Rude Awakening

Crescent had retired to his quarters not long after the two masters had left the gathering. Usually he looked forward to night-time, but this day had left him tired and more than a little confused. Travel was new enough but the obvious tension between Domerin and Master Abolan had been rubbing unpleasently against him all night, and he found he tossed in bed, instead of falling into his usual easy sleep.

Ire for the guild master was not new, but perhaps it had been the naked way their host had called him out that troubled him so. Either way, he couldn’t let himself dwell on it. They were in for a full day tomorrow and he would be in no shape for anything if he didn’t get some sleep.

He didn’t know how long he was out for before he started awake, every danger instinct inside of him flaring to life. His eyes went wide, straining against the gloom of the room for any speck of light. His hand shot down, quick as a snake striking, closing instantly around the blade he’d tucked between the mattress and bed frame.

Someone was here, and for an assassin that meant a quick reaction, or a quick death.

He swung as he caught motion out of the corner of his eye, though his blade met nothing but empty air. His blood was pumping now, breath quick, eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the intruder. It took everything inside of him not to let the feline erupt from below his skin.

He drew in a few breaths, trying to calm himself. It wouldn’t help if he lashed out wildly, and so he stilled, feeling out whoever had intruded. He could almost feel eyes upon him, though he couldn’t yet pinpoint where they were coming from.

He crouched, ready to spring, when there was a soft click.

Light flooded the room, momentary blinding him in the sudden brightness, as the overhead light came on.

He blinked, on the defensive, but no attack came.

When he could finally see again his eyes widened when he realized who was standing across from him, and for a moment he stared, dumbfounded.

“Master Abolan?”

He was confused and shaken, nearly vibrating from the lingering adrenaline. He was very keenly aware that if the master assassin had wanted him dead he wouldn’t have woken up at all. That bothered him, more than he wanted to admit. But if attack wasn’t on his mind why hadn’t he roused him with the traditional signaling touch?

“Crescent, isn’t it?” The man asked, arching a brow, sounding as if he were reading the mail rather than standing in his room in the middle of the night.

He shifted in bed, drawing the covers a bit closer around him. He was the furthest from shy but for once was thankful he hadn’t slept naked. The question didn’t fool him for an instant. This man was well aware of who he was. He willed himself to breathe and returned the knife to it’s place, taking a moment to compose himself before speaking.

“That’s right, master. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, there is. I must speak with you. Now.”

It wasn’t a request, and he didn’t dare argue, not after seeing how unforgiving the man had been that day.

He would move to get up, but the other man held up a hand, and he paused.

“Right where you are is fine.” He would take a seat in a plush chair that rested near the bed, watching him with that single eye of his. It was impossible to tell what he might be thinking, and he sat very still, as if still expecting an attack at any moment.

When it came, it was not in the shape he expected.

“You’re good, young man. I was only in the room a few minutes before you sensed I was there. Fast too.”

But not fast enough. The unspoken words hung in the air between them. He wasn’t sure what to say, but the older man went on.

“But, you were not raised in the guild.”

“How-”

“You’re much too old to be such a recent graduate.”

That was true, but he got the feeling there was more to it than that. Why would Master Abolan be here otherwise?

“Yes, quite good.” The man went on, as if he were talking to him. “It’s not easy for those raised outside of the guild to make it through the training, let alone to excel. But then again, the former master always did have a very good eye for people. I don’t think he would have made you the offer he did unless he was sure you were up to the challenge.”

Crescent quickly clamped his jaw, and set his face to its most neutral, not letting anything through. He didn’t know what the master was on about, but there was only one person left who knew about that deal, and she wouldn’t have talked.

“Master, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is it possible you have the wrong room?” He tried his best to sound innocent, confused, hoping not to offend.

But Seibel didn’t seem put off, instead a knowing smile touching his lips.

“I understand your hesitancy, but lying will do you no good here. I know you made a deal with the former master, where he offered to buy your contract if you promised to help Master Lorcasf. I knew you’d taken the deal, but lost track of you after that. I must admit surprise that you made it through your training at all, let alone so quickly.”

Crescent bit his tongue. He didn’t want to speak of this but the the other man had details he shouldn’t, unless perhaps the former master had told him about it. One of the masters had whispered that the old man hated Domerin because he’d been appointed heir instead, and stolen his chance to be the guild leader. But if that were true, why would the old master have told him in the first place?

He supposed it didn’t matter right now. Seibel was looking at him expectantly, and he didn’t want to get to the point where the man started demanding.

“I didn’t ask for any special favors, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I worked and fought just as everyone else did.”

“I’m sure you fought very hard, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit from the desires of the old master either.”

“If I did it was indirectly. With all due respect, I know guild law as well as you, master, and I swore loyalty to it when I joined.”

“As do we all,” the man returned, his tone sharp, holding a slight warning edge. “But that stops no one from also looking after themselves.”

Crescent bristled under the not so subtle accusation. He again willed himself to breathe, and shifted back to a tactic he’d used many a time back in his old life

“I’m afraid I’m a bit lost, Master Abolan. May I ask what it is you’re getting at?”

He infused it with as much innocent curiosity as he could. Unlike the nobles and johns back at the brothel, the man across from him clearly wasn’t taken in by the act, but if he wanted to accuse more he was going to have to come right out and say it. He was gambling, but didn’t think the man wanted to go that far.

A tense few seconds passed in silence, each of them looking at each other. Crescent refused to look away, refused to cow or crack.

Finally, after what seemed like a small eternity, Seibel smiled.

“Nothing at all, young man; merely pointing out facts. It’s good to know you’re so dedicated to the laws. We don’t have enough selfless assassins like you.” Though, by his tone, Crescent didn’t get the feeling the other man much believed him.

“As you say, Master Abolan.”

The older man regarded him silently for a few moments more, though it was impossible to gauge his thoughts.

Finally the man smiled again, but it didn’t reassure him, instead making him clutch the covers a bit more tightly. He was sure he’d seen the feline smile like that, just before pouncing, only this time he was the prey. It was not a comfortable place to be, not when the man after him was so high ranking.

“Well, this has been a most illuminating discussion, but I’m sure you’re eager to get some rest. You’ve a long day ahead.” He shifted, moving to get up.

“Are you going to tell Master Lorcasf?”

Seibel stopped at the sudden question. The way his grey eye bored into him made him wish he hadn’t spoken. He couldn’t charm or sweet talk this one, and that made things all the harder.

“Now why would I do that, Crescent? I’ve no reason to tell him, do I?” The man arched a brow, but a chill went down Crescent’s spine. Another word hung in the air, unspoken but ready to drag him down.

