Could you possibly do one where the villian finds out the hero is their best friend and freaks out because they could have hurt them? ThAnk yo:)
"No - don't."
Too late. The villain had whipped the mask off the hero's face. Then, the villain froze.
The hero stared at them, having expected some sort of triumph, or even unsatisfied anti-climactic gloating.
They didn't expect that. They didn't expect the villain's voice to sound quite so broken.
"How do you know me!?" the hero demanded, sharp with fear. They wished they could read the villain's face below their mask, entirely too aware of how every one of their own emotions was now exposed.
The villain reached out, and the hero flinched back. The villain paused again, fingers curling into a white-knuckled fist that seemed a terrible promise of violence, before dropping.
"How do you know me!?" The hero asked again, when the villain still said nothing, and seemed to only stare at them. Because if the villain knew who they were...that meant they could hurt the hero's friends. They could hurt Vic. Or...did that mean that the villain was someone who the hero knew? How could they have been so blind?
They wanted to pounce, to shake the villain until the truth rattled out of the villain's teeth. They couldn't. The restraints wouldn't let them.
But, that tone...
The hero's mind swirled, tornado-swept and ravaging through the possibilities.
The villain still wasn't saying anything. They weren't moving. It was eerie, and it made the hero miss the gloating, because at least if the villain was being a smug arrogant bastard than it would mean that something was awfully wrong.
"I didn't know," the villain said, almost pleading. "I didn't know it was you...if I'd known..." The villain's hand twitched, again, towards the hero's bloody lip before faltering and falling once more. "I hurt you. I could have killed you."
"I mean." The hero strove for normalcy, however raspy. "I'm not that easily killed."
The villain didn't seem to hear them. Their shoulders have slumped, with that same broken set as their voice had. It should have felt like some kind of winning and it didn't. It really, truly, didn't.
"Who are you?" the hero asked, in a softer tone, not sure they wanted to know the answer. Needing it, though, all the same.
"I'm going to untie you," the villain said. "Don't come back here. Not ever."
"I need to know who you are. How you know me. Your - your voice."
The villain knelt before them, undoing the knots with deft hands.
The hero didn't move, even though only a minute or so ago they would have taken every opportunity to attack, to run, to ensure that everything they had sought to protect didn't fall to ruin.
The villain must surely know that the hero wasn't going to stop? Wasn't going to let their plan continue?
"Go." The villain said. "Before I - before I change my mind. Before I - I don't want to hurt you."
The villain spoke as if they weren't sure they had a choice.
The hero rose unsteadily to their feet.
The villain didn't move. They stared at the floor where the hero had been, almost blindly.
The hero reached out, and the villain flinched back. The hero fingers curled into a white-knuckled fist, uncertain and explosive, unable to cup the enormity of what was going on into something understandable. They let their hand fall without finding a place on the villain's shoulder first.
"Please," the villain said. "Hale."
The hero ran.
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Ooh! How about a continuation of prompt #160?
Warning: mentions of blood & wounds & past abuse.
It has been... a fair few weeks now since Villain kidnapped Healer. They had been afraid of the criminal and their henchmen at first, even considered trying to escape a few times. But ultimately, the threat of Hero catching them and the unexpectedly marvelous pay convinced them to stay.
On top of that, the healer had found out over time that their new boss and colleagues were actually quite pleasant to be around. They were surprisingly kind, and a lot of them had shared stories of their own nasty interactions with heroes. It really helped Healer set in, made them feel understood for a change.
It did kind of suck that they couldn't leave the base without Villain's direct permission, but the same went for all the minions. It was for their own safety. Luckily, the lair had a ton of recreational spaces; bars, restaurants, game rooms, a miniature theater. Healer found the place impressive and thoroughly enjoyed exploring it in their free time.
And speaking of free time, their lunch break was almost over. They swiftly devoured the last piece of their chicken sandwich, making the henchmen sitting near them chuckle and wave them bye as they got up. The healer waved back at them and left the cafeteria, retreating to their office.
As they walked through the halls, a beep sounded from their watch - given to them courtesy of their boss - catching their attention. They checked the tiny screen. It was a notification.
Someone was in their office.
And usually, that someone is often injured. So, Healer rushed to get back, sprinting the rest of the way. Whatever minions they passed moved aside to let them pass, knowing what the deal was by now.
Once the mechanical door entered their view, they hurried inside, mentally preparing for the sight of blood or bones sticking out of-
"Oh, good. You're back from your break."
"V-Villain, sir!" - the healer stuttered out before regaining their cool, having not expected to see the criminal. "What's wrong?"
The villain smiled. "Relax, I'm not hurt," they said and sat down in a nearby chair. "Just wanted to talk."
Healer loosened up their muscles but still gave them a slightly confused look. "What did you want to talk about?"
Their boss was silent for a second, only observing as they sat down in a chair next to them before locking eyes with them. Their gaze held something dark mixed with a drop of concern. It was hard to predict what they would say next.
"It's... about Hero."
The healer visibly flinched at the mention of their abuser but tried to play it off, doing their best to keep their voice steady. "W-What about them?"
Villain gently took hold of their hand, holding it carefully. "I captured them."
Healer paled. If- If the hero got captured then- Then that means they're-
"Hey, breathe." - the criminal instructed, squeezing their hand reassuringly. "They can't hurt you."
The healer did what they could not to spiral into a panic attack, closing their eyes and taking deep breaths. The villain patiently waited for their breathing to even out, only speaking when they reopened their now-teary eyes.
"They're drugged, can barely move a muscle, let alone think straight." - Villain quietly explained, not wanting to spook them further. "I also had them put in power suppressing cuffs. I promise they're not getting out."
Healer wiped their face with their free hand, cleaning off the fresh tear tracks. "O-Okay... W-What will you... d-do with them...?"
The criminal bit their lip, looking away for a short moment before their gaze snapped back to the other's. "I... had an idea and was wondering... if you'd be interested."
Mild curiosity painted the healer's expression. "W-What's your idea?"
Villain looked deep into their eyes, expression turning a tad more serious. "Would you... like to get some revenge?"
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"Hurt people, hurt people, hero," the villain said, eyes drifting, "My story is one of millions, one pain in a sea of agony. People like to think us evil, that we were born this way, and that no humanity ever resided. But what if I told you the very society you fight for is what bred us to be in the first place?"
"That doesn't make it right," the hero replied, though there was uncertainty in their voice.
"Perhaps not," the villain replied, "but perhaps the city shouldn't sow what it cannot inevitably reap,"
Suddenly, their face seemed to soften slightly, "I pity you, hero, truly I do. You fight a worthless battle because you wage war on the products and not the machine that made us. A machine that will continue to run."
"I'm sorry you've been hurt villain, I am. But I believe there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind that goes through something horrible, and want others to feel their pain, and the ones that go through something awful and never want anyone else to suffer what they have," The hero argued, feeling more sure of themselves this time.
The villain smiled, softly. An expression that looked more learned from watching others than one born of genuine emotion. Still, it was strange to see it on their face.
"And I assume you think I, and others like me, fall in the first category?"
"Obviously," they replied.
"Hero I hate to tell you this, but *I'm* the one throwing a wrench in the very machine that made me. Not you. For that exact reason. I don't want anyone else to live through what I have,"
They took a step forward, levelling gazes with the hero, "Your job is to treat the symptoms, not the root illness. Cause and effect, hero. We are the effect, the consequence, not the other way around,"
"Lot's of people go through horrible things. Loads of them don't turn to villainy,"
"Your right," the villain agreed, nodding, "But enough do to make it more than coincidence."
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Bad pick up lines 6 (yes I know.) - "My friend bet I couldn’t start a conversation with the most beautiful person in here. How should we spend their money?”
“All I’m saying is you talk about her endlessly.” Yugi rolled his eyes at his friend. “It’s always ‘Me and Kisara this, me and Kisara that. You’re not even dating her!”
Kaiba scoffed and crossed his arms.
“Says you.” He spat out.
“Just ask her out already.” Yugi sighed, putting his head in his hands and wishing for their food to hurry up.
“Oh? You’re giving me dating advice now? Mr ‘I’ve been single forever cause I’m too scared to ask anyone on a date.’ Give me a break.” Kaiba rolled his eyes and reached for his drink.
Yugi raised his head, ready to snap back.
“Seto, be nice.” Mokuba warned, smiling at Yugi.
“Thank you Mokuba.” Yugi grinned then looked back to Seto. “I’m just stating the obvious.” He sighed. “Anyway, I’m not scared, I’m just... waiting for the right person.”
“Hm, keep telling yourself that.” Kaiba laughed.
Yugi was about to respond but the waiter appeared at their table and he held himself back.
He looked up to thank the waiter as his plate was placed in front of him but paused when he saw how gorgeous the man in front of him was. He must have just started, Yugi would have definitely noticed this guy when they arrived.
“Enjoy your food.” The guy said.
“You too.” Yugi replied without thinking.
The guy smirked at him, clearly supressing a laugh as he turned away from the table.
“You too?” Kaiba asked. “Good one. Real smooth.”
“Shut up.” Yugi groaned, blushing and looking down toward his food.
Mokuba laughed loudly “Is he the right person?” Mokuba teased.
“Don’t try to change the subject.” Yugi said, glaring across the table. “We were talking about your brother pining for Kisara, who he refuses to ask on a date.”
“I tell you what.” Kaiba started. “If you can manage to ask that guy on a date... without sounding like a complete idiot, then I’ll ask Kisara out.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a bet.” Yugi shrugged. “You’re usually more interesting than that.”
Kaiba glared at him, and Yugi was about to elaborate and remind him of their previous bets but Mokuba suddenly clapped his hands together.
“I know!” He said happily. The other two looked at him. “If Yugi can get a date out of this, then Seto, you have to ask Kisara out and pay for Yugis date.”
“Sounds good to me!” Yugi said quickly.
“Wait.” Kaiba said. “I didn’t agree to this.”
“Sure you did.” Yugi said “Right Mokuba?” He winked.
