghost before scurrying off. The Chief turned the rune-inscribed paper in his hands before offering it. “I believe she was sent by the shaman trainer Meela.”

“Shaman, sir? My father … Harutt …” She stuttered to a stop at the expression he now wore.

“If this note is from Meela, I wouldn’t take long in reading it’s contents.” He shooed her away, turning to attend to what were obviously more important tribal matters and leaving Plainsghost with no choice but to seek out Meela and explain the mistake. Or maybe …

PIPPIBANA

Trotting along the road quickly, the small gnome hopped and skipped often, a large bag on her back thunking into her legs. It was a very long way from Ironforge she had to travel, but Sten Stoutarm, she’d been told, could start her off on the training she needed. She had but a simple description – brown hair, short and scruffy beard, thick brown mustache and a leaning toward utilitarian clothing in similar shades.
Hurrying through a tunnel and down a hill, she came upon the little camp he was said to stay in and studied the dwarves ringing the small fire in the middle. Only one could fit that description completely and she scrurried over to stand before him. “What do we have here?” The gruff dwarf looked her over from head to toe, not that there was much distance between.

“G’day sir.” Excitement laced her voice. This was it. She rubbed her hands together in glee. Adventures were right around the corner. Travel to foreign lands, fighting glorious foes, opening chests full of treasure, writing them all down in her journal at the end of each full and exciting day. “I’m Pip-“

He cut her off as though not a word had been spoken, eyes drawn to the animated movement of her hands. “You look as though you might need something to keep your hands warm, hm? I’ll tell you what would help: a pair of nice, warm gloves. And, being the kind soul that I am, I’d be more than happy to provide you with a suitable pair. I’ve one condition, however. I need you to go get me some wolf meat. Nice arrangement, hm? You bring me some wolf meat, and I’ll make sure you don’t lose any digits to frostbite. Well, what do you say?”

For just a moment she hesitated, then she leapt into the air with a shout. “Yes, oh YES!” Sten’s startled expression was lost as she whipped around and raced away in search of wolves, her voice trailing away. “I get to hunt wolves just like she did. Oh, this is even better than I …”

Not a Word

“Nana … you have to stop lying to the little ones.” The perfectly coifed woman towered over her grandmother, her posture rigid.

“It’s not a lie -” She swept a hand imperiously, cutting off her grandmother’s words.

“Nana, if they hear you talking like this, they’ll take you away to Happy Hospice and I’ll have to ask Harriet to watch them in the afternoons. You don’t want to be taken away yet, do you?” Still rigid, she leaned forward, a delicate nail extended, hand quivering as though the mere thought were impossible to contemplate calmly.

“It’s not a -” Fury creased her brow, her elegance faltering and being replace with pure rage and threat.

“NANA! If I hear one more word of it, I’ll put in the call myself. Do you understand me?” Her breath came in short huffs, nails carving into her palms.

“… yes, dear.” The little old woman said the expected words, giving a stir to the cup of tea in her hands, and setting the spoon lightly upon the tablecloth. “They won’t hear a word of magic from me.”

She sipped calmly as her granddaughter pulled herself up haughtily, spun on her heel, and stormed out of the room without looking back. Glancing at the spoon, her eyes twinkled as the shadow morphed to that of a fork. Words weren’t necessary when the evidence of their eyes would tell her precocious great-grandchildren magic was real.

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Latest +FlashFictionProject prompt, this bit of writing for the #FFProject is based on http://flic.kr/p/85iwhM

Mama said not to Touch

Tamara knew better than to touch. Mama had made that much clear. When Mama used that tone of voice, best to listen. But Mama had only said not to touch; she said nothing about using her eyes.

Inching closer, she bent her knees to drop into a squat. Her hands she kept out at her sides balancing her and visible to Mama. Mama mustn’t think she was going to touch after being told not to.

Carefully she examined the large piece nearest her position. Shifting, the light refracted differently and she tilted her head to one side in wonder. Sliding one foot to the side, she squatted lower and moved enough for a different part of the large piece to catch the light.

Pretty!

What was so bad about the clear shiny stuff that Mama had said not to touch? It didn’t look red and angry like the stove or the fire. Tamara knew those hurt if they were touched when Mama said no. One hand slid without thought but held inches above. None of the hurting hot could be felt.

Beginning to pull back, there was movement within the shiny object. She froze and the movement ceased. So positioned, she examined the piece further, wondering at the pinkish color. Had it been so colored before? She didn’t think so.

