Time ticks on, life lives on, as they allay another year away from that day you shared your struggle, that day you told me your troubles. It's now been twenty years too long. The distance kept you from my arms, a castle to keep you from harm. I am your knight with no armor. You are the Queen inside these walls. Your pearlescent crown is your charm. Let's watch the world from these ramparts, and marvel at a sea of stars. For now, we are a world apart. Know that only you hold my heart.
I’ve got too much love to give. I won’t lay it all on you again. I know it’d smother you And a flower’s got to bloom. Sometimes it gets heavy, carrying it around inside. Sometimes it gets heavy, Then it’s time to hide. Even when my eyes are tired, I can still recognize the lines as the light wraps around you: always the kindest in the room. Until the day I can temper passion with prudence, I’ll hold it all back and sit beside your shadow.
Ratchet me down to the bed frame. Panic attack set my heart aflame. Sit down, stand up, take a shower. Just hold out for one more hour. Tensioning, tensioning, stretching, and lengthening. Tensioning, tensioning, doubting and questioning. It wasn’t intentional. I’m just not conventional. I know that you’re skeptical. This verse was nonsensical. Tensioning, tensioning, stretching, and lengthening. Tensioning, tensioning, doubting and questioning Expression of aggression. Regression of progression. Recession, then depression. Imagining transgressions. Tensioning, tensioning, stretching, and lengthening. Tensioning, tensioning, doubting and questioning myself.
Together we stood upon the frozen surface of the Medial Sea. A pack of lilting giants, woven of both smoldering ebony and freezing marble, circled around us as they carved their way in and out of the distant gloom. As time passed, shadowed silhouettes began to emerge from the mist as they converged upon the two of us.
“Do you recognize them?” Seles said as she stepped in a careful circle around the shade of a middle-aged man with many tattoos brazenly displayed across a bare torso and a shaved head.
I didn’t answer. I’d have guessed he is a marauder – well, was a marauder. When he was alive. Probably ran with the Teeth. Maybe the Covetous, but I deemed that unlikely; he would have armor on. I’d already ruled out the Unfed – nobody in their right mind would show that much skin in the frozen Northern Ring.
“Tell me Trent… why did you kill this one?” She flicked the former marauder right between his eyes with a satisfying smack. His lips quivered in silence for a few short moments. Then his eyes started to bulge, each like a fat toad trying to wriggle out of clasped hands. A second later, he exploded into a cloud of choking charcoal smog and was swept away by the wind.
“I don’t remember.” My response was flat. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen her bend reality to her whims. It wouldn’t be the last, either.
“Would you like me to jog your memory for you?” Seles turned on me now with a pleasant smile that seemed innocuous enough, at least until you noticed her little fists clenched at her side. A tingling sensation scurried down the back of my neck and little pinprick claws dug into my skin, leaving behind a lingering electricity. Her malice was incredibly potent – I knew from ample experience.
“I’d rather you didn’t.” I felt my left eye starting to get hot.
“Oh? Does that mean that you regret taking his life?” She asked, her eyes narrowed.
“No, I don’t. I only regret that we live in a world where we have to kill to survive.” I met her glower with no glare of my own. No, I was sure that if I had the ability to pop out of my own skull and look myself in the eyes, I’d see dilated pupils held in softened features. Bedroom eyes were all that I could manage whenever I saw her.
“’We have to kill to survive,’ sure… Ask me how many people I killed this week, Trent.” She wasn’t trying to murder me with a look anymore, no, but I wouldn’t say she had eased up either.
I didn’t respond. She folded her arms across her chest.
“I didn’t kill anyone this week, Trent. Nobody. Not a one. Ask me how many people I killed last week. Go on, ask me.” She jabbed at me with her chin and smirked.
“Ask me or I’m going to put spiders in your hair.” She was still smirking, but her eyes narrowed. I gulped. It wouldn’t have been the first time. This was her kingdom. I was just visiting.
“You didn’t kill anyone last week.” I do my damnedest to bite my tongue.
“That’s right. Zero! Zip! Zilch! Zonk!” She crouched down and exploded upwards with an ear-to-ear grin, teeth flashing, arms stretched wide. For a heart-crushing second, her nose and mine were a whisker away from one another. My lips parted instinctively. She spun on her heel and darted away, skipping around in a figure eight across the ice as she snickered.
“Ah, yes, the Moonstone Witch, such a paragon of temperance. Remind me again, Seles, what was it that guardsman said to you? You know, that one from Lanta that you commanded to walk barefoot through the Slumyards until he circled Lanta eight times?” I said it just loud enough for her to hear it. She ignored me.
“Oh, surely you must remember him, right? Don’t tell me you’ve forgot-“ Then she cut me off.
“He made an inappropriate remark about my figure and for some reason, my boyfriend at the time did not defend my honor in any way.” Just like that, she stopped skipping. Didn’t turn to face me, either. I swallowed hard.
“I mean… I could have killed him on the spot but then he’d wind up here with us, and this place is already full of assholes.” The corners of my mouth curl upwards into a warm smile. Defuse her with humor, Trent. It never fails.
Until it does.
“Takes one to know one.” Oof. She turned towards me and started to march over.
“Ouch. Did I do something wrong…?”
“You tell me!” She raised her voice now. Gone was the polite mask, replaced by furrowed brows and flaring nostrils. She swept one arm to the side, gesturing at the veritable company of shades surrounding us in an angry sea of gloom.
“Seles, please…” I pleaded. Her cheeks started to quiver and for a second, I thought I saw the ripple of a tear trying to stain those glowing sapphire irises. Those eyes were home to a gaze that could captivate me for days.
“What is she doing here, Trent?” Suddenly, the world went white. The frozen sea was no more. It was like some sort of limbo – only Seles and I broke the monochrome sea that had engulfed the dream. A few moments later, a small tendril of smoke blossomed between the two of us, slowly billowing into the shape of a teenaged girl. The ghost turned towards me and her eyes flashed with recognition.
“I don’t know.” It was true – I had no idea why she was here. I didn’t kill her.
“So you don’t remember her either?” Any and all semblance of emotional expression drained from her face as she stared at me. I shifted uncomfortably.
“No, I remember her. Her house got burned to the ground with her family inside. She escaped. I took her back to join the rest of the Rat Pack. You were there, even.” Now it was my turn to fold my arms across my chest. I thought she knew me better.
“Then why is she here?” Her scowl returned.
“Ask her. You know I don’t spend a lot of time there.” I wanted to know too.
“Fine. Little girl, are you alright? What happened to you?” Seles said. The shade leaned over and whispered into her ear.
“I can’t hear what she’s saying.” I protested. Seles shushed me.
“She said she wanted to see you but she fell down.” Seles straightened up. Her eyes had finally softened and I could tell she knew that she had erred here.
“You should have known better anyways, Seles. I might be a killer, but I don’t kill children.” I give into my righteous indignation a little bit as I jab back in our little verbal jousting match. She let loose with a long sigh that sounded like a mixture of relief and frustration.