Yet. He had no reason to tell him yet.

For the first time in a long while, true fear bloomed in his chest. He was sure everything would be over if Domerin found out the truth. The man would never forgive him for that and, worse, it would break him. No matter how strong he acted, or how much he tried to avoid it, Domerin was, in some ways, more fragile than he would admit.

Master Abolan hated Domerin, and he would not allow him, or anyone, to use their relationship to hurt him. It was only knowing the old man would mop the floor with him that kept him in place when all his instincts told him to attack.

“No, Master Abolan,” he said, trying to keep his voice level, “there’s nothing he need know.”

“Very good. I’ll try my best to see that he doesn’t find out. I look forward to the rest of your visit, Crescent. It should prove to be… enlightening.”

7 Deadly Sins – Lust

Kevin moaned, as a pair of large, calloused hands moved over his body, fingers sliding through his fur. They touched with a skill borne of familiarity, and he responded in kind, running his sharp claws with care over taut, tanned skin. They left soft red lines in their wake, but that only drew out a pleased sound from his partner. The man above him hovered close, pinning him deliciously to the bed with his bulk. His skin radiated heat like a furnace, and he welcomed it, wanting it to consume him even as the heat in his blood did the same from the inside.

There were few who could truly match him here. His desire was voracious, and he made sure to give just as much as he took. Most fizzled out too soon, but Martin Amman was not one of them.

Kevin knew what he was. His species were impulsive at the worst times, landing them into all sorts of trouble they needed to get themselves out of. Luckily, most of the time, they had the wits to do so. But on a new world, interacting with other species, that didn’t always work. You couldn’t use your quick wits to mend a fractured relationship or make up for hurting someone you loved.

No, he was quickly learning that sort of thing took exactly the opposite. Introspection wasn’t something he was known for but he’d done perhaps more of it in the past few months than he ever had in the rest of his life. Little had he known that impulsiveness could take many forms.

He hadn’t been with anyone since Domerin had broken up with him and he’d foolishly decided that he should try to be more like Sesha. Though he’d been sincere in devoting himself to Domerin, his mind had been screaming with need after little more than a week. He didn’t honestly know how other people did it. Desire was something in his blood he could not deny; a base lust that coursed through the very DNA of his species.

His people were wanderers, but he’d found someone he wanted to come home to, someone he would have been willing to fight his lust for. He considered himself lucky Domerin didn’t ask that of him, giving him the freedom to seek out other lovers to sate himself. He hadn’t even needed to think before choosing Martin as the first to return to. The other man had been thrilled when he’d approached him about resuming their association, but first he’d forced him to sit down, so they could get some things straight before he’d even consider sleeping with him again. He’d been more relieved than he’d realized when Martin had agreed to his new terms. At least he knew the other man wasn’t going to bother Domerin any longer.

And so he’d finally let free the lighting that coursed through his veins, reveling as Martin took him to the edges of madness and over, into the abyss. He’d held this in so long he’d been sure the fire would boil his blood away.

As the heat cooled they both came to rest, and Martin gathered him up in his arms with a gentleness that would have surprised anyone who knew his strength. He laid his head against the man’s chest, the familiar double heartbeat thrumming in his ears.

For the moment he felt content here, warm, and sated. Even Martin was quiet for what was probably a record time for him. Eventually he shifted, and chuckled softly.

“You haven’t moved in about twenty minutes. I’ll bet even Domerin can’t wear you out like that.”

Kevin growled and pulled back sharply, forcing Martin’s arm to loosen enough so he could lift himself up. He shot the other man a hard look.

“I warned you about letting go of this thing with Domerin. Don’t make me regret my decision.”

Martin’s blue eyes widened, and for a moment he might have been a deer in the headlights.

“I was just kidding,  I promise!” The man tried to lightly stroke his arm, but he remained tense.

Martin’s brows furrowed and he moved to sit up, forcing Kevin to shift as well. He tucked his legs under him, and his look morphed to concern.

“Look, I’m sorry. It was a bad joke. I really have no interest in competing with Domerin anymore, okay? I saw what he did for all of us. I sent him my thoughts as hard as anyone else. He deserved it, and as far as I’m concerned, well… he’s a good guy. Peace?”

Kevin gave him a somewhat skeptical look, but finally nodded. Martin wasn’t the sort for subterfuge,  truthful to a fault, if poor in taste. The man might give him what he craved, but he had made it clear he’d cut him off in a second if he showed a hint of that former rivalry.

“Still mad at me?” Martin gently brushed his fingers down his arm in a conciliatory gesture.

Kevin shivered, body still sensitive from earlier, but he only shook his head.

Martin frowned and reached out. It was only moments before the man’s arms slid around his furred form and were drawing him into his lap. He fit perfectly, given their size difference, and Martin held him close against his muscled chest.

The man’s unique scent, mixed with that of their recent joining, filled his nose. He felt the spark of heat inside him already, needy and demanding, and he drew in a soft breath. It was so tempting just to give in, to not think anymore. It would have been easy. It always had been.

Martin knew him well enough to read that sound, and the way he pressed back against him, but instead of sliding his hands through his fur, he just gave him a gentle squeeze.

“What’s wrong, Kevin? Surely the sex wasn’t that bad.”

The question startled him out of his reverie, and he half turned to see Martin’s lips quirked up in a teasing grin. He couldn’t help but laugh softly, though before he could reply, the man went on, his voice far gentler.

“You don’t seem like yourself today.”

That surprised him. When had Martin become so observant?

“Sorry,” he admitted, an apologetic smile touching his lips, “there’s just a lot on my mind right now, and it’s been awhile since I- well, since I did something like this. Fed the fire this way. I kept thinking I could stay away from it, the need I mean, but I realized that’s just not possible.”

“Was that what you were doing? Why would you ever want to do that?” Martin asked, a single brow raised.

“I guess I thought it would be a distraction from… building a relationship. Most people in committed relationships don’t exactly sleep around. At least, not to the degree I do. But I can’t deny something that’s so integral a part of me. I think I would have lost myself eventually if I’d kept trying.” As much as he’d been the one to champion an open relationship at the beginning, these thoughts had plagued him, at least until Domerin had assured him that he was fine with his wandering.

“That’s still no reason to deny yourself. You think it’s a sin or something?”

“Oh come on, you know me better than that.” He said, gently bumping Martin’s stomach with his arm. “I just- things are different now. I want something more, and I was willing to give my up wandering to have it.”

Martin made a thoughtful sound that rumbled deep in his chest, and then he gave a little shrug.

