Today's story part for The Portal Problem, Episode 2: A Lizard is the last one, which means the free ebook downloads are ready and available by navigating over to my Short Stories page. Or you can just click here :)
I lost a few days this week into the belly of my anxiety monster. We got some bad-for-us news this past weekend and it made dealing with everything in the days following the bad news so much harder. An amazing thing happened, though, in that I was able to apply my therapy learning and step off the usual spiral: I kept eating, I recognized the emotions, and I did the adulting required. This is a huge deal for me, and despite lingering depression and strangling anxiety, I'm taking that victory for the high value it represents.
I may have visualized smashing that self-issued trophy into anxiety's face a few times... and I did the adulting completely nauseous. There was also a stress-triggered migraine involved. However, right now I'm only feeling a little sick to the stomach only when thinking about the yucky news, and yesterday I even got in a couple hours of writing and editing on my big manuscript. Also a big deal as my creativity dies when the anxiety monster has control, and doing writing and editing in the same week as Really Bad Triggers Happening indicates my anxiety monster couldn't get its usual grip. HA! I win that round!
I feel like today should have some crappy, 1980's victory theme song playing on repeat because I'm doing kinda okay. (Yes, the bar for the victory theme song is very low after these past few years.)
Writing this week didn't happen very much, but I did a bit. Kid birthday party stuff last weekend was a blast and we had so much fun... and so much cake lol. But, now it's time to start gearing up for the Holiday Season. Just a heads up, I'll still be running updates and a new short story, but it's just a happy story because I think we all deserve some good feels. Hope you have a great weekend!
5. A Prince
“She… he…? I don’t even… it promised to give me a head start if I gave over the stones,” Aston shook his head as he spoke, as if trying to rattle all his thoughts into place. The severed arm was close enough that even if there was another serpent to worry about, it wouldn’t reach Aston before Draessellor could kill the threat, so Draessellor walked over and picked up the arm to smell it.
“Kanvar,” he confirmed to himself before dropping the limb.
“His name is Kanvar. An old Warlock twisted up by his own magic ages ago. He likes to think of himself as accomplished. He’s too pompous to be any good at anything,” he explained. “You shouldn’t have dropped your knife,” he reprimanded, turning back to look at Aston. The young Human looked at the length of blade in Draessellor’s hand and laughed. The tone of the short burst bordered on hysterical.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked again, timidly this time.
“I… all right.”
Aston picked up his little flint knife and staggered to his feet to begin looking for the stones which created the portal. To Draessellor’s eyes, the appearance of Aston’s hand wavered more and more – as if surrounded by heated air – as he collected up each stone.
“Are you certain that’s wise?” he asked, eyeing the hand suspiciously.
“How else am I going to get home?” the young Human snapped, not turning to look back. His clothes were torn and a long scar marked him from shoulder to hip across his back. It was only recently healed, but hadn’t healed well and a few dark stains of embedded dirt and small gravel showed clearly under the fresh skin.
“From here?” Aston spun around. “I don’t even know where here is!”
“So you choose instead to trust a cursed tool?”
That question shocked Aston into silence. He opened his fist and looked down at the collection of polished pebbles, as if only realizing for the first time that the mode he’d been using to transport himself might not actually be helping him.
“No,” he shook his head to the negative, discounting the accusation of the stones being cursed, and closed his fist tightly again. “There’s no way these are cursed because they were made specifically for my father and our High Mages would never harm my father; especially with him being sick and with Drevin gone to the war. There just isn’t any possible…”
His voice trailed off as Draessellor straightened from opening his kit and held out the contract with the mage stamp in the sealing wax. Aston’s steps to approach were tentative and his hand was shaking when he dropped the pebbles to reach for the parchment. He traced a thumb over the stamp, stating the mage’s name who had signed the contract before he unrolled it and read from start to finish.
“Oh,” he said, looking at the toes of his boots after handing back the contract. “So why are you helping me?” he asked, not releasing the parchment after Draessellor’s hand already gripped it.
“Your mother asked me to protect you and guide you home should our paths cross,” Draessellor stated. The admission startled the young Human into releasing the contract as if it had burned his hand.
“You know my mother?” Aston asked, even his smell shifting to astounded shock.
“She is my friend.”
“I…” Aston simply stopped talking and covered his eyes with one hand, his thumb and fingers rubbing both his temples at once.
Aston’s mutterings were filled with half-finished words and sentences, nothing intended as a statement or question requiring a reply, so Draessellor doused his fire with sand and collected his kit together. The young Human looked underfed and smelled of exhaustion, filth, and old blood – and the serpents’ hides were still drying – so it was best to leave this camp and move onto the hill. They could hunt any scavengers that came here to feast on the bodies so that they’d have meat to dry and pack when they ran out of serpent. From experience, Draessellor knew he didn’t like the taste of Elf. The thought of eating something with such a distasteful personality as the winged thing was far beyond unappealing.
“We should go before scavengers smell the bodies,” Draessellor interrupted the ongoing flow of half-made statements that Aston was still thinking (although he’d stopped muttering). “Pick weapons to bring,” he added, nodding to the bodies.
“You want me to steal?” Aston blurted, actually offended. Draessellor swivelled his eyes to look at each body and then blinked before looking back at the Low Prince.
“But they’ll have families, or people they care about who –”
“Will be coming to try and kill you once they learn of the deaths,” Draessellor interrupted to finish the sentence correctly. “So you should be armed better than that,” he concluded, flicking a claw toward the stone-bladed knife.
“I shouldn’t just leave cursed items lying around, either.” Aston frowned at himself for having dropped the stones.
“You’d rather keep cursed items with you?”
“No, of course not. But I can’t leave them here for someone completely innocent to stumble on and end up going through what I’ve been doing,” Aston said, his eyes pleading when he looked up from having crouched to collect the stones in question. With that in mind, the logic of taking the stones was sound, however…
“Do you need all the stones for the portal to work?”
“Bring three,” Draessellor stated with a nod. “And by your height you’ll probably be most comfortable with that sword.” He pointed at the good quality blade that the winged thing had been wielding. “He likely stole it. Tell yourself you’re bringing it to return to the rightful owner, only using it from necessity while traveling, if that makes you feel better.”
Aston followed both suggestions, the torn back of his shirt exposing his scar as he bent to each task for collecting three stones and then taking the sword’s sheath off the winged thing’s belt. Ceil’s offspring would need proper clothing and armor for much of the trek to his home, but for now the drying leather would stitch into something that would protect his skin from sun and sand, and be warmer than nothing in the rain. They would have to buy him proper clothes and armor for crossing the mountains, though. Draessellor nodded, approving that the Human stole the winged thing’s knife as well, before starting up the hill. Aston caught up and then fell into step beside him after a few moments of hesitation.
“So… which way is my home?” Aston asked with a heavy sigh. He looked around hopefully at the crest of the trail as if he would see something familiar.
“That way for about three months, if the dragons agree to fly us over the mountains,” Draessellor pointed, continuing to walk in the opposite direction. “Closer to five months walking the whole way.”
“What? But then… wait, why are you going… what’s this way if you’re taking me home and home is that way?” he asked, catching up again.
“Our camp,” Draessellor answered as he trudged around the first winding in the trail. He tasted the air. “We’ll stay here for one week. You’re too tired and hungry to travel,” he added. Aston’s stomach growled loudly in reply. The Low Prince followed quietly, lost in whatever thoughts he was having. He looked so much like his mother had at that age.
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