“Well, instead of running around and killing people, maybe you should go take care of those kids instead.” Seles said, gesturing towards the shade before it vanished, wafting off like a pipe’s puff of smoke on a breezy spring evening.
“And I will… someday when I find you in the waking world. We can do it together. I’ll settle down and stop doing contract work. We can have a peaceful life together.” I took one step towards her for each heartfelt promise. My eyelids felt heavy. She stood her ground.
“Sounds boring. Probably stinky, too. Those kids don’t like to bathe much.” She folded her arms across her chest once again and then stuck her chin out. Her eyes met mine.
“Fine then, we can travel. We can do whatever you want. I don’t care. If I’m with you, I don’t need to be anywhere else.” Her eyes softened and she looked down at her boots.
“But you’re with me right now…” She took a half of a step forward and placed her pointer finger upon my sternum. I could feel the tip of her nail drag across the thread of my shirt the way a record player’s needle might carry across the grooves in a vinyl record.
“Are you? It could be you, and while I acknowledge that possibility, I’ll never know for certain. This could just be my reoccurring dream.” The almost forgotten prick of an impending tear caused me to wince.
“It’s me.” Her whisper, low and sultry, bore into my ear the way an earthworm might wriggle its way through wet soil. There it writhed, echoing endlessly, even as my eyes opened wide and the ceiling above my bunk loomed large.
A deep sigh escaped my lips. Turning on my side, I pulled a pillow over my head to blot out the rays of sunlight drilling into my temple. I want to go back to sleep.
“Or is it?” My eyes snapped open once again.
I had woken up, but I was not yet awake.
She was still there, sitting beside the bed in a little chair.
“Maybe it is you.” I tried to sit up up, but I felt something cool and soft press against my forehead, guiding me back down. Seles looked down at me with a faint smile.
“It’s me, Trent.” She winked, then twirled a single lock of her silver tresses around her finger. I felt my lips mouth the syllable, “Ooh,” as I admired the lovely shades of blue that painted her nail, accentuated by little polished moonstone pebbles that shimmered with an iridescent glow.
“I don’t know, I do have quite an imagination, Seles…” After a moment of quietly appreciating the thought that must have gone into this evening’s ensemble, I offered her a wink in return and then raised her half a grin.
“Are you challenging me then, Mr. Harbinger?” The corners of her lips tugged further upward still as she giggled playfully.
“Not tonight, Seles. Maybe another time.” I responded.
“Another time.” She nodded, then stowed her Cheshire cat grin before continuing, “I’m sorry about before. You’re right, I should have known you better than that.” She said it with such an earnestness that I was instantly disarmed.
“I forgive you. I would have been pissed off at me too.” I nodded my head a couple times. Then I shook it.
“Wait, did I say that out loud?” I quirked an eyebrow.
“No, but you should already know that saying it out loud and thinking it are the same thing to me, silly boy. Especially for you. Your heart must speak the loudest out of anybody I’ve ever met.” Her playful smirk had returned. I saw little dimples forming on her cheeks. For a second, I felt like a slab of butter melting on a freshly baked dinner roll. That’s right, Trent, this isn’t so bad.
Hey, what are you doing in here? Hehe.
Next, she began to hum, softly at first. I felt a casing of steel close around my heart as it grew more audible. I recognized the tune – it was an old lullaby. A very old lullaby. In that moment, I felt helpless. Helpless, but warm. Warmth was a currency that flowed freely around me. Into me. The muscles in my neck and back started to relax. Now it felt like the floor of my stomach had given way, like some cliché trap door. I knew what would come next. No, I can’t–
“Why are you still hiding from me?” My eyes were open again, locked with hers. She didn’t blink. No, of course not. She’d been expecting this.
“I’m here with you right now, aren’t I?” She replied back in a sweet singsong. Her grin was innocent enough. I’m not sure when she picked it up, but I felt a fine-toothed brush working through my disheveled mess of a mane now. I could hear the brush finding resistance, but I couldn’t feel any prickling pain along my scalp. Not when I was in a dream, anyways.
“What about when I wake up?” I looked up at her, eyes still imploring. She sighed and ruffled my hair instead, then shook her head in disapproval.
“What about it?” Her tone was flat now.
I didn’t answer with words; instead, I reached up with my own hand to grasp hers in a secure but gentle embrace. Was I imagining the warmth that I felt from it? I carefully drew it down to my chest and placed her palm over my beating heart. Together we listened to the bass drum waltz, fingers entwined.
“Seles, please… tell me where you are.” It was I who broke the quietude.
“You’re as persistent as ever. Can’t we just enjoy the moment?” She offered as a suggestion.
“Don’t you remember the days when we used to lay along those vast, forgotten, empty beaches of baked white sand? The way the sunlight soaked into our pores?” I said it all without skipping a beat or blinking an eye. She didn’t answer.
“What about the smell of the sea salt on our hair? The taste of strawberries on our lips? What about all those mornings when we took in the sunrise, hand-in-hand, for better or for worse?” The words marched out of my mouth with a mind of their own. Before I realized it, the tip of my nose brushed against hers. Our lips hovered a breath away from a kiss.
“Of course I remember…” She tried to look down and away, but our foreheads gently met. Her cheeks burned with a coral-colored rouge that was all natural.
“Then what’s stopping us from actually enjoying whatever time we have left on this crazy little carousel we call the Ring?” All I can see now are her eyes, wide and beautiful like a clear stream on a cloudless summer day. Her lips trembled.
“I don’t know- damnit, Trent. You’re so… all-or-nothing.” She said with an exaggerated groan, finally withdrawing her hand from my grasp so that she could fold her arms across her chest and pout.
“I am only what I know. What I was taught.” It was a practiced response. She rolled her eyes.
“If I told you where I was, I would never be able to get rid of you again.” She furrowed her brow and folded her arms across her chest.
“And why would you want to do that?” My empty hand hovers over my heart as I feign being stabbed. Well, at first I was feigning. Then it really snuck up on me, and I mean it really came in from my blind side, and smashed me over the head. I was reeling from a thought.
She still doesn’t trust me. The words tumbled around in my head like bricks in a barrel rolling downhill. I turned onto my side, facing away from her. For the second time tonight, I felt that painful sting of a big, wet, salty tear welling up in my eye. The one that could still cry, anyways.
“I can hear you…” She said softly. I didn’t respond; her words scarcely reached my ears; I was so lost in thought.
Hey! I blinked a few times.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Trent. It’s that I trust you will do exactly two things if I let you find me.” I felt her fingers in my hair again, ruffling it, smoothing out any stubborn knots with a gentle touch.
“And those things are…?” I rolled onto my beck again, regarding her out of the corner of my eye.
“Well… the first thing I’m certain you’d do is eat all of my food.” Okay. Guilty as charged. She chuckled.
