Hello! Everyone sleeping well and eating healthy over the holidays?
Lol! Me either :)
I'd planned to not sleep in this week, but that got all messed up with both kids having change-in-schedule nightmares. They've been good enough to alternate nights (except for that one night... two big kids do not fit well with mom in only a double bed lol), but disrupted sleeping has made my plan for a good routine impossible so far. On the plus side, our holidays have been really easy for socializing due to really liking everyone we socialized with, and every day so far has included a block of quiet time. My hubby, myself, and our kids are all introverts. The quiet time blocks are wonderful.
We did venture out and perform Boxing Day / Week Sale shopping yesterday. It's something I don't remember willingly doing in all of my years of being alive for this lifetime, but yesterday I knew I wanted to pick up some out-of-the-ordinary things and I wanted to get them on sale if I could. Turns out I could for most of what I needed. Stores were busier than I like, and today I'm grateful to be home without commitments, but the shopping got done and my high anxiety never got the chance to spike into an attack. I'm calling it a win.
Part 4 is the final part of How I Met Him, and that means having it posted today also comes with the free downloads! Just click here to jump over and download your free ebook. A new story will start next Friday... next year!
I'm looking forward to the weekend and then the arrival of 2020 next week. I hope you all have a great weekend, and that the best good luck of the New Year finds you and stays with you throughout all twelve months!
“No, I’m just excited to be going for dinner with someone who knows work doesn’t only happen in an office building during office hours,” I said.
“Going for dinner? You didn’t just take my number to be polite?”
It was my turn to laugh. By the look on his face, he’d really expected me to toss his number. “I’ve got things planned this week, but we could do an early dinner on Sunday if you want?”
“Really? I mean, yeah. Sunday would work for me if it works for you,” he said.
“Great.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket with his number and texted him while standing in the stairwell door to my floor. “Now you’ve got my number, too,” I said, smiling as his phone beeped.
“Okay, great! I’ll text you tomorrow or… is tomorrow okay or…?” He laughed nervously and shifted the carry-out bag in his hands. “I haven’t dated in a while. What’s the expectation?”
“I’m expecting we’ll have a place figured out to meet at on Sunday, before the time we’re planning to meet there. Bad relationship?” I asked, tacking on the question carefully as I knew there was potential for a heavy answer.
“Good relationship. Or, at least, I thought it was. Bad ending. About a year ago.”
“Sounds like a story to spin over dinner,” I offered.
“That would be amazing. I mean, I’d like that,” he cleared his throat loudly. “I’m going to go deliver this before I say anything else stupid. I think I’ve hit my quota for today.”
“I like how you’re talking so far, so consider the quota empty enough that texting tomorrow is fine.”
“Very cool,” he said. I was still looking at him when he realized his own little cartoon heart was bobbing over his head. I was also blushing hard from being looked at like that, so at least the reflected color from my face matched the imagery. “I’m going to go drop this off while I’m still emotionally writhing about the awkward things I’m apparently still saying. Then I can start panicking about what to text you tomorrow once I’m safely alone out on the street.” He hefted the carry-out bag and leaned his whole body to gesture toward the stairs leading up.
“You can text later tonight and ask about appropriate topics to text about tomorrow if you need to?”
“I might actually do that now that I know I can,” he admitted. We were both smiling and waving as I stepped into the hallway and out of holding the stairs’ door open. The stairwell door closed before I’d gotten to my apartment and I heard the echo of his excited whoo clearly. I had to agree with him, it had been ages since I’d felt this giddy about a date.
I emailed Amber from my desktop with my updated schedule for the week, including that I was done the auction commission and would drop off pictures of it for her tomorrow, and then got the stand lights set up for the formal photos. The stars looked ready to spiral off the canvas in the first, and the leaves appeared to have only stilled between gusts of wind in the second. In the third, the little spider’s eyes held the sky in reflection. In all three, I saw maybe a hundred things that I could tweak and improve, but there wasn’t anything I wanted to change.
I turned off the stand lights and took a few low-quality photos with my phone using just the overhead lighting and then texted the best one to Amber with the message that these pieces were my new favorites. She wouldn’t be able to see the details, but she’d been by for coffee last week and knew what I’d been finishing. I included the magnified pics I’d snapped of the spider’s eyes, the dew drop, one of the leaf designs, and the twin stars I was the most proud of because of color matching to reality. Amber surprised me by still being awake to message back a bunch of hearts.
