Only Power: 2

The history of Ostium was ancient, fascinating, and full of bloodshed.

Hadrian had been told the tale time and time again as a child born into the elite. The great Ostinite empire, its reach greater than any kingdom to ever hold power…

It all began with a chasm.

This is a snippet from the second chapter of a story which I am posting here:

Only Power

Only Power

 

Don’t tell me I’m lost at sea, good man! Don’t tell me I’m lost at sea! For the water’s my wife, my home and my life…”

A dramatic pause in which all the singers closed their eyes, their stringed instruments still in their hands. The small crowd of people, tightly packed into the bar, cat-called and cheered. Hadrian whistled loudly amongst them.

The performers looked up and raised their hands. The audience sang the last line with them, loud and mirthful.

I’m right where I’m meant to be!”

They strummed out a final tune and everyone applauded. The performers bowed graciously.

“Thank you!” the lead singer called, holding his lyre above his head. “Thank you, lovely citizens of Latria! There’s a reason you’re our favorite city!”

Everyone cheered more emphatically at that. “But don’t tell those arrogant Ostinites we’ve said as much!” another different musician called, and the crowd laughed.

Hadrian laughed louder than them all, as he technically was an Ostinite—but he’d left Ostium behind for many reasons, and he didn’t exactly tell people where he was from.

He hated the capital. He despised the suffocating stone structures which absorbed the heat of the sun, the ridiculous amounts of people, and, most of all, the politics. If Hadrian could go the rest of his life without hearing about another scandal of some lewd patrician slandering his opponent, then he might just die happy.

Latria was the antithesis of Ostium. The city on the water was cool and open, a place where music, culture, and art thrived…

Hadrian had only lived in Latvia for two years, but he knew at once that he belonged in the city dedicated to the water Goddess. Unlike in Ostium, where Hadrian had been ridiculed as a child by his elitist peers for his… peculiarities, here, such uniqueness was celebrated. Latvia was progressive where the rest of the country was conservative, tolerant rather than oppressive.

Hadrian had joined an artist’s guild upon arrival. He had learned how to paint with pigments made of oil on wood, and he had even dabbled in poetry and music. His painting was progressing decently enough, but he had nowhere near the skills of the musicians who had been playing their entire lives.

“Hadrian!” One of those skilled musicians called to him now, pushing past a few people in the crowd and offering him a ceramic mug. He was a member of the band which had just performed—a cithara player, and one of Hadrian’s good friends. “Another ale, since you bought the last round.”

Hadrian smiled as he accepted it. He probably didn’t need another beer—he felt unsteady as it was—but then again, such knowledge had never stopped him before. “To your fine future.”

“To your fine future,” Simon parroted back, clinking his cup to Hadrian’s before they both drank. Hadrian was amazed at how much he’d grown to like the taste of ale—in Ostium, the elites considered it a barbaric beverage, only for the common people. Wine was the drink of choice, there.

Hadrian would admit that he didn’t care for it at first. Now, however, the ale tasted almost sweet on his tongue. Refreshing, even.

The two were nearly shoved into each other, the crowd suddenly rowdy and clamoring for the bar now that the music had stopped. Hadrian adored it all. The ale, his eccentric and artistic friends, the atmosphere of this public place where the middle class gathered—a place which any of the elite in the capital would cringe at the mere notion of.

Especially if they knew he, Hadrian Horatius, was partaking. He could sense his parents’ displeased eyes and resigned sighs even now. Hadrian’s father had given him his blessing to travel once he’d turned sixteen, on the assumption that Hadrian would come back home quite quickly on his own.

Some traveling shall do you well. You shall realize how great the splendor of the capital really is, once you no longer have it.’

This had not been the case.

Hadrian laughed as Simon began belting out another well-known song, corralling the rest of the merry drunks into singing back to him as though the performance had not yet ended. “She is the fairest maiden of the land!” he called, and the crowd, as well as Hadrian, responded at once:

But she’s not of the land, you brute!”

Aye, too true, she’s of the sea!” Simon answered, and they all finished together:

My Goddess, the glorious Mystute!”

Everyone clapped again. Hadrian took another drink of his ale, feeling cheerful and wondering if he should buy another round soon. He probably shouldn’t. He probably would.

“Hadrian!”

Someone from the far side of the bar was called out to him. Hadrian frowned, wondering if, perhaps he had misheard the shrill cry of his name from the entryway.

He hadn’t. “Hadrian! Hadrian Horatius!”

Hadrian dropped his cup. Simon looked at him questionably, but Hadrian ignored both him and the broken porcelain, quickly moving towards the source of stranger shouting his name—his full name!—in this place. He swore under his breath as he forced his way through the crowd, eager to prevent whoever it was from shouting it to the world again.

He found him easily enough. A man in a grey tunic, the garments of a messenger. He blinked at Hadrian for a second before saying, “Are you—?”

“Yes,” Hadrian hissed, grabbing the man by the shoulder and dragging him outside, away from the people. “What is it?”

The man paused, taking a long moment to examine Hadrian’s face and look into his eyes as though for confirmation—first one, then the other. Hadrian had to resist the urge to close one eye out of spite. He hated when people did that.

Though he supposed it was a simple way to identify him. “I have a letter for you,” the messenger finally answered, looking appeased. He withdrew a small, sealed scroll. The Horatius family’s insignia of a serpent was engraved into the wax, long and undulating.

“It’s from your mother.”

Hadrian’s first reaction was annoyance. His mother wrote him all the time, long messages informing him of every little thing that was happening in the capital, and, with increasing tones of concern, beseeching him to come home. Hadrian took the letter and shoved it in his pocket. “Thanks,” he muttered. “I’ll read it later. Now, if you don’t mind—”

“Sir, she instructed me to make sure you read this letter right away, and that I leave with a response.”

The glower slid from Hadrian’s face. It only just now occurred to him how odd of an incidence this was: a letter delivered to him by an individual who must have hunted him down to this precise location, rather than by regular delivery.

And to require a direct response? Right away?

Hadrian’s mouth went suddenly dry. The sounds of laughter and raucous shouting from within the bar seemed to fade away. Hadrian pulled the scroll back out and broke the wax seal, anxiety pooling in his stomach.

The letter was short.

.

Hadrian,

Your father has died.

Please come home at once.

Please.

.

