The Lake of Bones

I’m not a villain. You eat hapless chickens and cows and pigs. At least my prey has the chance to choose another fate.

They choose to come here, to the Lake of Bones, to where the pine trees stab at sky and water alike. But look closer. It’s not quite the same, for I stand in the water, the sword cleaving me in two.

Some who see me think it’s the way the clouds cast shadows on the shale and limestone of the riverbed; an optical illusion nothing to be afraid of. They wouldn’t work for me anyway; it’s flavorless with no imagination. I suppose if I were truly starving I could eat it, but it wouldn’t satisfy. It’s junk food, no sooner eaten than I’m hungry again.

I do try to conserve, you see.

Some, though, see me for what I am. I can always tell, no matter how cool they try to play it. It’s in the way their eyes light up and the way their nerves all sing with discovery and the lightning burst of newness.

The smart ones leave then, and I let them. They go back with Ideas; a lady of the lake, a brutally slain Princess/Queen/Prioress/Sorceress. Their stories feed me almost as much as the ones who become my dinner.

But some, with that spark of creativity and without the wisdom to leave well enough alone… Those few dive in, headfirst. They fling themselves into the fray, and when they pull the sword from me, it turns on them.

I drink the blood it spills then draw them closer and slip their frlesh from their bones.

They don’t mind, I promise. They’re done with it. Why shouldn’t I use it?

When I have fed, I am free.

I never get far. My new flesh is unfamiliar and I stumble at first, adjusting it to my needs. This one, you see, started out too long for me, so I pull the skin up and in, tucking it into itself. I don’t bother taking the organs, they just get in my way.

The air always feels amazing when I emerge, like an invisible massage, like the best sex of any of my lives.

If I am good, and with luck, the people they came with never even notice the change. Humans are good at ignoring the impossible. Still, they always find a reason to leave, then, leaving me alone. I say I’ll catch up. I say I’ll be there in a minute.

None of them ever look back. I like to think they know, that they’ll carry the tale with them.

I walk along the edge of my lake, I climb up the path along the edge of the trees, I try to find it.

Somewhere, on this mountain, is the key that will get me out of that lake for good. Somewhere is a scabbard, once jeweled, probably rusted now, and I have never found it. I don’t know what will happen, after so long, if I do find it.

Maybe I’ll be free of this hunger at last.

Maybe I’ll just be free.

The fog finds me, eventually, rolling in like a storm, galloping towards me like a beast. It sears at my borrowed flesh, it aches in my bones, breaking the connections as it seeps through the cracks and crevices and pores. When it freezes me out, it blows me away, light, drifting. Every time, I think I can just fly away, be free of this curse. Every time, I scream in frustration and pain as the sword slices me in half again.

Someday. Someday I will find that scabbard. Someday I will stop this cycle.

Until then, I will feed. And you, you will carry my story and lure fresh meals to the Lake of Bones.

December prompt


Prompt Discussion: November

It’s been a while since the month has had the extra week to do one of the discussion posts. Hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving! We managed to drag our tryptophan coma’d butts together (okay, okay, by an email chain, but still!) to give you a little insight into our processes.

Leigh: OK, so Becca, what made you pick this prompt? KT, what did you think when you saw it?

Becca:To be totally honest, it was so long ago, I don’t really remember! I actually forgot that I picked this one, and I thought one of you had! 😀 But looking at it again, I can see why I probably gravitated toward it–with the starkness of the city all around and these two living focal points: the boy and the plant

KT: My first thought was hmmm, why is he running? Second thought was ooo a green shoot, a green stalk, a bean stalk OOOOO JACK AND THE BEANSTALK 😀

Leigh: Yeah, that’s one of the hazards of us working ahead. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’d work to pick them one at a time for the current month, just given how chaotic our schedules are. There’d be a lot more issues with delays and such then, I suspect. I know at first, I was actually more focused on the space beyond the end of the alley. I was going to do something more with that initially, until I noticed the plant.

How did you progress to your story idea from those first thoughts?

