Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Paula's Prompt: Crossed Paths

Here's my response to Paula Wyant's Wednesday Words! Check out her excellent prompts at ptwyant.com . Last week's was a card, whittling, and a backpack.

The result was the Tale of Navel, 'Crossed Paths'. Here's a sample containing not too many spoilers, I hope! :) I'll share the rest once all of 'Waiting for Rebirth' has been posted at inspirationcauldron.wordpress.com.

Damian Ashelocke wasn’t used to whittling. He preferred clay. Somehow the knife ended up in his hands, a small, silvery blade. Its edges fluted out, looking like a spade. Spade or blade? When did the blade become a spade?

Gabrielle would have preferred spades, a shovel she could use to plant a garden, rather than a sword to cut down her enemies. No matter how well a sword suited her. 

Ah, well, it had been an old, sour argument. One he’d left behind in the Navel, along with everything else. Not to mention everyone else. 

Damian closed his eyes against the sudden surge of pain. Violet blue eyes with traces of rose, purple, and other forgotten colors swimming in their irises met his, filled with liquid pain. 

He forced his own to open, fighting against the sticky wetness which swelled beneath his eyelashes. He scratched the blade with especial gentleness against the wood, feeling for the grooves within rough material. Finding the boy’s limbs, his arms, and his legs. 

Why couldn’t he stop thinking about Christopher?

“May I sit?” 

Damian looked up to see a girl with shaggy golden hair, cropped short, wearing a loose tunic which could have been from any number of worlds and time periods. The backpack she slung over one shoulder limited those possibilities. 

All serious dreamers ended up in the Shadow Forest, sooner or later. 

“Why ask?” Damian asked, lifting one hand to shade his eyes from a sunbeam, coming through the trees. Once more, it was sunset. Not that time was measurable by any standard of reality here. “You’re already walking my path. Why not simply take a spot in my resting place?”

“Once inconsiderate, courtesy is considered the second time around.” For all her fancy words, the girl plopped from herself down right against tree trunk next to Damian. “I wanted to talk to you, Damian Ashelocke.”

“You’re assuming I want to talk to you.” Damian cursed himself for the defensiveness in his own voice. It was a sign of weakness. He didn’t inch away from the girl, although her proximity made his skin crawl. “Did my aunt sent you?”

“No, Duessa isn’t our mutual acquaintance, unless my path crossed with hers and I didn’t realize it.” The girl unzipped her backpack and started pulling out items. Rumpled shirts and tunics from differing time periods, stinky underwear, ripped bloomers, a battered flashlight, and several small sachets. “It’s someone else. Ah ha!”

She flourished an intricately carved wooded box with a pattern of flowers and vines upon it. Carefully, she popped open a drawer on the side. 


“The Fool!” She withdrew a card and displayed it. “Looks like our minds are on the same boy.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Haunted Dress

This prompt was offered up by Paula Wyant at ptwyant.com exactly a week ago on Wednesday; June 7, 2017. A haunted dress, nothing more, nothing less.

I instantly found myself thinking of 'A Portrait Is Worth a Thousand Words', my attempt at a 19th century style ghost story. Only the characters who populate this tale are queer and or/gender bending. Elizabeth Hartford has been in my head as a character in the World of Darkness for years. Sometimes she's been a mage. At other times she's been a vampire.

While Blogging From A-Z, she returned to me, forceful and arrogant as an original character. Being a lady of a certain stature, she demanded an entourage. She wanted a Victoria Winters of her own, a girl who worshipped the past, who would worship her portrait.

Elizabeth is not a woman to be denied, even if she's fictional. My brain started playing with the notion, "Ah, but what if her Victoria wasn't a girl at all? What if he was truly male, but looked extremely pretty dressed up as a gothic heroine? What if he had a friend, who dressed him up as a girl and sent him to his living relatives as their kin?"

If you're going to play gothic heroine, however, you're going to run into all the perils gothic heroines face, along with the temptations. Westerleigh Hartford is discovering this.

In the meantime, I'm discovering there's much more to this story than a simple retelling of old ghost and vampire tropes. One of the things which made Victoria Winters a compelling character in 'Dark Shadows' was her lack of a past. This gave her a hunger to have one.

Westerleigh Hartford has a hunger of his own, which he's being able to feed under Elizabeth Hartford's roof, touching Elizabeth Hartford's possessions. What direction will his desire take him? This fragment flirts with the possibilities.

