Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Visions of Mine: A Tale of the Shadow Forest

On November 29, 2017, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a pond with frogs and cattails, a staircase, and a silent figure watching.

This Tale of the Shadow Forest was the result. You may recognize some of the characters from my Cauldron at and preludes to Stealing Myself From Shadows I've been posting there.

Sometimes, it’s just a pond with cattails. 

That’s all most people ever see. It’s all Map ever wanted to see. 

“Come away from the pond.” She tugged at my arm, smelling of earth, stewed onions, and the cauldron she’s always trying to get Ashleigh and me to eat from. “It’s not healthy, sitting there, gazing at it without moving for so long.”

“Yes, it makes me wonder what’s worth gazing at.” Ashleigh fixed her bright eyes upon me, waving a hand in the direction of the water. 

The surface rippled in reaction to her movement. The pond was very sensitive to outside motion and moods, not that this would stop Ashleigh. 

I decide to tell her the truth. 

“A tower filled with Doors, each one leading to an entire world, shaped by a dreamer’s desire.” I glanced out from beneath lowered eyelids from Ashleigh to Map. “A staircase, winding upwards towards anyone lost you long to find.”

Map started at this, furrowing her brow into a wreath of troubled wrinkles. Shifting her face looked awkward and uncomfortable. If only she’d let herself wear her true form. She’d be so much more relaxed, but she forced herself into human skin, making herself think human thoughts. 

Not that Map saw it that way. In her practical, single-minded perspective, she was the only one in our little triumvirate grounded in reality. If Map didn’t tether herself to home, hearth, and the garden’s earth, she’d lose her grip on this world and us. The moment she did that, Ashleigh and I could float off to worlds unknown, losing ourselves in their mist. 

She was probably justified in her fears. I wasn’t sure that it was a bad thing to let go and drift off. 

There was a chance I might find myself, rather than lose any more pieces of myself. 

I could tell by the sparkle in Ashleigh’s eye and the impatient twitch in her foot that she wasn’t sure, either. 

“Where are you hoping the staricase will take you, Christopher?” Ashleigh ignored Map’s sharp jerk of the head, a silent cue to stop questioning me. 

There’s no point in trying to stop Ashleigh from doing anything. 

“Whom are you hoping to find?” Ashleigh cocked her head at me, undeterred from her curiousity. “Did you lose someone?” 

An image bloomed into my mind, as sharp and clear as a memory. A dark curl slid over a rose purple eye, a secretive smile spread across full lips. 

The owner of the eye and smile lifted a slender finger to his lips, only to change. His hair lightened to a silvery gray, although his face remained young. His cheekbones elongated into something quite different, making him quite different. 

Only the finger remained the same, touching his mouth in a suggestive manner. 

The young man doesn’t speak, shrouded in mist and clouds. Only he stands at the top of a winding staircase, watching me. 

Waiting for me. 

“I don’t know.” I forced my vision past this image back to Ashleigh, tapping her foot at the bank of the pond, crushing a cattail. 

The sight made me sad, but I couldn’t expect Ashleigh to be anything other than what she was. Impulsive and careless, she moved forward to face challenges with a boldness I could only envy. 

She never thought twice on anything she might have trampled in her bravery. 

I couldn’t be that brave. I constantly worried about whom I might be warning or harming by anything I did. 

Even if it was something as small as looking into a pond. 

“I just know that someone is trying to summon me.” I let that truth fall from my lips, unsure if I’d regret it later. “From another place waiting in the watery depths.”

“Summon you?” Ashleigh leaned forward to inspect my face, her own contorting into a frown the very twin of Map’s. “For what purpose?”

“I don’t know that, either.” I glanced down at the tiny wavelets dancing across the water. If I kept staring at them, I’d see the tiny scenes playing within the reflected light, dappling each crest. “I have the strangest feeling I should, though.”

“Beware of your feelings.” Map shut her eyes and shook her head, refusing to look at the pond. “They have a way of robbiing you of all common sense.”

“Maybe Christopher doesn’t want to be common.” Ashleigh raised her chin in a direct challenge aimed at our sensible, unadventurous third. “What’s wrong with indulging in an uncommon dream or two?”