What would Mama say if she saw a hand so close to what she had said to not touch? The reminder had her pulling back, only to freeze again as the color within moved too.

Was it alive? She sucked in a breath. It had no legs that she could see, no eyes, no arms. It didn’t bark like Mexxy or purr like Teebone. The dog and cat didn’t change color and Mama said she could touch them as long as she was gentle.

Her tiring arm drooped closer. Her eyes widened as the pink clarified into a matching finger.

There was no growl or hiss of warning. Mama said she could touch. Just be gentle. One finger found the smooth surface and moved slowly over it.

She was good. She was being gentle just like Mama said.

“TAMARA!”

She jumped at Mama’s voice and it bit her. In shock, she looked at a thin red line on her finger.

Mama hurried over and dropped the broom and dustpan she’d gone to fetch, catching her hand. “Broken glass cuts and makes us bleed. That’s why I told you not to touch it.” With a sigh, Mama lifted and carried her into the house.

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Latest +FlashFictionProject prompt, this bit of writing for the #FFProject is based on http://flic.kr/p/6oNuYP

Of the Water

Xian drifted with the current, his pole stirring occasionally to move him further from an obstacle or keep him away from the banks of the Li River. Thankfully the boat floated very high in the water when there were no passengers aboard, as he couldn’t see more than an inch or two of the pole before it vanished into the murky green.

Espying a jammed log a great distance ahead, he leant his wiry form and pressed the pole deep into the silt for traction, easing away centimeter by centimeter from his collision course. Pain, deep and demanding, filled his joints and his hands eased of their own volition. Before he could respond and reclaim the pole, the river sucked the boat away.

Had he been a younger man, perhaps he could have chosen a heroic maneuver. His eyes blindly saw the leap into the water, one arm drawing the boat behind, the other pulling him back toward the pole.

Had he been a child, the rising speed and nearing log would all be fine adventure. His mouth mutely cried out in glee as his arms windmilled, his body rocked from side to side.

Had he been a woman, his scream might have reached inland from the river in the hope of rescue. His ears deafly listened for the voices of the villagers, hearing the shrill cry and rushing to the rescue.

But he was none of these. Xian was an old man. Old enough to lose his pole to the creeping ache in his bones that whispered his time was short in this world. He was old enough to lose himself for long, important moments in the wonder of how others might respond, his own survival forgotten.

As the boat’s prow sliced through the water, his eyes opened and watched the looming threat dispassionately. His own fate was already determined. Here was the natural progression of his life.

Born of water, his mother had always said. Lived by the water, a fisherman in his younger years, a ferryman in older.

To die by water was only right.

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Latest +FlashFictionProject prompt, this bit of writing for the #FFProject is based on http://www.flickr.com/photos/epidemiks/5841360829/

No, I’m not always morbid.

Stranger’s Blood

I‘d never understood when people said red was a warm color. Not until I felt his blood pouring through my fingers. The heat of it seared the memory into my mind – red so rich and warm it eclipsed the sun. His future ended in those moments; mine began.

“Stranger, take this.” He pushed a worn leather pack into my hand. “Seek the Mangrell. You are the Arca-” A gurgle choked off his voice and breath. After a brief struggle, he went limp.

Stranger, indeed. He’d arrived on an early transport. He’d wandered to-and-fro for hours clearly seeking something or someone. As the mid-day sun lit the station through the overhead panels, a Shirathian assassin appeared at his side and her Damascan blade pierced him several times. As quickly as she’d appeared she was gone. Clearly not what he’d been searching for.

Peering around, curiousity got the better of me. The guard post was empty, no transports awaited departure clearance, no passengers waiting – where was everyone? The platform was devoud of sound or motion. With a last cautious look around, I ran over to him. The assassin’s blades had struck with great precision, ensuring his death from blood loss.

Shirathians believed it a harbinger of their own death to watch their victim die before them. The skill of an assassin was measured in the number of fatal cuts made and how quickly the victim died after they could reach a safe distance out of eyesight of death they called Drianti. He had enough wounds to label her of high rank, but I dismissed that as a fluke since he still breathed with her long gone.

Though I knew it to be futile, I tried to staunch the flood of red heat spilling onto the floor. He painfully turned to face me and his eyes flickered with an unearthly light. In that moment I felt with great certainty that he had been searching for me. I rejected that notion – he was dying and looking upon visions I had no part in. Then he spoke and a dread fear filled me.

