Wolf Girl (Astrarctia)

She should return to the woods. She’d lived in this town for five full moons, longer than she usually stayed in one human place, but she had been comfortable. Another like her lived here and though she had not met with him he felt like family. It was more than she usually had and she had not wished to give it up.

But they knew. She did not think it was her that was caught, but it was a warning she could not ignore. If a ringian had not already been sent for one would be soon.

The full moon had been last night, and unlike months before many had hid in their homes from late afternoon, when the moon first appeared in the day-sky. As a born werewolf she could change shape whenever she wanted and was not even forced to by the moon, so she had not dared shift. She had wanted it, desperately, and felt dizzy and on edge all night, but she sat with the other urchins and homeless of the town in the meeting hall and tried not to bring attention to herself. They were told they had been brought to the hall for their own safety, but more likely it was to make sure they were human. She stole a cap to wear over her white hair and did not look up, hoping her amber eyes would seem hazel in the shadows. She had not slept at all.

Now it was dawn and she felt safe enough to leave. She would eat, hide things she could not take, and disappear. Once she was far enough in the forests she would shift and find a place to curl up and sleep. If she was lucky she would run into a pack that could take her in for a time, but she had been a lone wolf before.

She had caches all over the town and she went from one to another. Most had food, meat she had caught or stolen and then packed in snow, and some had clothes. One had a knife she had found in the woods. She ate the food and left the clothes- maybe some of the other urchins would find them and use them. She would not need them with her fur. The knife she wished she could take, it was a good quality, but would be useless with her teeth and claws.

Every moment she stayed was another moment she was in danger. Some of the shops were opening for the day, people were beginning to leave the safety of their homes, and all would be wary and on the lookout for a werewolf in their midst. She decided she had eaten enough and abandoned the last few caches, heading towards the woods. It would be best if she was not seen, even though she had ‘proven’ her humanity. It would be foolish to be seen going into the forests the day after a full moon.

Voices stopped her. She froze behind the thick trunk of a tree and listened. They were speaking to each other and it did not seem they were looking for her.

“Go!” a woman sobbed.

“Quick, son.” A man’s voice, gruff with emotion.

“But if I leave they will know!” The third voice was of a boy.

“If you stay you will die.” The man again.

The wind picked up and blew towards her, bringing her a wealth of information. The man and woman were married, and the boy was their son. He also had the scent of wolf and blood on him.

She peered around from her hiding spot. The boy had a hand wrapped in bloody bandage, and his clothes were torn and ragged. This was not the werewolf she had scented before, though, this werewolf seemed to have shifted for the first time last night, not even aware enough about what was happening to take his clothes off.

She began to walk to them slowly, but the boy turned to her as the wind changed direction again, and now gave him information about her. The parents looked at her too and the mother’s eyes widened in fear. The father moved towards her, as if he could silence her and protect his son. If she was a human girl who heard what was being spoken, and then told the town it could be death for all of them.

“She’s one too,” the boy said, figuring out what her scent meant, moving to stop his father.

“Was she the one—”

“No,” the boy said quickly. “It was a male, a man, that..” He moved his hurt arm. His father took a step back, but did not look away from her.

“I’m Inisaira,” she said, reaching them. “Aira. I was leaving after last night.”

“Ander,” the boy replied when his father said nothing. “I was too, I guess. I… changed last night.”

“We want him safe!” his mother said. “Please, help us. Take him far away!”

How could she turn him away? He was was taller than her by a few inches, older than her,but she had certainly been a werewolf longer. She had felt safe enough just knowing a werewolf was in the same town (even though she now thought horrible things about the wolf that had bitten a child). This could be the start of her own real pack.

She began to take her clothes off. The man turned away, but the mother and boy did not. She was still young enough that it was not unusual to be naked in the summer months. Of course this was winter.

“Hurry,” she urged Ander, throwing her shirt on to the ground. “We will run faster as wolves. Your parents want you safe, that is more than I’ve seen in some other places.”

Once they were both naked, the boy looking more uncomfortable than her, she nodded to him. Good, he was listening to her. “You were bit, but you can still turn into a wolf if it isn’t a full moon. You need to mean it- say a prayer to Luna and picture yourself shifting.”

It took him a few minutes to change. Aira was a wolf in only a moment, and she observed the boy while he concentrated. Finally his limbs began to move and fur sprouted from his body. The mother gasped and she hid in her husband’s arms, but the father did not look away. Ander crouched and then fell in the snow, but quickly his new form appeared, one accustom to snow and the forest.

He stood, shaking off the snow that clung to his golden fur, the same color as his hair. He was an older puppy, like Aira, neither yet adults as people or beasts but needing to act without guidance from adults.

They regarded each other in this second form. Their scents filled the air and both knew even more about each other than when they had scented each other in human form. Ander knew she was a born werewolf, the alpha, and that she was tired and worried, even if she tried to hide it. She knew he was bitten a few days ago, the bite tearing when he shifted last night and reopening wounds. He was worried too, even afraid, but was determined.