Hadrian stared at the second line in complete shock. He felt like his mind was floating somewhere outside of his body, suspended in a state of disbelief.

“…Sir?”

The messenger’s voice startled him so badly that Hadrian dropped the scroll. He fumbled when he bent to pick it up, lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous.

“Your response?” he prompted, looking expectant. “A verbal answer will suffice, I’m to return straight to her…”

Hadrian answered with a sense of surreal detachment. There was only one answer.

“Tell her I’m coming,” he said with a voice that sounded like someone else’s. Hadrian placed the creased letter back in his pocket.

“Tell her I’m coming home.”

 


So this is a new (long) story I’m starting, with this as the summary:

They were adored by the masses, they were famous, they were glorified… but gladiators were still slaves. He knew nothing good could come from falling in love with a killer, least of all one with a silver smile constrained by golden shackles. Shame that Hadrian never was very rational. 

It’s a fictional, ancient society based on Rome. So if you feel like reading more, I may keep posting it on here, but I’m definitely writing it on fictionpress, if you’d like to follow it.

https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3303580/1/Only-Power

🙂

Lovely Treasure: Part III

This is the third part of a story that I am going to continure, from here on out, on my Fiction Press account. You can follow it here, if you’re interested:

https://www.fictionpress.com/s/3292638/1/Treasure

🙂


The captive of the crying castle put on a brave face.

His interactions with the dragon had been few and far between, thus far. And always very…tense. The creature would peer in through the window whenever it felt like it, murmuring disquieting things that were a bit like a psychopath’s sweet nothings… And then when he, the prisoner, attempted to ask it questions, the beast would ignore him entirely. Or laugh. Or tell him what a pretty treasure he was.

…Infuriating.

Also, terrifying.

Because the creature was terrifying. The dragon was large enough that it could bite him in half if it wanted, with its gigantic jaw and long, sharp teeth. And…could it breathe fire? Probably, the captive recalled that as being true, about dragons…though he’d never actually witnessed one doing it. For good reason, too. Very few people lived to tell the tale of having seen a dragon breathe fire in person.

Though the captive supposed that he was in no immediate danger of being eaten or incinerated by this dragon in particular. That would defeat the purpose of having kidnapped him, if it were to just kill him in his tower.

…Somehow, this fact was of little comfort to the prisoner.

The soft sounds of the dragon’s talons against the stones was getting louder. The captive took a deep breath, forcing himself into a calm that he did not actually feel.

“Treasure…”

He should have expected that greeting, but no matter how many times he heard it, the dragon’s rumbling voice never failed to make him shudder. Its eye appeared in the window a moment later—a scarlet iris with a slit, black pupil.

The prisoner focused his attention just above the window. He didn’t want to get lost in that stare and be lulled into some unnatural, hazy trance.

“H…Hi.”

He cleared his throat, blushing. That probably was not the most impressive way to begin a conversation with a dragon. Then again, he thought, there really was no formal etiquette for this kind of situation. Most human-dragon interactions probably involved a lot more screaming and running than anything else.

The creature said nothing to his single, muttered word, only stared. The captive continued to look somewhere directly above the window. “Has anyone come looking for me? …While I’ve been asleep, I mean. To try and save me.” The dragon’s eye narrowed. It pulled its head away to fully gaze at him, seemingly wary. “Unless you made that up,” the captive went on, shrugging. “And I’m not anyone special, after all. A pretty lame treasure, if that’s the case.”

There was a long pause in which the creature merely analyzed him. The prisoner resolutely did not make eye contact.

“…Yes,” the dragon finally answered.

“Really!?” the prisoner yelped, but then quickly shook his head and composed himself. “I mean…just one person, huh? That’s not so impressive.”

“Three people,” the monster elaborated. It grinned crookedly before adding, quite smugly, “…knights.”

“Y-yeah?” The captive tried not to sound affected by that. So there seriously were knights in shining armor trying to save him… Or there had been at some point, at least.

“How long ago was that?” he inquired lightly.

“Over a year ago.”

The captive’s face drained of color. He swallowed thickly before forcing himself to ask the question he really didn’t want to put into words. “And…and what did you do to them?”

“I burned them.”

Well, that shouldn’t have been a surprising answer, but the captive still felt nauseous. The beast laughed, a deep and gravelly sound.

“I…guess that makes you a very powerful dragon, then,” the prisoner said, cautious with his flattery.

It worked better than he thought it would. The creature’s reptilian grin widened, and its low voice was a satisfied purr when it spoke next. “Yes,” it agreed, preening. “I am the most powerful being in the world. The largest and strongest of my siblings… I have never lost a treasure.”

“Siblings?” the captive asked, genuinely distracted and curious. “I didn’t think dragons had siblings. You’re not born from other dragons, are you?”

He was fairly certain he already knew the answer, some odd recollection that was not tied to a specific person or place, but the creature explained, anyway. “No. Dragons are immortal. We do not mate and reproduce like lesser creatures… We are born from the land. The center of the world breathes its fire and life into us, and when the Mother Earth decides the world should be graced with another dragon, it pushes us to the surface. We are born in a cascade of fire from a mountain top, painting the landscape with our lava and brimstone…”

The prisoner gaped. He couldn’t help but be a bit caught up in its words; this was easily the most the dragon had ever said to him.

He also couldn’t help but let his attention flicker to the monster’s red, glowing gaze. It really was quite lovely, wasn’t it? With its shiny scales and those bright, mesmerizing eyes…

The captive gasped, snapping his eyes shut. “Stop that!” he yelled. “Quit doing that, that creepy, entrancing thing with your eyes. You’ve already got me here, in your tower, haven’t you? There’s no need to…to subdue me any more than you already have.”

The dragon laughed, promising nothing.

“Unless…there is a reason to subdue me,” the prisoner continued. His tone was hedged, as he knew he could, potentially, be treading into dangerous territory with these words. “Unless I really am some kind of God…and you’re afraid of me.”

I am afraid of nothing!”

The reaction was instant and vicious. The captive recoiled at the furious snarl, retreating towards the back of his small room in the tower until his back was flush against the sticky, weeping walls. The dragon’s eyes, which had been alight with a gentle, soothing glow moments before, were suddenly a fierce, bloody red. “You were taken by me! You are mine, now!”