“And the second?” I turned my head towards her now.
“The second thing… is that I’m certain you would fall madly in love with me and never want to leave my side ever again.” She began to twirl her hair around her finger once again. Invitation accepted.
“Too late for that, I’m afraid.” I shook my head in mock defeat. She playfully punched me in the arm and I pretended to wince, but I couldn’t hide my smile.
“You haven’t even seen me for the last… I don’t know how many years, Trent. For all you know, I might look like an old crone now.” Seles said as she fanned her nails and inspected them for a moment. She turned away from me.
“I find that hard to believe. Either way, it wouldn’t matter to me.” My head tilts forward as I show her back the warmest smile.
“Oh yeah? Well… how about now?” She turned suddenly and for a second, I almost didn’t recognize her. Gone was her youthful visage, replaced by many wrinkles, crow’s feet, and poor posture; Seles had called my bluff and transformed herself. The only thing that looked the same was her hair – still white and silvery, tinged with splashes of sky-blue. I guffawed. Not bad!
“Nice try, but it’ll take more than a few wrinkles and some parlor tricks to get rid of me.” I felt my voice rumbling lower, down at the bottom of my chest.
“So you promise you won’t ever leave me, then?” She came closer, grabbing my shirt to reel herself in. I can see every single pore, every blemish, every trace of erosion that old age has left on her visage. It was only after I was convinced I’d taken it all in, memorized every line, studied every idiosyncrasy — only then did my eyes settle onto two sparkling beacons of familiarity – pools of liquid sapphire, each glowing with a quiet power.
“I promise I would never leave your side. Even if I die. I’ll find a way to come back. Or turn back time. Something like that, I’ll figure it out.” I felt like I was breaking through this time.
“What if I died first?” She pursed her lips together and placed a single digit upon them. I could tell by the way her eyes had lit up that she was serious.
“I’d never let you die if you were by my side, Seles.” A bold promise, for certain, and I meant every word.
“You know there are problems you can’t kill, right?” She scoffed, then leaned back in her seat.
“Nonsense. Everything can die.” I said it as a joke. She didn’t laugh. After a few moments, the silence hung thick and oppressive, like smoke from a campfire that kept blowing back at you no matter where you sat.
“What if I died first?” She repeated, brows furrowed. I still wasn’t sure how to respond.
“What would you want me to do?” I asked. Now it was her turn to pause.
“I want you to think about what you want, Trent. Not what I want. What do you want?” She asked, her eyes glittering as she leaned in. I studied them – there were no hints of malice there. What was it that shined behind them..?
“I want to be with you.” I felt the words tumble out of my mouth as if someone had yanked them out. She sighed. I couldn’t tell if it was out of frustration or affection. Maybe both?
“Fine. Let’s get married then.” Yeah, let’s get – wait what?
“No cold feet now, boy! Better go find me a nice ring.” She giggled. Suddenly, she was getting smaller. Smaller, smaller, and smaller, yet I could still hear her laughter echoing around me. The bed tumbled down into an endless well with me along for the ride. I knew what came next…
My eyes snapped open again. A bead of sweat rolled down my brow and into my eye and it stung. I winced.
I’m awake now, but it still feels like I’m in a dream.
'MEET ME IN A DREAM' Written by Jungle, (c) 2022, all rights reserved.
It hurts to know that you don’t want to know me anymore. So I write and I write, but my rhymes are always ignored. Your eyes are the prison that my mind’s confined inside. The key was lost on the day my pride led to our divide.
The foothills have all been washed white. The trees, all stripped bare to their limbs. The dead coveted my every breath. I followed a trail of campsites, carried by a steady rhythm, yet I sank with every step. The sun set, the summit in sight. The howl of the wind, harsh and grim, served as a harbinger of death. Ascending the forbidden heights, the silver sheets of ice glistened, as if the mountain had once wept. It was then that I heard her call. The ground shook and split, revealing A cave beneath the overhang. I stepped inside the frozen maw. Icicles adorned the ceiling like uneven rows of honed fangs. Too deep and too far to withdraw. The percussion that my pulse banged filled my ears and helped to conceal the quiet clicking of her claws, but not the song she softly sang, nor the weight of nervous feelings. Enter a room full of mirrors, reflexive but no reflection, bright and yet with no source of light. Her soft whisper, “Hello my dear,” heard from every direction, “Silly knight, have you come to fight?” A bead of sweat drips from my brow. “No. I have come here to free you from this prison you reside in.” This promise, my ironclad vow, I was driven to see it through. Her reply, “Then let us begin.”
Oh, sweet Lunaria, are you lonely up there in your home of white gold? Are you well? Are you warm, wrapped in your gown, shining with sapphire effulgence? What do you hide beneath the constellation of your surreptitious smile? What do you conceal with that rouge, that eyeshadow that you dipped into the shallows of Northern Lights? Obscured scars left by tears you were afraid to shed, locked away in your heart, kept far from the prying eyes of someone such as I, armed with my telescope, bold dreams, and steadfast hope? Oh, sweet Lunaria... Gravity, my prison, holds me here, beneath the atmosphere. The air I breathe, too heavy for a moonflower such as you to flourish beneath. And so I watch you from afar like some radiant star that fled across night skies, searching for a place to hide until the tears dried.
An ocean of experience: mysterious, interwoven threads cannot be corroded. Emotion provides motion. Frozen once, an island melts: First a ripple, then a swell, a drop of water in the well.
Deep breaths, Seles. This is nothing new. Right now, my head feels like a balloon meandering about up in the clouds. At the same time, my stomach feels like a sack of sand plunging down towards the bottom of the ocean. My hands tremble, like the last leaf of autumn as it clings to its branch in a shrill winter wind. Keep breathing. We’ll settle in soon.
The feeling of free-falling fades away, replaced by the comfort of stable ground beneath my feet. My eyelids flutter open. Before me hangs a colossal dove gray sphere of stone, perfectly round, its surface mottled, scarred, and discolored. Silver luminescence radiates from the massive anomaly, wrapping it in a tight coat of shimmering effulgence to ward off the pervading gloom that seems to permeate this world of dreams.
“Athos, come to me.” My voice is smothered by a silence that hangs heavy and thick, like a wet blanket made of cotton.
The beating of wings overhead announces the arrival of Athos, the three. A single violet feather sails through time and space, but it doesn’t fall to the ground. Instead, it seems to hang in the air, as if suspended by some invisible thread. Little knives stab into my skin as Athos takes his perch upon my shoulder. My lips and eyes are still, like the face of a statue – totally unperturbed by the momentary discomfort. Looking down, I see the sky-blue floral patterns of my dress dance to life once again as the dreary grays are washed away and color returns to this world of dreams. With it, my surroundings sharpen.
“Is that what I think it is?” Athos asks. His beak clacks as he tilts his head to the side, staring at the floating hunk of stone.