She took a step to him and looked up into his eyes. He tilted his head in confusion, and then slowly bent his head in understanding. He licked her snout, crouching before her.

Brother, she said, nudging him. Beta.

Sister, he agreed, nuzzling her face. Alpha.

She looked to his front paw. He had taken off his clothes but had forgotten about the bandage. It was now lose and twisted up in his fur. She bent over and grabbed an end in her mouth, pulling and shaking her head until it came loose and she dropped it. When his wound began to bleed and he whined she licked at it until it stopped.

She glanced to the parents and gave a nod so they would understand. The father nodded back, and then mother tried to hide her tears by picking up their clothes. With a meaningful look to Ander she dashed off into the underbrush. He followed.

 

Hanging (Clandestina)

The professor was not in the classroom as the students walked in to Anatomy. There were instructions written on the board in large letters (each student was to pair up with two others, choose one of the corpses laid out, and disassemble as much as possible, labeling each organ and its function. For extra credit they could find out the cause of death) but that was all. They had done this, or similar, exercises several times before under the watchful eye of their teacher, but today it seemed to be a test of how well they could work on their own.

Pierre Salvador stood by himself while most of the group paired with friends. Piers had finished his studies already, leaving for home a few weeks before, not needing the extra time in surgical schooling. The princeling therefor found himself alone more often than not now that his only true friend here was gone. It did not bother him much, he preferred working alone, but it was not pleasant. Possibly his status was scaring others away, or perhaps something about him radiated with Mora’s cræft? He had never looked into the problem.

At the end there weren’t enough students for an even number of triads and Pierre stayed alone. He noted that one group had four students, and he should have at least been paired with one of them, but it let it go. There were also not enough bodies either so another group would be useless. He could make a fuss, or join one of the groups to observe, but he had better things to do. This was something he knew well already, and Mora has asked he kill a man for her.

He made to leave, minding to tell the professor later that he was feeling ill and to either get the assignment dropped or allowed time to remake it, but the door opened as he was walking towards it.

Two men in guard uniforms entered,  a covered tray between them. They saw Pierre, apart from the others and the eldest, and addressed him.

“Monsieur! We are here to bring a body for the students. He was just hanged and sent here immediately for their observation.”

“Merci,” Pierre said, taking the wheeled slab and flipping over the white sheet. Beside the angry blue bruises around his throat he seemed asleep. His skin was still warm.
The prison guards said something and left a moment later after receiving no reply, the princeling having stopped paying attention to them. The corpse took his whole attention. The man was still in tattered rags.

He did not feel like a corpse, not in the same way the others had, but he had not spent extensive time with very many bodies. Perhaps they felt different based on their type of death?

Most of the others had abandoned their chosen body to come observe him now. A fresh corpse was rare, and never this fresh. Those unlucky enough to get the last body often had to deal with the stench of decay.

Pierre held out a hand and someone obliged him by handing a scalpel over. He cut into the torso only for blood to spurt onto his hands and clothes.

“Merde!”

“He’s still alive!”

If the bright lively blood had not confirmed it, a moan from the man and his eyes opening did. One of the youngest boys fainted. A few turned to help him, even more turned away entirely, but Pierre continued to watch in silence. He had seen men die before but every experience was new. Had he been dead and come back through a miracle, or had the doctor on staff at the prison merely not done his job?

Someone finally yelled out that they would run and get a professor and the door slammed on his way out. Pierre bent over the body and touched his pulse. The neck was bruised and swollen, presumably by the hanging that hadn’t managed to snap the spine, but it throbbed a slow heartbeat. He wrapped a the rest of his hand around the windpipe. No one was looking at him, no one dared looked up to see the eyes of a man who had been pronounced dead. He squeezed, and there was a gargling noise before the heartbeat stopped.

The door burst open and their professor had returned.

“Away, away,” the surgeon called, shooing his way near the body opposite Pierre.

“Your Graceful Highness,” he addressed Pierre respectfully. “What seems to have happened?”

“Monsieur, he still seemed alive when I started to cut. His blood flowed and his eyes snapped open. He made a noise as well.”

The professor was nodding, placing a stereoscope to the man’s chest, then neck. After a minute though he shook his head.

“Well he is not alive now. Do not worry, it is nothing you did, merely a dead man hanging on to life as tightly as he could until no more. See, he is malnourished, dehydrated, and was through a trauma. Let us merely call it a delayed hanging and leave it at that.”

Done with the analysis he nodded to himself again, wrapped the stethoscope around his neck and looked to the student.

“Well?” the professor prompted. “Back to your stations, there is still an hour and a half left in the course.”

Students shuffled back to their chosen bodies, one group’s left alone as the two boys who were paired with the one who fainted helped him to the side.

“I will go check on Raoul,” the professor said to Pierre. “You may continue with this body but I understand if you wish to skip this class.”

“Non, merci professor, I will be fine.”

He lined the slab up in the back of the room with the others, on the leftmost side with his back to everyone else. He finished taking off the man’s clothes.

“He would have lived.”