“O-o-okay,” the captive stammered. His heart raced in his chest under the monster’s glare, which was definitely not trying to make him feel safe or calm, now. He put his hands up defensively, where they visibly trembled. “I-I’m sorry, I j-just… I don’t know, how great a-and powerful you are, what you did when you t-took me, because I d-don’t remember.” He took a few quick, shaky breaths. The dragon’s glower softened slightly at his prisoner’s obvious terror and small compliment, so he quickly went on. “I have no idea how cunning and destructive you were, or even why it would b-be impressive, to have caught me… You made me forget all of that.”

There was a long stretch of silence as the dragon contemplated this. Its eyes darted over its captive’s trembling body, and it was clearly pleased at how frightened he was. Its smug expression returned, though its eyes remained the same threatening, bloody hue. “I melted gold and reduced walls of stone to ashes for you,” it said proudly. “They tried to hide you, under the jade floors… But I found you…”

The prisoner shuddered. “Why me?” he gasped. It was a question he had tried asking the dragon before, of course, but never in such a terrified whisper. People had tried to hide him, people who must have cared for him…

People who were surely dead, now…

The dragon’s intense stare lightened, becoming deceptive and alluring once more. The prisoner was too shaken to think to look away in time. He felt suddenly lost in it, entranced, and his muscles relaxed… He stopped shaking, and why was it, exactly, that he had been afraid? This creature was so beautiful, so kind… It would never hurt him…

“Because they cherished you…” the dragon crooned. “Because they called you Lord, because they worshipped you…”

“I… They did?” the captive breathed. His body had begun to feel very heavy, and he knew it, in the far recesses of his mind, that he was being forced into slumber again. He desperately tried to resist. “But…why?”

“Because you were their master, their God…” it said. “And now you are mine, beautiful treasure.”

“Stop, please,” he said, his limbs growing heavier by the second. “I don’t want…”

The dragon chuckled in amusement at the captive’s feeble attempts to remain standing. He sunk to the floor, racking his brains as he tried to think of what he could say that would stop the dragon from putting him back to sleep again. Begging had never worked before…

So he tried a new, potentially very stupid tactic.

“Coward.”

The dragon’s eyes widened, and the prisoner swiftly continued before he lost his nerve. “I bet you’re not very powerful, that it’s all you can do to keep me in here. And that’s why you keep making me sleep.”

The dragon’s glare returned with a swift vengeance. The drowsiness dissipated entirely, and the rush of adrenaline that exploded in the captive’s veins made him instantly lucid. “I am more powerful than you could ever comprehend, human!” it snarled, dragging its talons along the outside of the bricks and making a horrible scraping sound reverberate in the cell. The hostage jumped to his feet and stood in the middle of the room, feeling surrounded. “I am an indestructible force, I am fire incarnate! I could incinerate an entire kingdom in a single breath!”

Then, to the captive’s utter terror yet undeniable fascination, the dragon reared its head back, roaring as it turned to look away from the tower, and—

The fire that it exhaled was horrible, magnificent. Ferociously glorious.

Even though it was pointed in the opposite direction, the heat wave made the air feel suddenly warmer than the hottest summer day. A steady stream of flames in violet and indigo shot across the colorless sky, an impossible conflagration that surely would have put the stars and moon to shame, had it been night.

It lasted only a moment, but witnessing a dragon breathing fire and crying out towards the heavens had him dumbstruck. When the creature fixed its murderous gaze on him again, he felt too numb with awe to be properly afraid.

“That was incredible.” The words rushed out of the prisoner’s mouth, reverent and whispered. And though they’d been spoken without any thoughtful intent, they had a very welcome effect.

The dragon blinked once, surprised at the unexpected compliment, but then its vicious demeanor vanished. It was preening again, looking very self-satisfied at how impressed its prisoner was at such a display of power. “That was nothing,” it said. “I could fill the entire sky with my flames, if I wanted.”

The captive swallowed audibly at that, equal parts amazed and, now, frightened. Which must have been the epitome of everything the dragon liked to see in its hostage, for it smiled crookedly. The prisoner decided to go with it—anything to avoid falling asleep for another long stretch of time. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “I’ve never seen a dragon breathe fire or… Or fly,” he added suddenly, as an idea came to him. He craned his neck in an obvious attempt to see the beast’s body better, though the window was so small that this was difficult.

To his pleasant surprise, the dragon actually shifted when it saw that it was being examined. It moved so that more of its long, shimming body was exposed through the opening in the castle wall. The prisoner hardly stopped himself from smirking. This really was a very proud, vain creature. “You are so beautiful,” he gushed, and though it felt strange to call a murderous monster this, the dragon obviously enjoyed the attention. “Your scales are stunning, like obsidian gems. I imagine that it must be such a magical sight, to see your wings stretched wide, soaring through the air…”

But although the dragon clearly relished his flattery, it was not stupid. “Cunning human,” it said. “I will not leave this tower, just to grace you with the vision of my magnificent flight. I am staying right here, curled around my fortress and protecting you…my beautiful prize.”

The captive masked his feeling of disappointment. Well, he thought, it had been worth a shot. “I w-wasn’t thinking about that,” he lied, regardless. “But…you just called me human.”

The dragon’s gaze narrowed, and the prisoner jumped, suddenly remembering not to look directly into its eyes. “You called me a human,” the hostage repeated. Which was, of course, what he knew he was, he had to be, but…

“I thought you said I was a God.”

“…Yes,” the dragon answered vaguely.

“So, which is it then? Am I a man, or a God?”

“You were…many things.”

“Ah. Well. That clears that up, then,” the captive muttered sarcastically.

The dragon hissed wordlessly in response; a chilling, warning sound. The prisoner’s eyes snapped up to the beast’s at the noise despite himself. “…Dragons do not often covet humans, you know. I now see why. Treasures should not be able to talk.”

And then those scarlet eyes darkened, glowing gently. The captive nearly swayed as the drowsiness washed over him, much stronger than before.

“Wait, wait,” he gasped, though his knees had already buckled. “I…want to know… Please, tell me my name.”

The weight of sleep lessened slightly. The dragon looked confused at the request. “My name,” the prisoner quickly went on. “A God, a man, whatever… What’s my name? Who am I?”

The dragon tilted its head to one side, appearing genuinely thoughtful…but then it laughed again. “You no longer need a name,” it said. “You are my treasure now. And that is all you ever will be, forever. Mine.”