“There’s always a price for such indulgences.” Map opened her eyes to meet Ashleigh’s stare with one of her own, her eyes gleaming with a hard darkness. “Consider that before you give into them.”

My two companions locked their eyes with each other, deep brown meeting silvery violet blue. The air between them tingled with unspoken things, which nipped at my cheeks and ears. 

I felt like a ghost, a shadow which had passed between them, chilling and calming these things. 

I cleared my throat. 

Both Ashleigh and Map jumped and blinked at me. 

The air cleared as well, once they did. 

“I’ll consider myself warned.” I wished I could have said something more coherent, which would have explained my attraction to the pond. 

It had never just been cattails and shimmering water. I saw far more than simply towers, staircases, and silent staircases in its depths. 

It was as if a part of myself was waiting for me in that pond. If I allowed myself to lean forward and let go of the bank, to truly sink into its wet embrace, I’d find that missing piece I’d always lacked in this lifetime. 

I couldn’t voice this hope, not in a way that Ashleigh wouldn’t laugh at. Even worse, it would scare Map. 

Only he understood, the silent watcher at the top of the staircase with the changing face. Only he could restore me to whatever I was meant to be. 

After all, I’d once been part of him, if I could trust his silent whispers in the wavelets and on the wind. 

If I could believe in his promises of happily ever after. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Paula's Prompts: Wednesday Words

On November 15, 2017, P.T. Wyant posted a prompt involving a pair of dice, a mountain, and a fish.

This freebie story was the result. It involves the characters in one of my Works in Progress, The Players Are the Things. A group of avid gamers bring their characters to life with all their focus...and those characters end up playing their players in order to help them with the mess they've made of their real lives.


There was no need for Beatrix to snap the word at her. Rhane had already begun to shake the pair of dice in her hands. 

The Game Master fixed her impatient gaze upon the player, fingering her own dice with a black laquered finger. 

Too late. 

Rhane left the hot, dark little room which the players hunched around behind. 

She breathed in the mountain air with Amberwyne, running a finger down one her character’s reddish gold tresses. 

She could almost see the fish Amber watched, leap out of the water of the lake in front of her. Its scales reflected the light of the sun overhead. 

“Right, you rolled a 12. Amberwyne fails to notice anything.” Beatrix’s smug words brought Rhane back to the table. 

Nothing gave Bea more satsifaction than having her monsters sneak up on the characters. 

No doubt something horrible awaited Amber just around the corner.

“Can Isolde roll perception?” Mona wasn’t any happier than Rhane was about Beatrix’s glee. “She’s senstive to anything that might be a danger to Amber.”

Mona gave her own dice an aggressive shake, anxious to get moving. 

“All right.” Beatrix said, offering Mona gracious little nod. 

Isolde’s perception level was much lower than Amberwyne’s. Beatrix could afford to be gracious. 

“Go ahead and roll,” the Game Master said. 

“Come on!” Mona coaxed her dice in an undertone before throwing them across the table. 

The numbers that came up weren’t encouraging. 
“To bad,” Beatrix gloated, not bothering to hide her smirk. “Isolde notices nothing.”

“Watch for the fish,” Amber mumured, trying to take a moment to ignore the game and its players. Yes, she only existed because of Rhane, but she wanted just a moment to herself with Isolde. 

Her slender fingers sought the callused ones of her sculptor knight. 

The two women’s hands entwined with each other’s. 

Isolde turned to the rippling surface of the lake, Amber moving with her. 

The Game Master’s annoyance shatered their fragile moment of independence, brining them back to their players and the dark room they chose to trap themselves in. “You can roleplay on your own time.”

“We’re the only players here,” Rhane muttered, raising a hand to touch her own cheek, which felt hot. 

“Yes, but I’m the Game Master. It’s my job to keep the story running on time.” Beatrix informed her. “Once Amber and Isolde finish being all lovely dovey, could you get on with your journey?”

Rhane sighed, feeling her skin tingle in reaction to her character’s moment. 

She looked up to meet Mona’s dark gaze. 

The other player nodded, shifting her gaze from Rhane’s. 

