Wednesday, June 26, 2019

#QueerBlogWed: Paula's Prompts

On April 24, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt, 'You take a wrong turn and end up in a deserted town. (aka a ghost town).

Recently I've been organizing all the freebie stories associated with a particular novel or Work in Progress into individual files. I've given them titles like Cauldron Tales: Stealing Myself From Shadows or Cauldron Tales: Fairest, depending on what they're associated with. I ended up reading a lot of them.

A while back, I wrote a crazy story about Damian Ashelocke walking into The Tipsy Hedgehog with balloons. This particular prompt made me start thinking about that story. Where had the balloons come from?

This exceptionally mad Tale of the Navel: The Shadow Forest was the result...

He must have taken a wrong turn in the garden. For the fence was no longer there. People were walking up the cobbled street running down the center of Omphalos, but he didn’t recognize any of their faces. 

“Hello!” A young man with rounded cheeks, auburn curls, dressed in a red doublet, hose, and a cap with a feather in it had a hand wrapped around several strings, attached to a trio of floating red eggs in the air. “I’d say it’s nice to see you again, only you’re never nice.” He wagged a free finger reprovingly. “Are you, you handsome devil of a prick?”

“I must be dreaming.” Damian, yes, his name was Damian rubbed his eyes. “Either that or I’m still in the Shadow Forest.”

“Wrong on both counts.” The young man walked towards him, the floating eggs keeping pace with him. “We’re in a ghost town. Either that or we’re the ghosts.” He ran his free hand through his rumpled curls. “Don’t worry. I’m not supposed to be here either.”

“Who’s worried?” Damian snapped before recalling his manners. He had no idea where he was. This stranger appeared to have a clue. Antagonizing him would hardly be helpful at this point. “Where is here?”

A loud whistling distracted him. Both he and the stranger turned to face a fair-haired woman, whose shaggy silvery-golden tresses were pinned up around her sweaty face. 

“Ashleigh,” Damian murmured before he wondered how he knew her name. 

The woman stopped, blinked at him for a moment. She reached up to touch the coin around her neck before turning the youth with the balloons. 

The stranger simply stood and smiled at her, not saying a word. 

“Seraphix save us, I sometimes think I’m losing it.” Ashleigh shook her head before walking straight through Damian. 

He shuddered, feeling ripples of cold run through his chest, legs, and arms as if someone had run a knife made of ice across him. 

“Like I said, we’re ghosts.” The youth watched Ashleigh walk away towards a half-finished cottage with narrowed eyes. “Only we can see each other…for now.”

“This looks like Omphalos.” Damian turned in the direction of the Navel, only it wasn’t there. A cottage covered with vines with a dusty green door stood where it should be. “Only this isn’t the Omphalos I remember.”

“That’s because it isn’t our Omphalos, Damian.” The young man held out the hand with the strings wrapped around it. Perhaps they were leads of some sort, for the creatures, the strange red things hovered over his wrist. “Take these balloons. You’ll remember.”

“Perhaps I will. Perhaps I don’t wish to.” Damian gazed at the strings leading up to the crimson oval beasts above, the balloons? “What do you want in return for giving me, err, your pets?” They might well be inanimate objects, but it was best to err on the side of sentience, in case these balloons were sentient. Damian didn’t want to something or someone he’d just met. “Assuming these balloons are yours to give and you’re not holding them captive.”

“Oh, for the love of sweet Suetonius…arachnocrats!” The young man rolled his eyes. “Look, it’s in my best interest to give you these balloons. I’ve been trying to find you. If you take them, you’ll remember me.” He sighed, a weary, exasperated sound. “It pains me to admit this, but I need you, Damian. I need that Ashelocke cunning of yours to find a way out of the mess we’ve all landed ourselves into.”

“You have my name.” Damian gazed at the hand controlling the balloons with wary interest. “Not even I knew that for a while.”