“Aw, come on,” the prisoner groaned. “What harm is there in my knowing my name? It’s not like there’s anyone I can tell…” He gestured around to the bleeding walls, frowning.

“Precisely,” the dragon agreed. “You have no one to talk to, and therefore no need of something as useless as a name.”

“I take it that you don’t have a name either, then.”

“I have a name,” the dragon responded casually. “I was born with three others…and so we have names for each other.”

The prisoner’s brows shot up at that, incredulous. “Well what is it, then? I mean, if you’re planning on keeping me here for all of time, we should at least be on a first name basis, don’t you think?”

“No,” the monster answered. “For there will be no more discussions between you and I, my precious prize.”

The exhaustion began to crash over him again. The hostage shook his head, trying to fight it off. “But…but don’t you get lonely?” he said. “Making me sleep seems like…like a wasted opportunity to…” he paused, unable to stifle a long yawn, but he persisted afterwards. “To have someone witness your power, and your beauty… Such a tragedy, to be alone, down there…”

The dragon’s gaze, which was pulsating with such a mesmerizing warmth, flickered. For a split second, the prisoner thought that maybe it would work, that maybe the monster would allow him to remain awake…but then his eyelids became far too heavy to keep open, and his muscles relaxed against his will, making him slump forward and fall to the floor completely.

“Don’t… Wait…” he gasped, reaching forward with the last of his swiftly vanishing strength. But he could sense the presence of the dragon there, peering in through the window with its enthralling gaze still fixed on him as he drifted off to sleep…

“…Gold,” the beast murmured, its voice deep and quiet. The captive clung to the sound, even as the darkness rose up to consume him.

“Your name is Gold.”

red eye

Lovely Treasure: Part II

This is the second part to a new project/obsession of mine…so don’t read this until you’ve read ‘Lovely Treasure’, the post right before this one. 🙂

For an impressive amount of time, the prisoner of the crying castle tried with all his might, one more, to remember.

A God? A God? How could he possibly be a God? He furrowed his brows, desperate in his attempts to recall some meaningful insight from his previous life…

He was just considering doing something he had never done before, had never wanted to do before—calling for the dragon to come back—when the drowsiness washed over him.

Definitely magic, he thought sourly, as the unnatural wave of fatigue made it difficult to remain standing, let alone think properly…though he did try. He trudged towards the window, sluggish in his movements as he looked up towards it, one arm raised…

“Come…back…” His voice was feeble and shaky. The exhaustion pulled at him, like slumber was an actual, cognizant being, and it was physically dragging him down beneath its currents whether he liked it or not.

“…Come…”

It was no use. The captive’s knees buckled, and he fell to the cold, stone floor. Despite his best efforts, his eyelids, which now felt as though they were made of iron, fell shut. Unconsciousness rose up to claim him, and he was swept away into dreams…the sound of rumbling laughter echoing in the back of his mind.

His dreams were the antithesis of his reality.

In the waking world, the prisoner knew nothing but disturbing, bleeding walls and a desirous monster.

But in his dreams… His dream world was vibrant and full of life, landscapes of impossible colors and brilliant skies.

Currently, he was by the sea.

The captive wandered along on a beach of pristine, white sand next to an endless expanse of glistening waves. It felt familiar to him, but only vaguely. Maybe he had visited this place before.

That would hardly be surprising, he mused. It was absolutely stunning, a literal paradise. He smiled as he relished the feel of the sand beneath his bare feet, the soft, grainy texture between his toes. The sun was still high in the sky, warming his skin in a way that he deeply missed in reality.

He continued at a leisurely pace for a long time. Hours maybe, perhaps longer. Dreams were strange. Sometimes they felt as though they lasted only minutes before shifting to a different vision, and he would have multiple dreams before he woke up again. Other times, he would dream of being in a single place for a much longer stretch of time. Occasionally, it would feel like he had been asleep for mere seconds—only for him to blink his eyes open and see that it was autumn when he awoke…though it had been summer when he’d fallen asleep.

And so he never knew quite what to expect when he drifted off into his enchanted slumbers. Only that his dreams would be stunning, and that he wanted them to be real so desperately that it made his heart ache with yearning.

Especially in a place like this, on the beach. The prisoner focused on keeping it there, on remaining in this paradise. Maybe he could learn to control his dreams, he thought. Maybe he could decide on where and how he would spend his time while asleep…

He sighed, exhaling a long, low breath as he did. The sun was beginning to set. It was an exquisite sight, the way the light scattered across the gently rolling waves. The colors of the sky were impossibly brilliant, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the real world had actually been this lovely, or if it was simply his own mind which invented such deeply saturated hues. He watched the transition from day into night with rapt fascination… The way in which the blue became gold until it was touched by a blush of bright pink, the subtle shift of crimson into violet and then indigo, when pinpricks of light eventually proclaimed the presence of the first stars…

Feeling bold, he decided to walk out into the water. The captive had been tempted to do it earlier. But he was wary that it may be cold, and he was feeling an aversion to all things chilly, at the moment. It had been winter when he’d fallen asleep, after all.

But his anxiety was for naught. The water was surprisingly warm, like a freshly drawn bath. Grinning, he looked down at his own feet through the crystal-clear water. He pulled off his shirt and tossed it behind him onto the beach, willing this dream to last long enough for him to swim in this temperate sea.

Just as he was about to lunge forward, a sharp gasp sounded from behind him. He turned, confused, to find himself looking at…someone else.

Never before had he dreamt of another person. It was always just beautiful places and exotic creatures…never people. He was therefore quite surprised to see a young man standing before him, with brown, windswept hair and tan skin…and he was holding his shirt. Evidently, the dreaming captive had thrown his discarded shirt right at this stranger, and he’d caught it.

When they made eye contact, the brown-haired man’s eyes went wide with shock, looking quite like he was staring at a ghost rather than another person.

“Hello,” the prisoner said cautiously. The unknown man didn’t answer, though his mouth formed into a tiny, perfect ‘o’ in surprise, and he dropped the shirt. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to toss that at you. I didn’t see you.”

The brunette continued to look thunderstruck, either unable or unwilling to speak. The captive smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging manner. “The water is lovely, if you feel like swimming,” he offered up. He turned to glance back towards the sunset. “And you can’t beat the view. So—”

But when he turned back around, the man was gone.