I tucked into my pajamas and curled up on my chair with my sketch book to look through the work I’d done today over a cup of tea. One of my cloud sketches had a really great shape that sparked in my brain in a good way. I darkened those lines so I would see it immediately tomorrow before I flipped to the next page to see what was there. A few pages on, I darkened in a couple strolling through the museum and added a few lines to look more like me… and Anthony. (Of course I was being silly, but it was a good silly.) The flower in the sidewalk definitely needed to be painted. My next three commissions were already planned, so I’d be painting on my own time for the sidewalk flower. It wasn’t going to be a big piece, though, so that wouldn’t be a problem.
My phone chimed. Probably my mom, she was the only one who texted this late. I ignored it because I was darkening in the shadows and adding highlight colors in pencils to the sidewalk flower while the memory was fresh. Painting it would be easier with a good reference. I finished my tea and decided to work on the flower sketch again during morning sunlight hours, picking up my phone after putting down my pad.
Anthony had messaged me.
I opened it hesitantly, hoping he wasn’t a hidden creep asking what I was wearing to bed or if I planned to touch myself before going to sleep. He was only taking up my offer of pre-texting to inquire if he should open tomorrow’s texting with a joking comment about the weather on our working-from-home commutes, or with saying good morning and asking how I was. I breathed a sigh of relief and texted back that either was a good option so he could pick from both of those based on how he was feeling. He replied with a thumbs-up emoji almost immediately.
I left my phone plugged in at its usual place in the studio while I got ready for bed, catching myself smiling each time I saw my reflection. It had been a pretty good day. Tomorrow wasn’t looking bad, either. I was most excited for Sunday, though.
Mid-week bonus story update! I want to wrap this one up by the end of this year, so today seems like a good day for a bonus update. If you're celebrating something right now, I hope your holidays are treating you well, and that you're safe and happy wherever you are. :)
The watercolor attempt just left my angry flowers looking creepily faded. I shaded in a small blonde girl in a blue dress between them, looking up at the suddenly enormous blossoms, and let the dress colors run at bit at the edges. Adding gnarled and smeared stems and stalks finished it so that now my playtime working with watercolors looked like Wonderland through the author’s acid-drenched glasses. It wasn’t awful once it had the appearance of ‘it’s supposed to look menacing and messy’, so I left it out to dry rather than scrapping the whole thing.
Having my first success with watercolors – as in I liked the result, not as in getting a decent grade in a class with them – definitely restored my view of today being a (so far) great day. Plus my little, star-struck spider was ogling the night sky in the most adorable way when I sat back from my easel and stretched. The pearl of dew I’d spent so much time on looked like I should wipe away some stray wetness that had gotten onto the artwork.
I powered up my good camera and got about a dozen high-definition photos of the series in the early afternoon light. Later, once it was dark out, I’d flick on the stand lighting and get all my studio shots for Amber. Over the years of selling my paintings, though, I’d learned it was always good to have photos on hand in multiple lightings. Some clients had a hard time imagining how a piece would look in the place they wanted it and similar lighting conditions helped with decision making.
I decided to check my phone after showering. Amber’s reply to the building wanting free lobby art was cc’d to me – something she didn’t normally do – and wasn’t even remotely scathing. Standing there in a towel, I read that instead of telling them which side of a bridge to jump off of, she was offering them a popular piece I had coming out of being rented for a display, with a side of including advertising flyers for the auction in a couple of weeks. Leave it to Amber to set up getting paid twice for one painting and then layer on free marketing in her favor. I’d also been cc’d in all the negotiations, but those stayed civil and without any entertainment value. At the end of the chain of emails, the auction was getting free advertising and I was getting unexpected income from a painting. Not a lot of unexpected income but, as I grabbed my keys and locked the door to head out to the diner, definitely an extra bonus point for today.
All my friends at Mick’s Diner were doing great. My timing for showing up was perfect and I picked up three shifts to cover someone’s vacation from Wednesday to Friday, and Cartlon, my favorite chef in the history of ever, was in the back so I got the tastiest version of lunch offered on the menu. As I was leaving, the cute delivery guy was coming in to pick up for someone so I got to chat with him again while he was waiting for the order. That conversation ended with a phone number for the cute delivery guy, who was named Anthony, burning a hole in my jacket pocket and a promise to text and set up for a dinner together rather than him just dropping it off.
Cartlon mocked up a dad-lecture for me about dating safety as I paid my bill. I think I strained an eye rolling them so hard. I was still single in my thirties for a reason, and it wasn’t because I was dumb about dating. Standards that didn’t drop just meant my perfect-for-me guy was harder to find, and I knew I was already happy single so anyone added into my life had to bring additional good. I wasn’t into playing the repetitive marrying games that my mom had thrived on.