She and Isolde had enjoyed the moment, too.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Paula's Prompts: Wednesday Words

On November 1, 2017, P.T. Wyant posted her Wednesday Words prompt, involving a lonely writer, a windy night, and a ruined dinner.

Yes, we were doing NaNoWriMo at the time. The experience is still fresh in my mind. This is why I'm using our 2017 NaNo badge as the image for this story. :)

The wind howled through the trees outside her window, the perfect accompaniment to the mournful tapping of the writer’s fingers against the keyboard. 

Once she would have shared her ideas online with a group of like minded novelists, struggling to put their thoughts into words. 

Everyone had drifted away, returning to their own respective projects. Many of them had releases coming out, which they were busy promoting and treating. 

All the while, she struggled with the same manuscript. 

She’d withdrawn from the community, trying to immerse herself in the pages of her story. 

While she did so, member after member of her former associates lost touch with her. 

She missed them, but she had work to do. This monster of a book needed finishing. If only she could create a working draft!

She kept finding scenes which needed revision, which she’d rewrite entirely. Again and again. Followed by again. 

Why couldn’t she make it work? She could feel the potential throbbing within this story, the groundbreaking promise in the plot she envisioned. 

The characters shrank away from it, participating with an awkward reluctance. If at all. They themselves didn’t seem happy with it.

What was she doing wrong?

The smell of burning meat and vegetables wafted from the oven, bringing her back to reality. 

Oh, yes. She’d put her dinner in, only to forget about it. 


Monday, December 11, 2017

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz Interviews Claude

Quartz: What? Had you forgotten me already? That fool of a scribbler who created me almost did. Such a shame…I’m not going away that easily. 

Claude: (looking down his long nose) Are you here to speak of yourself, dwarf? Or to interview me?

Quartz: (grumbles under his breath) I’m not sure why I bothered. (louder) Here we are, at the Forbidden Cauldron, or K.S. Trenten’s Facebook Author Page, depending on which of these bloody social media you’re currently using. Quartz, unappreciated secondary character of Fairest is here, talking with Claude, another unappreciated secondary character from our scribbler’s upcoming release, At Her Service. 

Claude: (somberly) No one appreciates what I do for the country or for my Lady Ariella. She could have been a queen, if she’d let me handle everything. 

Quartz: Eh, you can’t trust a queen. Not ever. Nor a woman who wants to be queen. It seems to me your lass has some sense in her head if she’s thinking twice about it. 

Claude: (nostrils flaring in outrage) What would *you* know about it? You are no queen!

Quartz: (undaunted, beard bristling) What of it? Neither are you!

Claude: (taking a deep breath) I might have become a queen, if circumstances were different. If my scribbler had written a different backstory for me. Or any backstory. 

Quartz: Yes, well, she’s unreliable like that…wait a minute, you’re a queen? (inches away) You don’t know Oriana by any chance?

Claude: (blinks) No, I’ve never met her. Should I?

Quartz: Well, maybe not. We’re in completely different universes even if we both have the same publisher. 

Claude: Hmmph. (lifting his chin) I can’t imagine this Oriana is much of anyone if I’ve never heard of her. I’ve heard of *everyone* remotely important. 

Quartz: (making a hrrumphing sound) Right. You’re so well connected, you’re a secondary character. 

Claude: (widening his eyes in outrage) Don’t underestimate the importance of a secondary character! We see things, notice things, and move the plot forward in ways the main character cannot comprehend! 

Quartz: We do? (it’s his turn to blink and consider the other’s words) Actually, we do, don’t we?

Claude: Don’t ever depreciate your value as a secondary character, dwarf. Not ever. 

Quartz: (mutters) You manage to say encouraging things in the most irritating way…all right, you’ve got a point. Maybe your lady has one, eh?

Claude: Whatever do you mean? 

Quartz: Your lady. Think about it. Think about her. She might have bloody good reasons for not wanting to take the throne. Think about them. 

Claude: (mutters) And her name is Cinders, not that I’d exactly call *her* a good reason…

Quartz: Maybe not. Is this Cinders her only reason? Think about it. 