Strange, the prisoner thought forlornly. The tide swept up towards the sand, catching the sleeve of his shirt and pulling it back with it into the water. He didn’t bother trying to catch it or fish it out. For as excited as he had been just moments before, to dive into the sea, he now felt a bit melancholy about it all.

It would have been nice, to have company.

When he awoke, it was to find that it was still winter.

The air was chilly against the exposed skin of his face, but the rest of his body was covered in thick, soft blankets. When his eyes fluttered open, he saw that he was somehow, inexplicably, under the covers on his giant bed. Hadn’t he passed out on the floor, before?

Groggily, he sat up. Winter. The odorless, viscous substance on the walls confirmed it…which meant that he had not been asleep very long this time. Or, he thought with a thrill of terror, he had been asleep much longer than usual, and an entire year had passed.

He shuddered at the thought. What if he had family or friends out there that he could not currently recall? How long had he been away from them? Were there people searching for him, worrying about him?

He didn’t know. He tried not to linger on those fears, lest he unintentionally magic himself right back to sleep again.

Forcing himself to be brave, the captive stood. He gathered one of the blankets around his shoulders like a cape for warmth. He then approached the window, wishing not for the first time that it was both lower and larger.

Down below, he could see his monstrous captor, its long tail curled around the base of the tower protectively. It was difficult to tell, from so high up, whether it was asleep or not. Did dragons sleep? He pondered that, biting his lower lip as he did. No, he didn’t think so. Dragons were immortal, after all, all magical creatures were. They only died if they were slain, and that was no easy feat, to slay a dragon. They did not age, nor did they eat…so it was also unlikely that they slept.

Then again, he’d also thought that dragons were incredibly intelligent. If that was the case, this one had yet to prove it. It had hardly said anything to him at all thus far, other than croon at him like he was some pretty little trinket. Which he supposed he was, to the dragon.

But there was no denying that it was a very powerful being, the weeping walls surrounding him made that clear. This was complex magic being cast on him, deeply complicated enchantments which kept his mind numb and forced him into slumber.

What else did he know about dragons? He willed his hazy mind to focus. Powerful beings, yes, and very smart… Proud, too. They took great pride in their treasures. That was, perhaps, why this dragon had finally given him the one, meagre scrap of information that it had.

A God

Well, that seemed far-fetched, but maybe he could get the creature to elaborate. If it really believed that it had kidnapped a God, than it was probably itching to show off, to talk about how devious and cunning it was, to have coveted such a rare person…

Maybe it would let slip something pertinent that would help him escape. Or, at the very least, learn who he was.

The captive cleared his throat, apprehension crawling across his skin. And then, before he could over think it and change his mind, he leaned towards the window and shouted down to his imprisoner.

“Dragon,” he called, his voice surprisingly steady. The obsidian entity lifted its head, fixing him with those scarlet eyes that glowed like embers. He tried to focus on its body instead, not wanting to get trapped in that mesmeric gaze.

“…Come talk with me.”

For a long moment, the monster did nothing, only peered up at him with its terrifying yet lovely face tilted to one side as though considering him. He waited on baited breath, fully expecting it to ignore him and go back to its obsessive monitoring of the landscape.

But then it shifted its weight, pushing itself to its feet and curling its body around the tower. The captive’s heart leapt in his throat at his unexpected success. He backed away from the window and pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders, like a thick, fabric shield.

It had listened, it was actually going to come talk to him… He swallowed thickly, hoping that he hadn’t just made a very regrettable mistake. But there was no taking back his invitation, now. He could hear it scaling the weeping walls, its talons clicking against the stones…

And so he steeled himself to have a conversation with a monster.

red eye

A First Chapter

This is the first chapter of a story I’m working on. I’m still unsure as to whether I will post more of it on this blog or not, I suppose it depends on if people are interested… But I thought I’d least put this up. You may want to read my post entitled ‘A Prologue’ first – though I suppose it’s not necessary.

🙂


 

The world is filled with evil.

There is an overwhelming abundance of terrible, horrible people with terrible, horrible ideas. But Sorin would argue that, perhaps, the most horrendous and appalling concept in all of existence was…

Gym class.

More specifically, gym class…with heart rate monitors.

Whoever invented these terrible things? In another world, Sorin thought morbidly, they would be effective for use as torture devices. But instead, they were now a mandatory part of the physical education regimen for all public high schools in the state. Everyone had to wear them for a full forty minutes, two times a week, with the goal of getting at least twenty of those minutes in the ‘aerobic’ heart rate zone.

The tight, plastic contraption was strapped around his sternum, biting into his skin uncomfortably as he jogged at a steady pace around the track. It was synched with the watch-like device on his wrist, beeping occasionally to let him know that he was above or below his ‘target heart rate’…which was a miracle in and of itself, really, because half the time these stupid things didn’t even work.

Almost as if it had heard his thoughts, the monitor let out a shrill, high pitched note. Beep, beep, beep. His heart rate was a bit too high. He slowed his gait to a fast walk, panting slightly.

Gym class.

Sorin glowered as he looked out over the track. It was almost summer, the school year finally coming to a blessed, beautiful end…and so, because it was nice out, they had class outside. But the merrily bright, sunny weather did not match his disposition. He walked alone, currently as far away as was physically possible from the dismal building that was his high school. It looked more like a prison than an educational facility, he thought morosely.

…He hated it here.

Being a freshman was just as terrible as he’d thought it would be. Sorin had always been a bit of a loner. He didn’t make friends easily, and, honestly, he didn’t really feel the need to.

He was, essentially, the textbook definition of an introvert. And while his peers might think that it looked sad and pathetic when he would spend his lunch hour at a table by himself, tucked away in the corner of the cafeteria, reading adventurous, fantasy, sci-fi novels about worlds that were vastly more interesting than this one as he ate…he didn’t.

In his experience, most people were mean, conceited, boring, or, as was often the case, some awful combination of the three. Or they were mean to him, at least. On some level, he couldn’t even blame them. Sorin wasn’t exactly…impressive looking. He was short for his age, with a thin, fragile frame, and a thick mop of hair that was so blonde it was nearly transparent—traits which made him look closer to a ten year old than to his true age of fifteen. And as many times as the doctors told him that this was ‘normal’ for someone with his condition, as often as he was reassured that he would, eventually, mature and grow taller and maybe even (God willing) look like he’d actually hit puberty someday… Well, the verbal promises failed to make him feel any better when he was being taunted by his much bigger, bulkier peers.

