Tag Archives: magic

Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 3: Cage of Freedom – Part 1

Songs from a dozen birds filled Aliene’s ears as she woke, and she nearly jumped from her bedroll, the quick movements causing the birds to flutter into the sky. Aliene let her mind run down its list of questions quickly – she was awake, sore but not injured; good start. The thought of her magic bow sent an alarm through Aliene until she slammed her hands down and found it by her side. Her pack was at the foot of her bedroll. She finally caught up with her instinctive thoughts as the fog of sleep left and she noticed Jacobus off to the edge of the small clearing. He was facing away from her, sitting cross-legged, his tunic gone, and Aliene had the answer to what happened at the end of their fight.

Jacobus’ back had numerous marks all over it, from small scrapes to deep ragged slashes. He had caught her; the bow had drained too much from her and knocked her out. The force of the bolt firing had sent her flying since she wasn’t on the ground. In a split-second, Jacobus had caught Aliene and shielded her as they both slammed through the wall of branches and thorns. Aliene was about to speak then noticed the monk had old scars along his back that outnumbered the fresh wounds; the thought twisted her mind from thanks, to concern, to questions.

“The scratches look worse than they are. How are you feeling?” Jacobus’ voice was calm, as if they hadn’t just faced a forest guardian and lived to tell.

“I’m fine, did the Leshii come after us?” Aliene asked, adjusting her shirt and trousers after sleeping in them for what must have been the whole night.

Jacobus turned just his head looking over his shoulder. “So, you did not see what happened?”

“No, it all went dark after I fired.”

The monk turned the rest of himself around. He looked ragged with darkened bags beneath his eyes. “All that was left of that beast was the two small stumps it had for feet.” He paused for a moment then finished speaking. “With that bow, you vaporized the Leshii. That shot was awe-inspiringly powerful.”

Aliene would have been shaken if she wasn’t so physically tired. She pulled the bow from her side and examined the blue, metal-like frame. She ran her fingers over the fins that extended out. “But it has a drawback.” Aliene smiled lightly from her vocalized thought, though Jacobus didn’t seem to catch her second meaning.

“Indeed, you were left basically comatose for nearly twelve hours.” Jacobus’ voice was calm but his eyes pierced her. The monk pulled his pack to him and began searching through it before pulling out a Misten Shirt made of silk. He rubbed the material, examining the dark green garment, putting it on he asked, “Are you feeling well enough to walk again?”

Before he pulled the garment down, Aliene caught a glimpse of a tattoo in blue ink, a lion head encircled by symbols. She decided against asking as many tattoos were for private matters in Misten. Aliene nodded and began rolling her bed up, lost in thought for a moment as she considered where to travel. Schillia was out but she did need to get supplies. As she lifted her pack she had another thought. “You still have the ingot, right?” Aliene asked as the two started walking along a small trail leading away from the campsite.

“I do. Centauri said the being that could use it was north, in the Thundering mountains I assume.” Jacobus winced a bit as he stepped down hard on the train as it dropped sharply.

“I guess.”

“Finding a specific place in them though is going to pose a problem. Without a map, we could wander the mountain range for a lifetime and never find anything.” The monk moved slower to stay by Aliene’s side as the path widened.

Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 2: Creeping Rot – Part 2

The bolt from her bow struck much harder than the monk had, causing the still airborne mass of monster to nearly land on top of Jacobus. The monk reacted by pulling back his fist, letting his magic fill him; as he punched the monster a loud crack preceded the leshii being planted into the ground. The monk leaped towards Aliene, making it halfway back until he spun around to see the leshii rising from the ground. The monster shifted on its legs, repeatedly snapping its body back and forth, resetting its limbs and head after the assault it endured.

With a hissing exhale of mist the leshii reached out its hand, splaying its long twiglike claws as a ragged moan filled the air. The sour scent of the leshii’s magic filled the air as the monster’s reach expanded over the ground and narrowed on the pools of black sludge. Foul air bubbled from the dark pools as the water boiled violently. Jacobus and Aliene stared as the waters calmed down; from the stillness bulged forms of flowing oily sludge, and they rose out of the different pools as a pack of grotesque wolves. Gurgling at the pair of stunned mages, the pack spread into a semi-circle and marched towards them as the leshii lumbered behind them.

Jacobus backed further towards Aliene then said, “Any changes to the plan?”

Aliene flexed her jaw, eyeing the wolven forms approaching. “Just one; don’t let the water get on your skin.”

Jacobus nodded, raising the point of the short sword he held towards the leshii. “Taking him out should dispel this, right?”