My eye was drawn to the intricate design of the lace peeking out of the sleeves and crawling upward from the bodice. Stars, flowers, and tiny beasts were caught in a web, struggling to be seen against the dark green of the gown. 

This had to be one of her dresses. I reached out for the velvet, my finger trembling at its proximity. 

“What are you doing?” 

I let out a guilty yelp and jolted away from the wardrobe. 

Fiona, my cousin, stood before me, hands on hips hidden beneath her white labcoat. She peered at me from behind a thick pair of spectacles. 

Heat rushed to my face. I clutched my finger, rubbing it as if it had been burned. 

“I’m sorry!” I stammered. “It’s just…I thought-“

“Thought what, girl?” Fiona demanded. “Why are you standing here, like an idiot?” She withdrew a hand from her pocket to wave it in the direction of the wardrobe. “Try it on!”

“What?” I scuttled to the side, away from both my kinsman and the wardrobe. “How can you say such a thing!” Outrage welled up within me, eclipsing the shyness I’d felt since I entered Hartford Hall. “This gown belonged to…must have belonged to…” I faltered, unable to say her name. 

“Elizabeth Hartford, yes,” Fiona interrupted. She dropped her arm to tug at the lapel of her coat, drawing attention to a yellow stain on the pocket. “I’ve tried it on myself, but she’s never been satisfied with how I looked. Or me, for that matter.”

“She?” Once more, I let my gaze be drawn to the dark, emerald green of the bodice, the thick folds of the skirt. I couldn’t say her name. It remained, tingling on the tip of my tongue, like a spell I dared not utter. 

“Elizabeth Hartford, of course! Who else would we be talking about?” Fiona raised her hand in an attempt to smooth her unruly red hair, making it even more of a tangled mess. “Death hasn’t made her any less the mistress of Hartford Hall and everything in it!” She dropped her arm, abandoning the coppery tangles on her head. “Others might try to wear that damned dress, but she decides who’ll succeed in slipping it on.”

Here was my kinsman, uttering the madness I’d sensed ever since I crossed the threshold of Hartford Hall. Elizabeth was still here. Her spirit lingered in the rooms, among her former possessions. Such was the force of the lady’s character. Elizabeth Hartford had never done what she was supposed to in life. Why would she in death?

“If the dress is still hers, why would she wish for me to try it on?” I shivered, raising my arms to touch the rough silk of my own blouse. No, not mine. Yuri’s. I needed to careful not to move too freely, not to rip the material. Was this part of being a lady? “It would never suit me as it suited her.”

“You wouldn’t have been drawn to this room, if she didn’t want you to try.” Fiona let out a sigh. “You’re her blood, You’re her heiress. If it’s not me, it must be you.” She rubbed her nose, pushing her glasses back on her bridge. “Otherwise, the gown will never be worn. She needs you to wear it for her.”

Elizabeth Hartford needed me? All my life, I’d turned to her for guidance, for inspiration, when I didn’t dare utter my doubts to any of the living. I took a deep breath, feeling the floor, the room, and everything around me swim. 

“I’m not worthy,” I whispered, putting a hand against my forehead. Cold sweat slicked against my fingers. “Much as I wish I was.”

“Well, don’t whine about it!” Fiona snapped. “I had my chance with her and I failed!” Her fingers spasmed around her face, stabbing one of the lenses of her glasses. “Don’t blow it, girl!”

Don’t blow it. I found myself standing up a little straighter at that command, delivered from Elizabeth’s descendant. It almost seemed to come from Elizabeth herself.

“All right, I’ll try on the dress,” I said, taking a deep breath. If I stripped down in front of Fiona, our secret would be revealed. Mine and Yuri’s. The girl Yuri had transformed me into through lace and make up would vanish at the naked evidence of something else under my skirt. “However, I need to do it in private.”

“Don’t you understand?” Fiona let out a short, barking laugh. “There’s no privacy here!” She waved her arm at the room, the wardrobe, and the dress itself. “She’ll be watching you! She’s always watching!”

“It’s all right, if it’s her.” I swallowed at the raw truth of my words. I’d always belonged to Elizabeth, every since I was a child. I’d sought her secrets growing up, trying to probe the mystery of whom this sorceress and infamous female truly was. This infamous female I’d come to worship. I was still trying to uncover them, to find out who Elizabeth Hartford truly was.

Shouldn’t I offer Elizabeth one of my secrets in return? 