Yet the truth of it all was that he wasn’t actually teased that much. Generally, he was hardly noticed at all. Sorin was the quintessential wallflower—so pale and small that, most of the time, he practically blended in to the white washed walls of the school’s fluorescently lit hallways.

The one part of the day that was an exception to this, of course…was gym class.

The horrible necessity of needing to change clothes in a locker room made his physical inadequacies stand out like someone was hitting him with a spotlight—an effect which tended to last the entire period. This was probably due to the fact that the gym uniform, even in its smallest available size, was giant on him. Nothing emphasized small bone structure like wearing what was essentially a gray tent that said ‘freshman’ on it in big, bold letters. So, while he was usually overlooked during all of his classes in which he could sit in the back of the room, perfecting the art of being the silent, unobtrusive student, the moment sixth period came around…

Now that he thought about it, truthfully, the heart rate monitors weren’t all that bad. Annoying, sure, and uncomfortable, but at least he didn’t need to interact with anyone. Unlike when they played softball, or soccer, or, worst of all, dodgeball

He shuddered at the memory. Dark times, indeed.

But today, he was able to keep to himself, for the most part, and daydream that he was anywhere other than the outskirts of Corning High School.

Sorin gradually made his was around the track, purposefully staying on the opposite side of the loop of the loud, chattering herd that consisted of his horrendous classmates. He may have been small, but he was fast. Every time the cluster of his obnoxious peers threatened to get within bullying range, he would sprint ahead (often to the annoyance of the monitor on his wrist, for exceeding his target heart rate, but he did have his priorities).

He was distracted, however, when he heard a different kind of laughter.

Girl’s laughter. And it was coming from behind the bleachers. Curious, and because he was in no rush at that particular moment, Sorin decided to take a slight detour and headed towards the outer ring of the track.

He came upon a group of kids that he didn’t recognize. Three of them, two girls and a taller, older-looking boy, and they couldn’t have possibly been from class, because for one, they weren’t wearing gym uniforms, and two, they were all smoking cigarettes (definitely not allowed on school property). He instantly thought to turn and walk away, but he couldn’t help but gawk at them for a moment because—they were all dressed so—they looked so—

Well, really, there was no other way to describe them. They looked so cool.  

They all had on black leather jackets (despite the fact that it was rather warm outside), each adorned with varying amounts of metal studs; the girls both wore fishnet tights with tall, black, laced up boots and identical black skirts, while the guy had on a pair of black jeans so tight that Sorin felt uncomfortable even just looking at them. Two of them had the kind of inky black hair that could only be dyed, while the other—a girl with her back to him—had a messy, pixie cut that was hot pink.

The guy caught him staring. He smirked as he inclined his head in Sorin’s direction, and he must have said something to his friends, because then the girl who was facing away from him turned around…

He did recognize her. She was a student, but she must have been in a different year. He’d seen her in the halls before, but didn’t have any classes with her…and he would remember, because she sort of stood out with that look. The last time he’d noticed her, he was pretty sure she’d had red hair. Or maybe orange. She stared right at him with wide, blue eyes that were framed with thick liner, taking a long drag from her cigarette between lips that were painted red. The tip glowed as she sucked in—a tiny ember at her fingertips.

He felt like a deer in headlights. Those bright eyes were fixed on him with such an intensity that it momentarily froze him, and he wasn’t sure if it was just because the three of them were so off-putting in general, or because he just simply wasn’t used to people staring at him so blatantly like that, but he felt like he’d been caught red-handed, doing something very wrong.

Beep, beep, beep

The monitor on his wrist snapped him out of it. Apparently, he’d been inactive too long. He quickly turned tail and ran away, the sound of their laughter at his back…

It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself firmly, though he could feel the blush of embarrassment rushing over his face like a heat wave. None of these people matter, the school year is almost over…and then, an entire three months to avoid all of them completely…

And he had plans, this summer. Big ones. He was going to get out of this tiny town, he was going to go, for the first time, to the city…and he was going to find out why, exactly, he was the way he was…

Beep, beep, beep

Sorin glanced down at the monitor, frowning. Why was it still beeping like that? He’d started moving again…

“Oh.” He came to a stop. His pulse was racing, and, he realized now that the reason it was alerting him was because, in that moment where he’d been standing perfectly still, being stared at like that, his heart rate had gotten too high, not too low. Feeling bizarrely ashamed about it, he took a few long, deep breaths, and the beeping stopped.

“Watch it!”

Oh, no—the herd, the other boys—they’d caught up, and a tall one with particularly broad shoulders bumped into him as he jogged past, sending Sorin stumbling forward. He lost his balance and fell to the ground, scraping his knee on the rubbery, textured material that made up the track.

“I—hey—!” he spluttered, hastily pushing himself up on to his feet again.

But they were already gone. They laughed as they continued onwards, not even bothering to look back and see if he was okay. Sorin glared at their backs, wishing that now would be the miraculous moment in his life where he would suddenly develop superpowers, and that his gift would be fire, and that they would simply burst into flames mid-step under the influence of his all-mighty, furious glare—

Alas, life was not a sci-fi, fantasy novel, and this did not happen. Sorin brushed the dirt off of his knee. It was already beginning to turn an abysmal shade of violet. He bruised far too easily, he thought sourly. Just one more wonderful, lovely characteristic that he could blame on his biological parents.

Beep, beep, beep

Sorin sighed.

…He hated it here.


 

A few days later, however, and he was free.

Was there ever a more beautiful sound than that of the bell at the end of seventh period on the last—the last!—day of school? Sorin doubted it. He was beaming as he pulled his backpack on over his shoulders, straight out of the classroom, down the hall and through the front doors…and the brilliant sun outside smiled back at him. He had already cleaned his locker out the day before, so he had no reason to linger. Sorin Owens was the first person out of there. The bell had barely stopped ringing as he stepped out onto the concrete pavement of the parking lot, to make the short walk home, free from the awful company of the Corning High School student body—

He jumped when he saw her.

…Sorin was not the first one out, after all.

The girl with the pink hair.