“It’s the moon.” I whisper. The skirt of my sundress billows out as I turn, but like the feather, gravity doesn’t pull it down to the ground. It’s almost as if we are submerged underwater. I smooth it back down and as I do so, I notice what I’m standing on: a vast platform, smooth and pristine, with alternating squares of ebony and ivory laid across it in neat little rows, perfectly symmetrical. It reminds me of a playing field of sorts, or even…
“A chessboard…?” I think to myself.
“Your highness… is that…?” The voice of Athos catches my attention and I raise my gaze from the ground.
“Oh my…” The sight rips the words from my mouth. Another perfect circle, prodigious in size, vibrant and full of swirling colors; forest green mingled with flax and copper tones, surrounded by waves of royal blue and strokes of swirling pearl. The moon pales in comparison. This stunning vision of celestial beauty steals my breath away like a surprise sucker punch to the gut.
“It’s our world, Athos.” I reply softly as my head starts to spin, still transfixed by the magnificence of the sight. Athos and I both wait in silent awe for a few moments. Get it together, Seles. We’re not here to gawk, we’re here to hunt. A sobering realization washes over me; one look at our surroundings is enough to tell me that this demon has a vast imagination. This may not be an easy battle, but fortunately for us, we have another helping paw to assist us.
“Porthos, appear.” I command. Several paces away, a dark plume of smoke rises up from the ground, faint at first, then erupting into a billowing coal cloud. The smog condenses, wrapping around itself over and over before assuming a new form with four legs, a tail, and burning eyes of ruby: Porthos, the Goblin Cat.
“…You were bigger last time.” I remark in a matter-of-fact tone. It’s a true statement; when we fought and captured Porthos, he took the form of a monstrous force of nature, nearly triple my height while standing on all fours. In his current form, he resembled something like a tiger… that is, if tigers had black fur, burning stripes of fire, and glowing red eyes. Despite the discrepancy, he still seems every bit as lethal; as he turns to face me, I can see the sinews in his back bulge and undulate like waves of burning oil resting on choppy waters.
“Modesty is a virtue, you know.” He counters with a low growl. Ah, right. Athos can change size while in the dream world, so I suppose it’s only logical that Porthos can do so too. Fair enough. With that, we were ready to hunt… except… where should we begin? This dreamscape is gargantuan in comparison to the worlds where I met Athos and Porthos. Could it be that our prey is trying to hide from us?
“Welcome…” An unfamiliar voice greets us, impossibly deep, with enough bass to rumble the floating platform we stood upon. Porthos pulls his ears back and his tail begins whipping back and forth as his smoldering eyes flicker left and right like the hand of a metronome. Athos sinks his talons deeper into my shoulder and lets out a shrill screech.
“Show yourself, demon.” My own voice booms back, wrestling the oppressive silence and filling the empty space between the moon and the earth.
“My pleasure, mademoiselle…” The demon answers my challenge with a deafening thunderclap. Porthos roars back and my ears start ringing. The ground quakes again and this time, it doesn’t stop. At the center of the chessboard, a bilious olive liquid begins to bubble up from the tiles, converging into a gurgling puddle. The pool grows larger, now several paces wide, all the while continuing to boil, seethe, and expand. A lurid mist rises from the little pond and soon the smog begins to manifest a shape, vaguely humanoid in the sense that there is a discernable head, shoulders, and arms, but the similarities end there. Finally, the mist solidifies and our prey reveals itself.
“… Eww.” I crinkle my nose. Standing a stone’s throw away from us looms a hulking, horned behemoth with bulging biceps and lime green skin, rough like leather, and with patches of pale yellow around a bloated chest and a sagging gut. Below that, a ratty loincloth accompanied by two immense thighs stretching down towards webbed feet. As it turns to face us, it flashes me a toothless smile as its eyes shine harlequin green.
“It’s a toad.” Porthos growls, rearing back onto his hindquarters, ready to pounce.
“A demon toad.” Athos chirps, unfurling his wings and raising his beak.
“We can do this the easy way or the fun way. Your choice.” As I warn the demon, I can’t help but lower my eyebrows and wrinkle my face in disgust.
“Now, now, mon chère… surely we don’t have to resort to violence. After all, first impressions are important…” The demon’s twisted grin doesn’t falter for an instant, in fact, the toad even goes so far as to wiggle its ridged eyebrows. Is it… flirting with me!? I gulp down the taste of bile and shudder.
“If you don’t want to fight, then pledge yourself to me and get in the sword.” I tap the pommel of my katana with two fingers as I level an unblinking stare to meet the overgrown toad’s own gaze. The demon gurgles for a moment before guffawing and slapping his thigh.
“Ah, toi petite fille… why should I willingly submit to you? After all, you have yet to prove yourself worthy of a specimen such as myself.” The overgrown toad strokes his chin, as if there was once a beard there. A bell-like chime introduces Whisper, my katana, as I effortlessly draw the blade from its wooden sheath. The pommel pulsates in my fist as I point the blade at the parasite.
“You are welcome to test me, toad.” I still haven’t blinked.
“Looks like a meal to me…” Porthos continues to flick his tail back and forth, sending little smoke signals into the air.
“Such ferocity! Such poise! I like your style, mon chère.” The demon replies, once again wiggling his eyebrows at me. My eyes narrow into little slits as my scowl deepens.
“A duel to the death is not what I mind. Instead, I would like to play a game with you, petite fille… if you best me in a battle of wits, then I shall happily become your servant. The mind is greater than the blade, after all.” As the demon continues, the smile melts from his lips, replaced by a more serious expression.
“It’s a trap, my Queen.” Athos whispers in my ear. My chin dips as I nod in acknowledgement.
“It’s a trap, alright… but it remains to be seen who it has been set for.” I murmur in response. The demon’s cheeks perk back up into that stupid grin – it must have heard our exchange.
“Do you know the game of chess?” The demon asks, sweeping one of his arms out to gesture at our surroundings.
“Of course.” My tone is curt. At the mention of the word, ‘chess’, a deluge of memories floods my mind’s eye; the underground library and its cornucopia of books, pieces of paper filled with drawings and paintings, the makeshift chessboard with its whittled wooden playing pieces, as well as Trent’s smiling face. Where are you now, Trent?
“Very good!” The demon snaps his fingers and pulls me back to the present. An army of shadows appears on the far end of the platform. Next, the ground begins to shake once again as a succession of loud bangs and thuds resound from the space, each one accompanied by the appearance of a black statue. Each one is tall, perhaps a head higher in height than I. Many of the statues hold pitchforks and scythes, another two hold shields and swords, while the two in the corners hold maces. In the center of the back row, I see a single crown peaking up from behind the front line. Playing pieces, which means…
“Look out!” I cry out as I take a few hurried steps forward. Porthos leaps forward and spins around, fangs bared. Without warning, the other set of playing pieces populate themselves on the opposite end of the platform. When all is settled, I find myself staring at another set of statues, all pristine white, except…
“… Two of my pieces are missing.” I turn back towards the demon now.