I’d planned ahead when leaving my apartment and already had my sketchbook, charcoal, pencils and pastels in my bag. The weather was dry and a bit cloudy, so I sat outside after a bus ride and sketched trees and clouds in a park I hadn’t been to in a while. Tea at the museum café was accompanied with faceless people admiring displays or walking through the halls. A flower boldly growing from a crack between a sidewalk and a brick-fronted building across the side alley from the patio where I had dinner kept me pleasantly occupied until the street lights came on and let me know it was time to catch the bus home.
My eating-out budget for this month had been used up in twenty-four hours, but I was still smiling and adding strokes to a blank page on the ride back home, creating a specter-filled trolley ambling through a ghost town with charcoal. Unexpected potholes (I didn’t usually take this bus route) provided wavering depth I could smear into other shapes and give varying focal points.
Anthony was delivering for someone else in my building so I had company and conversation for the walk up to my floor. It turned out he was a contract engineer who did most of his work designing from home, and he did deliveries as a way to get out of the house. I swear, there must’ve been a tiny cartoon heart that popped up over my head. I was going to be making dinner plans with someone who understood working from home!
The last person I’d tried dating had been a nine-to-five advocate and believed if I wasn’t leaving my apartment for work then I wasn’t working. Obviously the dating hadn’t gotten past a third attempt at dinner with him, but the lesson learned was holding strong. I had achieved a place in my life where I only worked outside the home when I wanted to (and only for Mick’s), and I refused to be shamed for it. Every new date opened with the conversation about work. Nobody, myself included, needed to be harassed or degraded in their relationships about working hours or locations.
Anthony caught me looking at him with that little heart over my head and chuckled in the most adorable way. “I’m not rich, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he’d hazarded.
“It’s really not healthy to eat so late,” she whispered. “You need to start thinking of your weight, Carlynn,” she added. I smiled wider as I pictured her ducking over her phone and holding a hand around her mouth so Shane wouldn’t bawl her out for getting on my case about things that were none of my mom’s business.
“Mom, I work out four days a week when I’m not hiking. I’ve out-pressed you at the gym every time we go together and I out-ran you on every 10-K race you’ve signed us up for. Add to that, on my last checkup my doctor said I was one of her top ten healthiest patients. I’m pretty sure my weight is fine.”
“I’m allowed to worry,” she rebutted.
“Mom, you’re a toothpick. My femurs are probably thicker than your thighs. My curves keep me huggable and I love them.”
“I love you, too,” she added, purposefully ignoring that I was talking about my body and she was talking about me as the person living in my body. My mom was never going to admit someone standing up and still having a belly roll could be healthy unless women’s magazines started revolutionary articles about more than just how to get rid of the rolls. Meanwhile, since realizing her opinion was hers and not mine, me and my elastic waistbands enjoyed being happy. Plus, sushi as an eight o’clock reward for finishing that series early? Yes please!
“I know you do. I love you, too. So tell me about Shane’s work trip this past week. How did it go?”
She spun off into the retelling of what he’d talked to her about during and after his trip. The interruptions he offered this time were ones that she let me hear and pretty soon she had her cell on speaker so I could talk to both of them. My dinner arrived while we were still chatting and the delivery guy was the usual one – the really cute one – who’d been bringing my orders for the past six months and giving me five-minute conversations whenever he dropped off. We winked at each other because I was on the phone and he waved as I swung the door closed.
I hung up the call and enjoyed my dinner in front of the movie I’d paused when the ring tone for my mom had started. Tomorrow was going to be my day off. I made the decision for it as I was snuggling into bed. My agent wasn’t expecting me to call before Wednesday, and my friends would all be at work, so it was a day to totally do whatever I wanted without having to worry about anything.
Morning sunlight through the studio windows made my Starlit Spider series pop off the canvases, each one fifty-six inches high and twenty inches wide. I still loved the shifting focus between the three of them. These were definitely going to stay my favorites for a long time. However, I was going to have to figure out a better name before taking these to the auction they’d been commissioned to be part of. I doubted people would pay well for a set that had ‘spider’ in the title. Maybe I could go with something like Shifting Focus for A View from the Web? Probably I should have a morning coffee before trying to think of a name.