She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car—an old, beat up, red corolla—staring at him with that intense gaze again. Just staring, like she’d just been waiting there, just to stare at him—and she was smoking another cigarette. He froze as she slowly breathed out a plume of gray fog straight into her windshield, almost as if she was aiming it at him. Then she ashed it out the open window, tapping it twice with her index finger, and not for a second did she break eye contact with him. She didn’t even blink.

Feeling incredibly uncomfortable, Sorin turned and headed the other way, despite the fact that his house was in the opposite direction. He’d rather go around the entire building to avoid walking near her car. Why was she doing that? He glanced back over her shoulder, and sure enough, there she was, still watching him like a hawk. And it was so creepy, because there was no expression on her face at all. Just big, blue eyes and cigarette smoke.

He sped up his pace.

The sooner he got away from this town, the better, he thought. And he would be leaving, soon, even if only for a few days. He’d already bought the bus ticket, he had it all planned out. He’d been doing extra work around the house to save up some cash the past few weeks, and… What would his parents do, when they found out about this little excursion they were unwittingly funding? They would find out, eventually, but it didn’t matter. Whatever the consequences were, it would be worth it to finally know.

He tried to focus on these thoughts as he took the scenic route home, but he simply could not shake the feeling of that girl’s eyes on him—not after he had put a substantial amount of distance between himself and her car, not when he made it to his house, not even when he was in the secluded solace of his bedroom…and as he was sitting at his desk, examining his bus ticket with obsessive, slightly neurotic intensity (departs from the Corning Transportation Center at 12:05pm, arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City at 5:55pm), he was sure that, if he had been wearing that damn heart rate monitor, it would have been beeping at him like crazy.


 

Sorin was…a good kid.

He didn’t party, he didn’t stay out late. He didn’t do drugs or smoke or drink. He got good grades. He was never late to class or received detentions. He kept his room clean and did his chores and whatever else his parents came up with for him to do, and he did it well and he did it without question.

He was a good kid.

As a matter of fact, the only time he could recall getting ‘in trouble’, ever, was once when he was in grade school. He had been at the glass museum with his parents (one of the few if not only interesting things to do in Corning) when he’d wandered off, drawn to a display of a glass prism that talked about color. Sorin had just been examining the reflective rainbow on the surface of the white wall mount, appreciating the beauty that was the spectrum of hues, visible through the miracle of a glass prism… when a group of teenagers showed up. They’d begun arguing about the display, about the order of the colors and what they were called, because it wasn’t listed…and, while Sorin was generally a master of blocking out distracting background noise, this particular argument had annoyed him.

How could they even be fighting about this? He’d thought as he furrowed his brows, blatantly and uncharacteristically eavesdropping on their conversation. They were spending more time squabbling than they were actually looking! And if they would just look, they could see, quite clearly, that the colors were red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. And anyway, those were just labels that were superficially placed on top of the most easily distinguishable categories, there were actually an infinite number of hues there, in between each major color, and the real magic of it all was that all of them—every single tint, despite the fact that red and blue and yellow and violet were all so very different from each other—they were all, in a sense, the same, they were all light.

So he’d been telling them all this, of course, and maybe it was just because they were so thrown off that a twelve year old (who, in all honestly, probably looked more like he was eight. Damn his perpetually small frame) was explaining color to them so vehemently, that they just…listened. And it was the only time in his life that Sorin could recall talking to a group of people that he hadn’t felt awkward or embarrassed. He probably would have gone on for a while, too, but… Well, that was when his parents had found him, panicking. And while they were relieved that he was okay, his mother, in particular, hadn’t exactly been pleased by his little disappearing act.

It was the only time he could recall being scolded for something, really.

What could he say? He was a good kid.

Definitely not the kind of devious teenager who would take advantage of the fact that his parents were going out of town for a long weekend. They were both deeply involved in psychology, his parents—a fact which he generally lamented, as they often tried to psychoanalyze him and diagnose his introversion as various mental ailments, whether they admitted it or not. And this week, the first few days of freedom he had from the torture that was high school, they were going to a symposium in, of all places, Nebraska. Even better was what the topic of discussion happened to be: Health Disparities in Youth and Families—Research and Applications.

…How fitting.

Regardless, the point remained that Sorin’s parents would be gone for a full, four days. And because he was such a good kid, they had no reason to believe that he would do anything rash while they were gone, like throw a house party, or something. In fact, given how much they bothered him about joining clubs or functions so that he would make friends… Why, they might even be a bit pleased if he did.

He smirked. They would definitely not be pleased that he was hopping a bus to Manhattan to go visit his biological grandmother.

…A grandmother he wasn’t even supposed to know about.

His parents hadn’t planned on telling him that he was adopted.

At least, not until he was eighteen. The only reason he found out when he was a child was because of his condition.

Sickle Cell Anemia.

And…Sorin didn’t exactly fit the profile.

He’d read about the blood disease a lot. A condition which meant his red blood cells were the wrong shape, a sliver like a crescent-moon rather than a dented, circular disk. It was genetic, most cases occurring in people of African, Indian, or Caribbean descent…which his parents were not, and clearly, he wasn’t either—Sorin was so pale and blonde he was practically a ghost—but regardless of that factor, neither his mother nor his father had sickle cell anemia, nor were they carriers…

It was so strange, too, because this disease was supposed to be screened for before birth, and most babies who had it showed signs or symptoms before they were eight months old. But he, Sorin, hadn’t been screened, apparently, and a diagnosis hadn’t been made until he was four

None of it really made any sense, truthfully, but it did explain the random, painful attacks that he would get in his chest at times.

He didn’t remember a lot from his childhood, but he remembered those. Sporadic bouts of pain that would usually strike in his chest, and they were awful, really. Indescribable. ‘Crises’.  They occurred because, due to their unfortunate shape, his red blood cells would sometimes stick together and form clots. This would cause acute stints of pain that would generally not last very long, but were quite sudden and frightening to the point where they were nearly debilitating.

He was fortunate, however, in that he generally only had one or two a year. He’d read that some people with sickle cell anemia had them much more often, and that they can become so bad that hospitalization is required. He’d never had to go to the emergency room, at least…

But the sickle cells were brittle, too. Weak. A normal person’s soft, rounded red blood cells would last for about four months. His sickle-shaped ones only lasted for about ten days.