Grabbing the pack tightly I turned toward the guard post, only to shudder in horror. The Shirathian had been a much higher class than I’d judged. She had killed every last man, woman and child in her path. The stranger had been killed last, designating him the target, but she had slashed every single victim as many times and left them all alive long enough to retrace her path and reach Drianti. My survival had been the simple fact of being unseen – a skill I had perfected. My continued survival was the fact that no one remained alive to see me and that she would never look back.

I realized I must grab my belongings and do the same – never look back. Shirathian assassins did not kill for money alone. They killed only when oracles spoke or prophesies were interpreted.

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Originally published on DeviantArt (also as Astraxialus) on 4 July 2005.

I’ve written and rewritten this one in numerous ways, never getting much past this point. The first paragraph originally popped into my head complete and I’ve written other completely unrelated fiction built from the same words.

What did you expect?

Firenzi knew he was dying. It was to be expected in a war-zone; particularly if one went around being heroic and protecting civilians. With each round that had punctured his flesh, each stab of pain as he drew shallow breaths, and the red haze coating his vision, he accepted the inevitability of his death. Somehow it didn’t seem very frightening at this close range. The question of what came next didn’t even cross his mind. Nor did he give much consideration to his comrades, beyond a fervent wish that the two children he’d sacrificed himself for would be treated well.

Instead, his entire focus was on trying to figure out whose face he was looking at through the haze. The face seemed disturbingly familiar, yet twisted – not right, somehow. A sudden snap and his vision cleared. The face before him went slack but for a one-sided grin. The unnatural expression, caused by a livid scar running from ear to lip, clicked and with shock he realized the face was his own. Though he knew it to be on his left cheek, his reflection always wore it on the right. It was over, then. His body was well and truly dead. Only in that moment did it dawn on him that he wasn’t.

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Originally posted on DeviantArt (also as Astraxialus) on 5 July 2005.

Where Wind Blows

In the little town of Burlap, a child was born. He was nothing remarkable. In fact, as he grew up it became obvious that he was completely unremarkable. Or, perhaps it would have been obvious if anyone had paid any attention. Of normal height and weight, having common brown hair and ordinary brown eyes, few noticed when he wandered around the town. Long accustomed to this, he hung on the fringes of groups, pretending to be part of the conversation. No one had ever told him to go away. Had they noticed they might have; but this had not happened yet.

On this, the eve of his fifteenth birthday, he wore an uncustomary scowl as he marched away from town with a small satchel at his hip. It was the custom for children to begin an apprenticeship on or before their fourteenth birthday. Generally, the most talented were chosen as early as their eleventh birthday, but even the idiots and sluggards were farmed out by fourteen. No one had offered an apprenticeship, nor did anyone seem to notice his idleness. Even his parents were completely oblivious, so excited by his younger sister’s early selection by the master weaver.

“What‘s the point? As far as they’re concerned, I may as well not exist.” he muttered to himself. “I’ll show them. First I need a new name — something that people will remember.” He ran through all the names he could think of, but every single one had someone else’s face attached to it. Someone more able or more attractive or more noticeable or more something. Looking around for inspiration, he saw only the same old grass and trees, the road, the ditches, and the fences.

“Oh, this isn’t doing any good,” he groused. Just then, a stiff breeze rushed past, pushing him along the road and mussing his hair. Reaching up to push the bangs out of his eyes, he stopped. “That’s it. I’ll call myself Wind. I shall go where the wind takes me and stop only when it is still.”

He let the wind lead him into the forest near town and wove with it through the trees. Unused to such exertion, he struggled to keep up. When hunger hit, he gobbled the bread and cheese in his satchel and drained his water bag. His path took him across a stream, and he quickly bent and refilled the bag without pause. Just as he neared complete exhaustion, the wind stopped. He sank to the ground gratefully, physically spent. No sooner had he lain down than his eyes closed and he slept dreamlessly.

This continued for months, the wind carrying him hither and thither. His body adapted to the rigors of his journeying until even a full day of walking barely left him winded. He foraged as he traveled, eating off the land. He conversed with the birds and animals that followed the wind. The sun bleached the color from his hair till it glimmered like gold. It added color to his skin making it gleam like burnished copper. His eyes sparkled with adventure and delight.

Seven years later, the wind brought him before a mysterious tower. The wind blew him right up to the wall and rattled a shutter. Glancing at the massive door made of solid oak, but understanding the wind so well, he climbed into the window through the loose shutter. The room he found himself in was full of dust — a forgotten realm. He threw open both shutters and the wind cleansed the room, prying the dust out of every nook and cranny. The wind then drifted lazily around the room avoiding the only visible door. Wind saw a ruffle of movement near a heavy bureau. He pushed it aside with ease and found an opening in the wall.