With breakfast in my stomach and fresh coffee in hand, I came back to my studio to just sit in my chair and look out the windows at the city passing a few floors down. I made enough off my art now that I could afford my own place. It wasn’t fancy. The larger of the two bedrooms was my studio. I still kept the phone number for the diner where I used to serve tables full time, and they’d call now and then when they needed help covering shifts around employee vacations. With this week suddenly open, I had the option of calling to see if they had any shifts for me over the next couple of days. I didn’t need the hours, but having some extra cash leading into autumn and holiday shopping never hurt.
Instead of calling, though, I could use asking for hours as a great excuse to go and visit everyone after the lunch rush today. That thought made me smile so I decided to make it the plan. That plan also gave me the whole morning free, which meant a workout at the gym across the street before a shower and still lots of time for some sketching. I wanted to play around with free-handing watercolors again. Hitting the gym, then watercolors, then shower, then lunch at the diner, and then the whole rest of the day for sketching. I smiled into my coffee. That was a nearly perfect day!
My usual food deliverer, the cute one, came to the same gym and I was lucky enough to see him and chat for a couple minutes on my way in while he was heading out. I made the mistake of checking emails during my workout and almost fell off the treadmill. Not for anything bad, I was laughing. Some downtown company wanted lobby art and was ‘offering the opportunity for massive exposure’. They were only paying the cost of physical materials, which they had written as being expected to be under two hundred dollars.
I emailed them back with a copy of my saved script that politely thanked them and gave them my agent’s contact information should they wish to pursue a commission. Amber was a great agent who had a switch installed in her brain that clicked from being a wonderful, warm and caring person to a woman capable of living off spite and breathing venom, so her ability to layer a response with polite ‘fuck off’ messages was extraordinary. Probably I’d get a snotty reply from the people wanting free work done for their lobby that amounted to a tantrum over not being able to remove my copyright watermarks from every online image of my work. If that was the response which came in, it would die in my trash folder; I wouldn’t even bother sending it to Amber.
Seriously, though, how am I supposed to live off ‘exposure’ as a wage? Last time I looked into it, grocery stores don’t let people pay at the tills with ‘The Bank of Don’t You Know Who I Am?’ cheques.
Hello! As promised last week, the new story starting this week is a positive one. There's enough going on in the world that's stressed, anxious, and negative (and some things that are downright awful), so I'm taking a break from conflicts and overcoming troubles for a story about being in a good place and having the right people around you.
My past week seems like a bit of a blur. I veered away from working on my big manuscript to dive back into one of my practice short stories. Disclaimer: practice stories are great, but not fit for general consumption lol. I like doing them because they're my place to write terribly and figure out how to make the horrible ideas in my head into a format I can write well. It's my 'How to Make Bad Ideas Into Good Stories: 101' method, so that when I stumble into needing that kind of idea or writing style in something I'm seriously working on, I've already practiced.
That said, Fan Fic is a great place to work on erotica, graphic violence, and horror... after reading some to know how to form the ideas. Are these genres I've written in, will seek or read going forward, or that I'll ever write for, specifically? Probably not. Will understanding how to better add elements of these genres to my writing make weak parts of my stories stronger? Hell to the yes! Plus, it's fun to write the hard-for-me stuff knowing I can just delete the file or choose to not back it up. ;)
Of course, I do back it up and never delete it. Even my terrible writing. It's good to keep reminders of each step of improvement, especially on the days when I'm wading through feelings of being a talentless and hopeless writer. I can always look through old files and see where my skill level used to be, and that I've improved a long way since then!
Overall, it was a quiet week and this weekend looks like it'll be more of the same. I'm hoping we'll get our Christmas trees up this weekend, but if not I'm not going to stress about it. My biggest goal is to get everything mailed out that needs to be in the post to arrive at destinations in time for the holidays. I'm that friend with part of my holiday mind stuck in the 1950's who still believes the end of the year is the time for a handwritten good-will message in a paper card. Plus, the cards are so pretty now! Sparkles ship directly to friends in the mail! Hope you have a great weekend!
I stepped back, brush held at the ready just in case, and studied the last detail I’d just completed. The reflection in the water drop was perfect now. Emotion washed through me in the usual rush, taking away the strength from my legs that had let me stand for hours and paint through the magnifier. I felt shaky as I set the brush in its rest and pushed the magnifier’s stand out of the direct line of sight. Collapsing into the chair I kept in my studio for these exact moments, I sighed and let the cushions envelop me as I looked at the completed work the way it was meant to be seen: from half way across a room.