“Yes, look, it’s easy to get confused if you leave the Shadow Forest via Door, only to find yourself in a new world.” The young man fidgeted. “It’s even worse when it looks like someplace familar, only it’s not.” Once more, the stranger thrust the balloons at Damian. 

The young arachnocrat tensed, but all the red creatures did was bob up and down over their heads. No sense of menace came from the balloons. 

“Calm yourself, prick.” The young man fixed a sober brown eye upon him. He had a clean-shaven face, one which a razor had been applied to. 

Damian gazed at the faint hint of reddish stubble in fascination. This was a male from outside the garden, whom had to remove the hair growing upon his chin. 

“Yes, it’s hard not to swoon at the sight of beauty such as mine, but try to control yourself.” The young man rolled his eyes again. “We’re trying to find Christopher, remember?” He set his lips together, giving his jaw a hard look. “You do remember Christopher, don’t you?”

“Of course I remember Christopher!” Damian snapped, swallowing the lump that formed in his throat just at expelling that name. It conjured up memories of a tear-stained, heart-shaped face, surrounded by coppery-golden hair, while eyes filled with swimming color gazed at him. 

For a moment, he could almost feel those liquid hues surrounding him, like lapping waves, a pond filled with tears. He’d sink into them, if he didn’t summon the light, the bright, cold light, which felt like the very power of the treacherous moon himself. For the moon was a man when Damian met him, a man with glacier eyes filled all the radiant colors Christoper possessed, only they’d frozen into stillness. 

“I could never forget Christopher.” It was more of a wish than a truth, for the Shadow Forest could take anything from someone fool enough to stray from their path. Damian shook his head, focused on the fool in front of him. “The question is how do you?”

“This is going to get very tiresome if I keep finding you, losing you, find you again, only to be unsure what you remember.” The young man sighed again. “Look, take the balloons, please.” The young man thrust the strings at him once more, making the fat red shapes overhead bounce. “For Christopher’s sake.”

For Christopher’s sake. It had all be for Christopher’s sake, the search for power. He’d found a place for Christopher, a comfortable home in the Navel while he’d stepped beyond the Door in search of an answer to a question which continued to haunt him, even after he’d fled from his aunt’s gardens. 

Aunt Duessa, yes, he could remember her red-lipped, predatory smile, her eight hands dancing in a series of arcane moves he could never counter, never beat, never be safe from, unless he found something stronger than the hands of an arachnocrat, perhaps one single hand with enough power to thrust any hungry intentions away…ah, what was he dreaming?

Damian smiled at his own folly and reached out for the strings. 

Memories exploded in his head as soon as he touched them. Memories of this young man, where he’d met him…

“Peter,” he gasped as he recalled the ephermal, gossamer images from beyond the Door. 


“Follow me.” Damian turned away from the lake, stalking down his path, careful not to leave it. “Don’t stray from the road.”

“No need to be so demanding,” Peter growled behind him. His annoyance radiated off him, making everything shimmer with heat. How had this idiot become so powerful, so fast? Damian bit his lower lip. All of his life he’d sought such strength and this boy effortlessly shaped his environment. 

Perhaps it was because he didn’t care. Perhaps because this Peter concentrated on what he wanted, letting his desire shape things around him. Perhaps Damian was being too passive, too defensive, waiting for things to spring out at him. 

Christopher was beyond the Door. Christopher was in trouble. He had to find him, to figure out what Door led to him…Damian almost ran straight into a tree trunk.

“I thought you knew where you were going.” Sarcasm drifted off Peter in crimson whiffs. “You acted so sure of yourself.”

“Nothing is sure in this place. Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out, it warps your understanding, unraveling it completely.” Damian slid his hands over the rough bark, curved in places almost like a human figure. “My path lead me to this Door. We both want to find Christopher. Somehow he must be behind it.”

He wrapped his fingers around what felt like a knob and pulled. The door opened. A blast of energy knocked Damian and Peter off their feet, turning everything white around them…

…until they found themselves standing in a kitchen. 