The voice in his ear was female, and Mora suddenly stood by him wearing what only could be called a women’s uniform in the style of his own, though the students were all male at this University. Her hair was tied back in a deep crimson ribbon, and his wings were furled close to her back, but still there.

“With medical attention,” Pierre agreed. Attention a class full of students could have begun to provide until someone with more knowledge arrived. But the man was a prisoner sent to death. He would have only been executed once more. This was in a way kinder.

Mora looked to him and made to say something, but stopped instead. She smiled and then disappeared, off to greet the dead man’s soul in her plane.

Pierre had the feeling she had been about to inform him of the man’s innocence, a mistake in the roi’s judgement (for the roi was the duc in this land as well). But even if that were true it would no change the sentence. The roi had spoken. Pierre merely complied.

 

Eglė (Clandestina)

I’d like to mention before you read on that this is a graphic piece involving gore and death.

——-

Ophion stopped to set up camp. After tending his horse and starting a small fire amid a circle of stones he walked around the clearing to stretch his legs. He had been riding for three days with little sleep and both he and his horse were exhausted. Today would be an early night and tomorrow likely a late morning, but they needed to rest. It would do no good to his patients if he could not take care of them.

Mora, The Lady of Death, had been visiting him ever since this plague began. She spoke to him of power he could gain, power she would give, to turn the tide against the illness that ravished the land now for months. The spirits were angry, she told him, restless and in need of discipline. There was only so much she on her own could do, but if he helped her…
A hiss broke through his thoughts. Looking down he saw a small garden snake amid the dead branches. It was late winter, almost spring, but perhaps he had woken the animal from its rest, or it wanted to move closer to his fire. He stepped aside to let the serpent pass, but it only stared at him.

He could kill the snake.

Not that he had anything against it, he was fond of snakes in fact. But to begin practicing necrocræft one chose, killed, and resurrected a creature to become their Familiar. Mora had told him before he left the last town that he was ready if he desired.

The last few weeks have been difficult. He had lost more patients than he saved, and it was no guarantee the stable patients would stay that way after he left to yet another town, another tragedy. It was a dark magic, this necrocræft, one punishable by death in the kingdom of Triumphe. But there was already so much death here. If there was any way to prevent some of it, even if at the end it cost him his own life, would he not do it?

Mind made up he went to rummage through his bags. No point in delaying this. He would sleep after, letting himself rest after the journey and the magic he was about to try and perform.

He wanted to kill the animal with as little suffering as possible. He had medical tools in his bag, but they were either small knives or a large saw, and trying to cut the head off a serpent with something used to cut through bone was overly harsh. Finally he settled on a cooking knife. He would have preferred something a bit larger, but it was the closest thing he could find that would do minimal damage.

The snake had only moved a few inches during this time, crawling over towards the fire. It did not seem to mind him, and did not even turn its head when he knelt down on the cold ground beside it. His horse, several feet away, was not paying him any attention, probably already sleeping while standing.

Ophion took a deep breath. It was just a small garden snake, barely as long as his arm. It could bite him and slither away if he was not careful, maybe spook his horse if she woke, but it was not much of a threat. He put his left hand before the snake’s head and waited. Still no alarm from the creature. He moved his hand closer, then touched the top of the head. Its tail flicked but nothing more.

He raised the knife and placed it close to where his thumb rested over the snake, just above touching the neck. At least at this angle he was not looking the animal in the eye, and maybe the snake did not see the blade. Would it matter? Did snakes have any concept of knives or how they could kill?

Another deep breath. He pulled his hand back and then slowly let it descend so that it would be in the same place. He did this two more times, making sure his aim lined up. The forth time he chopped through the animal.

Blood. The tail seemed to jump away, twisting and writhing while what seemed like a never-ending stream of blood poured from it. The head just sat there under his hand. He backed away, falling into a sitting position in the grass. The blood quickly flowed up to him and began to stain his clothes. He was used to blood, especially during this plague, but this was too much. This was the amount you would find in a person, though perhaps someone young..

The body of the snake stopped moving only to begin growing. Scales became skin, the tail split in two. The head changed as well, growing larger and with hair so soaked in crimson that you could not tell what color it was supposed to be.

A child. The snake that he had beheaded had transformed into a young girl right before his eyes. She lay in a pool of her own blood, eyes open and staring straight at him.

“Oh, God.”

Mora appeared, already kneeling in the blood. The Lady of Death looked kindly to the child and took off a large shawl to cover her body.

“Ah, dear Ophion,” The Lady said softly. She took the head onto her lap, stroking back the girl’s hair. She made no move to close her eyes.

“I killed a child,” he whispered. Shock had frozen him to his spot and he watched the display like it was a performance. If he allowed himself to grasp the reality he would go mad.

“A fay child,” Mora corrected. “Living in these lands outside of Triumphe, but still within Clandestina. There is wild magic in the air here. She is not fée, but perhaps her parents are.”

“What do I do?”

At this the Lady looked up at him, puzzled. “You bring her back, of course.”