“Seems to me any relationship that’s worth it wouldn’t expect you to deny a part of yourself like that. If it does it’s probably not good for you. It’s just pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you’re not hurting anybody.”

Kevin stared at the other man for a few long moments, amused. Leave it to Martin to reduce months of anxiety down into a few sentences. He might have come off as simple to a lot of people, but he was anything but stupid.

“He didn’t ask you to do that, did he? Domerin, I mean.”

“No,” Kevin said, giving a little smile, thinking Domerin wouldn’t have minded him sharing this one little detail. He’d been fine with the wandering, it was the other things that needed changing, so he could treat the man right.

“Good. I don’t see what the problem is then. Build your relationship with him, and I’ll be here the rest of the time. At least you know you’ll never go wanting.”

Martin’s hands began to move once more, sliding suggestively up and down his furred stomach. This time Kevin didn’t resist when he felt the familiar embers of desire start to glow.

“I think Domerin would be surprised to hear you say that,” he said, drawing in a pleased breath.

Martin’s chest shook softly against his back as he gave a little laugh. “I won’t tell him if you won’t. But for the moment, my dear, I believe we have a desire to feed.” The man’s large hand gently cupped his cheek, turning his head to the side and slightly up, so he could catch his lips in a passionate kiss.

Kevin didn’t say more, letting it carry him away once more.

Read what my writing partner, Megan Cutler, did with this prompt. Read The Sweetness of Eden: A Tale of Lust, over on her site.

 

Crescent -Mother’s Wisdom

“I will lie to you.”

The occasional streetlamp shone like stars in the night, fighting valiantly against the weather. Rain pelted the houses and the ground, as if the sky were trying to punish the earth for some indiscretion. It was a chilly rain too, encouraging anyone who didn’t have urgent business to stay safe and warm inside.

A fat splash broke the flow of rain as a foot landed squarely in a puddle. The figure it belonged to just managed to keep from stumbling, wincing at a lance of pain that ran up his leg. He rounded a corner, into the comforting embrace of a shadowed alleyway, and pressed himself up against the slimy brick.

Chest heaving, he pressed his eyes closed for a few moments and tried to still as much as he could. He strained his ears past the rain, listening for sounds of pursuit. No more sinister barking split the air, though after a score of breaths the sound of a guard whistle caused him to instinctively shuffle deeper into the alley. It didn’t take long to pinpoint that the sound was moving away from him. He didn’t dare relax, staying where he was, even as the chilly water soaked him to the skin, causing him to shiver. He’d left his oil-slicked coat behind.

His mother wasn’t going to be happy about that.

What should have been a simple thieving job had somehow gone horribly wrong. He’d only just managed to avoid being caught and had been chased through the streets by the lord’s angry dogs and the guard. How they’d gotten there so quickly he couldn’t say. He didn’t understand how it could have happened. The intel had been good, he’d been careful, and he’d done more complex jobs than this. Part of him didn’t want to go home, but his mother’s disappointment ended winning over the prospect of sleeping out on the street in wet clothes.

After ten minutes he was sure the way was clear and he hobbled cautiously back to the dingy set of rooms he shared with his mother. He hesitated at the door, fearing what she would say when he informed her of what had happened. Steeling himself, he entered, but surprisingly found the house dark and empty aside from the embers of a fire in the hearth. The reprieve didn’t exactly relax him and he first went to build the fire, knowing he’d need that heat later, before drawing himself a warm bath. He undressed with numb fingers as his mind ran in circles, trying to figure out what he was going to tell his mother when she returned. He could lie, but she would ferret out the truth sooner or later.

He slipped into the bath when it was ready, giving a sigh as the water started to warm him, chasing the damp chill from his bones. His hair was covered in dirty slime from the alley and he took care to wash it. The act was soothing, but as he washed the last of the suds from his blonde hair he ran back over the night in his mind, from the moment he’d left home, the journey through the streets, to climbing over the wall, and scaling the side of the house. That was when everything had gone wrong, and the trap had sprung.

The dogs had seen him and come running, and their barking had roused those inside. He’d barely managed to avoid getting knocked from the second story when a guard had flung open the shutters. On such a rainy night the dogs should have been kenneled, and why had the guards been in the house to begin with. He traced back over it all again, trying to figure out if he’d tipped anyone off on his way to the mark, but nothing came to mind. It was infuriating.

He’d lost himself in thought, and a slight motion in the mirror that hung over the sink caught his eye, pulling him back into the moment. His mother was there, reflected in the mirror. She was standing in the doorway, looking poised and perfect, her own blonde hair falling in waves around her face. Her eyes were fixed on him, gaze pinning him like an insect to a board.

He had no idea how long she’d been standing there.

His heart lept into his throat for a moment until he got a hold of himself and turned to her, doing his best to meet her gaze.

“Welcome back, Mother.”

“What happened?”

He winced. No matter what mask he wore, she could always read him like an open book. For a moment he considered lying, but thought better of it.

“I failed. The dogs weren’t kenneled, and there was a guard at the house. I was seen before I even got inside. I had to break off and run.”

When she said nothing he swallowed and went on.

“They chased me, I barely got away. I-I had to leave my coat behind. I imagine the house will be on alert for some time.” That was, perhaps, the worst of it. A failed attempt was one thing, getting spotted was quite another.

“I’m sorry, Mother. I studied all the information, cased the house, I was careful. I don’t know what could have gone wrong.”

He went silent, readying himself for her judgement.

His mother moved into the room, without making a sound, gracefully kneeling next to the tub. Her painted nails clicked against the stained porcelain as she ran her fingers across it.

“It went wrong because I gave you false information.”

His eyes went wide, and he stared at her, the revelation cresting over him. Part of him, deep down, wasn’t surprised. This was the sort of thing she would do, but he could have gotten caught, or killed.

“Why did you lie to me!?” He blurted out, shrinking after he realized how forceful it had sounded.

His mother didn’t even bat an eyelash, her tone cool.

“Why do you think, child? It was another lesson for you. Perhaps the most important lesson I could ever teach you.”

“A lesson? I don’t-”

“Hush now.”

He obeyed.

She silently regarded him, before leaning in over the water, running her perfect nails through his wet hair. They gently scratched over the curve of his skull, until they lightly gripped at the back of his neck.

“Listen to me closely. I will lie to you. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last. Mr. Beechum will lie when he comes for the rent. Mrs. Fisher will lie, to give you less food for the same amount of money. The entire world is full of liars. It’s about time you started being aware of that. You need to be ready for any eventuality at every moment, including that the person you think you can trust might have lied to you. Everyone is out for themselves. The only person you can trust is yourself.”