“Are you here for our birthday?” A slender, endearing little boy with a mop of golden hair and shining, violet-blue eyes gazed at him solemnly. 

“Intruders from other worlds have stumbled on our party.” A second little boy uttered the statement as he stared into Damian’s, appearing to look directly into his soul. 

“Ah…” Damian had no idea what to say. He looked from child to child, to the gigantic frosted…was it some sort of confection? sitting on the table between them. Both boys wore colored hats. More of those floating creatures, the balloons? were bobbing towards the ceiling. 

This appeared to be a kitchen, yet it was unlike any kitchen he’d ever seen. Arcane square objects protruded out of every angle, surrounding what appeared to be a pump and a stove right next to each other. 

“Oh, we’ve come out in a modern world!” Peter stepped forward, showing no sign of confusion. “Why, I’ve been in Omphalos for so long, I’ve almost forgotten these places! Hello, kids!” He grinned at both of the little boys and waved. “Is it someone’s birthday today?”

“Ours!” The first child piped up, grinning back at him. “This is Omphalos, too, only it’s a different Omphalos.”

“I guess so. They must have have different tech levels, depending on which Omphalos you’re in.” Peter strode into the bizarre kitchen, completely at home. “Ah, a microwave! It’s been so long!”

“We try to use it as seldom as possible.” A stout, frowning woman bustled into the room with bushy eyebrows and a wrinkled countenance. “I don’t seem to recall inviting either of you to this party.” 

“Oh, let them stay, please, Map!” Danyel pleaded. “We hardly ever see someone from another world. Why, maybe they’ve met other versions of ourselves!”

“Maybe.” At last, here was something Damian could make sense of, sort of. “We’re trying to find Christopher. We walked through a Door, looking for him, only to end up here.”

“Christopher?” The first child’s eyes got even wider. “You mean he’s real? He’s not just part of my dreams?”

“No, he is real. Or he was real. That is, we’d like to make him real again.” Faced with that pair of shining, enquiring eyes, being fixed with both eyes, Damian found himself fumbling for the right words. “You’ve met him in your dreams?”

“We meet all sorts of people in our dreams.” The second boy continued to gaze him, not smiling. “This doesn’t mean they choose to stay.”

“Neither should you.”

A shudder ran down Damian’s back at that voice. He turned, to gaze into green eyes, as hard and pitiless as a pair of emeralds. 

“Leiwell.” Goosebumps broke up along his arms, even as he locked eyes with the young man who wore one of the same polo shirts he once preferred to don.

“Christopher isn’t here.” The corner of Leiwell’s lip trembled with what might have been guilt or anger. “Something brought you here. Something you need to continue on your journey.”

Leiwell reached out to grab the dangling tails? No, they were strings, hanging from the balloons. At least Damian was sure they were. 

“Take these.” He thrust them towards Peter. “They’ll lead you to where you need to go.”

Peter accepted the strings with a frown. “Err, all right.” He gazed up at the balloons in bemusement. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen these, either.”

“Just how are they supposed to guide us?” Damian shielded a hand in front of his face, to ward off whatever traps Leiwell might have planted in these objects, not that it would matter. He had no idea what the rules were for this world, but it made him feel better. “Are they a part of someone we need to meet?”

“Yes.” The second child spoke up. “Us. The right versions of us. The ones that’ll lead you to the one you wish to find.”

“You want to find Christopher, don’t you?” The first child nodded in agreement. “I think we all have shadows of ourselves in different worlds, but some are more helpful than others.” He pointed to the balloons. “These will take you to someone who is.”

“All right,” Peter spoke before Damian could say anything. He smiled at the children along with the tense young men. “We’ll leave you to your party.”

Before Damian could object, he turned around to face the door behind them. He opened it.