Becca: I mean, I think the obvious question is: why is this boy running? Y’know, the question of who he is and why he’s there and what is this place–those were the drivers. Like most of my stories, I had a first line first, and once that pops into my head, I let it spin out.

KT: I wasn’t too sure how to go about it, but I wanted to incorporate a sense of urgency in the run from the stalk. I mean, it looked purposeful to me, so I wanted it to have a great purpose – both the stalk and the run. Then I got the first couple of lines and it just flowed from there.

Leigh: I loved how we all came up with unique ways of looking at this picture. There was that moment of decision, for me, if he was running away from the plant or towards something else, and I felt like that was the end of the story and beginning of another, but that the plant was a catalyst somehow for both.

Becca, I know you mentioned having trouble with this prompt. Any idea why? KT, were you flummoxed too?

Becca: I think partly I had a little trouble connecting with my own prompt. And then the first few ideas I had were too similar to what you and KT had already put up. In the end, I only found my footing when I let go of the notion of trying to incorporate the plant into the story. I don’t feel like I could’ve added anything more to that that the previous stories hadn’t already done much better.

KT: I was a little flummoxed (which, by the way, is an awesome word). I’d just got through NaNo and still had my head partially in that world. Not all of us are super organized with our prompts like SOME people *cough Leigh cough* So, it took a bit for the idea to germinate and kick in. But once it did, the only trouble I had was getting it to come out the way I wanted. I was pretty happy with it though.

I’m really loving the challenge some of these prompts pose for me. I find that I have to push myself a little harder to see inspiration. It kick starts my brain which helps with the rest of my work. And fitting a story into such a small pace is always difficult. I’m still in awe of how different our end results are from one another.

Leigh: Yeah, I know, I’m almost always ahead. Otherwise I’d be perpetually behind! I kept fiddling with this one, trying to get the voice to do what I wanted. But it came together, slowly but surely. I might have to play with this one’s world more another time, there’s something totally creepy about a place where plants are almost unheard of.

Thanks lovelies! Happy Thanksgiving, happy Chanukah, and let the shopping mayhem commence!

The Diamond Run

We live — and die — by our Runners.

They say it wasn’t always this way. They say all of us used to be free to Run, but I’ve never known a life like that. I was born after. After the sky went dark. After the Diamonds came through the clouds down to earth.

And ruined us all.

Meema says it was our fault. They were so beautiful — the Diamonds — that we didn’t ask the right questions. Not until it was already over.

Papi always tells her to hush it up. He thinks if we call them by name, out loud, too often, then they will find us. I think he’s right.

I wanted to be one of the Runners for our enclave. I begged and begged, but I was born too late. They’d already given my brother Beau the honor, and no family was allowed to have two Runners. No enclave had more than five. Couldn’t afford it.

“Don’t wish it,” Beau would say. “It’s not like you think. Don’t wish you were a Runner.”

Then I’d tell him that it was easy for him to say.

I’d try to quiz him: Did the Process hurt? What was it like? Did he know what they did to him to make him invisible to the Diamonds?

Did he ever get scared?

He never answered. Except sometimes, late at night when I was almost asleep, I’d hear him whisper, “Yes, Izza. I’m scared.”

One day, Meema got sick. Bad-sick, but not a death-sick. Doc said there was a medicine that could fix her right up, but we were out. We needed a Runner to go up onto the streets, to cross the city and trade with the Northeast River Enclave. It was a dangerous Run, one that took a path right through Diamond-heavy districts. Beau hated it; he told me it smelled like blood and corpses, that he saw more bodies in the allies, worked to death in the Diamond factories, than any other Run.

But Beau was the only Runner in the enclave that day. The others were already out.

Papi said no. I heard him yelling at the Chief that it couldn’t be Beau, he was too old, the Process was wearing off and he’d fully outgrow it soon.

But Meema was sick. And it was spreading.

So Beau put on a pack, hugged Papi, hugged me, and then he went for a Run.

I waited by the tunnel door every day for seven days.

Beau never came home.

One night, Papi took me topside. We sat under a scout shanty where the Diamonds wouldn’t see us and stared northeast. He held me and cried. I’d never seen him cry before.