Claude: It’s all I ever do…(he does look a little pensive)

Quartz: While you’re doing that, is there anything else you want to say? Our scribbler has got places to go and things to do…as usual. 

Claude: At Her Service will be appearing in Once Upon a Rainbow 2. Come and read our story. Bask in my lady’s beauty, grace, and wit. Try not to be put off by her eccentric tastes. 

Quartz: Eccentric taste in our lads, lasses, and those who aren’t either is one of those quirks we secondary characters learn to put up with. (pats Claude on the shoulder) At least you survive the story. 

(Claude doesn’t look appeased). 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Paula's Prompt: Wednesday Words

On October 25, 2017, P.T. Wyant posted this picture prompt for her Wednesday Words at

This Tale of Navel/The Shadow Forest was my response.

No one could see the faint gleam of their two forms under the shadow of the tree’s branches. 

Not that the tree was truly there. The darkness could take on any form it desired. 

Desire. The pair had never forgotten theirs, no matter how faded and ghostlike they became. 

“He’s coming.” She communicated this through the shivering wisp of her being, while she rested her hands in her companion’s palms. 

Yes, she remembered having hands. The ones she remembered, which twitched at the end of her arms might once have been her own. Or they might have belonged to the girl she’d just met, who’d wandered off the path into her waiting arms. 

You were what you devoured in the Shadow Forest. Memories of whom she’d once been disappeared only too easily. Such emptiness drove her to fill the void over and over. 

Especially when other travelers were so tasty. Impossible to resist. 

This was one of the reasons the two of them had to find their lost one. The shadow who’d taken vital parts of them and disappeared. 

“At last.” Her companion’s translucent hands slipped through hers, fading in and out. “We shall find him. He cannot hide from our hunger.”

“His own desire must be strong,” she warned. 

The air quickened around them, everything growing sharper, more distinct. 

Someone was opening a Door. Someone tasty, with thick, juicy memories which shaped them into a form strong enough to exist in reality. 

“His desire must be strong enough to open a Door.” She breathed in the scent. 

Yes. He was among those gathered on edge of reality, between shadows. He truly was coming. 

“Our desire is just as strong.” His hands gripped hers. For a moment, they were solid. “We want him. No power in the darkness can stop us from having him.”

She shivered in appreciation, wanting to believe his words. 

Alas, there were many creatures walking the myriad paths, lurking behind the trees stronger than the two of them. 

Strong enough to devour them in turn. 

One of those creatures was their prey. He’d done it before, consumed part of their precious memories, leaving them to drift aimlessly off the path.

If they weren’t careful, he’d do it again. 

“He’s been outside, living in a real world as a human for too long.” She uttered this wish, knowing it was more of a wish than a truth. “Such a foolish child to forget those he’s left behind to starve.”

“Foolish, indeed.” Her companion stayed solid, gripping her hands. “We’ll get him this time.”

“We’ll get him,” she repeated, willing to herself to believe this. If she could believe, she’d get stronger by virtue of her faith. 

This was how power worked in the Shadow Forest. What she willed and believed in were the keys to possessing that power and wielding it. 

She just had to hold tight to that belief and not let it slip away. If she wavered for a second, her belief might take form and fall away. Whatever it became would be devoured by other shadows. 

She’d learned this the hard way, yet she and her companion had survived thus far. 

It wasn’t enough for them to simply survive. 

They had to have someone worth surviving for. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Seven Tricks Freebie Story

On August 30, 2017, P.T. Wyant offered up a prompt for her Wednesday Words at It involved a sausage, some nails, and the full moon.

The sausage made me think of Seven Tricks, my Mouse Prince/Nutcracker holiday release. I wrote this story in response, before burrowing it away for after Seven Tricks's release.

I think Mousetrick, my mischievous rodent of a protagonist would approve. :)

This is dedicated to P.T. Wyant for inspiring me and to Nine Star Press for giving Mousetrick a chance to scamper into your homes.

Time for Cracktooth to share a little from his perspective. :)

The king came home, only to find his sausage had been eaten.

“You dared to devour my dinner!” He pointed an accusing finger at the guilty, grease spattered countenances of his wife and daughter. 