“I’ll strip down, but only for her.” I raised my head. I looked deep into Fiona’s eyes, which were wide and wounded behind her glasses. “I’m sorry, Fi, but it needs to be just the two of us.”

“Figures.” Fiona stiffened and raised her own chin in response. “She’s always had an eye for a pretty girl, even in her own family. Now that she has a tender, sweet young thing, she has no need for her old sidekick.”

I opened my mouth, but didn’t have a chance to answer. 

Fiona turned her back on me and stalked towards the doorway. 

“You’ll have all the privacy you need and more than you could ever want!” she snapped, before kicking the door closed behind her. Heavy, wooden, and ornately carved, it creaked a dignified protest, while it shuddered. 

I released a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. Poor Fiona. I might know exactly how she felt in a moment. 

I tried not to tremble, while I reached for the pearl buttons of my blouse. It truly was a lovely thing. I marveled that Yuri had leant it to me. It was too fine and feminine a garment for one such as myself. Now, I was going to wear a lady’s gown. The lady’s gown. 

My fingers shook as I undid each small, white nub, revealing the flatness of my chest. 

“I wanted so badly to come to Hartford Hall.” I let my skirt fall, revealing my bulging secret. “I tried to transform myself into the girl you wanted, the heiress you hoped would appreciate all that you’ve created.”

Exposed in my panties, I stood for a moment. I stared at the green gown, reluctant to reach out for it. It took every bit of courage I possessed to stretch out my hand. I half expected to feel a chill, or an electric shock. 

Nothing happened. I brushed my fingers against the velvet, feeling its welcoming softness. It stroked my fingers in return, urging me to come a little closer. 

This was enough to dispell my fears.

“Thank you.” I moved forward to slip the dress of its hooks, to hug it to my chest. “I’ll never be as beautiful as you were in this. I’ll do my best to be worthy of it.”


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Paula's Prompt

Once again, I return a week later to respond to Paula's Prompt on May 31st, 2017 at ptwyant.com. It involved a box filled with wrapped presents, an ocean, and an attack.

What came to me was a story fragment from my f/f Work in Progress, 'The Players Are the Thing'. In this story, a group of female gamers find their characters becoming more and more real. Instead of driving the girls crazy, the characters try to rescue them from themselves, by helping them with their lives. There's been much criticism of role-players and how absorbed they get in their imaginary worlds. It's true that they do, but I wanted to show how this absorption could a positive force as well as a negative one. Although Amberwyne isn't exactly giving Rhane much of a choice in this particular situation! :)

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“Amber,” Rhane gasped, shuttering her eyes. She could see her character, standing on the edge of the ocean. Ginger locks of hair flew across her face, moving with the force of her mental attack. “Why are you doing this?”

She shut her eyes, tried to reach for another present in the deep box. They weren’t even hers, not exactly. It was a collection of wrapped boxes Beatrix brought home from the store, dumping them in front of Rhane.

“Go through these, when you have a chance.” Beatrix didn’t even bother to look at her. “One of them is your birthday present. The others we’ll find a use for, or sell.”

Zoe had been kind enough to help her sort through the packages, but her hands were tired. Her back ached. She needed to get up, to move around. Rhane wanted to finish opening them, when she could.

Only she’d been interrupted by a sharp, distracting muscial note, which trilled within her mind, making her stretch out her fingers, discarding the ribbon she’d been about to unlace.

“What is it?” Zoe asked. She paused in the middle of discarded wrapping, a box with a leather latex glove and several nobs depicted on the front. Rhane wasn’t even sure what it was. 

“Amberwyne,” Rhane managed to gasp, rubbing her temples. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the puzzled look of disbelief that crept over Zoe’s features. She was too used to seeing it on Beatrix’s. 

“I’m more than just your character.” Amber half spoke, half sang, kicking up a foot to splash foam and water about the sand. “I’m part of you, Rhane. I express the things you don’t dare to…yet.” She pushed a lock of hair away from her face. “Why don’t you come to this beach yourself?”

Rhane opened her eyes to see Zoe’s green ones fixed upon her. She glanced from the presents to that searching gaze. 

“What about Amberwyne?” Zoe reached out, almost touched her hand. The present slid out of her lap, but the other girl paid it no mind.

“Come here. Ask Zoe to come with you.” Amberwyne stretched her arms straight out and met Rhane’s eyes. How could a player character be so real? “You know you want to.”