“Yep! That’s what I heard.” Mokuba nodded and winked back.
Kaiba put a hand over his face and shook his head, sighing loudly. “Fine.” He groaned.
Yugi smiled happily and picked at his food. Now he just had to work out what he was going to say to this guy to secure that date.
He looked around the restaurant as he ate, thinking of the best way to start the conversation. He saw the guy stood at the bar talking to one of the other girls working.
The girl saw him and turned to the other guy, saying something to him. The waiter glanced quickly over at Yugi then looked back to the girl behind the bar, both of them laughed as they moved their heads closer together.
Yugi looked back down at his now empty plate. He frowned, were they making fun of him?
“Considering backing out?” Kaiba said.
Yugi scoffed, the competitive part of him winning over his anxiety as he looked up at his friend.
“Definitely not.” He said. “I can’t wait to spend your money. I wonder where I should take him?” He turned to Mokuba and grinned. “Hey Mokuba, what’s the most expensive restaurant in town?”
“Oh, I can get you a list if you like?” Mokuba said happily.
“Perfect.” He pushed his plate away from him and sat back. “Actually, maybe I’ll take him somewhere else... how much are flights to America? Disneyland is nice I hear.”
“If you expect me to pay for a mini break for you, I’m sorry but you’re mistaken.” Kaiba laughed and crossed his arms over his chest again.
“I don’t remember setting boundaries for this date? Mokuba, do you?” Yugi smirked at his friend.
“Nope, no boundaries.” Mokuba agreed.
“Whose side are you on?” Kaiba glared at his brother who only laughed at him.
“Are you finished with these?” That deep voice from earlier had Yugi on edge again.
He turned to face the waiter and nodded, trying not to stare too long at that gorgeous face.
“How was everything for you?” The guy asked politely as he gathered the plates.
“Great, thanks.” Mokuba said happily. The guy nodded and smiled at them.
“Can I get you anything else?” He asked.
“That depends.” Kaiba said. “Is there anything you’d like?” He nudged Yugi with an elbow.
Yugi glared at his friend who sat there with a smug look on his face. Oh, he looked too confident. He had to do something about that.
“Yeah, actually.” Yugi smiled as he looked up at the guy again. “My friend here made a bet that I couldn’t start a conversation with the most beautiful person in here. How should we spend his money?”
It was a bad line, Yugi knew that, but as long as it worked he didn’t care.
A genuine smile slowly spread across the guys face, and he actually blushed. Yugi needed to see more of that.
The guy bit his lip and glanced over at Kaiba before looking back to Yugi.
“Oh, I can think of a few ways.” He said. “I hear Paris is nice this time of year.”
Yugi heard Kaiba scoff next to him but ignored him.
“We can have a think about it.” Yugi said. “How about I give you my number and we can talk some more?”
“I’d like that. My name is Atem, what should I call you?” Atem asked.
“Yugi.” He replied, still grinning at Atem.
“I’ll be back in a minute, Yugi.” Atem said before picking up the plates and walking away.
He watched Atem walk back toward the kitchen and laughed as the girl from behind the bar followed him.
“Are you being serious?” Kaiba asked.
He turned back to his friend and shrugged. “What do you mean?”
“That had to be the worst line I’ve ever heard.” Kaiba laughed.
“Yeah, but it worked.” He said.
“You should be taking notes Seto.” Mokuba teased.
“God, whose side are you on?!” Kaiba sighed.
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Ben çocukken de böyleydim. Kabuk tutan yaramı bir bir soyup tekrar kanatiridm..
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The Implacable Aphrodite- Edna St Vincent Millay
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I had some time to kill between classes yesterday, so I was wandering around campus.
This is how I discovered The Staircase. It’s this narrow, crumbly old thing that is tucked between two old brick buildings under a bridge connecting them. It’s further hidden by the giant tree that leans over the path so precariously.
But I spot this thing and I’m like, “Neat! Secret passageway!”
I don’t know how to describe the sheer wonderland that this staircase led to. It opens into this massive fuck off courtyard, and it’s surrounded by buildings on all sides so there’s barely any sun. The wind whistles and every step you take echos off all the walls. One corner of the courtyard has this big garden but the only plants in it are like 50 different types of moss.
And then a door bangs open.
“Hey!” someone yells from inside one of the buildings. “Do you want some ice cream?”
I do want ice cream. I head over to the door, where a trio of grad students in lab coats and goggles huddle around a cart holding a giant bowl.
Grad student 1 sticks a spoon into this bowl, which is full of cookie dough ice cream, then says, “Hmm, it’s melting…”
Grad student 2 then pours liquid nitrogen over the bowl.
“Here you go!” Says grad student 3, scooping this concoction into a solo cup. “Please tell your friends. We need to get rid of all this before next lab period.”
It was very good ice cream.
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They tell stories of the Wanderer by the sea. On clear nights, they say, you can see him, dressed in a tattered grey cloak, wandering the shore. He has always wandered there, they say, and he always will.
They tell of the voice in the mist, singing haunting melodies of sorrow and grief. His songs evoke a yearning, they say, for a home lost forever.
Sailors capsized in a storm awake on the shore, a ghostly figure leaning over them, vanishing without a word before they can thank him.
Some claim he is dangerous, but those who have heard his song say he is filled with unspeakable sadness and regret.
There is someone who appears every few years and asks about the Wanderer. He always makes his way to the shore with a large bag. The bag is always gone when he returns.
One year, he does not bring a bag. “Have you not come for the Wanderer this year?” they ask.
“I have come to take him home”, he answers.
The Wanderer’s song is never heard on this shore again. It rings in a jolly valley far away, and the sorrow in it is lessened at last.
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Inuyasha stared down…
At the small newborn…
Which was cradled in his arms…
For it had been left alone with him…
While the people who knew…
How to care for children…
Took care of his wife.
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not all heroes wear capes
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i am asked about my favorite color.
i am seven
and my reply is
because i am a girl
is a princess color.
i am asked about my favorite color.
i am ten
and i like
because a boy told me that pink
is lame and girly.
i am asked about my favorite color.
i am thirteen
and i tell them
it is unique and spunky
like i want to be.
i am asked about my favorite color.
i am seventeen
and i just say
i do not say
it is bright and angry at the world
as i am
i cannot form the words to express
all of my frustrations
so i paint my lips with
i am asked about my favorite color.
i am twenty
and it’s pink
i remember the joy
of being a child
i reclaim the freedom
because i cannot remember
what my shoulders felt like
before the depression
hung from them.
i am asked about my favorite color.
i am twenty-six
and my answer is
it confuses most people
they don’t see it
they may think of dirt
and dead things
but it is coffee with friends
and the chocolate chip cookies
my mom used to make.
it is my hair
and my eyes
amber and gold
in the sun
and i love myself
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Continue prompt 206?
Warning: descriptions of harm & abuse & wounds. (not graphic)
Here you go, fellas! ✨
Also, Sam, I saw all the hearts in my activity, and just want you to know that you're amazing. Thank you!
Supervillain immediately wheeled their chair away from their desk and rotated it to the side. They opened their arms wide as Sidekick closed the door and ran over to them, jumping into their embrace.
As a few sniffles escaped the sidekick, the supervillain pulled them into their lap, holding them close and lightly petting through their hair. "It's okay. You're okay."
Sidekick let out a shaky breath in response, relaxing a bit as Supervillain placed a soft kiss on the top of their head. They nuzzled their face into the master criminal's shoulder, enjoying the warmth of their body. "Y-Yeah... Thank you..."
"Of course, love." - the supervillain replied, giving their head another smooch. "Could you tell me what happened?"
The sidekick sniffled again and lifted their head, locking eyes with them. The bruise on their cheek was much more apparent now. "H-Hero s-slapped me in the f-face..."
Supervillain touched the injury with gentle fingers, careful not to put too much pressure on it. Something dark swirled in their gaze for a second, but they swallowed it down, saving it for later. "We'll get you a cold compress for that."
Sidekick gave a short nod, a small smile gracing their lips as an idea struck them. "Y-You know what else might help me feel better?"
The master criminal instantly snapped to attention, locking eyes with them again. "Hm? No, I don't. What else can I get you, love? Anything you want."
The sidekick's smile widened at the other's caring and worried attitude. A light blush colored their face as they shyly asked, "Can I... have a little kiss?"
The supervillain blinked a few times as if having not thought of that before their features turned impossibly soft. "Of course you can, darling."
With that, Sidekick was gently pulled closer until their and Supervillain's lips connected in a tender kiss. They melted into it, savoring the feeling as they moved their hands up to tangle in their partner's hair.
They separated soon after, the sidekick laying their head on the other's shoulder once more, absentmindedly playing with their hair. "Thank you."
"Any time, Villain. We'll be done with this mission soon."
The villain sighed again, more tiredly this time. "I hope so."
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Ten Thousand Braids Of Human Hair
No-one ever knows what to expect from the ritual of adulthood before it happens. We know that we are separated, the boys from the girls. We know that what happens is very important. And we know that sometimes, it changes people in a way that’s impossible to explain.
And of course, we know that part of the ritual is cutting off our braids. All the little girls envy the girls with their short hair, newly made women, and I suppose the boys do, too. I’ve seen new-made men posing and preening just as much as the girls do, showing off to the younger boys whose braids are still long.
For some, it’s the only time in their lives that they cut their hair. Others go back again, at some important time. When someone dies, sometimes, or when a child is coming. Times with meaning for them.
I remember how excited I was, when all the girls and boys born in that year were gathered together on midsummer day. There was feasting, and dancing, and casting of bones and reading of fortunes. Then, at sunset, we were divided, the girls from the boys, and led up into the hills.
They led us into a cave, and a wise woman wrapped in a white shawl sat and explained the women’s mysteries to us. That was, for me, something of a let-down. I already knew most of it, from my mother and sisters, and helping with animals on the farm. The woman saw me yawn, and smiled, showing only a few worn teeth. “You already know,” she said, in her cracked old voice. “Yes, many of you already know. But some will not, and you must all know before you go on. For to truly understand what is asked of you there, you must understand the cycle of life and death.”