“Not so, mademoiselle. I see one knight and one queen right here, but they’ve yet to assume their places…” The demon gurgles again, as if chuckling to himself. He’s referring to Athos, Porthos, and myself, isn’t he? Interesting twist.
“I see. So, if I beat you in this little game, you’ll willingly submit to me.” I throw the demon a confident smirk. I never kept count of all the times I played Trent in chess. There wasn’t much else to do in that underground sanctuary besides read, draw, and play chess. It must have been hundreds, no, thousands of games. Not once did I lose to him. He was no slouch either – Trent is the only person I’ve ever met that could keep up with me. This pathetic parasite is no match for his cunning.
“If you win, I will become your vassal… but if I win, you will become my pet and spend the rest of your days here, with me.” The demon’s cheeks perk up once again as he responds… I’ll enjoy wiping that ugly smirk right off of your face, you disgusting toad.
“Hah. Fine. Porthos, take that empty square and await my command.” I point my sword towards the vacant square reserved for the queen’s knight, then sheath it. Porthos hesitates, staring down the demon a little longer before he finally slinks over towards the designated tile. I join him, assuming the empty tile reserved for the queen. How appropriate! As I turn around, I see the parasite has also assumed his place, standing on the square reserved for the enemy king.
“All the pieces are in place, mon chère. Let us begin the game!” The demon’s voice booms once again from his side of the board. I clasp my hands and crack my knuckles out of habit. At the very least, this will provide me with some much-needed entertainment.
“Queen’s pawn to D4.” I calmly state my command. The ground rumbles again in response. The smooth marble surface of the statue directly in front of me begins to crack and split as the pitchfork-wielding pawn seemingly comes to life, taking several strides to move two spaces forward. Athos ruffles his feathers and cocks his head to the side.
“The statues are alive?” He whispers. I offer him a gentle pat of reassurance – nothing to fear, my loyal friend. The three-eyed raven clicks his beak together in appreciation.
“Queen’s pawn to D5!” The demon roars. One of the scythe-wielding black statues undergoes a similar transformation as it strides forward to meet the other pawn with a symmetrical response to my opening move. The two statues stand eye to eye in the center of the board, both standing perfectly still once more.
“Bishop’s pawn, C2 to C4.” I already knew my next move: the Queen’s Gambit, one of my favorite openings. The piece doesn’t move. My smirk melts away and I can feel my eyebrow twitch with annoyance.
“Bishop’s pawn, C2 to C4!” I say it louder this time. The stone statue trembles. Why won’t it move? I purse my lips together as I hear it gurgling from the opposite side of the board – that toad must have some kind of trick up his sleeve. What could it be though? Moving the pawn two spaces forward here is clearly within the rules. I feel my cheeks start to glow red with anger. This is an integral part of my opening – once the pawn moves forward, it will be threatened by the enemy pawn in the center, but I will be able to trade it out. As I work through the possibilities, I notice the statue continuing to tremble, almost as if…
“It’s afraid…” I mutter. The pawn is afraid to put itself in danger. It doesn’t want to be sacrificed. Aha! So that’s the twist. I knew this would be amusing. The corners of my lips curl back up into a smirk. One more move should confirm my theory.
“… Bishop’s pawn, C2 to C3.” I adjust my command. The pawn trembles again, but this time, it creaks to life and moves one space forward, confirming my hunch. Across the field, that wart-ridden bastard is still snickering away.
“Living chess pieces! Nice twist, slimeball!” My voice echoes across the playing field, clear as crystal. The snickering stops. What’s wrong, not the reaction you expected, toad? My lips part like curtains to reveal my bared teeth; my smirk has become a devious smile. It’ll take more than that to scare the Queen of Dreams.
“King’s knight to F6!” The toad demon’s voice falters for a moment as it shouts its next move. With a loud crash, the knight piece leaps over the pawn in front of it and assumes its designated position.
“Queen to D3.” In contrast, I calmly state my next move as I casually walk forward three paces, putting me between the two pawns I’d already moved. To my left, the pawn that refused my command continues to fidget nervously. Time for another experiment. Without leaving my square, I stretch out my arm to brush the pawn’s cheek with my hand.
“You are no longer afraid.” I whisper my command and remove my hand. The statue stops fidgeting.
“Bishop’s pawn, C7 to C5!” Without hesitation, his own piece slides forward two squares despite the threat from the pawn in front of me. Cheeky bastard, giving me a handicap and not himself? Oh well, he is a toad… what else should I have expected?
“… Pawn, C3 to C4.” I reply. This time, my piece moves forward despite the threat from the black queen’s pawn. Now the two pairs of pawns square off with one another in the center of the board. Glancing over at the demon, I can see that I have, in fact, wiped that stupid grin off of his bloated face.
“I’m not through with you yet, scum bucket.” As I taunt the parasite, I toss it a wink and stick my tongue out.
“Hmph! Queen’s pawn to C4!” The overgrown toad croaks his next command. With that, the black queen’s pawn slides forward diagonally and with one mighty stroke of its scythe, it cleaves the pawn I had just enchanted in half. The two pieces slide apart and fall to the ground before shattering into dust. With that, I am in danger of being attacked by the same pawn, but I do not feel afraid. No, I think it’s time for another test, and so I step forward to attack the pawn that’s threatening me.
“Crumble.” I whisper as I gently place a hand upon the statue’s shoulder. Without warning, fault lines appear all along the pawn before it shatters and falls to the ground in a pile of rubble. I kick a few of the larger pieces off of my new square and turn towards the demon, wagging my pointer finger the way a mother might scold her unruly child.
“Worried yet?” My taunt is met with an angry scowl and I savor the moment. Time for some more. I turn my attention to the remaining black pawn directly in front of me. I reach out and touch the enemy piece right on the tip of its nose, then whisper my command.
“You are frozen in place and cannot move.” After I finish my command, I can’t help but chuckle.
“My turn, petite fille! Bishop’s pawn, C5 to D4!” The demon orders his next move. The enemy pawn in front of me stands lifeless and unmoving, bound by my command. My pawn is spared. Only my innocent whistling cuts through the stunned silence.
“Looks like your soldier’s lost his nerve, toad! Say, what would you like me to call you once you become my pet? I was thinking maybe something like Mr. Buttface, seeing as your ugly mug looks like a horse’s ass. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” My Cheshire cat grin cannot be contained as laughter begins welling up inside of me. The toad’s nostrils begin to flare in quite the dramatic fashion.
“ENOUGH!!” Once again, the arena shakes as the demon’s voice beats against my eardrums. All of the statues begin to shake again.
“About time, Mr. Buttface!” I call out over the din. It’s finally time to move on to the real game.
“YOU WILL NEVER ENSLAVE ME! I AM INFINITE!!” The demon screams, rattling my eardrums once again. Such an obnoxious parasite! A dark shape suddenly appears on my left – a side-eyed glance reveals that Porthos has returned to my side with his fangs bared. His burning eyes smolder like coals, alight with the feral excitement that only the hunt can offer.