Her words penetrated his brain, even as her hand gently squeezed the back of his neck.

“Do you understand me, child?”

“I- I think so. But how can you go around every day like that?”

“How long did it take you to start checking every meal after the first time I slipped birthwort into your supper?”

“Three meals.”

“Indeed, though it should have been one. Now it’s a habit, isn’t it? This is no different. It just takes practice. And you will need that practice.”

“Yes Mother, I’ll remember.”

“That’s a good boy.” She smiled, seeming pleased, and patted his cheek with her hand before she drew away. “Don’t linger now, you have work to come up with a plan to get into that house. We do not leave jobs unfinished.”

He nodded his understanding, even if he wanted to sigh, and she left him alone to finish bathing.

After she’d gone he let her words run through his mind over and over. She hadn’t elaborated how, but he knew without having to ask that tonight wasn’t going to be the last time he came up against a situation that was different than the one he expected.

She had rocked his world, but he had to thank her. She was watching over him, training him, making sure he never ended up in the hands of the guards, or rotting behind bars.

But the fact remained that he knew he couldn’t ever fully trust her again.

Crescent & Rose – Diplomacy

I was the first

Sun shone in through the large windows of the palace, giving it a bright and airy quality. The open gardens were still full of visitors, but inside was insulated from all that. Overall, it was far less crowded than he was used to, outside of what he assumed were the usual people going about their business. He certainly felt a bit odd being here while the sun was still shining.

Two pairs of footsteps echoed down one of the corridors, moving briskly. Crescent was following his escort, one of the many guards, through parts of the palace he’d never before been. He’d visited plenty of times, of course, but always during social events where there wasn’t much time to wander around. He was used to the palace at night, full of people and sound. During the day it was strangely quiet in places.

Even more than that, though, was the fact that the Queen herself had called for him, saying only she wished to speak with him about some business. He’d hardly been his usual composed self for a few moments after the message had arrived, not able to fathom what she could want with someone like him.

He’d spoken with the Queen before; he’d met her all the way back when she’d been a princess, but it was only ever short interactions at social functions, when he was often the only one bold enough to break the ice and ask her for her first dance. He’d been even more flabbergasted when the guard had told him they were going to the royal rooms.

He couldn’t help but wonder what the nobles would think, if they knew he was meeting the Queen in her personal quarters. Suppressing a grin he also couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed gently provoking them and their endless gossip.

The guard showed him into the Queen’s rooms, where she was waiting, and he gave a graceful bow. She was dressed regally, as always, but her clothing was far simpler than the stuff she sported at balls and state functions. It only made sense, but he couldn’t help but smile to see her like that. She was a beautiful woman, he didn’t mind admitting it.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Crescent.”

“I can very happily say the same, Your Majesty. It feels like it’s been far too long since I last saw you.”

“Since last years Winter’s Ball, I think. It’s rather a shame, it’s always a joy to dance with you. You haven’t been spending as much time in the capital of late, have you?”

“Not quiet, no.” He didn’t wonder how she knew that, when someone like him should have hardly been on her radar, but he kept it to himself. “There have been quite a few opportunities for me elsewhere, recently.”

“I see,” she said, something in her eyes sparkling. “And here I thought it was because Domerin Lorcasf was living out of the city now.”

“Your Majesty?” He blinked at her, taken by surprise. There weren’t many people who could catch him up like that, but the Queen had always proven his equal when it came to quick wits.

The Queen laughed softly, though it was not a mocking sound. “I tease. I know you’re friends, and that I often see you with him during parties, even when you’re escorting someone else.”

“Well, you do have me there.” He admitted. “I enjoy parties well enough, but Domerin finds a way to make them special. My clients never seem to mind me visiting with friends.” He wondered at her words, though, having been thrown for a bit of a loop. Despite her insisting she’d been teasing he couldn’t quite help but think he’d seen something more in her eyes.

There had indeed been lucrative work outside the city lately, but for quite a long time he’d never felt the need to look outside when there was plenty here for him. He’d been feeling that itch for quite some time, feeling like the capital was lacking something. With her words he seemed to realize that maybe one of those things was Domerin.

“I dare say they do not, with such a charming companion. But, I do hope to see you at another event soon, Crescent. Who else will make the entire room jealous when he’s the first to ask me to dance?”

Crescent managed a rather dazzling smile to that, more at ease by the familiar topic.

“I just like to think you prefer starting out the night without having your toes trod on.” He’d never felt remorse for his boldness. Why start now? “I’ll see what I can do, Majesty. Can’t let the nobles get too lazy, now can I?” He couldn’t help but think of Domerin then, and all the long nights they’d spent having fun while everyone else took themselves far too seriously.

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” she shot back with a laugh.

She must have sensed his slight distraction, and shifted topic. She swept her hand in front of her and led him across the room to a sunny sitting area, with plush couches. She took a seat on one, and he sat to face her.

“Help yourself,” she said, indicating a table in the center covered in a spread of tea, cold drinks, and some light refreshments.

Thanking her, he poured himself a cup of tea and prepared one for her as well.

Once they were both settled she looked to him.

“I can imagine you’re wondering why I called you here.”

“I’ll admit my curiosity. I can’t imagine it was just to tease me about dancing.”

Most would not have dared to speak to her like that, but the edges of the Queen’s lips curled upward, indicating mirth.

“Would that were the truth, but no. I called you here because I’d like to hire you for a job.”

His brows shot up, not bothering to hide his surprise.

“You’d like to hire me?”

Again a hint of mirth crossed her face, but she focused on the business for now.

“It wouldn’t be like your usual jobs. Not quite, anyway.” She sobered, and continued. “There’s a visiting diplomat, who’s going to be staying in the capital for some time. I have reason to believe, however, that he’s also here for less than honest means. Our relationship with Ematria, his homeland, are of the utmost important, so if he has some other motives, it would help us greatly to know what they are. As you are not of the court or the nobility, you are an unknown to him, which makes you perfect for what I have in mind.”

“You want me to seduce him?” He couldn’t help but arch a brow, mind jumping to that since it seemed the most obvious.

“Not as such. I do want you to befriend him, gain his trust, be his guide through the social circles here in the capital. And, of course, find out what his plans are. Think of yourself as a sort of… cultural ambassador, if you will, with a twist that uniquely suits your skills. You won’t be required to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Crescent was thoughtful. He’d never done anything like that before, and it sounded important. He couldn’t deny that it intrigued him, a challenge that was right up his alley.