When she was done, and had answered all the questions the girls had who hadn’t known, she brought us together and led us through a low passage that was as dark as the darkest night. “Each girl, take hold of the hand of the girl before and the girl behind,” she said firmly, taking the hand of the first girl in line. “Walk together in trust, and be not afraid.”
It was strange, that walk in the darkness. Frightening, mysterious, and yet reassuring too, to feel the hands of my friends clasped in mine, to know we made a chain of trust behind our guide. It seemed to go on for a long time, and yet it couldn’t have been too long, for the hill wasn’t so large, and we came out in a great cavern still inside it. And what we saw there… that more than made up for the disappointing beginning.
Every inch of the walls, every inch, was covered in complex weavings. Some were patterns – spirals, knots, circles or intersecting lines, and even I could feel the power in them. There was a great circle of stones in the center, like a huge well, and over that was stretched layer after layer of nets and spell-weavings, held down by pegs driven into the earthen floor. And every single one of them was made of hair.
I saw every colour in the weavings, from as black as my aunt’s crow-wing hair to the snow-white of age to the near-white blonde of some children. Red and brown, too, and all shades between. This was why our hair was cut. For this great, secret magic.
I was so captivated by the weavings that I didn’t realize the boys had joined us until one of them said what I was thinking. “This is why our braids are cut off,” he said quietly. “To make these?”
“Yes,” one of the white-garbed wise-women said. There were several of them here, some old, some young. It was a middle-aged one, with broad grey streaks in her brown hair, who spoke now. She stood before a square, white altar-stone, with candles set in the four corners and a knife lying in the center beside a bowl of what looked like water. “This is the shield of our land. The great magic that protects us from both evil below,” she pointed to the huge well, “and evil outside. This is the wall that shields us, and keeps us safe.” She beckoned the boy who had spoken forward, and he approached her nervously. “And this is the secret of which you must never speak, outside this place, so that no whisper may ever reach our enemies on this plane or the other. Understand, to speak of it is utterly forbidden, and if you do, you will die.”
She took up the blade, then, sharp and gleaming, and the boy stepped back, but she only took his hand and pricked his finger so that a single drop of blood welled onto the blade. Then she moved behind him, and cut through his braid with the knife, so his hair fell loose just above his shoulders. Then, ceremoniously, she handed him the braid, laying it across both his hands. “Now,” she said, and though she spoke quite softly, the room was so silent that her voice seemed to echo. “Look within yourself, and find what part within yourself you are willing to give up, what power of yours can go into this hair, and be used to protect you and all your people. When you have found it, lay the hair on the altar. If you choose not to make the sacrifice, hand the hair to me. The choice is yours, to be made freely.” She looked out at the rest of us. “All of you are free to choose,” she said gently. “We compel no-one. We only ask that you give a little of yourselves, to serve all, and what you give you may choose, and if you choose to give nothing, that you are free to do.”
The boy stood for what seemed like a long time, and then he sighed and laid the braid on the altar. “It’s done,” he said, and his voice was unsteady, as if he wanted to cry.
“Thank you,” the woman said simply, and she laid a hand on his head in blessing, and then told him to stand on the other side of the altar.
She called up one after another, washing the knife in the bowl between each person, and each stood with his or her braid across his hands, making a choice, then laid the braid on the altar. Until Mari. She was a girl I didn’t like much, but I felt sorry for her when she started to cry. “No! No, I won’t!” she cried, stepping back and thrusting the braid towards the wise woman. “I won’t!”
“Very well,” the wise woman said calmly. “That is your choice.” She turned, and dropped the braid into a bucket behind her. “Go and stand with the others, then.”
Mari took a step towards the group, then looked at the bucket. “What are you going to do with my hair?” she asked, sounding nervous but suspicious at the same time.
The wise woman shrugged. “Throw it away,” she said calmly. “It’s of no use.”
Mari bit her lip, and went to stand with the others, but her eyes didn’t seem able to leave that bucket.
When it was my turn, I was shaking with nerves and excitement. I went to stand before her, had my finger pricked, and my braid cut through. My head felt so strange, with the curls coming loose, so light, and when she laid the braid over my hands I felt dizzy when I looked at it.
I cannot truly explain in words what happened then. I can only say that I knew, without knowing how I knew, that I could put some part of myself, my power, into my braid, and that the importance of what I gave up would determine the magical strength that hair would have when it was used. It could be anything. A talent, a memory, any part of myself.
I considered for a long moment, but I’d already known what it would be. I’d had time to think about it, while the others had their turns. Two years ago, sickness came to our village. I gave it my grief for my mother and my brother and sisters who died, the sorrow that had cut me like a knife within, the pain that had haunted me ever since. It was the strongest thing in me, the strongest thing I had to give.
I felt it go, and my body felt as light as my cropped head, all of a sudden. I hadn’t forgotten them, or the love I’d had for them, but the pain and weight of sorrow was all gone… and the hair across my palms felt much heavier. I laid it on the altar, and felt the hand on my head in blessing, and went to stand with the others.
No-one else refused, that year. Mari was still snuffling when we went out from the cave, all together, and walked back to the village. Dawn came, while we walked, and we were all tired and yawning.
Dern, one of my oldest friends, came to walk beside me. “What did you give up?” he whispered.
“We’re not supposed to talk about it,” I whispered back.
“We’re not supposed to talk about the ritual,” he countered. He looked sad, but a bit relieved too. “So I’ll just say… I don’t think I’ll play the drum anymore.”
That startled me. Dern had always been so good at drumming, playing so people could dance. “That?”
He shrugged. “It was just something I had a knack for. I’ll miss it, but… I didn’t need it.”
I nodded slowly. “I think,” I said, looking up at the pale sky, and listening to the birds starting to sing, “that I won’t be sad anymore.”
“That’s good.” He took my hand and squeezed it. He knew how heavy my grief had weighed on me.
We never spoke of it again, any of us. But none of us felt quite the same about Mari, after that day. I understood now why sometimes one boy, or one girl, or two or three, would seem to draw away from the others after the ritual. They hadn’t been willing to give something. They had kept their power to themselves, instead of making a sacrifice. It was hard not to feel different about someone, knowing that.
This valley has been peaceful and prosperous all my life. Free of the weight of my grief, I picked up the threads of my life again and became a hunter.
Ten years later, Mari went missing, vanished while she was out collecting mushrooms. All we hunters went looking for her, assuming she was lost or injured.
I found her, at dawn of the next morning, at the very edge of the great valley. She was sitting on a fallen tree, and she was crying.
I went over to her, sitting on the log beside her. “Are you all right?”
“No.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “No, I’m not all right. I’ve never been all right since the ritual, and you know that and now… now it’s worse.”
“Because…” She swallowed hard, then stood. “Come. I’ll show you.”
She led me towards the top of the ridge. “I went over. I was going to leave and not come back. I couldn’t stand it, knowing… knowing everyone knew. But there were… were men. They chased me, and I… ran back. They were laughing, and shouting threats, they said they’d…” She shuddered, and I put an arm around her shoulders. “But then they crossed into the valley, and…” She stopped, and pointed.
There were four of them, all dead. One had been cut into pieces, as if by fine wires. Another had been hanged from a tree. A third seemed to have fallen and broken his head open on a stone. The fourth looked untouched, though his eyes were wide open in terror and the earth showed where he’d kicked and flailed before he died. When I examined the body, though, I found that his mouth and throat were stuffed with handfuls of hair. He’d been smothered with it.
There was more hair tangled around the ankles of the man who’d fallen, and twisted into the rope that hung the one in the tree. While I examined them, I heard a trembling voice. “What happened to them?”
I looked around. Another man stood, just over the ridge. He was dirty, and looked as unsavoury as the dead men, but he also looked terrified. “I was behind them, when they… they all just died. I didn’t see what did it, but they all died. Was it a demon?”
“This valley is protected,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “To enter here with ill intentions is… unwise.”
Then I turned my back on him, and went to Mari. She was crying again. “I wouldn’t give,” she sobbed. “I was scared of losing part of myself, and I wouldn’t give it up, and… and it protected me anyway. It saved me even though I wouldn’t help.”
“Of course. When we all did it, we did it for everyone. Not just everyone who contributed.”
“But no-one will ever forget that I didn’t,” Mari moaned. “I wish I had, I do wish I had, but now…”
“So go back.” I pulled her braid. “It’s been growing for ten years. That’s long enough to go back, and nearly dying in the woods is a good enough reason.”
She stared at me, and slowly touched her hair. “Go back?” she whispered.
“Why not? People do.”
“People do,” she whispered. “I… thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Let’s go home and get some sleep first, though.”
The next time I saw Mari, her hair didn’t reach her shoulders, and her eyes were bright with relief. It was fear that had held her back, and it had weighed on her mind all that time. She was happy, after that.
I’ve given my hair three time. The second time was when my only child, born late, came healthy into the world. The third was when my wife died, and I came to the caverns to become a wise woman.
So you see, I understand how you feel. I know that for some it’s a hard choice, a frightening choice, one you can’t make when you’re so young and unprepared. We all know that, that’s why there’s no scolding when someone refuses. Some people never do it, and it doesn’t bother them. It’s what’s right for them. Others, like Mari, like you, it weighs on.
But it’s never too late. When you’re ready, when you know what it is you have to give and can give it freely, come back. We’ll be ready then, with the knife, and the blessing.
Only you can choose what you give to your people, and only you can know when or if it’s right to give it. But it’s never too late.
There, don’t cry. You’ll know when it’s right.
The phrase ‘ten thousand braids of human hair’ occurred to me, and I had to find a story to fit the title and the symbolism – what would make ten thousand people cut off their hair? What power would that hair have, and who would put it to use? Hair has great symbolic weight in many cultures, and magical significance as well. The braids had to mean something… and I knew that the choice to make the sacrifice had to be freely made, or it would taint everything. I hope you like how it came out.