“Can I eat it? I’m very hungry.” Porthos growls. I scoff, even as all of the statues begin to turn and face the three of us.
“Don’t be gross, Porthos. You can eat once we wrap this up.” I reply, noting that the statues have started to hover above the playing field. Once again, my opponent is too predictable. Stupid toad. My eyes close as I raise my hand and hold my open palm in front of my face.
“Diamond.” I silently mouth a single word. The space around us begins to distort. The light from the sun splits into a rainbow of colors.
“DIE, WORMS!” The demon howls just a moment later. With a single gesture, all of the statues rocket towards us like stones fired from a catapult, and one by one, they shatter into hundreds of pieces as they collide with the solid wall of diamond that just encased the three of us right before the impact.
“Diamond is unbreakable, you know.” I don’t speak this time, instead communicating directly with the demon’s mind. He spins about, bewildered, and the way his glowing green eyes are beginning to dart around suggests he is starting to recognize he bit off more than he can chew. Not surprising, given he has no teeth to speak of. Perhaps he thinks he can escape my clutches?
“Capture.” I clench my open hand into a tight fist. A second later, all of the rubble created from the barrage of statues begins to swirl around our protective enclosure like a whirlwind of stone. The hulking behemoth, once smug and arrogant, looks bewildered and scared now. Don’t fret, little frog. This will be over soon. With the snap of my fingers, the swirling debris flies towards the demon like iron shavings drawn towards a magnet. He howls in pain as the chunks of ebony and marble fall upon him like a rain of clubs and truncheons. I’m not done yet though.
“Crush.” My fist trembles and the pieces continue to constrict, squeezing tighter and tighter. The crunch of compound fractures is unmistakable. Warm blood leaks from the gauges my nails have dug into my palm. The demon has all but disappeared now, enclosed in a grotesque sculpture of agony. Muffled screams dance across my ears.
“I see you like to play with your food, too…” Porthos mumbles. His fierce expression has vanished, replaced by wide-eyed wonder and tinged with fear. Oh, Porthos, my furry friend… we’ve only scratched the surface.
“Shatter and pierce.” I flick my wrist towards the freshly erected patchwork coffin. With it, the massive diamond enclosure explodes outward into an uncountable number of shining shards, each sharper than a razor’s edge. A moment later, every single diamond dagger hurls itself towards the trapped demon, piercing the stone and burying themselves into the soft flesh of the poor toad that dared to cross me. Black blood leaks out of the diamond porcupine and pools on the smooth tile.
“Let’s finish this.” My blood is on fire now as I rip Whisper from its scabbard. Athos needs no command – his wings unfurl and grow, stretching several lengths longer than my arms. With each flap, they summon a deafening gust of wind that propels me forward, towards the makeshift iron maiden. A loud screech erupts from behind me as Porthos sinks his claws into the smooth tiles, tearing at them as the gale threatens to blow him away. The stone coffin looms large as we close the distance in an instant. Finally, a crystalline chime rings out as my outstretched blade pierces the mass of stone, bones, blood, and flesh. From up close, I can hear the demon’s anguished screams, shrill and unending.
“You belong to me now!” A single flap of Athos’ great violet wings propels us backwards as I rip my sword from free from the parasite. The same lurid ooze that appeared earlier now erupts from the mass of rubble like a geyser, flying into my open scabbard. Once it stops, I slam Whisper into its sheath and with that, the battle is won.
“Well? How does it feel to be on the winning side this time?” I glance over my shoulder and offer Porthos a sly wink as the dream world begins to fade away. The cozy interior of the cabin and a sleepy old man sitting upright in bed appear in front of me. Something warm brushes against my leg – it’s Porthos, once again a cute little black cat. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words. I offer him a firm pat on the head.
“You did it!” The old man exclaims. I’d like to return his excitement, but my eyelids feel heavy. My chin sinks as my frame slumps back against my chair. Sleep has come for me once again, but first…
“… Make sure there’s food when I wake up.” I mumble as I drift off once again.
A SAGE, A DEMON, AND A GAME: PART 2
Written by Jungle, (C) 2021, all rights reserved.
Where am I? A bright, full moon hangs overhead, shedding its light on a clearing in the middle of a forest. The surrounding trees loom tall, like dark and ominous strangers. Standing alone, I feel exposed. It seems as if the entire world is asleep. Something rises up from the center of the clearing. It seems… geometric, somehow. What is it?
My boots plod against damp grass as the structure grows larger and sharper. It’s a door. Just a door, no building behind it. Who put this here? My unease melts away into curiosity as I circle the doorway. My knuckles rap against it thrice – knock, knock, knock. It’s solid, sturdy. My fingertips brush against the wood’s grain and I can feel something engraved there. Is this a crescent moon? The craftsmanship is beautiful. Why would someone go through the trouble of making this only to leave it in the middle of nowhere?
“Help…” A meek voice whispers a single word. My blood freezes. Is someone here? My eyes dart left and right as I scan the clearing again. Nobody’s here. Could someone be hiding in the trees? Or maybe I’m hearing things? I hold my breath and listen.
“In here…” There it is again. I didn’t imagine it. It sounds like a woman is trying to speak to me from behind the door. My heart starts to beat faster. Quick footsteps carry me around the other side of the door and back again. Nobody’s there. How could that be possible? My gaze drifts down, towards a translucent glass handle blown into the shape of a seven-pointed star. I wonder if it’s locked?
My outstretched hand hovers over it, hesitating, then my fingers close around the doorknob and twist it open. As soon as the latch clicks, a sudden gust of wind blows the door wide open and it knocks me on my rear. My hair whips around my face, covering my mouth and muffling a surprised gasp. It’s so bright! Light pours through the doorframe, bathing me in silver. My eyes nearly shut as I squint to figure out what I’m looking at. For a second it seems like I’m staring at a beautiful painting of the night sky, complete with a luminescent moon, accompanied by a guard of rolling clouds, and set against a backdrop of a night sky studded with stars. It’s not a painting, though. Those soft, majestic clouds are moving.
Time ticks on as I sit in quiet awe. A magical doorway in the middle of nowhere? I stand up and dust myself off. The wind continues to wail. Shivers race up and down my spine. I poke my head through the opening and peer down. My stomach flutters – the ground gives way at the door’s threshold.
Then the realization hits me: it’s a doorway to the sky. This can’t be real. If it is, it has to be some kind of magic. Hundreds of questions zip through my head – who made this? Why did they make it? What is its purpose? Can the door go to other places too? I think about closing it and opening it again to test that thought, but I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll lose this breathtaking view. I poke my head through the doorframe and look down once more.