Aliene shrugged, aiming her bow again, and drawing another arrow of magic, the air close to her shimmered, then glittered as the arrow grew. Jacobus rushed away from her suddenly while flinging the sword at the wolves, getting their attention. Four of the oily beasts pursued the monk as two charged Aliene, but those stopped short at the crunching sound of Jacobus ripping up the remains of a tree half submerged in water and earth. The whole pack and leshii turned towards the monk; Aliene then figured out Jacobus’ plan and jumped up. Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 2: Creeping Rot – Part 2

Castle of Crows – Part 8

It turns out that magic is a little more difficult than it looks in the movies, but that mostly has to do with how finicky artifacts are. The first artifact Nixie gave me was a pocket watch that was supposed to be able to freeze objects and enemies in mid-air. The plan was for her and Baron to throw apples at me and see if I could stop them from hitting me. I didn’t like the plan, but I figured if I argued I wouldn’t get to help, so I agreed and moved away from the window.

“Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you right away,” Nixie said. “Artifacts have to be attuned to your energy before they’ll work properly, and some of them may not be able to do so right away, or at all, in some cases.”

“What cases are those?” Macey asked, eyeing the watch like it might bite her, and holding up the recipe book like a shield. I thought that was silly since nobody was going to throw fruit at her.

“Sometimes artifacts grow attached to their users, and then they won’t work correctly for anyone else,” Baron said. “Other times their energy just isn’t meant to match up with their would be user. There are ways to test for that other than just trying to use the artifacts, but we don’t really have time for that.”

“Okay, so how is this watch supposed to work then? Like is there a word, or—Ow! Hey!” Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 8

Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 2: Creeping Rot – Part 1

Under the falling rays of sunlight, the Morbid Row took on a surreal appearance. Such subtle tones of pastel reds and yellows in the sky were contrasted by the bleak ground of dying trees and smoking oily waters. Stepping lightly over the stray branches, Jacobus and Aliene moved as smoothly as they could over pools and brush.

When they were close enough to whisper, Jacobus waited for a moment before saying, “We are being watched.”

“Quiet,” Aliene whispered as she crouched beneath a large tree mostly fallen over. “I know, and we should avoid disturbing them.”

The pair had to resist activating their reach as invisible eyes cast chilling glances from every direction. Their pace was labored and tedious, and it took hours for the edge came into view, a wall of twisting gnarled branches from shortened trees. As the two travelers reached the wall, Jacobus breathed a sigh of relief as the hidden glares fell away. Aliene looked down one way and then the other, unable to see a clean path through the branches.

Jacobus turned to Aliene asking with a look, What now? She shrugged, eyeing the obstacle top to bottom. She stepped closer to the tangled branches before waving over Jacobus. The monk stepped silently towards her, his eyes still shifting to the sides. “Think you could leap over it?” Aliene asked, keeping her voice low. Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 2: Creeping Rot – Part 1

Castle of Crows – Part 7

“The first thing you need to know is that magic is real, and it’s very, very dangerous,” Nixie said. “There are two worlds, one for humans and one for magical creatures, and the places where those worlds meet have to be guarded.”

“This castle and the forest around it is one of those places,” Baron said. “Your aunt is the Caretaker, and the fence is the border. So long as the fence was intact, the magic of the Otherworld was contained. When it was broken, a path between the worlds was opened, and magical creatures started coming through.”

“They can’t stay past dawn though,” Nixie said, “not without a blessing from the Caretaker, at least. But they’ll be back when the sun goes down, and if they ever get in here they won’t need the Caretaker at all.”

“It’s a good thing you were able to get here before the others,” Baron said. “Only the Caretaker can open the room from outside, but if you hadn’t been able to lock the door again, or if you’d unlocked it…”

He trailed off, but he didn’t need to tell us what would have happened for us to be afraid of it. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 7

Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 1: Admitted Denial

“So, that was an actual God?” Jacobus asked, sitting on a stump, still breathing hard.

“Short answer, yes,” Aliene said between gulps of air. They were back in the forest, but every nerve was still panicking. “The Celestial chiefs can manifest Avatars for speaking to or defending the tribes.”

Jacobus slapped his cheek, calming himself a bit. “That happen very often?”

Aliene just looked at him, shaking her head; she stood to examine the bow Centauri had given her. The blue metal fins retracted, suddenly folding in a couple times, becoming no longer than her forearm. Aliene took a strip of cloth from her wrist and secured the magic bow to the back of her belt, hiding it beneath her shirt. Aliene put her pack on as Jacobus stood and did the same. “I should find another bow soon.”

“He did say not to use it a lot,” Jacobus said before his face twitched slightly. “I am assuming here, but you don’t have a large inner-magic reserve do you?”

“No,” Aliene replied as she began walking after looking up at the suns position. “If I remember right, Schillia is the closest country, so maybe we should head there for good supplies.” Aliene had taken a few steps before realizing Jacobus had stopped walking; she turned to him and the air left her lungs.

His face wasn’t angry but the air around him shivered from his gaze. Jacobus inhaled deeply, saying, “I wouldn’t suggest it.”

“Why?”

“Going there would cause more problems than it could ever solve.” Jacobus calmed himself but still looked drained from the thought.