The Lady placed down the girl’s head and moved her body so she cradled the child. Her dark clothes were stained even darker, and the blood shone on her pale skin. Taking the severed head she placed it back on to the neck. With a finger she drew a circle around the girl’s throat, where the severing had taken place, drawing in the blood.

Once she pulled her hand away there was still a corpse, but at least it was in one piece.

“Here,” she said, laying out the child.

Though it was said as a suggestion he obeyed as if it were a command. He crawled through the blood and looked over the girl. The shawl covered her from collar down. She was ten, eleven years old at most. It was hardly the first time he had seen a dead body, but never had he caused it. Even losing a patient after doing all he could was nothing to compare to this.

But he hadn’t known. It was a snake, just a snake. Some other realms had shifters of form, but not this one!

Wild magic, Mora had said. Untamed spirits that probably leaked from Faery into these lands.

“How?” he asked, as if he could harm her further. She was dead, what else could he do to her? But he did not want to hurt her any more. God, oh, God, why had he done this.

“Take your own blood,” Mora said. “Have her consume it.”

“But, but you said I needed an animal, My Lady. This is a child!”

“So you will leave her like this?”

He turned around to pick up the knife he had used to kill the child. The child. He did not even know her name. He did not even know her hair color, so stained was her body. He needed to wash the blood out of her hair. He needed to clean her up, give her some clothes. He needed to return her to life and never again do anything this sinful.

The kitchen knife was covered in blood, none of it his own. He found a clean patch on his attire and tried to wipe it away.

His own blood. Blood for blood. If he slit his own throat would that be enough? What did he have to give to bring this child back from the dead when he had been the one to put her there?

“A severe injury,” Mora said in reply. Had he spoken aloud or was the Lady more knowing than he thought. “One that may, without proper care, risk your life.”

He raised the blade to his throat, but changed his mind and lowered it again. If he did not live long enough to even try the cræft it would be useless. Instead he moved the knife to his wrist. He was not a surgeon, but he understood the body. If he cut deep enough this might kill him, but it would take some time.

He cut again. More blood. He put his wrist above the girl and blood dripped around and into her lips.

Before he could ask what next he felt her. It was like his body housed a second soul, filling his chest and making him light and dizzy. A heartbeat that should not exist began to thump in his ears. He reached out, with both his mind and his hand, and through the planes of existence found the girl’s soul in the land of the dead. She waited for him, smiling, and so very curious about the magic he was doing. Without hesitation she placed her hand in his and suddenly reality was around them again.

The soft thump of her heartbeat still filled his body as his own began to slow. He was still bleeding from the wrist, adding even more red to this clearing that looked as if a massacre had taken place. Before he lost consciousness he saw the girl open her eyes and smile.

 

Vows (Illumidens)

At first it had been harmless chatter. She and her protector would talk during their days together as she had never truly been that close to her Sister, who should have been her confidante. That he called her beautiful had not meant much as she took it as him stating the truth. That she found him handsome was only true in kind. Then her hand would stay in his for longer after he helped her from her pallet. A greeting kiss to her cheek would be closer to her lips than the time before. She too would feign tiredness so he could wrap his arm around her.

Her Sister had then warned her, asking in horrified whispers what she was doing with a man. They were Seraphia, the chosen sirens of the sea, and their chastity was paramount.

She had not listened, ignoring her Sister’s warnings. She took her duties with as much seriousness as she could, being still a girl, and she could not devote every moment to the gods. Her chastity was safe, she was doing nothing that siblings could not do.

Then they kissed as man and woman, and gone to bed like husbands and wives.

With shame and embarrassment she refused to speak with him for a fortnight after their coupling. Then she swore him to secrecy, by her power as the sea’s chosen, swore to herself that this would never ever happen again. She repented, kneeling in the surf and weeping as if to add herself to the ocean.

She felt herself cleansed.

Over the next several months she was the most dignified she could be, and this became more natural every day. She took her duties far more seriously, tending to both the beaches and the great salt stones. She was praised by the Crone, and she and her Sister spoke more often and with greater joy. Her protector kept his word, being again no more than the dearest of friends, his life and sword hers to command.

Then the curve of her stomach had become visible even under her most elaborate wrappings.

Weeping did nothing now. Neither did protesting, yelling, or reminders of how over the last season she had done so well.

There was no trial. No one witnessed her acts, but it could not be denied that a child grew in her. When asked who her lover was she said nothing, and her protector kept his oath in that he did not speak up, though from the pained expression he wore he desired it dearly. If nothing else she was his charge, and the child her blood and his.

She would be given a test, as it was possible a spirit or a lesser god had put in her a child without violating her. If she could still stand upon the water then she would be revered even more for her being chosen yet again. If she walked into the waves she was not allowed again up on dry land.

Now she stood at the edge of the surf where she had weeks ago wept. The entire city had come to watch and see, many in mourning clothes. They did not believe her pure. And she was not.