“Wait!” Damian cried before the streaks of white light swam before his vision, stealing his balance, his senses, making everything glow and disappear…


…Damian gazed up at the balloons over his head in astonishment. 

“Oh, good!” Peter smiled, even as his legs began to disappear on the road in front of him. “You’re remembering. It looks like I’m about to forget, though.”

“Stop, don’t leave!” Damian thrust out a hand, only to have it pass through the young man’s chest. 

“I’m afraid I don’t have a choice.” Peter gazed down at his missing legs. His torso was also disappearing, turning into a red haze. “Go find those children, Damian. They’re somewhere in this Omphalos.” The crimson doublet vanished, along with the arms attached to them. All that was left of Peter was his neck and head. “Trust your instincts.”

His neck and head vanished. 

“How very helpful,” Damian growled. He glanced up at the balloons, the cottages, and the cobblestones under his feet. “Well, at least this Omphalos is small.”

He started walking towards one dwelling with a swinging sign, painted with the image of a mug. It was as good a place to start searching as any. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Oriana

Oriana: Thank you for asking me to be here. For agreeing to speak to me.

Quartz: : Shut up. (He crosses his arms, sitting in his chair in the front of the red curtain which appears during his monthly interviews, refusing to look at Oriana.) By all the molten hells lurking within the rocks, the last thing I want to do is speak to you.

Oriana: (She looks down at her folded hands) I know. 

Quartz: Every time I look at you, I see her. Lying in the crystal coffin I made to heal her, to somehow safe her from her curse. Lifeless. Or she might as well be.

Oriana: I know.

Quartz: Do you? Do you really? Because I don’t. I don’t understand how you could have done that to her. 

Oriana: I’ve often asked myself the same thing. (She draws a shuddering breath.) Every time I saw her lying there. Every time I kissed her, begging her to come back. 

Quartz: Don’t act innocent. You said you loved her, yet you cursed her.

Oriana: Yes. Quartz, whatever you may think of me, I honestly believed I loved her. 

Quartz: Bah. You were too jealous, too petty to love her. To put her happiness before your needs. (He lets out a sharp, bitter laugh.) You couldn’t bear to see her being happy with anyone else, to know she was living a life without you. 

Oriana: I don’t deny it. (She exhales) Quartz, I realize I can never apologize enough-

Quartz: That’s right. You can’t. Now I’m the one lying in that coffin. 

Oriana: That’s not my fault.

Quartz: Isn’t it? I built that coffin to heal her, hoping the crystals’ energies would drain the curse you put on her. 

Oriana: All right. You’re right. I was wrong again. It was my fault. Is that what you need to hear?

Quartz: (He turns to glare at her.) It’s not about what I need!

Oriana: Isn’t it? Why did you ask me here, Quartz? 

Quartz: Someone suggested that I talk to you. That I might be stronger if I finally faced you.

Oriana: That someone may have been right. Quartz, what can I do to earn your forgiveness? (She swallows.) Briar has already forgiven me. 

Quartz: She’s got a new name, a new life. It’s part of starting over, forgiving you, no matter how hard, but she’s a gentle, forgiving soul. No matter what else she might be. 

Oriana: I agree.

Quartz: I, however, won’t forgive you. I can’t. Not ever. 

Oriana: I don’t expect you to. 

Quartz: You’re a petty, selfish, and thoughtless witch. You were a sorry excuse for a queen. 

Oriana: I don’t deny any of that. I’m trying to be someone better. 

Quartz: By raising a princess who can be all the lovely things you’re not? That doesn’t make up for what you’ve done. 

Oriana: I agree. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying, though.

Quartz: You don’t deserve to be forgiven. You have no right to be happy. 

Oriana: No, I don’t. 

Quartz: It was a good thing you did in Fairest, though. (He looks away, muttering.) Helping her get together with someone who truly loved her. Not that I know much about this. Just what I’ve glimpsed in dreams. 

Oriana: The enchanted sleep reveals many thing to you unseen to those whom are awake. 