“You told us to!” Prissipat’s blue eyes shone with unshed tears. “You even sent a mouse to give us the message, knowing I hate mice!”

“I sent a mouse to give you a message? The king’s eyebrows weren’t as fierce as Cracktooth’s uncle’s, but they were impressively hairy. Especially when they worked up and down in a display of fierce displeasure. “What sort of nonsense is this?!”

“Well, that’s what the odious this creature claimed…” the queen began, only to falter at her husband’s expression. “Not that I believed him.”

“Mice,” Prissipat muttered the word through gritted teeth. “I can’t believe we listened to that vermin. They’re not be trusted. Not ever!”

“No, they’re not,” Cracktooth agreed, struggling to keep the amusement out of his voice. “They played quick the trick on us.”

“Well, I’ll trick them.” The king rumaged into one of his trouser pockets. 

There had been a time when kings had servants to carry all their necessities. Not any more. 

This king had been reduced by a lack of weath to carry things around himself. This mean he had to wear trousers with pockets.

It was something he never failed to complain of to Cracktooth whenever he had the chance. Such utterances with accompanied by many a reproachful glance. 

Cracktooth was, after all, one of the king’s servants. Well, a relation of one. If he was truly loyal to his monarch, he should carry his monarch’s necessities for him. Not force him to wear trousers with pockets, making his king go to all the trouble of keeping track of his possessions himself. 

The king didn’t dare complain about it directly to Dousselmause himself, even if the magician was in the king’s service. Bad things happened if you complained to a magician. Ill fortune had a way of finding you, or worse. 

A magician might listen to your complaint and do something about it. His response would bring you little satisfaction and no happiness. 

Cracktooth suppressed a shudder. He remembered only too well how his uncle had once answered his own complaint about being too big, too clumsy, and not having enough space. 

Douselmause had changed all of that. 

For a while, Cracktooth feared his transformation would be permanent. Instead, he’d simply had several of the worst days of his life being small in a world which was huge and terrifying. 

Also wonderful. 

Cracktooth felt his face heat up. He reached up a hand, almost expecting it to be a paw. He could almost smell warm fur, hear the rustling of paper, while a tail twitched with an almost seductive grace. 

Get those thoughts out of your head, he told himself, slapping his cheek. Smooth and hairless. 

It was almost a disappointment. 

What was he thinking? He was a human again. It was a huge relief in more ways than one, being human again. 

“Ah, ha!” The king’s crow brought Cracktooth back to the here and now. 

The king withdrew a handful of nails from his pocket. 

They glittered in his palm like metal teeth. 

“Papa, what are you doing?” Prissipat stared at the metal things in her father’s hand with more than a little disgust. 

“Dear, why are you carrying nails in your pocket?” The queen wrinkled her nose. “You haven’t been drinking with the carpenter again, have you?” She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “Or that pretty apprentice of his?”

“Err, of course not!” The king’s guilty blush suggested otherwise. “I just had, um, important business with the carpenter. King’s business.” He poked a nail with his finger. “Items like these can be useful. Especially at times like this.” He grinned, exposed stained teeth. “If someone plays a trick on you, I say trick them back.”

He scattered the nails across the floor, moving so they landed in various places upon the ground. 

“Papa!” Prissipat said in an injured tone. “Mama and I are wearing slippers! Those things will poke our feet!”

“If we step on one of those sharp objects-“ the queen began in an irate voice. 

“Ah, but you can move around them or step over them.” The king tapped the side of his bulbous nose with sly malice. “A mouse will not be able to avoid these nails with such ease.”

“Especially if he returns to the kitchen to steal more food.” Prissipat smiled. The expression looked even uglier on her face, coupled with her dimples and full lips. 

Such a smile didn’t suit her. 

Cracktooth swallowed a sigh. 

What had happened to the beautiful princess, who’d once taken his breath away?

If only Prissipat would smile truly from the heart, perhaps he’d catch a glimpse of her. 

Lately, all Cracktooth saw was her ugly face. 

“Oh, perfect!” The queen bared her teeth in smile no more beautiful than her husband’s or her daughter’s. “Such a prank is perfect for the foul little creature.”