A glimmer of light flickers near my feet. It’s very faint, barely perceptible, but I can see it – the reflection of the moonlight against the open sky… but how is that possible? I drop to a crouch and look closer. It seems like there is some sort of translucent pathway leading out from the door. I reach out and try to touch it. The air is firm and smooth, like a bridge made out of glass.
“Please help me…” The voice calls out again and I look up. I still can’t see anybody out there. I wonder how far this bridge goes?
Another weighty realization hits me: if I am going to answer her call, I’ll need to go out there. Will that bridge even support my weight? The bottom of my boot taps against the translucent platform. It feels solid. With one hand on the door frame, I lean my weight against the glass, testing the bridge a little more. So far so good. A tremor shoots up my leg as I stomp the heel of my boot down upon it. No cracks, not even a scuff.
“Hurry…!” She calls to me again and I can sense the urgency in her voice. Deep breath, Seles.
I step through the doorway and onto the bridge. It feels just as sturdy as the earth on the other side, if not more so. A few cautious steps carry me further from safety and out into the night sky. Amazing. The whole world sits beneath me as the moon hangs overhead, larger than I’ve ever seen. For a moment, I forget what I’m doing.
“This way…!” The voice calls out to me again. I cautiously advance, carefully tracking the traces of moonlight reflected along the glass. A misstep here would spell my doom. Another gust of wind crashes against me, threatening to knock me off balance. I gulp. Lights flicker far below me – probably a city. It seems so small, like a castle made of sand. Time feels infinite up here. I continue to walk along the bridge as the doorway gets smaller and smaller behind me.
“Where are you?” I cup my hands to cheeks and call out loudly.
“I’m right here, Celestria…” A raspy voice fills my ears, followed by a bang as the door slams shut. I spin around, startled. The door is gone, replaced by a dark silhouette radiating crimson wrath. That voice… is it the visitor from the other night? The aura is so intense that it looks like a flaming effigy. My hand instinctively reaches for my katana, but it only finds empty air. Not again!
“Mother wants to see you, Celestria.” His raspy voice calls out in a mock sing-song tone, punctuated by a twisted chuckle. The sense of déjà vu gives way to recognition, and with it, dread. It’s not the visitor from the other night. It’s something much worse — it’s him. The Stranger. He’s found me again! The burning silhouette begins to grow…
Shit! I can’t fight up here, I can barely tell where the bridge is! Before I can come up with a plan, he breaks into a sprint, heading right at me. I spin on my heel and start to run away, pushing off the glass with as much power as my legs can muster. The dizzying wind threatens to blow me off the narrow path again. His cackling is getting louder…!
A passing cloud blocks the moon and the reflection that guided my way suddenly disappears. The bridge becomes invisible. I keep running anyways – getting caught would be worse than dying. Please let it keep going straight ahead! Please let the light shine again! Please let me survive this! He’s so close, I can’t outrun him. What do I do!? Someone help me! My foot plunges through empty air and the sensation of weightlessness washes over me as I tumble down. I’m falling! The Stranger’s cackles are drowned by the wind tossing me around like a ragdoll. My eyes squeeze shut, but I can still imagine the earth rushing up towards me, closer and closer. This is it. I’ll die here. At least I got to see that wonderful view before I went…
“Your Highness, please wake up!”
My eyes snap open and I sit up, chest heaving, sweat trickling down my temples. My hand reaches to my hip and finds the smooth wooden finish of my katana’s hilt. My eyes snap back and forth like a whip, searching for the Stranger. He’s not there though. Just the open field I made camp in. The moon is gone and I can tell by the warm light washing over me that the sun is up. It was only a dream. A deep sigh of relief escapes me.
“Good morning, your Highness.” A familiar voice that only I can hear. It’s Athos. The little crow skips along the grass and stands beside me.
“… Good morning, Athos.” It takes me a second to catch my breath and respond. I offer him a pat on the head and he wiggles his tail feathers in appreciation.
“Please forgive me for startling you, my Queen, but something has come up.” His beak dips down towards the ground as he spreads his wings — did he just bow to me? Yes, I think he did. For a second, I wonder if I am still dreaming and pinch myself. It hurts. I am definitely awake, but my eyelids feel like iron weights.
“Is something wrong?”
“We are being pursued, your Highness. It seems the guards have learned of your escape.” The little crow points one wing in the direction of the settlement we fled from last night. It seems like I’m always on the run these days, whether I’m awake or asleep. Better get moving then. I slowly climb to my feet and brush the dirt off my dress.
“On the move again? But I hardly slept…” Now it’s Porthos’ turn to chime in. The black cat is curled up on a patch of grass with his eyes shut.
“We don’t have time for this, cat.” Athos chides him. Porthos opens one eye to glare at Athos and hisses at him.
“Porthos, you can nap later. We have to get out of here.” My command is stern. The feline leisurely stands up, arches his back, then saunters over. Now that I think about it, this is the first time I’ve seen him in the daylight. What striking eyes he has, like two vibrant rubies — a stark contrast to his pitch-black fur. Looks like I’ve acquired another handsome pet… now if only I could do something about that attitude of his.
“May I make a suggestion, my Queen?” Athos speaks up again and I give him a nod. “I found a cabin off in the woods to the north. I don’t think the guards will look for us there.” He flaps one of his wings as he explains, as if to better articulate himself.
“Alright then. Athos, take to the skies and lead us there.” My little crow companion responds immediately; with a skip, a hop, and a few flaps of his wings, he takes off, climbing into the sky with ease.
“Porthos, follow Athos and guide me.” The cat flicks his tail back and forth, annoyed, then looks away. I sigh and shake my head. “You can take a long nap once we get to safety.” I continue.
“Promise?” His tail stops, standing at attention.
“Yes, I promise.” With that, we set out, fleeing civilization, and wandering off into the wilderness to avoid capture. After some time, we enter the forest, and then after walking some more, we reach our destination; a rustic log cabin tucked into the forest.
I can’t help but admire the design – a flat face in front, home to two windows on either side of the front door along with a roof reaching up from the ground on either side to meet at the top. Very symmetrical aside from the haphazard patches of moss dotting its walls and the leafy vines stretching down from the roof. Maybe a witch lives here? An old hermit? Or perhaps it’s been deserted? Ooh, how wonderful that would be – a little witch cottage in the woods with nobody around to bother me. That would be a welcome change of pace. First thing’s first though.
“Porthos, it’s almost nap time. Would you do me a favor and scout that cabin? There is a window next to the front door, maybe you can see inside it?”
“… You’re going to make me climb now?” Porthos looks back over his shoulder and swishes his tail back and forth. “Why can’t you do it? You’re taller than I am, after all.” Well, he does have a point there.
“If someone’s home and they see me peering into their window, they might get spooked and tell us to keep walking. You wouldn’t want that, would you?” I smile as I wag my finger at him. Appealing to his interest seems to be the best way to persuade him.