Sirens were creatures of air. They lived in the cliffs and delighted in the breeze. Their wings were useless for actual flight, feathers growing long from their shoulder-blades, gleaming gold in adulthood, but without muscle to be of use. They could not swim. But they lived on the edges of the continent, the sea air calling them and asking for their voices. They sang with the whales and lured sailors upon their rocks. And the Seraphia were their twelve queens, able to stand upon the water as long as they were chaste until their fortieth year.

She was only fifteen.

She began to walk. The first few steps still felt as they always had, she liked the feeling of cool water swishing past her ankles. When it came time for her to step up on the surface as if it were glass her foot fell through again. She took another step, another try, and wished and prayed.

She was now knee deep.

There was silence behind her.

She stopped walking, her hands coming up to wrap around her belly. She felt her child move for the first time.

“I have broken my vows,” she said to all gathered. “But I was consecrated until my death and beyond. I deserve this for my fault was great, but I am still Seraphia.”

She continued to walk, the surf almost nonexistent as if to help her keep steady. Her clothes began to feel heavy, and then her wings. Her hair, usually tied up in many braids and pins, was free and also now another weight.

Neck deep she paused for a moment. She caressed her stomach. She apologized.

She took her next step.

Every siren of the city stood and watched. Many cried. The other Seraphia had their backs turned to the ocean, out of respect, not hatred. She had been right- as grave as her error had been, she was still Seraphia.

After several minutes people began to leave. In an hour there only stood the other Seraphia, their protectors, and her protector.

At dusk only her lover remained. He thought about walking in after her, but as before when he had wanted beyond all else to shout that it was his fault, he could die, he broke his vows first, the magic would not allow it.

 

 

Fée Child (Clandestina)

He had been told to leave the birthing room when the bleeding had increased. His pleas and demands to remain were ignored despite his rank, and the common sense that he would not interfere. He just wanted to stay with her. She had been pale and already so weak, her grip on his hand less strong than when they danced (when just a few days ago they had jested she might break his fingers during the worst pains). She could not hold on as he was removed by his own servants and shoved through the door. Her last words echoed in his head on repeat, “My love, Félicien..!”

Now she was dead. The doctor apologized as if that made any difference to him. He had not been beside her when she passed, had not comforted, or held, or praised her for giving him his children, being his beloved wife, and the very reason he was even here. Anger cut through grief and he vowed to punish those that had separated them.

A nurse finally came into the hall holding a small bundle. He tried not to stare at the blood-soaked clothes as he reached out and took his newborn child into his arms.

So small, Félicien thought, unwrapping the baby just enough to see it was a girl-child. Smaller than his son had been at birth. And born almost on the same day—tomorrow would be Pierre’s birthday. But they had been conceived at different times of the year, and it was too early for her. Ophélie should have still carried her for three more months. It was not until late afternoon that they realized her pains were not false, and her brother, a doctor, was too far away to make it in time. A local doctor was called instead. They had hoped it would not matter, their daughter had been conceived in Faery and time was an unsure thing in that plane, and they would just meet their new child earlier than thought.
But no. She was too small in his arms and would have fit snugly in one palm. And why were they handing her to him? Shouldn’t the doctor be doing something, it could not be good for a child to be born this early.

“Your Grace, she has a few hours…” Whatever strength he had retained left him, and he sank into a chair that was nearby before he fell.

She would not live to see tomorrow. This was their feeble apology— to let him hold her as she drew her only breaths.

Halfway through the doctor speaking, when he was sure his legs would hold him, the duc stood and walked out of the room with his little girl held close. His beloved was dead and his daughter would soon follow, there was not time for such nonsense. A part of him thought to perhaps call his son along, but Pierre was still too young and needed not know of death so intimately. They would speak tonight and grieve together then.

He wandered out into the gardens that were let grow wild since he became duc. They were an extension of the forest now, yet still tended and having been shaped by human hands. He preferred it like this, and his wife did—had—too.

He hadn’t seen Ophélie before he left. He couldn’t see her. If he saw her dead he would begin to weep and never stop, and his children needed him. Pierre was still a child and this little girl… she was still here for now.

“Morgaine,” he whispered into the girl’s ear. “Morgaine Ophélie.” He had not know what name his wife had wishes to give their daughter, one name was given by each parent in this realm, but perhaps it was better this way. No one would know her true second name and no one could take power over her in that way. A superstition in this plane, but very true in Faery. He had learned quickly to give a false second name or be a slave while living there. The baby gurgled, making a happy noise for the first time, and seemed to accept being named in part after her mother.

Félicien walked with no destination in mind, wishing only to wander the natural land until Morgaine passed. The forest of early spring, trees full with new leaves and flowers that seemed to offer condolences with their stretched-out branches, was comforting. The day’s sunlight flickered between the leaves, painting the forest and his child. Her eyes, a deep blue, seemed tinged with violet in the shade.

He began to hum and rock her as tears spilled down his cheeks. He would smile for her, surround her with beauty, and give her as much as he could until she…

Morgaine watched the sky, the leaves, reaching to touch flowers that bent down as if to brush her cheeks. Every so often she would wiggle or laugh. They walked until twilight, until she lay peaceful and asleep, but still breathing. He held her so that when she breathed out he felt it on his neck.