Quartz: Don’t try to sound all wise and all knowing. You’re not. 

Oriana: No, I’m not.

Quartz: Stop agreeing with me. It’s irritating. 

Oriana: I mean every word I’m saying. 

Quartz: You’re an evil witch. I hate you. 

Oriana: I’m trying to be something better than that. I give you my word I’ll keep trying. 

Quartz: Your word means nothing. 

Oriana: It does. It will, even if you don’t believe in my word right now. 

Quartz: Right. (He looks at the floor.)

Oriana: (She gazes at him with earnest blue eyes.) I mean it. 

Quartz: (He turns to glare at her with sudden violence.) Did you look at her like that? Right before you convinced her to take a bite of that poisonous apple? Fix her with those lovely, blue eyes of yours, persuading her you meant every word?

Oriana: …(She doesn’t answer. It’s her turn to study the floor.)

Quartz: Right. I don’t trust you. I can’t. 

Oriana: I don’t blame you. I’m going to keep trying to be someone you can trust. Someday. 

Quartz: Got a few centuries? 

Oriana: Maybe. We both have time, Quartz. Time for you to be convinced. 

Quartz: (He snorts and looks away.)

Oriana: I mean it.

Quartz: You keep saying that. Do you think if you repeat yourself enough I’ve believe you?

Oriana: No. I’ll need to do something to convince you.

Quartz: Hah!

Oriana: I could start by freeing you from that coffin. 

Quartz: Could you now? I thought that wasn’t your fault. 

Oriana: Whether it’s my fault or not doesn’t mean I can’t help. 

Quartz: You’ve helped yourself quite enough already. 

Oriana: Doing this wouldn’t be helping me. It would be helping you. 

Quartz: If you’re sincere, this means you’ll be showing up in my story. I’m not sure I want you in it. 

Oriana: Nine Star Press is the current publisher of Fairest. They’re only accepting holiday stories right now. If you’re going to get your story, it’ll have to be a holiday story. 

Quartz: What does that have to do with anything?

Oriana: Holidays are a time of forgiveness, are they not? What if I did something that convinced you to forgive me?

Quartz: Shut up. This is my story the scribbler is writing, not yours. It has nothing to do with your mistakes. 

Oriana: It might have something to do with my mistakes if Briar plays a part in this story. Or Blanche as she was once known. 

Quartz: Gah! I don’t want you mixed up any more in my life! You’ve ruined it enough already!

Oriana: As you say, I’ve already ruined it. Give me a chance to improve it. 

Quartz: Why do I have to give you a chance to improve anything?

Oriana: Because deep down, you’re tired of hating me. You want to move on, just as Briar has. 

Quartz: I’m not giving you anything. 

Oriana: I don’t expect you to. I’m just saying I may surprise you. Someday. 

Quartz: (He looks away.) I suppose that is up to you.

Oriana: Yes, it is. (She gazes at him with solemn eyes.)

Quartz: Don’t look at me like that. 

Oriana: I’m sorry. (She looks away.)

Quartz: You certainly are. (He still won’t look at her.) Whether you become something, anything better is up to you.

Oriana: Thank you.

Quartz: Don’t thank me. I haven’t forgiven you. Yet. 

Oriana: I know. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

#QueerBlogWed: Wednesday Words

On April 17, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at a Wednesday Words prompt involving a fishing lure, a deadline, and a song.

This story and song were the results...

She’d missed her deadline. Again. 

It wasn’t like a publisher as expecting this story. Perhaps no one else was. She treasured every positive comment she got regarding those characters in this particular universe. They defied genre expectations. They were unique or as close to unique as they could be. Perhaps regarding them as singular was simply arrogance on her part. There was little which was truly original. Everything came from somewhere. The notion that she’d come up with something truly unlike anything else was like a fishing lure, drawing an arrogant author fish with the tempting bait of Exceptional Art, promising her she’d be one of those special artists who’d be rewarded beyond her wildest dreams with her stories. This bait was often attached the equally tempting lure of Success. 