“And you would be all right with me doing this? I’m not really anyone important.”

The Queen smiled at him, and he almost instantly felt put at ease by it.

“I trust you, Crescent. Domerin speaks well of you, and if he trusts you then I know I can too. To a wise and honest ruler, trust and loyalty are more valuable than gold or jewels. Take time to think over it, if you need to, but I will need an answer within the week.”

Crescent took a few moments, but shook his head.

“I don’t need that long, Majesty. I’ll take the job. It does sound like something that will suit my skills.”

“That’s wonderful,” she said, and her smile was genuine, and lovely to see. “I will have all the information you need sent to you. The less you are seen here, the better. If you do well, I can present you with evidence, and there could be more work for you in the future.”

Crescent nodded, understanding. The thought had an attractiveness to it, and it was certainly something new. He couldn’t believe he was going to do work for the Queen herself. Did Domerin feel this giddy when serving her?

A rather mischievous thought crossed through his mind, and he looked back at her, a grin curling his lips.

“So, was I the first person you thought of for this job?”

The queen smiled knowingly and, he thought, just a little bit playful.

“Sorry to disappoint you Crescent, but I’m afraid not. Rest assured, though, you weren’t on the bottom of my list either.”

At her words he couldn’t quite help but laugh, caught again by her quick wit.

“No? I’ll have to try harder next time, then.”

The Queen gave a laugh of her own.

“I hope you do, Crescent. The capital is far less lively without you here. I’d like it if you stayed.”

Crescent saw that sparkle in her eyes again as she went back to her tea, getting the feeling there was again more to her words, but if she knew something more she certainly wasn’t telling. The Queen was as good as a cat at keeping her own council, when she wanted to be.

Flash Fiction – A Sharp Cut

A sharp cut

Red eyes slid critically across his latest mark, held tight and still by the bonds his own delicate hands had placed. A thrill touched him as he caressed the taut middle with a gentle hand.

He was almost finished with this one.

Screams echoed down the concrete walls from some further room, but he paid them little mind. They were a background chorus to his masterpiece.

His tools lay next to him, arrayed in a perfect line, gleaming in the light.

He took up the sharpest of them, running his fingers over the metal, savoring the work to come.

He leaned over his immobile target, eyes noting each place where his tools had already left their lasting stamp.

It was time.

His hand was rock steady as he laid the sharp metal against the stretched surface, and pushed with slow but inexorable force. It pliantly parted for him, and the metal sunk below the surface, dragging a splash of crimson in its wake.

He repeated the motion again and again. Each time the surface quivered, unable to flee, giving him a thrill he found nowhere else.

He lost all sense of time as he pierced and pulled. He was exacting, not caring how much punishment he laid upon the surface. He worked until he was satisfied, his target a beautiful splash of crimson and red, like an abstract painting.

“Now, one sharp cut,” He whispered, repeating what she’d taught him that first time. It was like a mantra, a ritual. “To finish everything off.”

The scissors made short work of the last thread and he held up the fabric, still taut in its wooden hoop. The design was one of his own. He’d seen it in his mind, one night, in a dream.

He was sure Cazella would love it.

 


 

Light from the hallway seeped under the door, illuminating a swath of thick carpet, decorated with a pattern of roses. In the shadows, near the window, a foot ghosted silently across the woven petals.

Mahogany, tobacco, rose hips, and a lingering hint of wine filled the night visitor’s sensitive nose. There was something else, underneath the richness, that only someone like him would be able to catch. A trace of sweat, urine, and fear, long since faded, ran like a gentle, but insistent, undercurrent. A small bloom rose each time his padded feet pressed the petaled carpet.

Someone had been terrified in this room. Someone had suffered.

That was why he was here.

Green eyes shifted to a gold-plated clock on the mantel that ticked softly toward midnight. He knew he was safe. He’d spent several days studying the owner’s schedule. No one had seen him and no one was coming.

That didn’t mean he wouldn’t still be cautious.

He hovered next to the huge bed like a phantom, garbed in shadow, peering down at the sleeping figure. The woman looked tiny among the mass of down pillows, swaddled like a child in thick sheets.

White hair curled around her head, catching the hall light and giving her a halo, face relaxed, untroubled. She was even dressed in a white nightgown, the picture of piety.

But he had not been sent here to kill an innocent. He didn’t need the scent of fear to tell him that.

He drew his razor-sharp knife, it too catching the light, glinting like the fang of some hungry animal. He gripped it tightly, taking cold comfort from its firmness.

It’s easy, came the whisper in his mind, unbidden. He pushed it away.

He didn’t want it to be easy, ever. This might make him an assassin, but he didn’t want to be a killer who enjoyed the act. This was the edge, the final divide between old life and new. All these years of hard work and denial had been building to this moment.

He would remember every detail, from the scent of her soap, to the rustle of the curtains, all of his senses hyper aware.

He lifted the knife, hesitating no longer, and his hand moved in one decisive, sharp cut. He may as well have been slicing through air.

Her eyes flew open, but he’d already taken her ability to scream.

Blood welled from the cut across her neck, perfectly made so she suffered as little as possible.

He didn’t look away as her nightgown and the tips of her hair were stained red, as she tried to gasp for air, turning wide, pleading eyes on him, while knowing it was already too late.

He didn’t look away as the life bled out of her, and his nose filled with the tang of iron.

It had not been easy, but it had been right.

Still, his emotions danced within him, rioting for his attention.

He focused on the work, finishing the ritual. Two feathers. One he laid on her chest, pinned under her arm so it wouldn’t float away. The other was dipped in her blood, and bagged, to be taken back to the guild and tucked away in a binder somewhere, one among a multitude.

Lastly, he dipped his fingers in her rapidly cooling blood, and marked his own forehead with it, as testament, and remembrance.

He crossed the carpet of roses, taking eagerly to the roofs, sucking in lungfuls of the clear night air.

It was finished, finally, his old life severed from his new with one sharp cut.

Domerin & Crescent – Deployment

“You don’t need to be honest with me.”

Crescent turned over in his sleep, instinctively nuzzling closer to the warmth in the bed next to him. Hazily, his mind told him something was slightly off and pulled him to wakefulness. His eyes shifted immediately to the clock, where the display read 1:45 am. It wasn’t the time that was off, but the fact that Domerin was no longer under his arm.

The other man was, perhaps, one of the very few people who could move around without waking him, but unlike some nights he hadn’t gone far. Domerin was still in bed, but sitting up with his back straight, and his hands resting in his lap. He was close enough Crescent could still feel his warmth, but he looked in a world of his own.