“Izza,” he said. “Do you know why a family can’t contribute more than one Runner to the enclave?”

I looked up at him. “Because it’s not fair to the others. To hog all the honor.”

“No, Izza.” There was starlight in Papi’s eyes. “Because it’s too much to ask them to lose more than one child.”

Coughing Beans

We’d always been poor. But Ma and Pa made ends meet. No matter what they had to do. Scrounging for food in dumpsters, begging for food behind restaurants, buying what day old rations they could afford.

The mines didn’t pay well. It was grimey, gritty work. Pa came home with a cough. He was all right, he said. Said it until the day he kipped over, spluttering out mucus and blood all over the threadbare carpet.

One tear ran down Ma’s face, closely followed by a second. But only the first made it to the floor where Pa lay. She wiped the other back fiercely, like she didn’t want it to exist.

With Pa gone, Ma took on more work. Not just sweeping up hair down at Jay’s. The local barber wasn’t enough anymore. I could scrounge for me own food, but the littles? At five and six they couldn’t fend for themselves, and at ten I wasn’t old enough, strong enough, or clever enough to do so.

I tried though. For Jay and for Reno, who owned the rights to the market, I ran errands. Under shop-fronts with their corrugated iron roofs, where you always knew if it was raining, down through the desolate quarter with their holey walls and paper castles. We were poor, but there’s always someone worse off.

My meager pay didn’t help for much. It barely paid for my meals and still I was so dang proud of myself. The littles looked up at me, green eyes round like the fresh apples we couldn’t afford. They clutched at the shiny coins in my hands like I was the most amazing big brother ever.

Until Ma came home and coughed.

She never told me where her other work was. She never told me how much we needed to cover the rent of our shack and its missing corner of the roof.  She never told me anything until I held her, hugged her, and heard the rattling in her chest.

Ma tried to speak. I’m sure she tried to say she was alright. But I knew what happened to Pa when he said that – and the littles and I couldn’t lose Ma. Never. Ever.

There were rumors of course. Of things that could cure. Natural things. And of evil things. Things you had to sell body parts to get. I had a body, and parts. Ma had to live.

Jay said Reno would know. And I’d done Reno favors, so I asked. He watched me, an odd twitch to the eye with the scar running through. Rumor had it he could see into your soul. I always thought he’d done offended the wrong punter.

He watched me while I spoke, while I tried to explain that me and the littles couldn’t manage with Ma sick.

“You’re a big boy now, Jack.” He said, clucking his tongue and twirling the straw in his teeth.

I nodded and waited. There was a man behind Reno, but I couldn’t tell much about him. Each breath he took made his chest enormous. His eyes obscured by the shaggy brows above. A huge hulking shadow. The biggest man I ever saw.

“Tell you what, lad.” The man said and his voice hissed like a snake, deep and haunting to the bone. But I leant forward, because I had to know. “I’ll give you these beans, Jack. They’re magic beans. If you can get them to grow, I’ll help save your mother.”

I stood back and crossed my arms. Maybe I’m just ten, and maybe I’m none too smart, but I’m not completely stupid. “If I can get these to grow, you’ll help me Ma?”

For a moment he was silent, but nodded. “I’ll help your Ma, and you’ll owe me.”

Shivers ran down my spine, but I had to be big, didn’t have time to be a kid anymore. “Done.” I said, spat on my hand and shook with the big man before my courage wore off.

Beans. Couldn’t be too hard to grow, right? Never grew a thing in me life, but all I had to do was find earth dirt. I searched and I ran and I hunted up and down. Through the dead zone where the plagued went to die, through the desolate quarter and all through to the end of the poor… and I found it.

Between the high concrete walls of the outer crumbling buildings, there was a tiny sliver. Just a crack in this otherwise concrete jungle. I fetched stagnant water from a nearby puddle and pushed the beans down into the crack as far as my small fingers let me, and then I upended the liquid all over them.

I didn’t tell Ma, though I bathed her forehead and went without my own food so the littles could eat. They thanked me, eyelashes fluttering like butterflies while Ma suppressed the coughs wracking her thin body as best she could.