“Talk about pushy,” Rhane muttered. “Not you,” she added, glancing at Zoe. “Amber, err, wants me to take a walk. With you. At the beach.” She attempted a feeble grin at her own comment, feeling freakish and exposed. 

Zoe didn’t remark on the crazy. She just smiled and moved her fingers a little closer, so they touched Rhane’s. 

“You’re lucky Amber thinks of these things.” A tiny, cornerwise smile twitched at Zoe’s mouth. She pushed the box aside and got to her feet, offering Rhane a hand. “Shall we go?”


Rhane stared at Zoe’s slim, brown fingers. She reached out to accept them, feeling some of the freakishness drain away. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Paula's Prompt

Forgive me, Paula, for I am late. (rueful grin) I've finally got a response to your Wednesday Words on May 17, 2017. You asked for something involving the boy next door, a wrench, and a vegetable garden. Thomas wanted it. He wanted the wrench. He wanted the boy next door. He wanted to be the boy next door. Danyel wasn't sure if he wanted to do this, but he wanted to take his old name out for a test drive. Dayel wanted to use this post to let Thomas know such a story would only take place in his dreams. :) And so this story came to pass...a wrench used to be known as a spanner. Due to the weird nature of Omphalos, I thought it was all right to use the word 'wrench'.

BTW, this site uses cookies I need to warn you about. Please don't eat the cookies. They're inedible. :)

“Yo, lady boy!”

Danyel dug his fingers into the earth, doing his best to ignore Thomas. There was nothing wrong with being a lady. There was nothing wrong with being a boy. Thomas never failed to put them together with a sneer, aiming them at Danyel. The air was jagged with the boy next door’s hostility, ready to cut and bleed. 

“More like the creature next door,” Danyel growled, pulling a fat, orange carrot out of the ground. “Too ugly to be human!” 

He glanced over at Dayel, to see if his twin was smiling out of the corner of his mouth, but he wasn’t there. 

Why wasn’t Dayel there?

Something queasy fluttered around Danyel’s stomach. He rose to his feet, trying to quell the sensation. He looked across the garden for his brother. 

There was no sign of Dayel. There was no one, except for Thomas. 

“Too ugly to be human, am I?” Thomas said, smiling, but his small eyes narrowed in anger, almost losing themself in the flesh of his cheeks. He tossed something long, slender, and metal from meaty hand to hand. It gleamed, dazzling Danyel’s eye. 

“What’s wrong, lady boy? Never seen a wrench before?” Thomas asked. He brandished it towards Danyel. “Real men use them to tighten things. Or loosen them.” The end was stained with flakes of something reddish. “Some things get twisted and need to be loosened.” He smiled, revealing discolored teeth. “Like that relationship between you and your so-called twin.”

Thomas moved slightly. Something was laying in the grass behind him, something with the same golden curls as Danyel. It should have been a someone, but the figure was laying way too still. Its curls were matted with blood-

“No!” Danyel cried, thrashing himself awake, kicking his twin when he did. 

“Nightmares make you so violent,” Dayel grumbled. He turned over to open one sleepy eye, fixing it in a glare at his brother. “Do that again and I’ll kick you out of the bed.”

Danyel sat up and stared at Dayel, whose curls gleamed in the moonlight from the window. The only thing they were dried with was a little sweat. 

“You’re alive,” he said. He shivered at the sight of his brother opening his eyes, which had taken on a silvery gleam. The sight of every annoyed wrinkle on his forehead was a relief to see. “I thought Thomas had killed you!”

“He wishes,” Dayel muttered, but his brow smoothed. He studied his twin with narrowed eyes. “It’s far more likely I shall kill him.”

“The only weapon we know how to use is the Dance,” Danyel objected. “It doesn’t work like that.” He wasn’t entirely sure why he should be so certain of this. He, Dayel, and Leiwell had only just begun learning the Dance. According to Map, there was much more to it than a few simple moves with your hands and feet. “You can block his fist, or shove back anything he throws at you, but you can’t try to hurt him yourself.”

“Everything Thomas throws at us, including words, are hurtful.” Dayel uttered the words with merciless flatness. He shut his eyes, not allowing his twin to see whatever glistened within them. “It’s just a matter of time before his own blows strike him down.”

“That ‘wrench’ was a weapon in his hands.” Danyel shut his own eyes and lay back down. “What if it doesn’t have to be?” He turned towards his twin and opened his eye. “What if it loosened something which truly needed it?”