Some light filtered in through the windows as he shifted to look at the man’s face. Even in the low light he could see the tenseness in Domerin’s jaw, but more telling was the fact that the other man didn’t stir when he pulled himself half-up beside him.

“Can’t sleep?”

Domerin didn’t reply right away, staring across the space at the far wall, lost in thought.

Brows furrowing a bit, Crescent reached out a hand to run it across his lover’s bare leg. “Domerin. Are you all right?”

The other man seemed to come very quickly back to himself then, looking over at Crescent with a flash of surprise in his dark eyes.

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Of course not, darling. But are you all right? Can’t sleep?”

Domerin’s momentary silence told him there was something. The other man didn’t need to sleep as much, but usually he laid in bed by his side or went to do work.

Despite the silence he didn’t press, letting Domerin speak when he chose to.

“I’m being sent out on assignment in a week. We were briefed just today.”

Was that all that was bothering the other man? Assignments had always been part of Domerin’s job.

“I’ll miss you while you’re away. Where are they sending you?”

“It’s classified. I can’t tell you any of the details.”

“Well, that’s all right. You don’t need to be honest with me, Domerin. You never did when it comes to work.” Crescent kept his tone light, not wanting the other man to think he was mad at him.

But, unlike usual, the other man’s mood didn’t lighten. Domerin turned to face him and there was something dark and pensive in his blue eyes.

His humor vanished, replaced with concern for his lover.

“Domerin? What’s wrong? This is hardly the first time you’ve gone on assignment since I’ve known you.”

“It’s different,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ve only been together, properly together for, what, a few months? I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone, or if I’ll even be able to check in with you. It’s going to be a dangerous one.”

Domerin hesitated, unable to say more than that, and for a moment he looked wretched.

“What if I don’t come back?”

The man’s words struck him. It was true that this time was different. They weren’t just casually sleeping together anymore. After far too long, they were properly dating, a proper couple. He’d never thought he’d be happy in a relationship like this, but with Domerin it all felt right.

The other man had waited so long for this, and now he had to go away, not knowing if he’d be coming back. No wonder it was troubling him.

Crescent shifted, moving to sit next to the other man. He slipped an arm around his middle.

“You can’t let that get to you, Domerin. I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be a lot harder seeing you go than it ever has been, just as I can tell it’s going to be a lot on you to go. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come back, but I’m with you knowing that’s a possiblity. I know the risks involved. It doesn’t change how much I love you.”

Domerin leaned a bit into his touch, and he gently rubbed a hand across the man’s dusky skin.

“That’s good to know. I guess, after Kail, part of me still worries, even if you’re nothing like him. It was such a production every time I had to go away. He always made such a big deal out of it.”

“You wont ever have to worry about that with me. You have a duty, and the last thing you need is more stress and worry on top of everything else. I understand how important your job is.”

“Thank you for that, Crescent. It does help. And I hope I didn’t make you think I thought of you like Kail.”

“Of course not, darling.” He assured, lightly nuzzling Domerin’s arm.

The man smiled, briefly, but Crescent got the feeling there was still something else troubling him. He waited, not pressing him to speak.

After a time, those blue eyes were turned upon him again. He met them as they searched his face and he tried to project all his love through his eyes.

Lifting his hand, Domerin brushed calloused fingers gently down Crescent’s cheek.

“I have never resented what my duty asks of me. I would never turn my back on my responsibilities. I do neither now, but… I can’t help but want more time with you. Part of me wishes I wasn’t going.”

There was a tinge of guilt in the man’s voice that Crescent had never quite heard before.

“I’ve always known each mission could be my last, but every part of me wants to come back to you.”

Crescent reached up to gently brush his fingers across Domerin’s cheek in return.

“There’s nothing selfish about that. Who wants to leave their loved ones behind? I doubt even the queen would fault you for feeling that way. You’re hardly the only solider to feel guilty about having to leave and do their duty.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I know you, Domerin Lorcasf. No matter what, you’ll do the job you are sent to do, and you’ll do it to be best of your ability. I want you to come back to me too, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for how you feel.”

“I hear you,” Domerin said, a bit more of a smile finally touching his lips. “I won’t forget. Besides, it’ll be nice to come back home to someone who isn’t going to spend the first week I’m back fussing all over me.”

Crescent couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I’ll fuss, but in a very different way. A man has to welcome his lover home properly.”

He leaned in, slipping his arms around Domerin. The other man responded and gathered him up into his arms. For a time they just sat together, enjoying the quiet and the warmth.

Eventually he leaned his head up, to press a light kiss to Domerin’s jawline.

“And, at the very least, we have an entire week to make all sorts of good memories for you to take with you.”

“I see no reason to wait.” Domerin said.

Crescent could see the hint of a smile on his lips as the other man drew him back down onto the bed.

Episode 52 – Clipshow

FADE IN:

EXT. KING’S CASTLE – NIGHT

In the center of the kingdom stands the castle, where King Dormal rules with a fair hand. The castle and the land around is covered in a blanket of snow, bathing the land in a quiet softness. It is the last winter holiday before the new year.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

The royal family is gathered in the main room, settled on various couches and chairs. They are dressed in casual attire, no need for formality around each other. A fire burns in the hearth. Bottles of wine and mulled cider are laid out on a table nearby. A clock on the wall reads 10:30 P.M.

CRESCENT, blonde and mischievous, partner to Domerin, sits on the couch. He rests against Domerin, and he speaks animatedly.

CRESCENT

“…and I told him he wasn’t allowed to leave bodies in the kitchen anymore.”

Crescent pauses dramatically, drawing laughs from the rest.

VALERIAN, Crescent’s son, young and tanned, looking happy and full of life, holds a half-empty wine glass.

VALERIAN

(laughing)

“I don’t care how many times you tell that story, Crescent, it never stops being funny. I wish you’d tell us more about when you worked as a mercenary. There’s so much we don’t know.”

CRESCENT

“A lot of what I did back then wasn’t exactly family friendly.”

VALERIAN

“Oh come on, dad. We’re all adults now.”

CRESCENT

(grinning)

“Maybe someday, but it probably isn’t all that appropriate tonight, of all nights.”

ROSE, former Queen, still regal of bearing, has her own wine glass. Her eyes sparkle with mirth.

ROSE

“I hardly thought we’d be talking about dead bodies during the holiday.”

CRESCENT

“I’m sorry. That story is probably better in very different company.”

ROSE

(laughing)

“Oh, I know the sort of people. I’m sure they tend to have several pints in them by that point too.”