Three canvases stretched vertically, a set that had to be completed as a single piece because of the details in each, and matching exactly the way I’d wanted them to. The first was a far focus, with stars pin-pricked into actual overhead constellations and using colors in accordance with the spectrum readings I’d looked up months ago to ensure accuracy. The second was a middle focus, with only the brightest stars apparent but fuzzy, and the branches and leaves crisply detailed between sky and ground. The third was a near focus, and this one had been the reason for the other two to exist. The spider web covered blades of wild grasses and a patch of bark on the nearest tree, dew gathering along the silver strands, and its builder sheltered inside a crevice made by a tree root and small stones. The spider was looking up and the stars, blurred to invisibility overhead but reflected sharply in its upward turned eyes.
By the critics, this wasn’t going to be hailed as my best work. Personally, though, I believed this series was going to stay my favorite even after the glow faded from it being my most recent. Doing the jumping spider from an angle looking up at it, so showing off all the creepy undersides of its face, wouldn’t be popular. It was too realistic to be considered adorable – mine definitely didn’t look like those popular short movies I’d seen online about that animated spider – but each detail being scientifically accurate left me with the expectation that my created spider was about to move.
The dew drop I’d finished today was so much better with all the reflected things around it now part of the scene. I smiled and rubbed my eyes. Who would’ve thought the backpacking holiday where I’d been so enthralled with paintings on grains of rice that one of the painters had taken pity on me and taught me the basics would come into my art like this?
Well. Time to start cleaning up. But first… I snapped a magnified close-up photo of the dew drop on my phone and messaged it to the rice painter who’d taught me for free how to get that kind of detail into my work. I still couldn’t speak Mandarin, and Chen didn’t know a word of any of the languages I was fluent in, but our message thread was full of magnified photos of the things we’d done that we were proud of and wanted to share with someone just as passionate as we were, interrupted by holiday greetings from each of our cultures whenever one of our events came up.
Chen replied to the text with a heart emoji and then a gif of a sparkling thumbs-up. I was surrounded by supportive people here at home, but these messages warmed up my heart even more than most hugs from my peers. Chen was probably the same age as my parents, but he was the only artist I knew who enjoyed and respected details the same way I did. My friends here found the details daunting and fussy and I ended up being the butt of good-natured jokes for things like putting three tones into a white line whenever I gushed about the latest bit I’d finished. Chen just offered unwavering, unconditional support. As a bonus, his wife, Biyu, mailed me small care packages twice a year filled with the homemade desserts she’d discovered that I loved during the three days I’d stayed in their village, and posted private videos to me of squealing happily when she was opening the packages of fabric and craft supplies I sent to her. These two people were my sweetest friends.
My brushes were soaking, the drop sheets were tossed out, my pallets hanging to dry, the studio lights turned off, and I was settled in with a cup of tea after a hot shower to enjoy some well-deserved movie time before calling it an early night when my phone rang. It was my mom’s ring tone. I’d forgotten it was Sunday night and time for our weekly contact call.
“Hi, mom,” I said, sounding just as tired as felt.
“You sound awful,” she replied. “Are you sick?”
“Just tired. I finished that set today and then got the studio cleaned up.”
“That’s great! What did you have for dinner?”
“I didn’t eat yet. I’m just having a cup of tea while I figure out what to order.”
“You’re getting delivery this late?” she demanded, absolutely appalled. We definitely didn’t see eye to eye about eating habits. A couple of years ago I’d decided to silently agree to disagree with her on a lot of things and inside my brain had improved more than I knew I’d ever be able to tell her.
I listened to her most recent husband’s voice grumble in the background. Then there was a susurrus and my mom’s voice was a distorted muffle without any words. She’d put the phone against her sweater. I grinned into my tea. Shane was a lot more vocal about my mom’s meddling and misplaced opinions than all three of her previous husbands (my dad included), and it was cute to see her try and protect her adult kids from the harmless bickering they did. She’d married Shane ten years ago and he’d forced her to grow some empathy at the same rate she’d pushed him into a more positive mindset about his career, as in now he had the support needed to believe in himself and become successful, and my brothers and I marveled that our mom might actually be capable of understanding that other Humans had feelings. They were a good, healthy couple.
“Hi again sweetheart. I’m sorry about that. You know Shane, though, he’s –”
“Totally perfect in all the ways that matter for you,” I interrupted. She sighed into a chuckle. “As for dinner, I think I’m going to order some sushi and rolls.”
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.
A blog with quick updates about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and where I can vent my short stories weekly for everyone to read for free!