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I think this is my favorite video-short-story so far. Cecil’s voice hits the perfect tone for grim optimism.
I wrote this story back in 2017 and it was a crystallizing moment for me with The Shortest Story. It was the first time I really felt like, “Aha, this is the kind of story I want to tell!”
Anyway, I’m so glad I stuck with writing in this weird, hard-to-explain format. This project has given me so much, creatively and and emotionally. Thanks for reading and sticking around!
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— Amal El-Mohtar, This Is How You Lose the Time War
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Could you write a snippet of a villain so horrifying that the hero is scared of them 👹
"Did you think I wouldn't catch up with you eventually?" the villain asked. "That you could fight me, and get away with it?"
"No." The hero wanted to quip something funny and scathing, but their brain buzzed and it was all that they could do to keep their voice even remotely close to steady.
The villain's head tipped to one side, examining them. They were sat on the hero's favourite armchair, in their apartment, seeming perfectly relaxed. Their gloved hands rested lazily against the upholstery. One was black, and one was red. It should have been comic. Garish.
The hero considered turning, considered running as fast as they could back out and into the street and never stopping again.
They knew they wouldn't even make the front door.
"No," the villain echoed. "And yet, you fight. I always find that interesting in your type. I don't think I've ever really fought for anything in my life." They looked a little wistful, like they were curious what that desperation, that struggle, might be like.
The hero swallowed, but it didn't make the terrible dryness in their throat go away. They resisted the urge to wipe their clammy palms on their jeans.
"It felt like the right thing to do, at the time." The words came out raspy. The hero had half feared they wouldn't come out at all. "Willing to die for the cause, and all...that."
"Sit down," the villain said, and gestured at the hero's sofa with the red hand. "You look a little unsteady on your feet."
The hero perched on the edge of the furthest cushion; keeping their gaze fixed on the villain, for all the good that would do them.
"Do you know what I'm going to do to you?" the villain asked.
"I've heard stories."
People who met the villain always came home wrong, if they came home at all. They came home like weapons for the other side. For as long as the hero had known, at least half of the resistance's resources had been in making sure that the villain didn't find them.
"You can beg, if you like. Some people find it cathartic. It gives them a sense of agency, of control, like there's something they can do to save themselves."
The hero felt dizzy, like the whole world was tunnelling.
The villain's head tilted the other way with that same quiet assessment. There was something odd about their movements, that the hero couldn't quite put their finger on. Maybe it was too fluid, too smooth, or maybe too slow. Something.
The hero swallowed again, and tried for a smile, painfully aware of how strained it was. "Is there something I can do to save myself?"
"No." The villain offered them a smile back, then. Tender. Like the smile was something they'd practiced, watching other people show compassion. It didn't look right on their face.
"Right." Maybe the hero could throw themselves out of the window. At least, then, whatever came next would be quick.
"You won't die while I'm here," the villain said. They started to pull the black glove off their hand. "You'll just break your spine and not be able to move while I work on you. But, as I said, you can try if you like. If it makes you feel like you're still fighting, in your own little way. I would never deprive you that."
"Kind of you."
"It's no trouble to me."
"Is it true that you once survived having your head cut off?"
The villain set the abandoned glove down on the arm of the chair, before spreading their hands in a go ahead and find out gesture. The revealed skin was so terribly normal looking, for all that it could do.
It could have been a bluff. The hero didn't think it was a bluff. They'd seen a grainy piece of footage once, one of the few the resistance had ever managed to get of the villain. The hero stood, raising a shaking hand in the villain's direction. The villain watched them, still curious, and utterly unafraid.
"Did it hurt?" the hero asked.
"Not as much as what will happen to you. Are you going to fight or not?"
"Does it make a difference to you?"
"Not with you," the villain said. "I cleared out my evening, so I don't have anything else I need to get to tonight. I figured after five years you deserved the courtesy. I quite liked you, you know. For what that's worth."
The hero choked on a laugh, at that. Mirthless. Airless. They wanted to scream, or punch, or cry. Do something anything.
"You like me," they said. "You're going to empty me. There's not going to be any me left in my body. I'd hate to see what you do to somebody you love."
"Maybe one day. Maybe not." The villain shrugged. "It depends how annoying a voice you are in my head - I leave the annoying ones alone in the dark. But you'll be good for me, won't you?"
The hero's heart lurched.
"You will be conscious," the villain said, gently, like they were surprised the hero didn't know. "There is no oblivion waiting for you, no end. Why do you think everyone says I never really let anyone go?"
The hero fought, then.
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The Witch Who Spoke to the Wind
Sequel to Eindred and the Witch
In which Severin, the golden eyed witch, learns that his greatest enemy and truest love is fated to kill him.
Dealing in prophecies is a dubious work. Anyone who knows anything will tell you as much.
“Think of all of time as a grand tapestry,” his great-grandmother had said, elbow deep in scalding water. Her hands were tomato red, and Severin watched with wide golden eyes as she kneaded and stretched pale curds in the basin. “You might be so privileged to understand a single weave, but unless you go following all surrounding threads, and the threads around those threads, and so on - which, mind you, no human can do - you’ll never understand the picture.”
Severin, who was ten years old and had never seen a grand tapestry, looked at the cheese in the basin and asked if his great-grandmother could make the analogy about that instead.
“No,” she replied. “Time is a tapestry. Cheese is just cheese.”
And that was that.
By fifteen, Severin who was all arms, legs, and untamable black hair, decided he hated prophecies more than anything in the world. He occupied himself instead with long walks atop the white bluffs well beyond his family’s home. Outside, he could look at birds, and talk to the wind, and not think about the terrible prophecy which followed him like a shadow.
His second eldest sister had revealed it - accidentally, of course. Severin lived in a warm and bustling house with his great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, two aunts, and three sisters. All of whom were generously gifted in the art of foretelling (a messy business, each would say if asked), and every one of them had seen Severin’s same bleak thread.
He would die. Willingly stabbed through the heart by his greatest enemy and truest love.
Willingly. That was the worst part, he thought.
Severin, who had no talent in the way of prophecies, but plenty of talent in the realm of wind and sky, marched along the well-worn trail, static sparking around his fingertips as the brackish sea breeze nipped consolingly at his face and hair.
I will protect you if you ask me to, it blustered, and Severin was comforted.
He didn’t care who this foretold stranger was. When this enemy-lover appeared, Severin would ask the wind to pick them up and take them far, far away. Far enough that they could never harm him. The wind whistled in agreement. And so it was settled.
At seventeen, he was still all arms and legs, though his eldest sister had managed to tame his hair with a respectably sharp pair of shears. The wind, who had delighted in playing with his wild, tangled locks, did not thank her for it. Severin did thank her; in fact, he’d asked her to do it. He was of the opinion that his newly shorn hair made him look older - more sophisticated. And he left his family home with a new cloak draping his shoulders and a knotted wooden walking stick in hand, thinking himself very nearly a man. He was far from it, of course. But there was no telling him that.
He set out on a clear, cool morning to find his own way in the world, and was prepared to thoroughly deal with anyone who so much as dared to act ever so slightly in the manner of enemy or lover.
He discovered, soon enough, that this was not a practical attitude to take when venturing into the world. Severin spent his first months away from home making little in the way of friends and plenty in the way of thoroughly baffled enemies.
When you meet his gaze, you’ll know, the wind chided as it whisked in and out of his hood.
“His?” Severin said aloud, lifting a single dark brow. “Do you know something I don’t?”
The wind whistled noncommittally in answer.
The wind did know something, as it turned out. At twenty, Severin stood on the warm, sun-loved planks of a dock. As gulls cried overhead, he pressed his fingers to his lips. The young sailor had touched his lips to Severin’s in a swift, carefree kiss before departing on the sea. And though the feeling was pleasant enough, Severin knew that his enemy-lover was not on the great ship cleaving a path through the cerulean waves.
“When I meet his gaze, I’ll know,” Severin said, golden eyes sweeping the horizon. The seaward breeze blustered in such agreement that the gulls overhead cried out in alarm.
What will you do? The wind asked, delighting in whipping the gulls into a proper frenzy.
“Get rid of him, of course,” Severin replied.
What if you don’t want to?
Severin thought that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. “He’s going to stab me through the heart. Why in the world wouldn’t I want to get rid of him?”
People are foolish, the wind answered, shrugging the nearby sails.
“Not me.” Severin leaned on his stick and looked out at the sea. “I won’t let anyone get away with stabbing my heart.”
When he was twenty-two, Severin knelt at the bedside of a withered, wilting woman. She was a stranger, but the town’s herb witch was away, and Severin happened to be passing through. Though his true strength would always remain with the wind and the sky, the youngest of Severin’s two aunts had a special way with plants, and she’d taught him a fair bit about the many healing properties of the region’s hardy, windblown flora.
He boiled water, adding the few herbs he carried to make a rejuvenating tea. He helped the woman drink, his hand supporting her head and fingers tangling in her sweat drenched hair. After, he pressed a cool cloth to her head, and in the half dark room, she murmured, sharing delirious fears that she would accidentally speak cruel dying words and lay a curse upon him.
Kindly stroking her forehead, Severin assured her that he was not afraid of curses. Even uttered by the dying, a true curse was rarer than the superstitious soldier’s and barbarians liked to believe. Besides, she wasn’t going to die. Severin, who’d seen just enough of the world to have a taste of wisdom, was certain he could save her.
She died within the day.
Whether her condition had been beyond help, or Severin lacked the skills to twist the herbs to his bidding, he would never know. The wind rustled reassurances through the sparsely-leaved trees, but Severin was beyond consolation. Clouds gathered on the horizon, and by nightfall, great branches of lightning crackled across the sky.
He spent the next year and a half in the wilds. Beneath the jubilant light of the sun, he collected plants, acquainting himself with the earth. And beneath the soft, watchful light of the moon, he whispered to the wind and dared to wonder at the shape of his enemy-lover’s face. He could never seem to summon the slightest picture in his mind. Though it really didn’t matter, he supposed. Their eyes would meet, and Severin would know. And then he’d use all of the power at his disposal to send his enemy-lover away.