It had to grow. It had to grow.

The next morning I went back, with a break in the clouds enough to let sunlight rain down on us for one of the rarer moments we get these days. Where the light shimmers and for once the hope surges through that being poor might not be our sentence, but a better future.

The plant was stronger than I expected, with three buds. Against all those odds, it had grown, was growing, right before my eyes. As quick as I dared, I gave it more water, and watched for a few moments. Must’ve been my imagination, but I swear the concrete had new cracks that weren’t there yesterday.

After double-checking my end of the deal, I began the run to Reno’s market to let the stranger know. I’d just stop by our house on the way, to feed the littles and let Ma know everything would be okay.

Screams reached me long before I reached them.

I watched, hands limp at my sides while snakey man stood watching men drag the littles over their shoulders – kicking and screaming – away from our hovel.

“But I made the beans grow.” I didn’t mean to sound so sad. I didn’t even mean to speak.

“Yes, Jack,  you did. No more worries for you now, not with the littles gone.” His dark eyes look me up and down for a moment and his smile hurt my head with how wrong it was. “Remember you owe me. I’ve taken care of your mother for you.”

A cold pit formed in my stomach and I scrambled to run into our house. Coppery tang hit my nose as I barged in. Blood streaked the room, all the beds, even the meager food supplies.

Ma’s blank eyes gaze up at the open gash in the ceiling.

There is no magic.

Tagged ,

Forbidden Biomaterials Will Be Removed

We gathered around the strange thing poking up through the cracks in the pavement in our alley.

“What is it?” Billy asked. Being the youngest, he could ask the question the rest of us were too proud to voice.

“Maybe it’s a wire?” Sam suggested, the ends of her hair dangling into her face like some automata with broken cables.

“Nah…” Chris leaned back against the brick walls, all nonchalant like he always does. Towering over the rest of us gives him power. The fact his dad is the Boss has nothing to do with it.

I peered closer while I waited for Chris to come to an authoritative decision The thing was green like a power button, but darker, with two larger bits sticking out on thin filaments, and two smaller bits coming from the center of those filaments. It didn’t smell right. None of us were brave enough to touch it, but I leaned closest, trying to figure out what it could possibly be.

An alien? Nah, aliens would move more than that. Maybe some sort of new spy equipment? Nah, it looked too fragile for that.

“I think we should wait and see what it does,” Chris finally pronounced. It was as close to admitting he had no better clue than the rest of us as he would get.

Wait and see.

A week went by and the thing made 2 more of those wide green bits. They looked different than the others, more rounded and a little bigger. More bits like that came, and they started to smell. It was a strange smell, one we had no name for. We needed a name to call it, so we called it the Thing and said we smelled like the Thing, but we didn’t know what it was. We didn’t ask, not the teacher bots or our parents. It was our secret, and ours alone.

Only it didn’t stay that way.

It was on my way to school, so I saw it every day. I saw them, the Cleaners with bright orange metal skins warning of danger, cover the Thing with a dome. As they rolled out of the alley, they went right past me, blocking it so I couldn’t see at first what they’d done.

The Thing was gone.

There was the smallest dark spot where it had been, but nothing else.

The news spread in whispers and gasps, but Chris merely leaned back against the playground wall and sighed. “I know what it was now. They were called plants. It’s the only thing that gets the orange ones out.”

I felt the word on my tongue, strange with the newness, stinging like hot sauce. Plants. The others tripped over the usual questions, hows and whys and where’d it come froms, the word sounding just as crazy coming from them as it felt on my mouth. Plants.

He just shrugged and kept leaning as if he had to hold the wall up.

We never told a soul.

But when school let out and started again, I kept my eyes peeled.

I knew, I just knew. If it was there once, it could happen again. And this time, I’d find a way to hide it and discover what secrets it held.

When the Dragons Woke

Fucking tourists.

Shel leaned hard into the bow of the ship, the heavy wooden edge cutting across his back, digging into his spine. Brael was at the gangplank in her best jacket, hands on hips, smile on her face as the sweat-shined, squishy-limbed stream of people climbed onto the Rainhawk. They gawked and tripped over one another as they gawked, and Shel scowled at his hands as he tried to dig dirt out of his nailbeds.