A secret stairway led upward and the wind scurried up with him right behind. After a full two hours of climbing, he found at the top of the stairs another solid oak door. A sprinkle of sun shone through a gap in the roof. The wind whooshed through the gap. Wind punched his way through. Atop the roof he could see over all the land. Forest and plains, all the places he had journeyed through. The town of Burlap was near enough to identify the smithy’s forge and Farmer Joseph’s fields. A wave of homesickness swept through him.

The wind tugged at his sleeves and he looked back to the roof upon which he sat. A loose shingle tottered in the wind, then crashed through into the room below. Wind crawled over to the new gap, widened it and dropped through. He found himself in an ornate chamber filled with luxurious furniture, luscious fruit and all manner of desirable things.

Within the chamber sat two young ladies. One was more exquisite than he had ever dreamed a woman could be. Bards would sing long and soulfully of her many attractions. The other lady was barely visible. Like a servant, covered in dust and garbed in gray, she faded in the shadows. The golden light of the room skittered away from her and danced around the beauty.

The gorgeous lady rose, her dress of ivory silk sliding over her porcelein skin. Tiny bells woven into her silver hair tinkled out a melody as she floated toward him. She reached one dainty hand toward Wind beckoningly. “I am the Princess Felicity. If you are a true hero you can end my captivity with a kiss.” Her husky voice flowed over him, urging him to reach for her.

Instead Wind turned away, seeking his traveling companion and found the wind ruffling through the dull, matted hair of the other lady. Up close it became astonishing how ugly and unappealing she was. Witch might have been a better word than lady. Behind him, the princess cried, “She has imprisoned me here for years. Please free me.”

Ignoring her, Wind knelt before the hideous witch. “My name is Wind of Burlap. Will you marry me and join me in following the wind where it leads?”

The princess behind him berated him scornfully, “Begone. You are no hero. You are not even a man.”

Wind kept his focus on the lady in front of him. She nodded and Wind kissed her gently. Her rags vanished, replaced by a velvet gown unmarred by dust or time. A tiny golden crown appeared upon her brow. Her hair sprung into waves of glossy black. “I am the Princess Melodia. I will follow you to the ends of the Earth.”

A loud shriek behind him reminded Wind of the first girl who gasped and raged, “How can this be?” He spun around and beheld an ugly hag. Her straggly gray hair was tangled around burrs. Her dress had shriveled up into rough hemp covered with sticky cobwebs. She vanished with a loud pop, and Wind and Melodia found themselves standing in the grass with no tower in sight. All around them stood heroic knights in shining armor, looking stunned and confused.

Melodia smiled, “These are all the men who came seeking to be the hero to free me from that evil enchantress. Her scrying told her that a hero would someday come and free me by asking for my hand in marriage. She built the tower and transformed herself into the beautiful princess you saw. She enchant the solid oak doors so that anyone touching them would be absobed into the wood. None of the many who came ever got past the first.” She turned to the knights, who had the grace to look shamed, “Thank you for coming. I am sorry for the time you have lost in your attempts to rescue me.”

“Nay, your grace. Better a few years of our years lost than a lifetime surrendered to the whims of an evil enchantress,” replied one of the knights.

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Originally posted (by me) on Gaia, later reposted on DeviantArt (also as Astraxialus) on 6 July 2005.

Children of the Sun and Moon

A Coming Foretold

“Lady Luna, we revere thee,” chanted the matron, an elderly woman by the name of Petera.

“Sir Sol, we revere thee,” chanted the patron, her husband Janus.

“North Wind, South Wind, East Wind, West Wind … carry their children forth,” they chanted in unison. The voices of their people rose to join them. They repeated the chants as the moon moved across the sky to cover the sun.

Turning their backs to allow the sun and moon privacy, the flight of a shooting star caught the eyes of all the people. A soft breeze ruffled their hair. “A great blessing to see the journey of their firstborn,” declared Petera and Janus together. “Blessed indeed will be the children of this night.” A soft sigh of pleasure passed the lips of many of the people, then silence as they reverently awaited the separation of sun and moon.

When the sun once again shone warm upon their backs, Petera and Janus stood and signaled the beginning of the festival. Watching the hustle and bustle, and aware that they were watched as well, Petera smiled brightly at Janus. Quietly she said, “There has never been a sign so clear before. It worries me a little, because such a great blessing seldom comes without an equally great challenge.”