During this time, Severin sometimes saw bands of barbaric warriors crossing the plains. He kept his distance, but he doubted any of them were interested in either recruiting or killing a scrawny young man in a worn woolen cloak. Few he encountered ever suspected he had any great abilities, and Severin certainly didn’t go out of his way to advertise the fact that he could command the wind and sky when he wished. The barbaric companies had their eyes on more obviously lucrative targets, anyway. A handful of city states which spread across the great peninsula were openly at war with the barbaric tribes from the north.
It was when Severin was returning from his self-imposed isolation that he had his first real encounter with war. He held his sturdy walking stick in hand and carried a bursting bag of herbs, poultices, and leather-bound journals over his shoulder. Severin was so surprised by the sudden, brutal clash of metal and the primal cries that erupted nearby that he halted where he stood. His curiosity both outweighed and outlasted his fear, and after a minute or two of tense consideration, he pressed cautiously onward in the direction of the noise.
By the time he arrived, the battle was done.
It had surely been an ugly, bloody affair, if the splayed out bodies of the city soldiers and barbaric warriors were anything to judge it by. Holding a hand over his mouth, Severin gingerly navigated the carnage and valiantly resisted the impulse to be sick right there in the field. He was nearly on the other side of it when movement caught his eye. Squinting, almost afraid to look, he glanced from the corners of his eyes, sure that it was some grotesque remnant of warfare which awaited him.
Instead, it was a man.
Just a man.
The movement Severin had spotted was the rise and fall of his chest.
Only after turning a careful look around the terrible and silent battlefield did Severin approach the fallen man.
The barbarian’s eyes were closed and his pale brows drew together, as if reflecting pain. His face would probably have been handsome in a rough, simple sort of way if it weren’t smeared in dirt and blood. His light hair, braided and pulled away from his face, was bloodied as well, and Severin frowned at the sorry state of him. After a second wary look around, he knelt with a sigh.
The barbarian’s leather vest was cut, and his thick, scarred arms had earned several new slices as well. Severin, who had more than enough herbs and poultices on hand, reluctantly tore his only spare shirt into bandages. Within the hour the stranger was fully bandaged and muttering in fever addled sleep.
“Don’t worry,” Severin murmured, knotting the last makeshift bandage. “I’ve learned enough from the plants and trees to save you from both fever and infection.”
Behind closed lids, the barbarian’s eyes flitted anxiously to and fro and he mumbled something that sounded like no. Nose wrinkling, Severin leaned in. He heard the sleeping barbarian say, his voice low and cracking, “The curses will take me.”
Severin frowned down at him, unimpressed. “No they won’t,” he snapped, and yanked the bandage tighter.
The barbarian silenced then, and Severin stared at him a moment longer, pursing his lips in consternation. It wasn’t that he minded using his supplies to heal a stranger. But a part of him worried that healing a warrior made Severin responsible for whatever slaughter he resumed when he rose.
Severin abhorred warfare. It was such a terrible waste. But he supposed there was no helping what he’d already done. The barbarian was already on his way to recovery, and Severin certainly wasn’t going to murder him in his sleep. He reached out, intending to test the temperature at the man’s temple, but no sooner had Severin’s fingers touched his overheated skin than the world bled around him. In its place: a vision.
Shock echoed through him, because he was not like the women in his family, able to see phantoms in time. He’d always simply played with the air. The vision dancing before his gaze, however, didn’t seem to care.
Like droplets of ink spreading in water, a prism of colors twisted, threading together into nearly tangible shapes. From the chaos, rose a blond child holding a knit sheep. He was ruddy cheeked and pouting up at his mother. Then ink and water swirled and the images collapsed and shifted. Hulking shadows loomed over the child. The mother wailed her grief. The formless ink shivered, morphing from one scene to the next, nearly too quickly to follow, and Severin was swallowed up in it, overrun and overwhelmed by violence, blood, and pain. Beneath his fingers, Severin felt the movement of shifting, slipping thread.
Just as abruptly as it had started, the vision ceased. Severin’s knees ached where they pressed against the dirt and the barbarian’s skin beneath his hand was no longer overheated. How long had he been within the vision’s grasp, he wondered?
As Severin shifted back, the barbarian groaned. Severin watched as the man’s eyelids fluttered - and at once, the air turned heavy, as if the wind had drawn and held an anticipatory breath.
Dread flooded Severin and he rushed to stand. The barbarian had not yet opened his eyes, and Severin knew with a terrible nameless certainty that he must not be here when this man awoke. Severin could still feel those elusive, unknowable threads beneath his fingers, and his hands shook as he rose. Awakened by his urgency, the wind roared, lending him speed as he fled the clearing.
By the time the barbarian cracked open a single, world weary eye, Severin was long gone, heart still safely beating in his chest.
Severin endeavored to forget about the barbarian. He convinced himself that the vision had been the hallucination of an overexerted body, and that the sensation of inexorably moving threads beneath his fingers was nothing more than a flight of fancy. Severin did not think about how the threads had felt - certain and unyielding - beneath his fragile, very mortal hands. If he did, he feared he might ask the wind to whisk him away from the world altogether, and that, surely, was no way to live.
In a deep, secret place, however, Severin suspected the reason he was granted such a vision was because the stranger’s thread was woven perilously close to his own. Because of this, he set upon an easterly road, endeavoring to put a healthy distance between himself and the pale barbarian.
After nearly a month of travel, he arrived in a small village which sat nestled in foothills, tucked beneath the shadows of great mountains which stood like sentinels above. Severin hadn’t intended to stay, but when it was discovered he had some skill with plants and medicine, the villagers eagerly led him to a hut some distance from the village. It was empty, they explained, and had been for some years. A healing woman had occupied it, some years back, before she’d passed on. The villagers had been saving it, hoping the space would be enough to entice a new healer to make their isolated village a home.
Severin had nowhere else to go, and he supposed a distant, mountain village was as good a place as any to avoid a blade to the heart.
Two years passed, and Severin settled into his little hut. He spent his mornings taking long walks around the surrounding lands, collecting herbs and specimens. Returning home, he’d throw open the windows to allow his friend the wind a brief but wild rampage through the hut. With the air freshened, Severin spread plants across his square dining table and sorted them into jars to be sealed, dried, or preserved in vinegar. His neighbors in the village visited frequently, just as often for his company as for his medicines, and Severin delighted in visiting the town on market days and making the streamers dance in the wind for the children. Evenings were spent in his rocking chair, with a book in his lap and his feet pressed near to the low fire in the hearth.
He was happy, and hardly thought of the barbarian he’d found bleeding in the dirt. That is, until fate caught up with him.
One day, when he was foraging for moss on the hillside behind his hut, Severin felt the whisper-soft touch of thread against his palm. He sat upright at once, and turning and craning his neck, he absently rubbed his palms against his robes.
A company marched into the village. From up on Severin’s hill, they appeared a swarm of ants overtaking the miniature thatched roof homes. The slipping, shivering feeling beneath Severin’s palm intensified, and he stood. His heart drummed a frantic beat against his ribs, and Severin felt with a terrible certainty that fate, like a hunting hound on the scent, had sniffed him out at last.
When Severin called out, begging the wind’s help, it rushed to him, howling atop the hill.
I am here. I am here.
Cradled in the gale, he begged the wind to take him and hide him away, so that the tapestry’s relentless threads might cease dragging him toward the one he never wished to meet.
So be it, the wind said. If that is truly what you wish, I will take you and hide you away forever.
In that moment, nearly caught as he was, Severin was willing to do anything to avoid meeting this man who would kill him - until the screams rose from the pastures in the valley beneath his hut. Severin’s heartbeat was in his throat, on his very tongue, as he held up a hand to stay the wind.
“Just a moment,” he murmured, and turned bright, pained eyes toward the village. The terrified screams of his neighbors pierced him as surely as any blade, and with a mournful twist of his fingers, he bade the wind disperse.
By the time he reached in the pastures, the shepherd, the blacksmith, and Helvia’s two sons lay dead. At the sight of his friend’s bodies, grief and rage stirred within Severin, and the wind, always nearby to him, trembled in sympathy. Gaze sweeping the warriors, he marked the five whose weapons were stained red. Severin was not violent by nature, but if he was to die this day, he resolved to remove from the earth at least these five men, who with bloodied blades, uncaringly spoke of feasting upon the village’s few precious sheep.
When the warriors turned and finally noticed Severin, he lifted his chin and prayed his voice did not betray his fear. “These are simple people. They have little in way of money or goods. It wasn’t for nothing that the shepherd, blacksmith, and teenagers died. They need these sheep. And I cannot allow you to take them.”
The men glanced at one another, eyes filling with a cruel sort of mirth. They laughed at him, and Severin steeled himself for what must come next. He was friends with the wind, but to call down the heavens was an entirely more serious matter. And he’d never done it. At least, not like this.
Severin turned his palms up and glared at the heavens, daring them to refuse him now when he needed them most.
For a long, terrible moment, nothing happened.
And then, the skies erupted.
He had never felt pure, visceral power in such a way, and as it whined and crackled, Severin, with splayed fingers, used all of his strength to tear the lightning from its home in the sky. It rained upon the warriors, screaming in wild, untamable fury. Severin watched the men cry out in agony, and he felt horror and satisfaction in equal measure.
When a single figure broke from the group, agile enough to evade the lightning and charge across the field, Severin could only look on in exhausted realization. It was the pale barbarian. The man from the battlefield. The child in the vision.
The barbarian charged like a beast, his thickly braided hair bouncing. His brows were drawn down in focus and his lips poised on the precipice of a snarl. It was with a hopeless sense of finality that Severin met the stranger’s gaze.