Someone kicked at his booted foot, and he looked up at Harp’s broad, grinning face.

“Better shape your shit up,” she said. “Knock a smile on or Cap’n will dump you over for the brikeet to tear apart.”

“No, she won’t,” he said. “Cap’n needs me too bad.” But he straightened his posture a little and shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

“Sure,” said Harp. “Because it takes such a big crew to navigate this glorified ferry.”

Shel scowled and turned a shoulder to Harp’s ornery smile, glaring down at the diamond-clear water below them. Hundreds of feet deep, zigzagging across the planet surface in narrow, curving paths, perched on the tops of dark green mountain ranges; the surface a sheen of indigo and coral and all of the other gradient hues that painted Epson’s perpetual-sunset sky. Hard-edged, glinting cities sat upright on platforms here and there along the waterpaths. They looked made of gold. Then again, everything looked half-gold on Epson.

A flock of birds – silver on their wings – dove as one and glanced off the water ahead of them, scattering droplets like jewels. Harp made a little gasp of awe behind him, and he snorted.

She knocked a fist between his shoulder blades – a little harder than necessary. “You can’t seriously be jaded to all of this.”

Shel turned back to her and leaned against the edge again. “Twelve years working the waterpaths… It’s not like there’s anything new to see anymore. But them…” He jerked his chin at the tourists gathered around Brael at the mast while she gave a safety speech. “Richies who probably paid their weight in off-world minerals just to piss their pants at the fact that the sky is always this color.”

If Harp had a response, Shel didn’t get to hear it. Brael strode over to them with the same hard, sweeping gait that carried her everywhere, shedding her official jacket as she went. “I’d truly love to get this little boat rolling, but it seems my crew is standing around with their asses hanging out. Shel…darling…peaches…get the fuck on the wheel or you don’t get paid. Harp, one of our passengers is already getting altitude sickness — see to that, would you?”

Harp gave a sharp nod and went wading into the sweaty knot of people with a cheerful, “I hear someone’s not feeling well?” But Shel kept close to the outside, skirting around the mass of too-warm bodies to get to the helm on the back platform. Brael herself handled the rigging, loosing the bone-ribbed sails as Shel tugged the mooring line free.

The breeze billowed into the canvas, and the Rainhawk eased forward, gliding deftly down a rippling pool of light. The tourists cooed and spread to the edges, right hands tapping at their temples to activate the memory captures embedded in their eyes. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Seen one eternal sunset, seen ’em all, thought Shel.

He tipped the wheel just a touch to guide them around a turn without even scraping either edge or some of the shallower rock shelves that lurked just below the surface. Still, the wood of the helm vibrated beneath his fingers. Not from an impact, though. From something else…

Brael appeared at his side, her arms behind her back, her eyes steadily forward. “How are you holding up?”

Shel shifted, his fingers tightening on the helm. “I’m fine, boss. Sorry for before.”

She snorted. “If I minded you gettin’ attitude, Shel, you wouldn’t still be on this ship. I just want to make sure it’s not anything else.”

“It’s not. I just…” He shrugged. “Just a little worn out by all the…” He waved a vague hand that encompassed the tourists, the ship, the glistening water and the multicolored sky.

Brael shot him a quick look. She didn’t even turn her head, but he could feel it, sharp on his skin. “When’s the last time you were off-planet?”

“I don’t need a vacation, Cap’n.”

“Don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re an excellent helmsman, Shel. But you do me no good if you go half-mad with some constancy disorder, ya mind?”

Shel exhaled, tried to let all his irritation out with the breath. He needed the wages too bad to be put on forced leave. “Aye, I mind.”

Brael nodded. “Good.”

She strode off, and he was left to stare half-vacant at the familiar waterpath that rolled out before them, adjusting the Rainhawk as needed by memory and instinct. Twice along their route he felt a thrum in the hull – like scraping a rock shelf but not quite – but there was nothing to see. Nothing but the quiet rippling of the water and the steady murmur from the tourists as they captured a rock, a plant, a bird.