Dayel’s eyelids trembled. His lips twitched. He didn’t know what a wrench was any more than Danyel had. His twin would love to know more, but he’d never ask. Dayel refused to ask questions. 

Danyel felt his own lips quirking towards a smile. 


Friday, May 26, 2017

Please Lose the Extra 'L'

Danyel tugs at my imagination hesitantly. “Excuse me? Um, Lady Author?”

I’m a little taken aback at this courtesy. Most of my characters are never this polite. Particularly Quartz. 

Quartz: I heard that! 

Surprisingly, Quartz settles down right after that comment. Whatever Danyel is saying is important enough not to interrupt. 

Wait a minute, I’m calling Danyel ‘Danyel’. Not Danyell. 

Danyel: That’s just what I hoped to speak to you about. I’d like my old name back, please. (He glances over at his twin.) Dayel would, too. 

I look across the shifting landscape within the Cauldron to see Dayel, nodding vigorously, Dayel, not Dayell. 

It looks like my twins are taking back their old names. 

What brought this on? I changed their names a while back to differentiate them from the characters they’d been when the twins were first created. To create a subtle change between whom they were in those online roleplaying games and whom they are now. Plus, I was worried about copyright. I did use the name in a bunch of posted stories with other people. 

Dayel: You already checked on copyright. Your characters’ names are yours. (Dayel scowls a bit at this. He’d like his name to be his, not mine, thank you very much.)

Danyel: We just don’t quite feel like ourselves with the extra ‘l’ on the end. 

Me: I’m still worried about this. Dayel, your name was used by a character in a Terry Brooks’s novel. Danyel, your name was used by a character in a Robin W. Bailey novel. I changed your names to protect us all. It seemed easier and safer. 

Dayel: Other people use the name. One shouldn’t own a particular name. 

Me: Unfortunately, sometimes they do. Why do you think the princess in ‘Fairest’ has no name? Every fiber in my being felt she should be Aurora. This was her name in the ballet, but Disney may have rights to the name. Someone else suggested calling her Dawn, but ‘Dawn’ didn’t conjure up images of her in my mind. She ended up nameless as a result. I tried to make sure you got names which felt right. Leiwell had two ‘ls’ at the end of his. This makes your name sound like his. 

Danyel: Why don’t you call your princess Rose? You’ve already claimed the name Briar for her beloved. 

Me: (thoughtful) Now, there’s an idea…

Dayel: Danyel! 

Danyel: What?

Dayel: Stop meandering and being distracting by characters in other universes. Return to us and our names. 

Danyel: (looking abashed) Right! Lady Author, we’re really not comfortable with the extra ‘l’ at the end of ours names. I’m not sure if you are, either.

Me: (wincing) Well, I wasn’t. Not really. Other people who knew you before weren’t, either, I think. 

Danyel: You see?

Me: I was starting to get used to it.

Dayel: We never will. 

Danyel: We’re still not comfortable with these names. Could we please change them back?

Me: (relenting) I’ll think about it…

So I’m thinking about it. What do you think? Danyel and Dayel? Or Danyell and Dayell? 




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Paula's Prompt

Hello, my poor Cauldron. I've been away for far too long. I imagine you still use cookies, which I should warn visitors about. You've been far too neglected. I've returned with a poem for you. You can thank Paula Wyant at ptwyant.com for this. She posted a picture prompt back on Wednesday; May 10, 2017. I jotted it down, but I'm only now typing it up and sharing it with both you and her.  It's her picture which we're using today. As usual, it's a lovely one of a staircase going up through greenery. I've been so worried about Naples, about the caldera awakening under the city that it's been difficult to think of anything else. The result is this poem is uttered by the personification of a volcano which spoke to me with the voice of an entity which bring creation and destruction.

I’ve given you life, now I crave death
Reaching out from the roots of the earth
Hungrily grasping as you pluck my fruits
Creating pies you shape for hours with your clever fingers
Cavorting with my riches before the word
Claiming them as your own
Dare you to follow my green staircase?
It leads up and away from the fire
It’ll take you to the very source of the flame
The heart of fertile lands, nourished by rage
Thick vegetation layers itself on top of a grave
Just keep climbing, observing my empire
Right before my fury envelops it

Burning all this verdant life away. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Crossover Crash!