SILVERBELL, princess and only daughter of Rose. Her face is framed with curls, and she is outgoing and vivacious. She stands nearby, looking out the window.

SILVERBELL

(glancing over)

“Given how many people are drinking tonight, maybe we should have broadcast your story on the news.”

DORMAL, young king, and son of Rose and Domerin. He sits near his brother, glass of wine in hand. He has a strong, kind face, and a welcoming smile.

DORMAL

(laughing)

“And send people running out of their houses into the snow?”

SILVERBELL

“I suppose your right. And we don’t exactly want drunk people running around in the snow. It’s not coming down, but it’s pretty deep out there.”

CRESCENT

“Reminds me of that time we found that elemental. You remember, Domerin? In the middle of winter. I thought our fingers were going to fall off from frostbite.”

DOMERIN, strong elven warrior, father to Dormal, and partner to Crescent. He is relaxed and open in his family’s company, and has his arm around Crescent.

DOMERIN

“I remember that one well. It wasn’t quite frostbite levels, but it was pretty bad.”

DORMAL

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before, father.”

DOMERIN

 “Oh, well, this was a long time ago now, back before Crescent even worked in the capital. He was still working as a mercenary and we’d contracted him to work with us on a job because he had some knowledge of the location.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

The village stands at the foot of a grand mountain range. A thick layer of snow covers the ground, bathing the dark wooden buildings in a crusting of white.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“We had gone to this little town called Astil, near the Ramtops. They made an appeal for help, and we went in hearing stories of strange things happening in the area.”

Villagers stand outside in the snow, in front of a large wooden building, dressed in thick winter clothing. Many shift, looking nervous. The mayor addresses Domerin, Crescent, Rilan, Valia, and other members of their team.

CRESCENT (V.O.)

“They told us people had started going missing in the snow. These were people used to the area, mind. They would hear voices on the wind. Laughter rumbling down from the mountain.It was eerie.The locals said they thought had to do with this old ritual site outside town, though it hadn’t been used for centuries.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OUTSIDE VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

Domerin and his group make their way up into the foothills, riding snowmobiles borrowed from the village. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, despite the chill, but the group keeps a sharp lookout for danger. They arrive in a circle of trees, and approach something dark.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“When we went to investigate we found this mound of stones, just under the snow, not even up to my knees. It was covered in frozen flowers. The villagers told us they put them there every year. Some sort of a tradition from long ago. The place reeked of magic. We hardly probed when all hell broke loose.”

Valia kneels in front of the mound, magic light pulsing in her hands.Everything goes still, then there is a rumble, and a shake. Air and snow begin to rush down the mountain, and swirl madly at the group. It forms into a large ice elemental.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“Valia told us later the creature had been stirring, pulling people into the snow. She felt awful for waking it up, but everyone knew it wasn’t her fault. At the moment all we could do was fight it. We couldn’t let it run rampant. It was one hell of a fight, though. Everything was blurry with the snow, and you could smell the storm in the air.”

The elemental attacks, and the group fights back with weapon and spell. The battle is fierce, and at one point Rilan is injured. Eventually, after a long and grueling fight, the elemental dissolves into snow.

FADE IN:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

“That thing was a nightmare to take down. One of the hardest elementals I think I’ve ever fought. We’re lucky we didn’t lose anyone.”

CRESCENT

“It was lucky, though poor Rilan was sick for weeks after that. He got hit pretty bad by that thing. We all took turns going to help take care of him.”

DOMERIN

“He did, but the work got done. I haven’t heard any trouble from there since then.”

DORMAL

(leaning forward in his chair, wine forgotten)

“Sounds like it was terrifying. Part of me wishes I could have been there to see it, but I’m grateful to be where it’s nice and warm.”

VALERIAN

“Maybe I could steal you away this coming year and we could go visit.”

DORMAL

(smiling)

“That would be nice, but maybe we could aim for summertime”

VALERIAN

(grinning)

“Don’t have to tell me twice. You really should try to take some time away this year, Dormal. You deserve it.”

ROSE

(lifts her glass, eyes sparkling)

“Maybe you could even come and visit me.”

VALERIAN

(perks up)

“You should! It’s warm there, and peaceful. I could fall asleep in front of Mother’s fireplace. The nights are dark and it’s so quiet. You wake up, birds are singing. No traffic, or people pounding on your door all the time.”

ROSE

“Not usually anyway. I get callers, sometimes. I like my privacy, but I don’t mind seeing a friendly face every now and again.”

DORMAL

(wistful)

“It sounds wonderful. Maybe I will plan to come visit you later this year. It would be nice to get away from the castle for awhile, and all the things that are hard to escape. I’d love to take a walk in the woods around there.”

VALERIAN

“It’s not a crime to take a break, Dormal. Let me know when, I’ll meet you there. I can show you all around. It’s really lovely. (pauses, grinning) Well, as long as you stay away from the caves.”

DORMAL

(arching an eyebrow)

“What’s wrong with the caves?”

ROSE

“Your brother’s just winding you up, dear. There’s nothing wrong with the caves. (grins playfully) Not anymore, anyway.”

DORMAL

“You too, Mother?! Now I’ve got to know! You never told me about this one, Val.”

VAL

(laughing, holding his hands up in defeat)

“Sorry, sorry! One of the times I visited I decided to explore a bit through the woods, and  found a cave opening some ways away from her place. You know me and caves, I just can’t resist going inside.”

SILVERBELL

(tilts her wine glass toward Valerian’s face)

“Given that, and all the other things you’ve told us I would have thought you’d have had your fill of caves. Am I going to have to put a leash on you, brother?”

VALERIAN

(lightly rubs a hand over his one covered eye, though he laughs)

“As if that would work on me, Belle. Caves are a bit of an obsession of mine. Like climbing the highest tree for you. I can’t resist. Besides, I didn’t go far in alone.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Valerian stands just inside the mouth of a cave, daylight streaming in behind. The cave walls are covered in white chalk markings of all sorts.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The cave had been used for something, but I couldn’t tell what. So, for once, I did the smart thing and went to get mother.

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Rose and Valerian stand at the mouth of a cave. The light outside is brighter, indicating the time has changed. They examine the markings, Rose interested and pensive. They speak, and head deeper into the cave.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We went quite deep. I had explored the area when I chose to settle there, of course, but this I must have missed. It didn’t give off any sort of magical aura, and I didn’t get an ill feeling, so I thought there was no harm.”