They were drawing up to the far dock to let off their charges when they heard it.

A great groan that echoed through the canyons between the waterpaths. Then, sharp cracks and booms, like the sound of the planet’s bones breaking.

Someone on the port side cried out, and everyone rushed over. Shel pressed himself against the edge and strained his neck to see through the misty air below.

Across the valley, the craggy wall of another waterpath burst open, spewing liquid that glinted liquid gold in the always-fading light. And from the hole crawled an enormous shape. Winged and scaled, long neck, long tail, flashing teeth. It let out a roar that shook loose boulders, and then it took flight, arching up into the sky, catching coral rays on the hard edges of its spines and skin.

Shel’s heart beat against his ribcage, pushing the blood through his veins at a manic pace. He found Harp in the crowd and put an arm around her shoulders.

“That,” he told her. “Now that was something new.”

Refuge

When the alarm blares over the ancient megaphone system, I stop what I’m doing and hold my breath to count the sirens. After the third shuddering beep, my gaze drifts to the water and its winding path that swings toward us and our little city. Our overflowing city.

Like all of them along this river, we perch high above the wastelands. We’re all that’s left now. It’s only safe here because the pestilence can’t eat away at the rock base of the waterway.

On a bad day though, like yesterday, the stench still reaches us. It’s on those days the air reeks like the rotting flesh of the beasts left behind on the earth below; of the rotting vegetation left to die like everything that couldn’t make the trek to this altitude.

The sails of Refuge are visible over the horizon and the excitement causes my stomach to clench and flip flop. I welcome the nausea though, because this time there’s an added tingle down through my finger tips. This time – it’s different.

In the teachings, the books with their fading pages, we’re told that nature always finds a way, she always survives. And that’s where we are now – singled out by our nature to live.

Today, like every time Refuge pulls into port, some of us will get to move onto the next stage, to the next area. Not everyone can go at once, after all. They need to make sure they can accommodate all of us. Once a month they call a few of us out and send the lucky ones from each town on their way to a better place. It’s the chance to escape the close quarters here in the city and head toward the future our leaders promised mankind.

I can see the reflection of the sun, her bright yellow fingers dipping into the water and turning her shades of purple and pink before the gold swallows it whole. Sails whisper in the slight breeze as the hull groans a little while the vessel navigates the twists and turns of the river.

Our bags are packed, they’re always packed and with us no matter what we’re doing during the day. No one dares throw away their future on something so trivial. My mother clutches my hand like she has since I was a child and we weave through people to stand on our assigned dock awaiting the arm that may lead us to the ship.

Only in this light can I see the next city over, just a glimpse in the distance. A shiver runs down my spine. It could be the chill of the air ushered in from the water, but I know it’s excitement.

The metallic clang of the megaphone system whirrs to life again and three names drone over the speakers.

Isaac Davis
Michael Jones
Sarah King

My stomach churns at the pause after the last, and I can barely believe my ears when a final name is intoned.

Isabel Merrick

My heart skips a beat, thudding in my chest. I’m too young to remember before the rising, I wasn’t even born. My entire life has been about this, about getting called to move on. Even though it means leaving my mother behind, I can’t help be happy. I’ve been chosen for the next stage.

My time is short. There’s only a moment to embrace my mother and wave to my friends before I start the walk down the arm the Refuge extends for us to board. The footing is unsure, so I can’t run toward the ship like my brain tells me to. Instead, I pull my suitcase behind me and board with the others.

I huddle on the deck with the others from my city and those before us. There’s a sad smile on my mother’s face and I think I spy a tear. I know it’s not for me, but for herself and yet again being left behind. She’ll follow me soon though, she has to.

Two stops later and the people are sandwiched together. Claustrophobia threatens to engulf me, but I can see the splendor of gold on the horizon and I know it’s waiting for us. Refuge groans beneath the weight of all her passengers, fighting her way up stream and for a moment I wish she were bigger and stronger.

The excited buzz in the air is contagious and though I vaguely know the other people from my city, I stand proudly with them, eagerly awaiting our ascension to a new life.