He met eyes of icy gray, the color of hazy, snow capped mountains in winter, and Severin knew, he knew with a certainty that was sunken into his bones and twisted in his marrow, that this barbarian was the shadow which had haunted him. And he knew, more than anything, the crude blade in the man’s scarred-knuckle hand was fate’s exclamation point at the end of Severin’s ephemeral existence.
Watching as the barbarian pivoted, drawing back his blade, Severin only wished he understood why the women in his family had persisted in calling this man Severin’s truest love. If this was love, the man had a spectacularly terrible way of showing it.
Time slowed to a crawl, and sunlight flashed, reflecting off the blade. As the jagged edge touched the fabric of Severin’s robe, the wind whispered at his ear. Let me show you a piece of the picture.
The wind around him froze, and so too did the world.
Look up, said the wind, a rustle within his ear.
The complexly woven image was shaped by currents in the air - all but invisible to any whose eyes are untrained to look for them. But Severin had a born understanding of the wind and sky, and when he looked up, he saw bits and pieces of an impossibly complex tapestry.
He saw scarred knuckles gently shaping wood. A small child that sat upon broad shoulders. Rocking chairs placed side by side before a glowing fire. Warm hands enveloping his own. Safety. Home.
It was...everything, and Severin’s heart ached with a strange and complex longing for a future that surely could never be.
It’s not impossible, the wind whispered. But the threads will have to tangle and untangle just perfectly so.
“How?” Severin asked, and wondered if he was a fool to feel so desperate a pull towards this life glimpsed in impressions and half images.
The warrior must weep and repent. And a curse must come to fruition.
“And if these things do not happen?”
Then your soul will fade from the earth.
Severin felt torn in two.
The blade has not yet struck your heart, the wind murmured, kind and conspiratorial. There is time still for me to secret you away. I could pull your thread from the tapestry altogether.
“But there would be no hope for that life,” Severin said with a last wistful glance at the scattered mosaic above.
No, none, the wind agreed.
“Okay,” Severin whispered, “okay.” And it felt terrifyingly like surrender.
The wind stirred, and a breeze like a kiss tousled his dark hair.
The blade struck.
It was an intense pressure and then swift, vibrantly blooming pain. Severin wavered on his feet, and looked up. For the second time, he met the warrior’s gaze. And Severin saw and understood that there was no malice in those wintry eyes. Not even frustration or anger. But, instead, an exhaustion deeper than Severin could conceive.
When Severin toppled backward, it was concerning to realize he could no longer feel the grass beneath his body. The man knelt down, and Severin blinked tiredly up at him.
It seemed as though the man were waiting for something. Severin’s slipping mind struggled to think of what - until he recalled the dying woman and her talk of curses. And hadn’t the barbarian said something about curses when he was fever addled and hurt? What had the wind said? Severin was struggling to remember. As his life trickled away in red rivulets which stained the grass and soil, he thought of the boy in the vision - lost and afraid. And he thought of the man he’d become, kneeling stonily over him.
And Severin knew exactly which words should be his last.
Swallowing, he mustered the strength to whisper, “-my hut…it’s just past…the next hill over. In it, I keep medicines and herbs. For the villagers. And travelers who pass.”
For the barbarian would have to stay if he were ever to show remorse. He couldn’t very well continue going about fighting and murdering his way across the peninsula. Which brought Severin to his final words. It took all of his remaining strength to lift his hand. When he reached out, the barbarian startled, as though he expected more lightning to spring forth from Severin’s fingers. But Severin merely tapped his chest and smiled. “May you live a life of safety and peace.”
It was a fitting curse, he thought, feeling particularly clever. And there, on the field, surrounded by sheep, Severin’s heart stuttered and stopped.
It was an abrupt, slipping sensation, like losing your footing on iced over earth. Raw existence rushed around Severin, and he was battered and blown about, like a banner torn loose in the storm. This continued for a dizzying moment, or perhaps a dizzying eternity - Severin really had no way of knowing which. But it stopped when a familiar presence surged around him, blowing and blustering until the wild chaos of existence was forced to let him be.
The wind could not protect him forever, Severin knew, and so he focused his energies until, like a wind sprite, he swirled about the hillside. Below him, he saw the barbarian, his great head bent. Severin, as incorporeal as a breeze, could not resist blustering over the barbarian’s shoulder and observing himself, limp and pitiful in death. Whipping around, he beheld the barbarian - because surely this sight would bring him at least to the verge of tears.
The barbarian frowned down at Severin’s body and rubbed a scarred hand over the patches of stubble on his chin. And then he rose with a great sigh and set off down the hillside, away from Severin and the village.
Severin, who was nothing more than wind and spirit, watched him and despaired. He could do nothing more than whip and howl through the hills as his murderer left him without a backward glance.
Severin did not follow after the barbarian. What good would it do? In this form, it wasn’t as though Severin could speak to him. And if he was doomed to fade and dissolve from existence, he would much rather do so here in the hills he loved than in some strange land trailing after an even stranger man. The wind kept him company, at least, and Severin spent his days whistling through the black, porous stones at the base of the mountains and blowing bits of dandelions across wild tufts of grass.
One day, long after Severin had begun to feel more spread out and thin than was entirely comfortable, the wind rushed to him, carrying with it the scent of dust and dirt and faraway lands.
The barbarian had returned.
Severin was an icy breeze that whipped around the edges of town, and he watched with cool distrust as the man trudged through the streets. His shoulders were slumped and his blond head was turned down. He looked utterly defeated, and any sympathy Severin might have felt was eclipsed by petty spite. He didn’t hold any of the pettiness against himself, though. He was dead, and therefore felt he’d earned at least a little pettiness.
When the barbarian crossed the field, stopping to stand before the place where Severin had fallen, Severin swirled around him, newly curious. The man didn’t look grief stricken, but his face was difficult to read. There were dark shadows beneath his eyes and lines of exhaustion around his mouth. Mostly, Severin thought he just looked tired.
When the man approached Severin’s home after having ignored the invitation for months, Severin had a second moment of pettiness and whipped the wind up on the other side of the door, sealing it closed as the barbarian tried to open it. Only when the man shoved it with his great, muscled shoulder did Severin retreat, allowing the door to swing open.
It was with a strange sort of melancholy that he watched the barbarian’s silver gaze sweep over the room. The man looked first at the damp, unkempt hearth before slowly making his way across the room. He glanced from Severin’s well-loved walking stick to the bookshelf built into the wall. He fumblingly ran the backs of his fingers along the spines of the books, as if he was unlearned in the ways of a gentle touch.
Severin was still very much put out about the whole being dead business, but as he watched the barbarian’s almost reverent inspection, he unthinkingly twisted the air in the room, drawing out the cold and pulling in a bit of sun warmed breeze.
By the second day, the man was sitting in Severin’s chair. Severin stewed, swatting at floating dust by the window as his killer rocked to and fro in Severin’s favorite seat. Later, the barbarian stood, stretching his strong arms overhead and twisted his back experimentally. Brows lifting in pleasant surprise, he gave the chair an appreciative pat.
By the third day, Severin had no more dust to swat about. The barbarian had rolled up his ragged sleeves and set about scrubbing every inch of Severin’s little hut. When the hulking man worked open the stiff windows, the wind rushed in, delighting in whipping about the space once more.
He’s done a better job of cleaning than you ever did, the wind sang, slipping once more outside.
He was dead and that meant the wind had to be nice, and Severin told it as much. It’s reply was a soft rustling of chimes that hung from the house’s eaves, and the sound was almost like laughter.
Days passed, and the man began reading Severin’s books. This was probably the most surprising development yet, in Severin’s opinion. It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought the large, scarred warrior capable of reading, just - well, he hadn’t thought the large, scarred warrior capable of reading particularly well. But the man seemed to be doing just fine, and sat in Severin’s rocking chair, putting a far greater strain on the sturdy wood than Severin ever had, as he thumbed carefully through the book’s smooth pages.
When little Mykela took ill, Severin knew it well before anyone else. He’d taken a spin through town and as he rode the wintry wind past where she played in the yard, he’d felt the rattle of air in her lungs. But at this point, Severin was little more than a memory on the breeze, and though his worry was agony, he could do absolutely nothing. He spent the rest of the day roaring about the mountain peaks, sending snow flurries spilling down the far side of the cliffs.
Two days later, Severin was idly observing the barbarian, watching the crease between his brows twitch as he slept, when a great pounding broke out against the door. The barbarian rose at once, and Severin watched him cast a brief glance at the walking stick before turning instead to the candle on a nearby shelf. With warm light cupped in his palm, the barbarian approached the door.
When Dormund, Mykela’s father, entered the hut, carrying a limp mound of blankets, Severin felt a spike of icy terror. As the barbarian poked and prodded the fire, Severin carefully stirred the wind to better feed the flames. Severin would have shouted instructions, had he lungs to shout, but the barbarian already had two jars in hand. He held them up, looking a little lost, before he hurried to the bookshelf and selected a thick book. Muttering under his breath, he flipped hurriedly through pages until he found what he was looking for. And then he was kneeling before the pot of water he’d set over the fire, and Severin watched as he scooped careful measurements of Severin’s dried herbs into the roiling water.
Mykela was saved, and as the barbarian sent the girl and her father off with a bag of herbs, it occurred to Severin that he wished to know the barbarian’s name. He wouldn’t learn it until two days later, when Old Cara arrived at the hut, seeking the barbarian’s help for her arthritic knee. After supplying her with the appropriate poultice, the barbarian helped her to the door, and looking up, she patted his shoulder and asked him his name.
Eindred, was his answer.
Severin wished he had lips to test the shape of the name.
Months passed, and was easier now to watch Eindred move about Severin’s hut. In fact, Severin had even begun to enjoy riding the soft breeze from the windows as it wafted around Eindred’s shoulders, curiously observing whatever small thing he happened to, at any given time, be doing with his hands. One day, Severin was surprised to find Eindred’s hands at work, deliberately whittling the curved back of a rocking chair. When the chair was done, Eindred set it carefully, almost reverently beside the first. At the sight, Severin had a bright, nearly overwhelming flash of recognition, and he thought of the image the wind had shown him - of the rocking chairs before a warm, crackling fire.