She began to hum to herself: 

“One lure offers comfort, secure life,
Another promises glory
Both tempt and tantalize
Do they offer more than story?

There’s never enough to write all you want
Keeping a roof over your head
When can you finally find your song
Must I wait until I’m dead?

There are stories I need to tell
They’re waiting for release inside
I must find a chance to set them free
Find out where my characters hide.

They’re buried deep in lost ideas
They’re sinking within pools
They’re lost off in imaginary seas
My precious story tools

When will I seek if I’m chasing deadlines?
How can I persuade them to appear?
They’re in my mind, yet out of reach
So far and yet so near.

I’ll never stop looking for time with them
No matter how pointless it seems
I’ll give voice to that special tale
Find an outlet for my dreams.”

Not all that great, the author thought, putting down her pencil. Maybe she could polish the poem up and post it on her blog. Or a submission call might appear that suited it. She would just have to wait and see. 

It might not be great, but it had a lot of her heart in it. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

#QueerBlogWed: Paula's Prompt

On April 10, 2019, P.T. Wyant posted at this Wednesday Words prompt...'You are a bard hired to entertain the crowds on Monday Nights (Mug for a Copper Night). Describe a typical night.'

Only Ashleigh from Tales of the Navel: The Shadow Forest decided to drop's her story about that night...

It was a Mug for a Copper Night at the Sulking Lily. The bard wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. This was a new world with new rules, not to mention a new pub. All this waited for her behind the latest Door she’d opened. The price of admission had been her name. 

No matter. Bard was a title suitable for her skills. The lute’s strings felt familar beneath her fingers, eager to pick out a tune. 

It was also a Monday night, whatever that mean. Crowds of people began to mill into the Sulking Lily, dressed in open leather jerkins, no, jackets, they were called jackets, fastened with zippers and buttons. 

This brought back a memory of a boy with multicoloured eyes. She couldn’t recall his names, but she smiled at the thought of his stories. How she loved to hear him relate this visions he saw in a pool, trying to find words to suit the places and people acting out their little dramas within them. One vision had been of a man who was never meant to be a man. Raised in a land of ladies, reared in a garden of beautiful boys, plucked in their youth for the pleasure of a mistress, he’d run away and grown up. 

“He wore a black leather jacket like I’d never seen before.” The boy had drawn a hand down his middress, over his own velvet vest which was so different than the garmet he described. “It was fasted with a silver zipper that could part the leather on either side, revealing his white shirt in a single motion.” A sad smile played about his lips. “Nobody wore anything like that in the gardens. He was so proud to find it, to put on something which became a badge of freedom from what he’d been.”

Many a person wore such a jacket in this pub, or a shirt, or other covering featuring the fabulous zipper. The bard took a moment to marvel at the gleaming metal fastening in the dim light. Much as she enjoyed the boy’s stories, she’d never been sure how true they were. 

“Anything was possible in Omphalos.” Sorrow had pinched the smooth flesh between the boy’s eyebrows. “It’s where you’ll find the center of all things bizarre.”

“This is Omphalos.” She’d gestured to the tiny cottages dotting the valley below. They’d been at the top of the hill where so few dared to climb. “The most bizarre creature we have there is you.” She pointed an accusatory finger at him, ignoring the stab of envy which accompanied it. Unlike Map, she had no desire to change their fey, strange companion. “The most impossible things are what you see in those visions of yours, Christopher.” 

Ah, Christopher, the boy she and Map found, wandering the nearby woods of Omphalos as if caught in a dream. They’d brought him back to their lonely village, filled with halfling misfits, part human, part…something else. Most humans would say they were part monster. These misfits comforted each other, creating a home in Omphalos, hiding in the shadow of the hill. 

No one dared to go too close to the hill. It was a place of strange happenings, flashes of magic, where people disappeared. 