Creature, not creatures. Everyone was blaming the young male mouse with the fine, black fur for the theft of the sausage. Never mind that his queen had spoken to them first. 

The male mouse was probably acting on her orders. 

Cracktooth closed his eyes, trying not to remember fur, anxiety, and a frantically beating heart. How terrifying it had been to be so small, in peril of things you could easily avoid as a human. 

Like nails. 

Cracktooth raised his eyelid to study the glint of metal on the ground. 

Such a prank was too much retaliation for a single sausage. The magician’s nephew shifted his glance to king’s thick middle. It wasn’t like he was going to suffer overmuch from missing his dinner. 

The mice were probably hungrier. They’d taken quite a risk, tricking the humans. 

It was too high a price to pay for that trick. 

Cracktooth waited until the king, the queen, and Prissipat left the room, still chortling over the damage the mice would suffer if they returned. 

The nails glittered in the moonlight. 

He bent over and started picking them up. He gathered each and every one of them in the palm of his hand. 

The cold gleam of the orb shining in the night sky reflected its light upon the metal, making them easy to spot. 

It felt like the moon itself was watching him. It was too full, too bright. He shivered, while picking up the last nail from the ground. 

Oh, it was a fine time for magic, a night like this. His uncle loved such moonlight. 

“What are you doing, Cracktooth?” A deep, disapproving voice cut through his thoughts. 

He who lets his thoughts drift toward Dousselmause summons his presence. His uncle had once boasted (or warned him) that he was drawn to such mental wandering.

Cracktooth turned to face his uncle, his hand full of nails. 

“Just cleaning up a trifle.” Cracktooth tried to make his tone as careless as possible. “Nothing to concern you.”

“You call acting against our king’s will a trifle?” Dousselmause raised his eyebrows, knitting them together in an expression more fierce than their monarch could ever master. “It does concern me, nephew, concerns me deeply to see you thwart his vengeance.”

“Since when are you concerned with the theft of a sausage?” Cracktooth laced every word with scorn. “Surely there are matters more worthy of your attention.”

“Nothing concerns me more than my nephew’s well-being.” Dousselmause softened his voice and dropped his eyebrows. “It isn’t healthy to risk your king’s ire for a pair of mice.”

“What can I say? I find myself much more sympathetic than I once would have been.” Anger, which had simmered within Cracktooth’s belly for too long trickled into his words. “Who’s to blame for that?”

“You may be right.” The rest of fierceness dropped from Dousselmause’s eyebows, causing them to droop. “Magic has consequences. Now I must pay for what I did to you.” He removed something from his coat. 

“What’s that?” Cracktooth eyed the contraption of wood and metal which his uncle laid on the table. “Another mousetrap?”

“Not just any trap. It’s the means to showing our regard for those who dared to steal our king’s supper.” Dousselmause fixed his glittering eyes upon his nephew’s. “The seductive scent of any cheese I put in this metal jaw will be irrestible.” 

“Surely there’s a way to resist.” Cracktooth picked up the trap and tried not to shudder. It was easy to imagine the metal slicing into fur. 

Particularly sleek, dark fur.

“Only by taking seven steps backwards will a mouse free himself from its spell.” Dousselmause gazed at the trap with a measure of malevolent pride. “Tomorrow, these traps will be everywhere. Anywhere a mouse might scamper.”

Fear dried Cracktooth’s mouth. Once more, he thought of that dusky fur glistening with blood. 

No, he couldn’t let it happen. 

He was no longer a mouse himself. It shouldn’t matter. 

He closed his eyes, only to see that black mouse, whiskers trembling, as he raised his muzzle to face humans so much bigger than himself. 

That mouse didn’t deserve such a fate. 

“What will you do with this information, Cracktooth?” Dousselmause reached out to snatch the trap out of his nephew’s hands. “Remember. I’m watching you.”

Swift as the shadows cast by the moon, the magician disappeared. 

Cracktooth shivered. 

He stared at the platter of cheese, which had been left on the table. 

His uncle’s threats were never idle. He would be watching him. 

Tomorrow, the traps would be everywhere. 

Crackooth bit his lip and eyed the cheese. 

It didn’t matter. He had to find that mouse and warn him, despite the risk.