Severin was fading, he could feel it. To hope was to court a greater disappointment than Severin could rightly comprehend, and yet - he watched Eindred set out with Severin’s walking stick to join the festival, and saw when Mykela took his hand. The barbarian’s stony expression softened, then melted as the girl tugged him after her.
It was the strangest of sensations, because while Severin didn’t strictly have a heart these days, watching the great Eindred meekly follow little Mykela made something in Severin’s incorporeal being ache with unexpected warmth.
Whatsmore, Eindred had been reading Severin’s journals and he would sometimes stop and stare about the hut, as if trying to picture the ghost of Severin’s life there. Once, Eindred draped a thick blanket over the back of one of the rocking chairs and ran his rough hands over it as he frowned contemplatively into the fire.
Summer had come and gone and Severin feared that parts of his soul had already begun to slip into that other-place. And so, with a tender sort of weariness, he drifted on the sunbeams cutting through the clean window glass, and watched with only mild annoyance as Eindred carefully tore a blank page from one of Severin’s journals.
Lips pressing together in focus, Eindred wrote in with small, precise letters, what appeared to be a list.
Confused, Severin drifted closer.
May your every loved one die screaming in pain.
I hope you die with your eyes stabbed out and your heart in your hands.
You will never know happiness.
Your existence will be suffering.
It was a list of curses, Severin realized. Morbid curses, by the looks of it. The last two, however, caught his attention.
May your greatest enemy rise from the grave and never leave you alone.
May you live a life of safety and peace.
And Severin understood.
When Eindred set out from the hut, looking drawn but resolved, Severin began at once to gather his energy. It had been nearly a year since his death, and he feared that there might not be enough of him left to make a return. The second to last curse would help things along, but Severin knew it would be a mistake to rely on it.
And so, as Eindred entered the village, Severin stretched upward and out, calling wind and storm clouds with reckless, hopeful abandon. For his entire life, Severin had lived, certain in the knowledge that love and happiness were not meant for one such as he. How could they be? When a blade was foretold to make a home in his heart?
But Eindred had changed. And the patchwork pieces of tapestry were there, a life Severin had never dared to dream of, right there - if he could only summon the strength to reach out and grasp it.
Below, Eindred bowed his head before the townsfolk, confessing his part in the tragedy which played out on their soil. Above, Severin swallowed the skies and became the storm.
Severin felt it, distantly below, when the people in the village forgave Eindred. And he felt when Eindred’s bittersweet tears tickled the earth. He felt Eindred return to the hut, and then after pacing restlessly about, return at last to the pastures where it had all begun.
And then came Eindred’s pained voice, calling out from the fields below. “Severin!”
Eindred had never said his name before, and Severin, who was the clouds and the wind and the rain and the sky, rumbled his joy at the sound of it.
“It was my hand which ended your life,” Eindred continued. His deep voice was shaking. “And with your dying breath you gifted what I thought was a nightmare. Did you know that it would turn out to be a dream? I think you did.”
Just wait, Severin wanted to tell him, because he’d seen a future better still. The only question that remained was whether he had strength enough to reach it.
Rugged face upturned, Eindred called to Severin and the sky, which were one and the same. “Though it’s a dream, I’ll never know peace. How can I? When I live in the home of the one I so coldly murdered? I would leave, but the villagers have my heart - as they had yours. In this state, I don’t think I’ll ever truly know true rest or true peace - despite the great power of your curse.”
You will, Severin said, and lightning streaked across the sky. I will.
“Even now,” Eindred said, through wind and rain, “I’m not sure if you are my greatest enemy or ally.”
There it was.
His greatest enemy.
Severin, with every ounce of power he possessed, claimed the title. For he was the greatest enemy the old Eindred, warrior and killer, had faced. With his parting curse, Severin had forced the old Eindred to do the one thing he’d feared most of all: to live and face all he’d done.
Severin felt a rushing, coursing energy thrumming within and without and he knew that he must catch it and hold it, though he wasn’t sure how.
The tapestry threads, the wind whispered. Severin had spread so thin, his old friend was nearly a part of him now.
Severin listened, and felt for that thread which had teased and tickled his palm. And when he was sure he felt it, he wrapped himself around it and pulled. The sky around him screamed as he dragged himself forward toward something - something -
White light was all around him, and then it wasn’t. The air was cool and damp, and the evening sang with the wind’s gleeful gusts and the soft patter of rain on grass. Severin lifted a hand, and looked it over in tentatively blooming relief. Pressing the hand over his heart which beat with a strong, steady rhythm, Severin breathed a relieved, ragged sigh.
Eindred stood in the field, turned away from him. Drawing in a breath, Severin delighted in the sound of his own voice. “May your greatest enemy rise from the grave, Eindred, and never leave you alone.” He smiled as he spoke, and very nearly pressed his fingers to his lips to feel the shape they took when saying Eindred’s name.
Eindred turned. “So you are my greatest enemy then?” He sounded wary.
“I don’t think it’s so simple as that. Do you?”
Eindred’s expression shifted and he shook his head. When he next spoke, it was soft and fumbling, as if he still hadn’t fully adjusted to a world which was kind. “I made a chair,” he blurted out. “A few actually,” he added, rubbing a hand over the back of his head.
Severin wanted to say, I know. I saw. But that would require more explanation than he cared to give at the moment, so instead, he replied, “Do I get the new rocking chair or my old one?”
“Any,” Eindred stammered, “Either. Both?” He looked at Severin, and the earnest weight of his gaze held the promise of all the chairs Severin could want and anything else Eindred could possibly make with his scarred hands.
The fondness that bubbled up within Severin was so abrupt and filled him so thoroughly that he wanted to laugh with it. “Lucky for you, I only need one chair. You can keep the old one if you like it. I trust your craftsmanship.”
Severin turned then, because it was cold and every part of him felt so entirely bright and buoyant that he thought he might die if he didn’t move. However, when he realized Eindred was not following, he stopped. “Well? Are you coming?”
Eindred looked up, as if he’d been startled. “Where?” he called.
Standing there, sodden in the field, Eindred looked after Severin, as if he was afraid to hope - as Severin once had been afraid to do. And it occurred to Severin that Eindred would need to hear it said aloud.
“Home, of course. Where else?”
“Home,” Eindred repeated, as if confirming it to himself.
And when Severin turned again towards home, Eindred followed.
By the time they reached the hut, both were shivering from the cold, and as they crossed the threshold into the warm space, Severin swayed on his feet. He’d almost forgotten the immense power he’d used, and now the harsh ringing in his ears was a stark reminder. Warm, rough hands steadied him and when Severin tilted his head up, he saw that Eindred wore an expression of poorly concealed terror.
“I’m not going to die all over again,” Severin assured him. “I just used a lot of magic.” As he said it, he swayed once more, this time falling forward.
Eindred caught Severin again, one arm wrapped around his back and his other hand braced against his chest. Beneath where Eindred’s palm pressed, Severin’s heart thrummed. And Severin watched, curious, as Eindred’s expression twisted. He no longer claimed the title of warrior, Severin knew, but it was nonetheless with a warrior’s gravity that Eindred met Severin’s gaze.
“These hands will never again harm you. I swear it.”
“I know,” Severin replied, and pressed a hand over the back of Eindred’s rough knuckles. “Help me to a chair?”
Eindred did, and helped to remove Severin’s thick outer robe before Severin sank gratefully in front of the fire. Eindred left him a moment, and Severin closed his eyes.
He intended to just rest them for a second - maybe two, but when Severin next opened his eyes, the room was darker and he was draped and bundled in blankets, softer and thicker than any he recalled owning. The fire was still crackling, and the warm light made soothing shadows dance across the hut’s wooden floor. The other chair was occupied, Severin realized, and he watched as the hearth’s orange light played across Eindred’s sleeping features. Compared to Severin’s mountain of blankets, he had just one draped over his lap, though he didn’t seem cold. Nonetheless, Severin shifted a bit, and peeled a soft fleece blanket off his own pile to toss it onto him. The blanket fell short, and with a quick whispered word, the wind slipped under the door and flipped the offending blanket up onto Eindred’s chest.
“That’s better,” Severin said.
The wind played a little with the fire before tousling Severin’s hair and departing with a sibilant, save your strength foolish human. You’re still recovering, and slipped out the way it had come.
When Severin turned back to Eindred, he saw the large man was sitting up and his eyes were now open. Blinking, Eindred rubbed a hand over his face and then, stiffening in sudden shock, he whipped to look at Severin. Heaving a great sigh, he rocked back in the chair. “Still breathing,” he said.
“I don’t plan on stopping.”
Something almost like a smile twitched at Eindred’s lips and Severin was enchanted by it.
“You were dead and now you’re alive. Forgive me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”
“You’re the one who believes in silly curses.”
Eindred’s brows rose. “Silly? Says the one who was brought back from the dead by one.”
Severin waved a dismissive hand. “The curse might have set the stage, but I was director, crew, and cast.”
And there was another smile, like a glimpse of sun between clouds. Severin was beginning to fear there might be no practical limit to the lengths he’d be willing to go to see another smile.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Eindred replied. “I get the feeling you know a great deal more about the world and magics than I.”
“Well Eindred,” Severin said, scooting his chair a little closer to both Eindred and the fire. “What do you know of grand tapestries?”
Eindred, looking more than a little lost, shook his head. “Nothing. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one.”
“Well,” Severin said, and grinned. “What do you know of cheese?”
EDIT: A novel based on Eindred and the Witch and The Witch Who Spoke to the Wind is in progress! I will post news about it on my Tumblr and my Patreon as news becomes available :)
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Dolittle opened the door and looked inside. He closed the door. He opened the door again. He closed the door again.
"There's an elephant in there," he said.
The agent with the yellow hat nodded. "He's agreed to speak with-"
"It's an elephant."
"Yes," said the agent. "He's-"
"It's wearing a suit." Dolittle opened the door. He closed the door. "It's wearing a very, very large suit."