It would not be safe to walk once full dark came over the land. Maybe she could still pull through, the doctor had after all not thought she would live this long. And she seemed to be gaining strength not losing it. He turned around to return home.

The trees no longer held flowers, the branches heavy with the growth of a season. The sun shone from the opposing side it had been on before, bringing the dawn, not leaving for the evening. He must have walked through the planes without realizing it and now stood in Faery.

“I must go back,” he called. But even as he said this he was not very sure of it. He was the duc, yes, but he rarely did much in the way of ruling his land. His steward did that. He had not grown up there, and even living in that plane for almost a decade had not truly endeared him to humanity (beside his wife and her family). He was always the outsider, even as the blood heir of Piques, because he had been spirited away to this magical land as a child.

Now he had no reason to stay.

Pierre. His son, who would be seven years old tomorrow, was not here. But would the boy like living here? He was more his mother’s son, interested in the politics Félicien himself ignored, and always wanting to know more about the medicine his uncle knew. He would not find the same whimsy here. Another feeling crept up his neck, a truth that if he tried to return to get Pierre he would not be able to find his way back. His daughter would die and he would be in exile from his true home.

Walking the same path back, wrestling with feelings that he was not sure were magic or pain, it was not his manor in Clandestina that he stepped out into. A village of the fée greeted him instead, making it certain that he was in another plane of existence.
His daughter began again to squirm in his arms almost wriggling out of his grasp. He adjusted her, feeling she suddenly weighted more. His arms must be tired from holding her so long. But her cheeks, which had been pale before, were now rosy in this new place. She reached for him and grabbed at his clothes with a strength she hadn’t earlier. Her eyes were now entirely violet.

His child could survive here. Faery, where a day could mean a year, and a lifetime could be lived without aging. She was already looking better, stronger, as if she had been born at the right time even. And his grief, while still heavy on his heart, seemed somewhat lighter than before. This was coming home, returning to the land he had lived in for half a century and yet only a decade. He began to cry once more, only now with joy.

Ophion would be at the manor by morning. He would take care of Pierre, perhaps take him in as his own. He would be alright.

“Je suis désolé, Pierre, I am so sorry.”

Félicien began to walk towards the village.

 

Wifwolf (Noctuina)

It was atrocious. A large wolf with white fur and glowing yellow eyes, now spattered in red as it ate. To lure it into his silver cage would be enough, if it did not attack him first. Once there it would be forced to return to a human shape and could be killed as easily as any other human, and his job would be complete.

Werewolves were not new in this land, but in the past few years they had become bolder. Living openly among humans they tried to gain acceptance, citing magicians that took animal form as being seen as human by the nobles and lords. Some were considering it, but until the king spoke his view they were just animals. If they harmed no person they were tolerated (in theory), but once someone died by their teeth they were to be hunted down. He, who had been taught to kill them from the time he was a child, saw them as demons and rarely waited until they had taken any life. A werewolf was simply to die.

This werewolf was loose in the capital, eating the livestock of nobles and royalty on most nights. The king wanted it dead even before there was a human life taken. There was too great a risk that a young lord, or a prince, would die. And it would happen, for a man that became a beast lost all morals of humanity and laws of the forest. They would kill for pleasure, torture for sport, and finally in death be damned.

The hunter backed into the woods, moving slowly to hide his movement and any noise. He was downwind, but even if there was a shift in the breeze its nose was far too full with the scent of blood. All it had caught, though, was a young doe that was more bone than flesh. It would still be hungry. Now to just leave it a second meal.

Out of its range of view and hearing he ran back to his camp and his men. A large cage, made from melting much of the royal silver, was hidden among the vines and trees nearby where he would trap the beast. They would leave a meal there, and wait in the foliage until the cage closed. The king himself would then be sent for, to see the execution with his own eyes.

With tonight’s new moon it would be difficult to see, even for a wolf, and so tonight was their best chance for weeks.

“The calf,” he ordered. “Take it to the cage and stab it so it bleeds and screeches. It’s eating, but only a small meal. It will want more. Archers, keep your arrows on it. Do not shoot until it is human again.”

“And how long will this take?” The voice was one known to the hunter, and all else around, for all felt to bent knee when the king spoke.

“Your Majesty,” the hunter began, but the king raised a hand to silence him. Another motion and he silently ordered everyone to stand. “I do not like to wait, and if this wolf is caught it can die right away if I am already here. Now, do not make me ask again.”

“A few moments,” he said quickly. “The silver will make it feel uncomfortable, and then weak, unless it changes forms. Then, at your word of course, it will be shot.”

“Good.”

Everyone went to their positions, the hunter and the king standing where best to view the opening to the cage. The stars allowed them to see only so much, and no torches were to be lit until the cage closed. The calf, now tied to a sapling and bleeding out, was still trying to free itself and run. It made a lot of noise and the smell was almost too much for the men. A werewolf would never sense the danger if taken by bloodlust.