Which explained all of the random times in his life where he would become weak and lightheaded, too. He tended to become anemic when he was not feeling the greatest, as his body was low on red blood cells to fight for his immune system.

So he had it, and his parents didn’t, and it all came out of the woodwork, eventually. His mom had confessed to him when he was seven that he was adopted.

For years, afterwards, he’d asked about his real parents, but his mother wouldn’t talk. She would just look depressed and say that she would tell him when he was older. He hadn’t understood why it had made her so sad, couldn’t, as a child, wrap his mind around the fact that there was probably a good reason that she wasn’t telling him.

It was his father, the much more lenient of the two, who eventually did.

Sorin’s parents were dead.

…But even he wouldn’t say what had happened to them.

His parents—his biological parents—were dead, yes…but his grandmother was alive.

And oh, he had to give himself credit, really, because figuring that out had been quite clever on his part.

His dad had unwittingly let loose the information that he, Sorin, was born in New York City… And it had been the string he’d needed to pull on in order to begin unravelling the tangled mystery that was his birth.

It started with his Mom’s cell phone.

Sorin stealthily went through her contacts while she was otherwise preoccupied, writing down every single number with a New York City area code. He’d assumed she’d been in contact with someone he was related to, given that his condition was genetic… And he’d found one number in particular that instantly piqued his interest.

‘Anne.’

Just ‘Anne’. A first name and a phone number, and that was all.

The reason this was so odd was because his mom was a classic, stereotypical type A personality—very organized, very anal retentive—and all of the information in her phone reflected that, too. For every single contact, she had first names, last names, e-mail addresses, physical addresses, titles, business phone numbers, and so on…

For everyone except this ‘Anne’, that was.

He’d written the number down, and, ever so cunningly, had not made the fatal mistake of calling her on his own cell phone or their landline. No—Sorin had taken as many quarters as he could find and had ridden his bike to one of the remaining pay phones in town, and simply called her up.

…Many times.

Twelve times, in fact.

He supposed now, in hindsight, it shouldn’t have surprised him. He didn’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers, either (not that he, personally, received many calls in general, let alone mysterious ones). The problem was that not only would she not answer, but she actually hung up on him—meaning that he did not, in fact, get his money back. It was not until the twelfth attempt, just as he was running low on quarters that she finally bit.

She’d answered on the first ring, that time.

Who is this?”

And Sorin, for a long moment…had said nothing.

Funny, how he had been focusing so intently on just getting her to answer, that when he’d finally had her on the line, he froze.

“Hello?” she’d snapped, irritated. And then, “Quit calling m—”

“Wait,” Sorin had finally managed to choke out, beginning to panic. What if she hung up, and never answered him again? “I-I think you—I think—” a quick, painful swallow, before the words came spluttering out—

“I think you may be my grandmother.”

It had been a stab in the dark. It could have been an aunt, perhaps, or a cousin, or someone else. But she’d sounded older, on the phone, and well, he had just hazarded a guess.

There had been a long moment of silence where Sorin just held the receiver to his ear, waiting, holding his breath. He’d just begun to fear the worst, that she had hung up on him again, when finally, in a much gentler tone, she’d said,

“…Sorin.”

And so it began.

Talking on a pay phone wasn’t ideal, of course. He was already nearly out of change. Yet they’d had a very meaningful, if short discussion.

She had agreed to meet him. Even seemed a bit excited, in fact.

Sorin was, too.

He’d never been to the city before. It seemed odd, seeing as Corning was only about five hours away, but he hadn’t. He’d never been to Manhattan, he’d never ridden a subway…he’d never so much as taken a bus before, actually. But he’d read a lot about public transit, and really, how hard could it be?

Pretty hard, as it turned out.

Buying the ticket should have been easy. He had the cash, after all, and there was no law against selling a bus ticket to a minor…but looking like he was ten rather than fifteen didn’t help. He’d had to show them his high school I.D. to convince them he was over eleven, and even then, the woman at the desk had fixed him with a suspicious glare, like she just knew he was up to no good.

Regardless, he’d bought the ticket and he was here, now. He’d arrived at the station early—over an hour early, he couldn’t help himself—and was the first person on board the bus the moment it pulled into sight.

And he was prepared. Sorin had everything he needed. His backpack was loaded with his wallet, filled with more cash than he’d ever had on him in his entire life (which only amounted to just over three hundred dollars, but he still thought that was impressive), his phone, his charger, headphones, snacks, a large water bottle (staying hydrated was essential, given his delightful condition), a change of clothes (his grandmother had said he could stay the night, if he’d like, and he planned on it), print outs of the NYC Subway transit system (just in case his phone spontaneously combusted—one never knows), and, last but not least, his beloved harmonica, just because he never went anywhere without it (his parents hated that he constantly played ‘that annoying thing’ when he refused to take lessons for the piano or something ‘proper’, but Bob Dylan was his muse, and the harmonica was his weapon of choice).

He now sat on the bus, leaning his head against the cool, flat surface of the window as the other riders began trickling in. It was a beautiful day, and he couldn’t believe that he would be in New York City at the Port Authority Terminal in no less than six hours…

He pulled out his earbuds, putting them in and turning on one of his favorite songs as he waited for the bus to leave. His mind began to wander, drifting with the melody, running off with the lyrics…

…There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere, toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair—

Sorin started violently.

There—in the reflected surface of the glass, he saw someone—a girl, a girl with black hair and pale skin, like she was right there in front of him—

He jumped, turning around wildly in his seat, his heart in his throat—who—how

…But there was no one there.

The couple sitting a few rows behind him watched him curiously at his sudden outburst. Sorin took one of the earbuds out of his ear, standing as he cautiously peered over the back of his seat, scanning the aisle…

She wasn’t there… But she had been right next to him, in the reflection! Like she had been sitting in the seat just to his left…

But he only saw a few other, scattered passengers in the bus, and none of them were her.

Maybe…maybe he had imagined it…?

Taking a deep breath, Sorin settled back down into his seat. It was just the stress, he thought firmly, just…getting overly excited. He popped the other ear bud back into place and hauled his backpack onto his lap, pulling out his water and taking long drink.

…Onward on my journey, I come to understand, that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand…  

Sorin let the music soothe him, and soon his mind was wandering away from his body in the arms of the melody, just as it had been about to moments before.

The bus pulled out of the station, and he was off.

Floyd__s_Prism_by_Sudden2