We've Blogged From A-Z here. We've Blogged From A-Z there (at inspirationcauldron.wordpress.com). Character Snippets are everywhere. Now, that 'Fairest' has been picked up by Nine Star Press (coming soon to ninestarpress.com ), there's been a crossover crash within the character's imagination...Quartz was here in 'Q is for Quartz'. Zenobia was there in 'Z is for Zenobia'. Quartz, Opal, and Garnet are three of the seven dwarves in 'Fairest'. Zenobia is a queen, both rival and romantic interest to Kyra, main character of my WIP, 'A Suitor's Challenge'. Yes, somehow they've all come together from different universes, thanks to the Wednesday Words of P.T. Wyant (see ptwyant.com) . Yes, there are cookies. Please be aware of them, if you're from the U.K. Don't feed them to the ceramic turtle or the garden gnome. :) Special thanks to Critical Role for warning the public that goblins often pretend to be garden gnomes. The dwarves are now traumatized. :)

“What is this?” Zenobia demanded. She held the ceramic turtle in her hand, studied its lack of gold or gems, and tried not to feel too disappointed. She had, after all, just raided the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration, which was an author’s blog. Treasure was not a writer’s speciality. 

“It’s the representative of a deity of wisdom.” Opal spoke with bland courtesy, not allowing his thick lips to twitch. “Some say it carries the world on its back.”

Zenobia nearly dropped the turtle at the audacity of this squat little commoner daring to answer her question. Opal caught the turtle before it could smash on the ground. 

“You have hair on your face.” The Kalanthian queen regarded Opal with distaste. “We find this most displeasing.”

“You loved a girl, but treated her as a slave,” Opal retorted. “I find that most displeasing.”

“Arrogant little man!” Zenobia bared her glittering white teeth at the dwarf. “I could have you flayed alive-”

“A dwarf’s beard is tied to his sense of beauty and pride!” Garnet thrust a garden gnome between his brother and the queen from another universe, not entirely sure what he was  doing. “Surely, you don’t mean to insult another queen’s favorite?”

“Hold your tongue!” Zenobia growled, but she was distracted by the gnome. “What is this idolatry? Did you trap a piece of your soul in this likeness?”

“What?” Garnet goggled at the queen, fondling the gnome in shock. 

Opal wasn’t about to take this. Not from some jumped up queen from another project which hadn’t even been published yet!

“Are you blind? How can you even compare a dwarf to a common garden gnome! A creature that’s half goblin!” Opal shook his fist at Zenobia. “I don’t care how powerful a monarch you are! Get back to your Work in Progess, you upstart-!”

“Opal, shut up.”

It couldn’t be. He was dead. Yet here he was, standing between the queen and his brothers. 

Opal’s mouth opened and closed in sheet terror at the sight of Quartz, cradling the turtle to his chest. Garnet nearly dropped the gnome. 

“You’re dead!” Garnet hugged the statue in his arms in sheer terror. Never mind that it was entirely too much like a goblin. It was the only thing standing between him and his zombie brother. “We all saw you die!”

Zenobia was the only one not terrified by Quartz’s appeared. Her eyes widened at the appearance of yet another little man with hair on his chin, but not with fear. 

“Ah, a Wise One!” Zenobia regarded Quartz with a respect she hadn’t shared with either of his brothers. “One who has been to the lands of the dead, yet chosen to return and share his stories.” She actually inclined her head towards the newcomer. 

Opal and Garnet turned their horrified stare from their brother to the queen. 

Quartz took no notice of them. He smiled and bowed to Zenobia.

“A gift from the lands beyond to one whose beauty requires a tribute.” He offered the queen a single, black feather, along with a roguish half wink. 

“Wise One, you honor me,” Zenobia breathed. She accepted the feather, offering Quartz a coy smile. 

The next moment, she and Quartz vanished. Garnet and Opal were left, holding the turtle and the garden gnome. 

“He’s always had a soft spot for human women,” Opal muttered. “Strangely, they seem to have a soft spot for him.” 

“What just happened?” Garnet gasped, looking around wildly. “Will you please let me know what happened? Has a witch enchanted us? What was that?”

“Authorly weirdness,” Opal said with decisive firmness. He wasn’t entirely sure where the phrase came from, but it seemed appropriate for unexpected occurrances. 

Garnet would have tugged his beard, but his arms were filled garden gnome. Perhaps he should trying hugging these creatures more often.

On the other hand, it did look entirely too much like a goblin.