They waited, silent, the only noise the calf’s weakening voice. Then there was movement in the forest and the great wolf appeared. It seemed to glow in the starlight, the blood patches even more prominent than before. It scanned the perimeter, huffed, but sneezed when all it caught was the scent of blood. It tilted its head at the calf, growling low.. but hunger won over caution and the wolf stepped into the cage.

As soon as its muzzle was inside the calf, the great hinged door snapped shut. It jumped, whirled around and growled again into the darkness. Slowly everyone began to step out of their hiding places and surround the wolf. Torches were lit and everyone looked at the beast that had ruled the night for almost three weeks.

The king seemed curious more than fearful. He walked right up to the edges of the cage built from his grandmother’s famed silver collection. The wolf looked him over, sniffed again, and then calmed down. It curled up into a ball and closed its eyes.

There was silence as the fur began to fall away, and limbs twisted and turned. Some of the fur changed to hair and turned gold in color. When it was again human, lying naked, her face hidden in his arms, the unnatural silence continued. The great beast that had taken down a bull by itself last week was this woman?

“Arrows away,” the king ordered, even before she had shown her face. He seemed somehow also thrilled at seeing her.

“Your Majesty,” the hunter said. He was truly pushing his luck by talking back to the king. “It was by your order she die as soon as it is possible. I understand this is the capital and perhaps she is a noble woman, but–”

When she stood the king only smiled, while everyone else turned their eyes away. The queen stood before them, still covered in blood, leaning on the silver bars.

“Husband,” she spoke. “Did I not tell you the beast would not harm our children, or any of the other people in our town? Though I am glad you have put the silver to use since I have stopped being fond of it.”

“You did, my dear. Forgive me for not listening to my intelligent wife.” Everyone else was still too terrified to look at the queen, though the hunter gaped in shock. The banter of a couple was not what he had expected to hear, even given her status. Whyever was the king humoring a woman that would surely die in several moments.

“Your majesty,” he said, “If you could step away so the archers can find their mark–” he stopped talking when the king’s sword was at his throat. So perhaps the rumors that the king saw the werewolves as people were actually true?

“Give me the keys,” the king said. Now shaking, the hunter grabbed them and handed them over. They were then passed to the queen, who unlocked her own door. A servant hastily took off his cloak and gave it to her to wrap herself in.

“Darling,” the king continued to his queen. “Remind me tomorrow to outlaw the killing of werewolves purely on their race. Have some of the royal hunters visit, and the lords of land where we know are werewolves. We seem to have been misinformed of the innate evil of the species.”

“Of course, my love,” she said.

“You are still hungry, yes?”

“I am.”

The king slashed the hunter’s throat.


This isn’t a scene set in any particular realm or story, but it does fit in well with what could happen in Noctuina. It’s actually a short that I wrote based on reddit’s /r/writingprompts a year ago, and looking back at it I like it enough to post here as well. I may add it to my list of stories to write/expand on in the future. Something like this could, with some minor tweaking, fit in the realm of Astrarctia for instance.

First Kiss (Clandestina)

She could read some, but not as much as she would like. Given her age though that was not unusual, and a just-turned-seven year old Elizabeth Anne flipped through the pages of a journal looking for pictures to help explain the words. There were sketches of people, many of them cut open, organs labeled and then redrawn in more detail on the adjacent pages. A doctor’s journal, then. Or maybe one of the students that got to learn from the Lord Physician? She really did not know whose room she had wandered into, but it had been the first open door she found when running away from her caretaker.

Lizzy was supposed to be taught at home, at least that is what her mother said, but so far aside from her alphabet and a few sentences she did not know much. Her brother bragged that when he had been seven he already knew far more than she did: reading, maths, and geography. Now her brother got to work on his studies at the castle! For a month!

At least she had managed to get her own visit. She had said that it was her birthday wish to see her brother, and her father, wont to indulge her whenever possible, had made arrangements immediately. While it was true she did miss Piers, she also wanted to see the castle herself. Her mother almost certainly knew her real wish but had gone along with her plan and was her chaperon most days.

Today she was with a nanny. Her brother though seemed more occupied trying to impress the young maid than keep company with his sister, so she had escaped from the two as soon as she could.

Giving up on the current text she closed the book, not hearing the door opening behind her as she struggled with the heavy tome.

“Hey! Lizzy, what are you doing here?” She whirled towards the door. One of her hands knocked over an inkpot and she stained the desk, herself, and her clothes. Her brother stood in the entrance, no doubt ready to tell her off for being where she shouldn’t be, and now for this accident.

She ran past him.

Having no idea which halls led where, only being on her third day here, she did not take any specific route beside ‘which way to be furthest from Piers.’ Which meant any way, as long as she was faster than he was. It seemed to be working as her brother’s protests towards her were getting quieter.

A waft of fresh air pointed her towards the outside. She ran with the breeze as her guide and found herself in the gardens soon. Lizzy slowed, finally tired and feeling safe. She could no longer hear Piers at all. Walking along the paths to look at all the flowers, she was fairly sure she was no longer being followed even at a distance.