Christopher had been strange enough to go there of his own free will. She had been strange enough to follow him, hoping to see the dancing lights materialize over the hill, or the visions swimming in the pool. 

Nothing like that ever happened. Not to her. Not that close to Omphalos. It wasn’t the only Omphalos, though. There were others out there, beyond the Door. Beyond every Door. 

This place wasn’t one of them where the bard found herself facing a crowd of people with zippers, all gazing back at her with expectant eyes. Omphalos lingered in her heart and mind, though. She could almost see it, gleaming in everyone’s pupils. 

She began to strum a tune, fumbling for the words:

“What lies beyond the Door?
What can you see between the trees?

Omphalos here, Omphalos there
A center of weirdness everywhere

Simple words, yet the name came back to her as the crowds tapped their toes, humming along with her. Yes, Ashleigh was her name. She tasted it with all the passion of a lost love, someone she’d found once more.

“Hearth and home beckon thee
Map, Christopher, stranger children that you’ll ever be

Compelled to open every Door
Following the Forest path every more

Tears gathered, hot and tight within her eyes. Yes, Ashleigh was the bard’s name. It wasn’t the only name she’d ever used, nor was Ashleigh the only person she’d ever been. She’d sacrificed much, though, to become Ashleigh, walking away from so many people for the sake of this identity. 

Map’s round brown face, hiding its monstrous green beauty behind a human mask floated in her memories. Map would never understand why she’d abandoned hearth and home, the exquisite children they’d found in the Shadow Forest. Ah, all such things were transitory. She’d left more than one home behind to change into someone else, someone she wanted to be. She was like Christopher in this, only instead of chasing visions, she was opening Doors. Unlike Christopher, she knew exactly who she wished to be, even if Ashleigh had to keep chasing Ashleigh. She lost herself a lot. Worse, she had to leave Map, Christopher, Leiwell, Danyel, and Tayel behind along with her past selves. 

“Hearth and home tempt you
Waiting with a warmth that’s true

You walk away to open another Door
Searching, seeking forever more

Other people were crying, too. Ashleigh smiled and strummed, even as the tears streaked down her face. No matter how different a world was or how exotic its inhabitants, someone always cried with her. Someone caught the sorrow laced in the words and the melody of the song, even if it was deeply personal. 

Ashleigh was never alone. Even in a world filled with strangers with zippers, she was not alone.

“Always finding another place
Seeking your heart in another face

Omphalos waits beyond many a Door
Those you’ve loved, lost, and more

It wasn’t that great a song. None of her compositions were, yet it came from her heart and she’d put her passion, her journey into each line.

Applause rang in her ears, clapping coming from all sides. Ashleigh Beyond the Door put aside her lute and took a bow. 

Yes, she was Ashleigh Beyond the Door, walking between words in the Shadow Forest, seeking the portals to different places. Perhaps she’d stay in this one for a while. Get to know her listeners. 

Or maybe it was better to simply have an ale, listen to the people talk, and move on. Sooner or later she always moved on, seeking the next Door. 

A weathered woman in a leather jacket gazed at her with heavily-lidded eyes, some of Map’s weary wisdom gleaming within them. It would be so easy to go to her table, to start a conversation with her. Maybe she’d end up lying in that woman’s arms, taking what comfort she could from their embrace. Only she might have to leave part of herself here if she did, just like she had with Map. 

Best to not to linger. She’d already shared her songs with this receptive audience. Best not to give them anything else. They might cling to it and she might end up missing whatever she left. Or whomever. 

Ashleigh sighed, trying to banish the memory of small faces too like her own, or green eyes peeking behind a raven lock of hair. 

Danyel, Tayel, and Leiwell weren’t her sons any more than Christopher had been. There was no point in feeling guilty over leaving them.

Perhaps she’d have a pint before she left. It might wash that nasty taste of guilt out of her throat.