Rose and Valerian walk the hallways of the cave, with a magic light to illuminate. Rose stops every now and then to leave a magical marking of light on the wall, to help guide them back out. The cave is beautiful.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We found more markings, though I couldn’t find any special meaning in them. I didn’t really expect to find much more than that. But, there was this massive underground lake. It was beautiful, perfectly placid. Like some sort of a forgotten shore.”

They stand looking at the lake. It extends away into the darkness.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The lake was; the shore wasn’t. There were these bones all over the ground, all old and brittle. They made the worst crunching, snapping noise you could imagine when we stepped on them. They were everywhere. I thought someone had been using the place to summon up ghosts with old tomes, or something of the like.”

Rose kneels down at the edge of the water, letting her hand hover over it, but not touching. Her face is reflected in the water, and she studies it, as if looking into a mirror. The water remains still and Rose stands smiling.

FADE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

ROSE

“It used to be a place where people took the dead. I didn’t feel any ill presence, but performed a cleansing spell just to be safe. Still, I think that was the last time I’ll ever enter there.”

VALERIAN

“Same here, though I sometimes still see it in my dreams.”

A comfortable silence rests for a time. The family is relaxed with each other, having their shared lives in common.

DORMAL

“I suppose I shouldn’t pretend that Silverbell and I had a particularly eventful year. Dealing with nobles and ambassadors isn’t exactly the most exciting of things. They all think an overheard remark is cause for a gossip party.”

SILVERBELL

(waves her hand)

“It wasn’t all that bad. Actually… (she grins playfully) we did have one particularly memorable day.”

DORMAL

(thinks, then his brows raise in understanding)

“I don’t want to tell anyone about that. There’s hardly any time left before midnight. You really went to spend the rest of it embarrassing me?”

SILVERBELL

“Oh come on, Dormal. You’re only human.”

DORMAL

(draws a shallow breath)

“Fine. But when Mother demands her throne back, don’t blame it on me.”

ROSE

(laughs, looking curious)

“I don’t think you need to worry about that, darling, but this I have to hear.”

DORMAL

“It was one of those days where I didn’t have court and I was aching to get out of the palace for a bit. I told Silverbell, and she decided to do something about it. She couldn’t take me to distant lands, but she does know all the best ways to sneak out of the castle.”

SILVERBELL

“I thought an afternoon wouldn’t hurt.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – SERVANT’S HALLWAYS – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell are dressed somewhat down from their usual attire. They wait near an exit that will take them out into the city. Dormal casts a spell over the both of them that will disguise their appearance. Despite this, they must be careful, and wait many tense moments, before they can go. They head into the city.

DORMAL (V.O)

“I told the guards I was not to be bothered for the day, unless I called. I used that disguise magic that Valerian taught me, so no one would know who we were, and we just went out with no real plan.”

FADE TO:

The royal siblings walking the streets. They laugh, talk, and take in the sights, not in any rush. It’s a nice day, and Dormal looks relaxed as the walk, and aren’t bothered by anyone. They make their way to a store with a simple, unobtrusive exterior.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Everything was fine, until I thought we should stop in this little store I’d heard some of the guards talking about, that sold this amazing tea. They sold all sorts of weird little things. I actually think you’d like that store a lot Valerian. It also turns out it’s a tea shop, of sorts.”

INT. ODD SHOP – DAY

The inside of the store sells all sorts of things, knick-knacks, historical items, things from different lands. It’s full of tables, shelves, and displays full of items. Despite the strange air, and the cluttering, it doesn’t appear menacing. Along with the clutter, there is also a section devoted to all sorts of teas and tinctures the woman happily shows some.

DORMAL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say we decided to try some of the tea. It was… an experience. “

Dormal and Silverbell buy a cup each, and take a seat in the shop to drink it.As the minutes go on they start to stare around the shop with wide eyes, and every now and again they would break into giggles.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say I think the guards were trying this tea on on their days off. You’d think it was our first time drinking, or something. I think we were giggling by the time we left the store.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

(arching a brow)

“Wait, so this store was selling drugged tea?”

DORMAL

“Yes? Though I don’t think it was anything dangerous. Imagine someone wrapping you up in a fluffy rainbow and pushing you out the door. I could hear music in my head, and there were so many colors in front of my eyes. It was actually quite relaxing, in a way.”

Domerin looks torn between displeasure and amusement. Next to him Crescent’s shoulders shake with laughter, and even Rose has a twinkle in her eyes.

ROSE

“I sneaked out of the palace plenty of times, but I can’t say I ever got myself in a situation like that. You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself hurt. How did you get home?”

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY PARK – CENTRAL LAKE – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell, still disguised by magic, sit on a park bench near a small lake. There are people all around having fun, playing, reading, riding paddleboats in the lake. The royal siblings giggle and point out different things to each other. Dormal becomes concerned and hurries over to talk to some people near a group of ducks, waving his arms a bit.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“We walked back, eventually. I’m not even sure how long we were gone. I think we even went to the park and just sat there starting at the ducks for an hour. It felt like the right thing to do.”

DORMAL (V.O.)

“I kept telling people not to pet them, over and over. I think they thought I was crazy. I remember smiling at them, thinking I now had a duck smile to add to my repertoire.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DORMAL

(smiles, though he looks momentarily sad)

“Looking back it’s funny, but we’re really lucky my spell didn’t wear off before the tea did. It would have been a scandal if the king and princess were found walking the streets under the influence. I don’t think I should do it again.”

DOMERIN

“It was dangerous, and it probably shouldn’t have happened. But, I think a little extra caution would have been fine.”

Rose stands and crosses the space, sitting by her son. She lays a hand on his arm.

ROSE

“Your father is right, dear. You shouldn’t change who you are, or suppress those desires. You know how to handle yourself, just be a little more cautious next time. And, perhaps, don’t let your sister choose the tea.”

SILVERBELL

(laughing)

“Hey! Well, I guess that’s fair enough.”

DORMAL

(smiles)

“Thank you mother. I’m always grateful for your advice.”

The family settles back in, enjoying their wine, and chatting.

The clock strikes the hour, letting off a cheerful chime.

DOMERIN

(hugs Crescent close, and kisses him lightly)

“Happy new year everyone. I can’t think of anyone better to pass the night with.”

Everyone toasts to that, rising and exchanges hugs and kind words for the year to come. Silverbell moves to the window, peering out. The midnight air is dancing.

SILVERBELL

“It’s snowing! The first snowfall of the year.”

The rest of the family rises and joins her, and they watch the snow falling on the courtyard, as distant fireworks sound the arrival of the new year.

CRESCENT

“Let’s make it a good one.”

FADE TO BLACK