Once past the fountains she made her way into the wild meadows beyond, bordering woods that still belonged to the roi but probably not within the boundaries she was supposed to be staying in. She had promised her mother she would not wander from the castle (the comtesse knowing her daughter well and likely planning for an escape alresdy). Feeling a little guilty, she had not intended to go so far out on purpose, she was about to turn back but heard a cat meowing. A boy then spoke. “I don’t need it. I have food, even if I don’t catch it myself.”

The cat meowed again like it was talking to him.

Well, she thought, if that boy is so far out maybe it still counted as being part of the castle grounds. And she could make a new friend! “Bonjour!” she called, rushing over with renewed energy.

The boy, a little older than her brother, sat beside a black cat under a tree. He had something in his hand and when she called out the greeting he stuck his finger into his mouth.

“Are you alright?” she asked, walking to them. She knew the look of guilt in the boy’s eyes.

“Wait, stop!” The boy put both of his hands out in front of himself and she froze mid-step. A squeak made them both look down to where Lizzy would have placed her next foot. A dying field mouse with still-twitching legs laid in the grass. She stumbled back away from it and the cat snatched it from the ground,  running off with her prize. Blood stained in the grass.

“She caught a mouse,” the boy answered, seeing where she looking. “She thought I could–”

“Oh, you’re bleeding!”

In one hand he held a small knife and the other had a spot of red on the pad of his thumb. So that is why he had sucked at it.

“I-I missed when sharpening my quill,” he said, trying to hide his hand behind his back. Lizzy though, with the practice of a younger sibling, grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand so she could see. Before he could say anything else against it, she dabbed the mark with a bit of lace at her wrist and then kissed it.

“There! All better.”

“Thank you,” he began, but stopped whatever he had been intending to say in favor of looking at his now healed hand. He flipped it over, looking at his hand from both sides, as if wondering where the cut had moved. His eyes widened when he saw the dark ink all over her skirt.

“Are you—”

“Elizabeth Anne!” she winced as she heard her full name and darted behind the boy, trying to hide from her brother.

“Shh,” she whispered to him. “I’m Lizzy, a pleasure. Help me hide?”

The boy nodded and sat down beside her, turning so she was shielded from the way they had come. He was still staring quite hard at his hand.

“Healing magic,” Lizzy said. “Mother says I have a knack for it. And this is just ink, I spilled some in someone’s room.”

“Elizabeth!”

Piers’s voice was near now, and the footsteps were getting closer, no longer hitting the stone of the walkway but thumping in the grass.

“Your Graceful Highness,” she heard her brother say. “If I may beg of you, have you seen a young girl in blue? She is my sister and I was to be taking care of her.”

“Oui, honorable Piers,” the boy said. Lizzy scrunched her face- she had asked nicely that he lie for her. But he continued, “she was out here and then ran back into the castle. Take the eastern door.”

“Merci!”

She waited an entire minute before moving her from place and sitting in front of the boy. “Oh, thank you so much! I don’t wish to cause trouble, but I just wanted an adventure.”

He had truly dark hair, black as ink, and his eyes were a soft grey. His clothes were very well made, far too nice to be outside in the woods in.

“You’re the prince!” she said suddenly, remembering what her brother had said. Highness was for prince’s.

“I am not! Well… somewhat. The roi and reine have taken me in to live as their son after my uncle became Lord Physician. I’m only the heir to a duchy,” he finished, as if that in and of itself did not mean much.

Lizzy curtsied to him and bowed her head. “A pleasure to meet you, Your Grace. My father is the comte of Eichel, so even so you are more important than I am.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied automatically, lessons in manners and polite society making this greeting far less spontaneous than before. “But I do not think I am more important than you. We have just met.

“Why are you running away from him?” he continued, gesturing to where her brother had run off. “He’s nice. We have taken two lessons together, I like him.”

“Oh, yes, he is a good brother,” Lizzy replied. “But I wanted to explore and have fun, while the nanny wanted me to stay with her. He is trying to show off for her and is no doubt here on her orders.”

“If you want to explore, then, Midsummer begins tonight. There will be a festival in the town, but if you come with me we can go to the forests. I haven’t lived in this duchy long, but I think the fée have a presence here.”

“Fairies?” Lizzy asked, suddenly interested. “We leave food for them on Midsummer night! Mother said not to while we’re here though, that the people of Cœurs try and stay away from the fairy traditions.”

“That’s not good. They might get angry then, and you don’t want to be the source of a fairy’s anger. Let’s sneak some food out to the forests just in case.”

“But Maman—”

“I am the prince,” Pierre interrupted with a smile, taking the title he had not a few minutes ago brushed off. “I say we should.”

“Do you know where the kitchens are?”

“Of course!”

And the two made their way to the kitchens where they were given snacks by the cooks, and so much food that it was surely too much for just the children to eat (but not questioning the new prince and his friend). The nanny found them soon after, but only made Lizzy change into a new dress as the one she was was almost beyond repair. That evening they went to the woods and left honey-bread and milk, even Piers coming along after he was done being angry at being tricked.