Janus nodded, then grinned broadly for the benefit of their audience. “Let us take a week-long journey to the holy grounds seeking visions of this great challenge as well as further signs of the blessing.”

Petera leaned over and kissed him soundly until the sound of whistles and whoops pulled them apart. Loudly Petera said, “I’m feeling a bit weary. Perhaps we should retire early like the elders we are.”

Janus grinned even more broadly and waggled his eyebrows. “Mmmm, yes. Retiring early sounds quite pleasurable. After you, my sweet.” The people cheered and hollered. A few amongst them took the chance to slip away as well.

Setting Off

The next morning, Janus announced their journey to the clan. “We shall go to the holy grounds and make offerings to thank Sol and Luna for their blessing. Place anything you wish to send along on the wagon. We shall be leaving in two days and returning in a week. Kern and Seralla will hold our posts while we are on our journey. May Sol and Luna watch over you.”

“May Sol and Luna watch over you as well,” the crowd answered back and hurried off to find appropriate offerings. The wagon was soon filled with many items, from grains of wheat to hand-written letters. One couple brought a small carving of a child, carefully crafted from rare driftwood bought from a trader. Another brought a stylistic drawing of themselves blessed with many children. Petera added a small round stone, polished to a reflective surface, to represent the moon. Janus did not add his offering — it would be the fire to consume the offering when they reached their destination.

The two days passed quickly in a flurry of preparation. Food and water had to be packed, as well as their ritual cleansing materials. Kern and Serella didn’t need instructions as they had filled in before. In fact, they helped out considerably by taking over basic tasks right away. In the early afternoon of the second day, the people gathered around the wagon to wave off Janus and Petera. Petera stood and made the sign of the moon crossing the sun. She sat and Janus clucked to the pair of sturdy workhorses hitched to the wagon. They drove off to a flurry of goodbyes.

When the village finally disappeared in the distance, Petera turned to Janus. “Something has me worried. It’s not a sign, but a gut feeling.”

“I agree. The air is tingling with a sense of impending peril,” he muttered. “We’ll stop only long enough for the horses to rest and eat. You drive now and I’ll try to sleep. Then I can drive well into the night.”

“Good idea. I only hope it’s not already too late.” she took the reins. Janus spread out on the bench, using her lap as a pillow, and was soon fast asleep. The plodding pair of geldings was completely reliable, so she allowed her mind to wander. She hadn’t told Janus how strong her sense of foreboding was. Only once, in all their years, had she felt this strongly – right before they lost three of their five children in a flash flood. She put her hand on Janus’ head and prayed that nothing would happen to him.

As the sun kissed the horizon good night, Petera shook him awake. “There’s a fine grassy spot just ahead. The horses can eat and rest, and we can refresh ourselves before continuing.”

Janus nodded agreement, a pensive look crossing his face. Petera was forcing a pleasant cheer — and that made him more concerned than otherwise. Normally when she was worried about something, she worried it like a dog does a bone. Deliberately ignoring her worries was unlike her. Janus’ concern increased with every bit of light banter she offered while preparing the grouse he shot.

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Originally published possibly on Xanga, possibly elsewhere, then reposted on DeviantArt (also as Astraxialus) on 6 July 2005. Never completed.

‘Twixt tree and stone

Original verse:

‘Twixt tree and stone
A gateway found
Realm of dreams
where magics abound.

Alternative verse – more a prophecy:

At the hour of sun’s birth,
On the night of moon’s death,
Follow the vanishing North star.

Twixt Tree and Stone,
In the valley of the white mare,
Cross the portal of the gods.

Carry not weapons or food;
Take only a sacred bough.
Call the forsaken who shall save us.

The whisper of wind’s soul,
The flicker of flame’s life,
The rumble of earth’s heart.

The murmuring of water’s spirit,
The clarity of star’s light,
The silence of night’s darkness,

The brilliance of the sun’s rebirth,
Seven to be lead by the last
The enslaved who chose not to flee.

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Originally published in DeviantArt Scrapbook (also as Astraxialus) on 6 July 2005.

Beat of my Heart

Originally published on DeviantArt dated 22 February 2006.

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It begins with a heartbeat,
A gentle pulse to be found,
A shuttered glance,
An indrawn breath,
A soft moan the only sound.

Then the rustling of satin sheet,
Exploration of each crease,
A rhythmic dance,
A little death,
Satisfaction and release.