"He is a delegate from a French north African micronation."
"He is an elephant."
The agent closed his eyes. "Doctor," he said in a slow, careful voice. "I want you to understand the gravity of the situation. Prince Alexander comes from a micronation of extremely intelligent elephants who have just captured a French missile base with the intention of launching a strike against Europe. He has agreed to speak with us regarding the location of the missile base."
Dolittle stared at him. He said: "He's French?"
"Fluent in French, English, Greek, Italian, and German," said the agent, leafing through a file. "He can also understand French Sign Language, but can't sign."
Dolittle stared at him.
"He doesn't have thumbs." The agent waggled his thumbs in example.
"And you need me why?"
The agent closed the file. "Alexander has agreed to speak with us on the condition he can speak with one of our non-human agents," he said. "The first we had available is a loan from Interpol who can only sign with FSL. You are fluent in FSL, and will serve as our interpreter."
Dolittle stared at him. His eyes were watering.
"Non-human agent?" he said, grasping at what straws he could.
Something tugged at his coat. He looked down.
It was a chimpanzee. It grinned at him, stood up from its knuckles, and signed, Salut.
"His name is George," said the agent with the yellow hat.
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she trails one finger down my cheek, sighing. "I'm gonna miss you."
i roll my eyes, lying back against her uncolored bedspread, watching the room settle into the correct form. she always gets like this, right before an Assignment. she takes our Roles a little bit too seriously. my brain is already sloshing with the pacing of the Narrative - a little stilted, a little distant. I'd been in Close Third in the last one, and more poetic. her hands make shadow puppets on the bright pink walls; the room shifts and become covered in art; shifts and become covered in band posters. then back to pink.
she'd been my Best Friend Forever since kindergarten, usually. the oldest we'd ever met each other was in middle school, but that Assignment had been pretty bleak anyway, and she'd only been in-and-out of the picture. I'd barely seen her. i loved her, usually, from the moment i met her - she usually had done something Charming in some way, solidifying our bond for the Audience.
"you're gonna be fine," i tell her. "we'll be back here in no time."
she sighs and curls up next to me, turning so our noses almost touch. she smells familiar, like drying ink. then she smells like mint and mown grass. then she smells like herself, for a second, before she's back to peppermint. "well, you're gonna be fine," she says. "The Main Character always is."
"this again." i roll my eyes a second time. this Assignment feels like it is heavy in the eye-rolling. i had told her before: i'm jealous of her Role just like she's jealous of mine. the Best Friend Forever gets to be quirky, spunky, cute. she always has a personality like a firecracker - even if sometimes that firecracker had a harsh edge to it. in most Assignments, she'd run around, starting - or getting me out of - loads of trouble. she gets to have grand adventures without too much Character Development, which is always painful for me and kind of annoying. she is always Assigned cool interests and hobbies, whereas i can feel my singular Driving Interest crystalizing in my bloodstream. "i think this time i'm Interested in yearbook. Gag me." I mime choking, she wrinkles her little lopsided nose in a giggle.
"you just hate it from stuff that's leftover from your last Assignment, though." she looks up at the ceiling. "you'll be actually Interested soon. in this one i'm gonna have a secret thing about fashion magazines. now that is gag-me."
"remember when you were like, so -"
"like so into porcelain dolls?"
"and i was like, Interested in -"
"you were deep in the paint of effing biology." she wrinkles her nose again, like a little mouse, and i realize i love this new face, the way i love all of her faces. i like this tic she has. sometimes her tics are supposed-to-be-ugly; i love them every time anyway. she's my Best Friend Forever, I can't not love whatever she is. she bites her lip. "oh gosh. i'm already talking like the Assignment. that's quick."
"sounds Young Adult. I haven't been able to swear in, like, a millennia." i don't usually get to swear though, regardless of Audience, since swearing is a Best Friend Forever thing. although sometimes i would be Assigned to just-swear if it was a big-deal kind of moment, and those Assignments were fun. the words would pop out of my mouth like a soap bubble, big and afraid of themselves. and my Best Friend Forever would always look at me, shocked and awestruck.
i loved when she looked at me like that. it wasn't in every Assignment, but it was always so gratifying to be in her eye like that. to be seen, the way a Best Friend Forever sees you.
she takes my hand gently. she's usually a little bit bigger than me, but in this one, she's smaller than average. slim. we're probably going to have a Big Fight about jealousy - whenever she's slimmer, the Audience needs to know she's also Insecure about it. Usually it's the other way around - I'm slimmer, and Insecure that i don't have her curves. in those, she's always "better with boys." until, at least...
like she reads my mind, she sighs again. "I know. i just hate the part where you meet Him."
i'm not startled by how on-the-same-page (ha! maybe i'm Funny in this one) we are. she's my Forever person. the Him changes a lot, but she is a delicate constant. she knows me - even when i'm not-me. or not this me. whatever. "i mean, it might be different this time."
she sits up. i sit up too, disoriented by the strange violence of the action. she pushes the heel of her palm into her cheekbone. "it sucks, you know?"
i can tell by how she wrinkles her nose that she is understating it. i've known her Forever, after all.
nose wrinkle. "we're always the most dynamic and interesting part. you and i, and how we grow up together, and how we interact, and how we try to get over the same things. i know we have a lot of Big Fights, but we always end back up together at the end."
it's a sore subject. i betray her a lot for Him. i can't help it. "i know, but maybe this time - i mean, it's not always ..."
her eyes flash while she turns to me. "you just, like, get caught up in Him. every time. and i have to, like, watch you leave."
"i don't always leave." i feel pouty, suspicious that she is right. it is a Main Character thing to be Right in The End, not a Best Friend Forever thing. i don't always do it the Right Way, but I always end up back here, apologizing to her. she always ends up being okay with it, because i'm always Right.
"you do always leave. and it doesn't make any effing sense, because He never makes sense like we do, you know, like... you both are never - like, your Development with Him, is never like, actually...." she moves her hands around in the air as if trying to find the term, but gives up. "the Audience even thinks it."
I hold my breath at her blasphemy. "don't bring the Audience into -"
she grabs at the roots of her hair. "i'm right, though. you meet Him, and because you are a girl, and you are the Main Character, you love Him, and you forget about me." her hands drop to her lap and her thin shoulders pull forward as if she has been suddenly deflated. the anger all seeping out around her. she's usually not able to stay angry at me long - loving me is her Role.
the air feels heavy between us. thick of something unwritten. i don't know the rules of this one. in the space between Assignments, she can be a little wild. her Role doesn't sink her as deep into the Assignment - she has wiggle room where i don't.
i try to tease her, nudging her with my shoulder. "i didn't realize you had a jealous Assignment this time."
she looks up at me. biting the inside of her cheek. i can see her jaw working against the muscle. "i'm always jealous," she whispers.
"that's natural," i assure her. "it's a Best Friend Forever thing. I'm always jealous, too, just a little. you know that."
"it's because we actually see each other. because we actually know each other. because we're made for each other." she doesn't drop my eyes. her hands take mine again, warm and soft. again, that feeling that she is a familiar love - a long love, a deep love - comes sloshing up inside me. i was made to love her, and i was also made to betray her. in order for the Character Development to work, i have to love her hard, so it hurts when i choose Him. she has to love me hard, too. "it's..." she breathes deep, as if through a choke. i wonder how much longer before we'll be in the Assignment, and unable to talk like this. it can't be much longer at all. "it's just stupid. every time, you see Him, and for no reason, he's just better and you leave and -"
"you know i don't want to hurt you, though!" it's an old argument. i feel the pattern of it, glad to be back on script. "you know i never -"
"you just see Him, and it's like magic, and it doesn't mater that He makes no sense - "
"it's about growing up! it's about Character Development! it's not about you, you know that, i love you, i just always Love Him, and -"
"and i am jealous -" she grabs my face, desperate, her voice thick. the room around us starts to shift, and i can tell by how it is pulling itself together that it's solidifying into the Assignment. someone is writing us into a space. her words are garbled for a second, and i feel the hair on the back of my neck rise as she fights the Assignment.
"we're gonna be okay," i promise, "i'll love you the whole time, you know that, even if -"
when she kisses me, something happens in the pit of my stomach. i've been Kissed many times, by many Hims. it is sometimes electric, dizzying, powerful. it is sometimes cataclysmic. it is sometimes rushed, hurried, overwhelming - sometimes harsh, dominant. i have been Kissed until i saw stars, and Kissed perfect.
this is not that. i don't have words for this. i have no narrative. there is only her, and only me, and no story, her hands on my cheeks. i realize, in the seconds we have - she's crying.
then i am on her bed again, which is pink and purple patchwork, and she is across the room, lying on the floor, kicking her heels up while she reads a magazine lazily. we've known each other from preschool, when she punched someone for stealing my candy. we both got detention - who knew preschoolers could get detention - and we'd be inseparable ever since. she listens to loud music but loves fashion magazines; and i love her.
she's saying something, but my old phone pings, lying on top of the Yearbook editing i'm doing. i look down, frozen. she asks me something, but i can't hear her, staring at the notification on my screen. i don't even notice her getting up to investigate.
her hair tickles my cheek while she reads the phone over my shoulder.
she grins. "oh my gosh." she says. "you got invited to the party, holy guacamole. do you know who's gonna be there? baby, you need to go."
i know i need to. after all, after a little complaining, i am going to go. we will try on all her clothes first. and while i'm there, i'll be a Main Character, and not-quit-fit-in.
and while i'm there, i'm going meet Him. and it will be Magical. for some reason, there are tears pricking at the side of my eyes, even though i have no idea why. this story is funny, and light, and amusing.
she grabs my hand, and she is warm, and familiar, and i feel Insecure that she's so thin. i feel Insecure - and - something - a memory, or a -
"come on," she says, and, for a second, something in her eyes is deeply sad, and the time between us feels like fraying satin.
but then she breaks out into a grin. "i know just what to dress you in. i can't wait. you're gonna meet Him."
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