Refuge slows, and a few of us elbow to the bow, eager to see our new home. I’m confused. The river appears to stop here, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to see where the water flows to.

I crane my neck and suddenly the excitement vanishes from my stomach, replaced by true nausea as it clenches up in fear. The drop off in front of us is endless and black. I try to backpedal, but hands push at me from behind. Murmurs of surprise and confusion surround me and as the girl a few over from me falls we realize the sides of Refuge are falling away. The screaming starts.

There’s nothing to hold onto, only those around me. The wooden bow is suddenly slick and everyone reaches for each other, trying to find a way to hold onto the suddenly tilting floor.

My belongings dive before me and as my fingers lose hold of the other’s, I realize the G on the hull is newer, painted over another. Over an S.

Refuse.

Tagged

Mecurial

The mist parted slowly, drifting away as Jessalyn flew. She didn’t know where she was flying to, only that she must fly. Her wings grew tired, but still she flew on. Finally, enough of the mist had drifted away she could make out shapes. Spiraling mountains of green. A river shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow. A boat that looked like a dragon.

-A firebird landed forever ago, and set to readying for a journey-

Her wings trembled as she landed, her claws skidding into pebbled ground just as varied in hue as the water before it.

“It’s about time.” A human looking figure wrapped in a cloak of fire pulled at ropes attached to a strange boat. No, not ropes. Tendons. The boat had wings in place of sails and a thin, hollow body riding low to the waves. The head of the ship blinked at her with iridescent eyes.

-he had waited for a lifetime and for a moment and for eternity for her-

Jessalyn felt her body shift, her bones crack and feathers burn away until all that was left was skin and a landbound human. She put a wing-no, now it’s a hand- to her face, then shook her head. “Oh,” she whispered, memories flooding back. The girls. The birds. The knife.

She looked up at the cloaked figure, and knew in a moment who he was, though he hadn’t been this age when she’d seen him last. “Alex?” She doubted herself for a moment, certain it must be someone else preparing the strange dragon boat.

-he smiled at the sound, her voice soaking into him like water in the desert-

“Who else?” He turned to look at her, and his eyes removed any doubt she might have had. She’d know those eyes anywhere. His lips too.

“How… “ she hesitated, uncertain how to ask what she burned to know, unsure if she wanted to know. “Where are we?” she asked instead.

“Let’s find out, shall we?”

-he missed that smile, so unsure and yet unafraid-
They stepped into the dragon boat. It didn’t give beneath them, but drew back the tendons holding it to the land and gently flapped the wings overhead. A soft breeze washed over them and the boat began to follow the rainbow river.

-to take her hand but no, not yet-

The river twisted and turned and rose and fell, and the dragon flew through the water without a drop flying up. Jessalyn stared in silence at the mercurial river, at the fog swept buildings lurking in the distance, anywhere but at the man dressed in flames.

– he was afraid to touch her for fear she’d shatter-

Finally, the silence between them felt thicker than the strange water beneath them, thicker than the fog she’d flown through, thicker than her thoughts. “Where does it go?”

-it wasn’t the question he expected her to ask-

He shrugged. “I’ve never done this before. I just knew when I reached the beach what I needed to do. I knew how to call this ship and what to do to tame it. And I knew to wait for you.”

“Why me?”

-might as well ask why the sky is grey or the river is molten rainbows or why he breathes-

She waited for his answer, but the ship bumped to a stop at the foot of a long series of stairs leading up into the mists before it came. She wavered as she looked at the daunting climb, wishing she knew how to call back her bird’s wings.

-she used to be so much braver-

He held his hand out to her, already standing on the first step. Their eyes met and she could see fire swirling through blue eyes, eyes she could almost lose herself in. Eyes that saw through to her soul.

-He stared into her eyes, eyes full of ice and doubt and memories and fear-

She took his hand and they began to climb, smiles on their faces. The mists thickened around them, the raven girl and the phoenix boy, hand in hand at last.

-he would climb with her forever, just to hold her hand-

Administrative note: Stories moved to Friday from now on, for the aliteration of Free Fiction Fridays!