“… Fine, I’ll check it out.” With that, Porthos approaches the building. Instead of going straight to the window, he disappears behind the cabin. A few moments later, he reappears out front again, but from the other side. Then he stops once to sniff the door a few times. Why does it seem like he’s done this before? Next, he leaps up onto the windowsill and peers inside.
“What do you see in there?” I ask.
“… I think there’s a dead guy inside. Well, maybe not dead. He could be asleep. Hard to tell. He’s not moving at all though.” Porthos responds. I nod my head and quietly approach the front door.
Knock, knock, knock.
“Hello? Is anybody home?” I call out. No response.
“He hasn’t moved. I think he’s dead.” Porthos comments. A sudden rush of air followed by a few stray feathers announces the return of Athos. He perches himself on a nearby tree limb, surveying the cabin.
“What was it that Trent used to say? Something like, ‘dead men don’t own anything,’ right?” I think to myself. Well, he was right. I wonder what Trent’s up to? Now, now, Seles, don’t get distracted. We don’t think about him anymore, remember?
Knock, knock, KNOCK.
Still no response. Well, breaking in could be forgiven if I save his life, right? On the other hand, I could get blamed for another crime I didn’t commit. Oh well. Time to roll the dice. I try the door handle. Why is it unlocked? That seems strange, although I don’t think he got many visitors out here. With a light push, the door swings open and I step inside the dwelling, Porthos following at my heel.
“I shall watch the door and warn you if anyone approaches, my Queen.” Athos says. Good thinking. I turn my attention to the cabin’s interior. It’s dark – not too many windows in here. Wait, didn’t I help myself to that guard’s lighter? My hand fishes around inside my satchel and my fingers close around cold metal – there it is. The cap flicks open and I thumb the wheel, igniting the wick. A soft orange flame sparks to life.
Now I can see things a bit better. Nearby, two candles and some scattered pieces of paper on a small table and a couple on the floor beside it. I step forward and light the candles, then pocket my lighter and continue to explore. I spot a shelf with some cookware next to a wood stove. On the other side of the room, there are bookshelves. His collection is pretty impressive — I haven’t seen this many books since Trent and I lived together. I wonder what he’s doing now? Damnit. Seles, we’ve been through this – you don’t think about him anymore. That’s twice today…
Back to the situation at hand. So far, this seems pretty typical some loner living out in the woods. Porthos stands nearby, tail standing at attention. I quietly walk over and take a closer look at the cabin’s lone inhabitant – an old man lying in bed. At least, I think he’s old – wrinkles line his pale face and his hair is mostly gray with a few streaks of black still holding out. Lucky guy though – seems like he’s managed to keep most of his hair. I’d guess he’s in his fifties? Yeah, that seems about right.
I don’t see any sort of aura around him. Maybe he died of natural causes? Well, better double check just to make sure, and so I place my hand in front of his face. It’s hard to tell, but I can feel the warmth of his breath against the back of my palm. He’s alive and breathing. Why didn’t he wake up when I knocked? This hermit must sleep like a rock if that didn’t startle him. Something’s not right here. I turn away from the bed and come face to face with a man standing directly beside me.
My heart leaps into my throat. Frantic, I grab the hilt of my katana and rip it from its scabbard, swinging it through the man’s midsection and cleaving him in two. Porthos jumps back and hisses at me. Athos squawks from outside and bursts through the open door, flying circles around the room.
“My Queen! Are you alright!?” He chirps away.
Wait a minute. Huh? The man’s still standing there. No bloody wound. He didn’t even flinch. My sword felt like it passed through thin air. Hold on a second. Am I seeing things again? I blink twice. It’s not a man after all – it’s just the aura of a man. A disembodied aura. Well, this is a first.
“So sorry, miss, I didn’t mean to spook you!” My heart continues to pound as the faint blue outline of a man quietly addresses me. Is it a ghost? Wait a second. I squint at the ghost for a second, then I look back over my shoulder at the old man, asleep in his bed.
“Perhaps I could ask a favor of you?” The shade points at the sleeping man. The puzzle pieces itself together. It’s the old man. Well, his aura, anyways, or maybe his essence would be a better way of putting it. I manage to nod my head a couple times.
“Can you try to wake me up? I seem to have gotten… stuck.” He addresses me politely.
“Uh… huh…” I manage to respond, then I turn towards the bed and poke the old man in the shoulder with the wooden scabbard of my sword. The sleeping hermit doesn’t wake up. I poke him again, harder this time. Nothing. The ghost standing beside me sighs, defeated.
“I was afraid something like this would happen one day. Seems like I am locked out of my own body.” He says, turning away from me with a sigh. He begins muttering to himself. Locked out of his body? That sounds familiar.
“What are you exactly?” I ask the shade. He turns around again.
“Good question. I guess you could call me a traveler, young lady. I have a special power – I can leave my body behind and freely travel the world. You are the second person I have met who can actually see me like this. It is a fantastic gift, but it seems to have… eh… backfired on me.” The shade offers his explanation.
“My Queen… who is it you are speaking to?” Athos’ voice in my head again.
“You can’t see him?” I think back.
“See who?” Athos responds. I look down at Porthos.
“There’s nobody here except the sleeping guy, lady. You crazy?” Porthos’ voice now. I shake my head. Okay. There is a transparent, blue man here that only I can see. Oh well. Stranger things have happened.
“There’s a spirit here.” I explain, then turn back towards the shade. Both of my familiars cock their heads to the side and stare at me in disbelief. Really? Why is that so hard for two magical familiars to believe? Sheesh.
“What do you mean you are locked out? It’s your body, isn’t it?” I ask him.
“It would appear that I’ve been possessed.” The shade says flatly, staring at the bed with a solemn expression. “While I was out, something moved in.” Now the puzzle pieces really start to fit together. This sounds like another case of Morosia. The memory of the white eyed assailant holding the severed heads of the mother and her children flashes through my mind and I shake my head to get it out of there. The shade offers me a quizzical expression.
“Today’s your lucky day then. I just happen to be an exorcist.” The shade’s eyebrows raise up – now it’s his turn to be surprised. I smirk at him.
“Young lady, if you can rid me of that parasite, I will be forever in your debt. Please, help me! I must see my beloved Larissa again…” The man’s voice trembles with urgency. He tries to grab my shoulders and plead with me, but his hands pass right on through. I wave him away, still smirking.
“Relax, old man. I’ll take care of it… but in return, you’ve got to promise to feed me and let me sleep here as long as I want.” The ghost shakes his head up and down with vigor. Porthos meows loudly.
“My pets too.” I add.
“Deal!” He says. I offer my hand for him to shake. He goes to take it, but once again, his hand passes right through me. Close enough. Time to get started. I take a seat next to the bed. After fishing around my satchel for a moment, I find it – the golden mirror. I place it on my lap and look down at it.
“Athos, Porthos – prepare yourselves. We’re going back to the dream world.”
A SAGE, A DEMON, AND A GAME: PART 1
Written by Jungle, (C) 2021, all rights reserved.