“There a longer version?” Aliene let her hands fall to her sides.

Jacobus sighed. “We should walk and talk.”

Aliene nodded and waited for him to reach her side before they continued.

“During the fighting of Schillia’s civil war, I was ordered to do many things I am not proud of. The comfort of knowing it was in service to my country faded quickly after I was released.” Jacobus’ pace quickened as he spoke. “Without the direction I had while in the army, those memories I ignored began hounding every moment of my existence. Whether awake or dreaming I couldn’t outrun them. That is why I began traveling to monasteries.” The rhythmic pace began creeping up towards a jog. “You know the rest from there.”

Aliene was quiet a moment. “Do you ever regret being in that army?”

“I couldn’t say one way or the other.” Jacobus began slowing as he asked, “Have you ever done something you regret?”

Aliene wrinkled the area between her eyebrows. “Yeah, it was a long time ago, but it was when Hafwen first began teaching me magic.” Her pause held until Jacobus went to speak, but Aliene cut him off first. “I had been warned that using magic the first few times can mess with your emotions, the lesson awakened an anger I didn’t realize I had. I attacked her.”

Jacobus waited a moment. “But it was an accident, right?” Aliene just looked at him, face muted of expression, but her brown eyes trembled. “You just gave in,” Jacobus said quietly, half looking through her as if seeing something else further away.

“It was the first and only time. I had ignored the feeling so long it got replaced with something worse.” Aliene’s breathing turned rapid as she slowed down.

Jacobus stayed beside her saying, “That is probably true for many parts of life.” The two walked in soft silence for a while before Jacobus froze mid-step. “Well, that is not very inviting.” He and Aliene stepped out of the tree line onto blackened earth.

Aliene nodded her agreement. “This is the Morbid Row, the border of Misten’s land.”

They looked around at the dead and dying plant life dotting the plagued soil that hissed steam where it wasn’t covered in pools of dark, oily water.

Child of Starlight: Issue 2 – Part 4: Celestial Chief

Aliene looked up past the branches into darkness. “Yes it was.” Aliene stood pulling her sword and bow out of her pack.

As Jacobus loosed his reach and contracted it, the muscles in his arms visible grew. With a blast of wind from the brush a voice called to them, saying something just out of hearing. The pair exchanged glances until Aliene froze, visibly disturbed. “Did you hear that?”

“Just now?” Jacobus questioned, Aliene nodded. “No.”

“There it is again,” Aliene stood from her crouched position. “It’s calling me to it.”

“What is?”

“I don’t really know,” Aliene started walking sword still raised. “Come on, grab the brick from my bag.”

Jacobus didn’t answer, just obeyed and followed behind her, leaving his own pack and the rest of hers. He looked past Aliene into the inky blackness that enveloped her, then it filled his own vision. Until the faint glow of something in the distance appeared, and a voice came from all around saying, ‘Go towards it and fire an arrow.’

“Now that I—” Jacobus was cut off by Aliene shushing him.

After the sounds of a bow creaking followed by the whoosh of its release, an explosion of light rushed past them. What had been a black abyss was now filled with countless flecks of light. Swirling like firefly’s in a dome, that then became still appearing to be stars in a clear sky. Jacobus felt a hand on his shoulder force him into kneeling, he fought it in vain till he saw what it was. A man taller and broader than any Jacobus had ever seen, and as the being passed by him he saw the legs of an equian. It was in fact a full body of an equian as the beings lower half, the feet of which were large thick talons, the digits linked by webbing. His whole body had a rough skin that glistened like scales, and a pair of long folded fins sprouted from the sides of his left forearm.

“Daughter do you know me?” the voice from earlier said as the being approached Aliene.

She had fallen to her knees staring at it, “Yes,” her voice was meek.

“Say it, child of starlight.”

“Aquar Equias, Chief of hunters, Centauri,” Aliene flinched as the being flexed, extending his left arm and watched him pull his right hand along his left arm like you would a bow. She looked on in amazement as a sliver of pale blue light manifested, Centauri aimed upward and fired the sliver. It claimed into the air and burst becoming almost like a sun that began filling the area with soft blue light.

“Dear child how long I have watched you grow,” Centauri spoke with a voice that made the air shiver. “Your strength is something beyond mortal limits. You bring me honor,” the being turned to Jacobus, “So you will quiet your mind boy, I am one of the avatars for her pantheon of gods.”

Aliene coughed out a breath tearing up as she looked to the being who would be her god. “Why Me?” Aliene says finally letting tears flow down her cheeks. “Why would you do this to me,” Aliene screamed it clutching her chest.

Centauri was silent for a moment, “If I knew child I would tell you, truly. It is your mark, it was made by your magic, I have watched over my tribe for a thousand generations. I have seen heroes be foretold come to pass and be welcomed amongst the starlight households.” The being of hunters bent to place his hand under Aliene’s chin lifting her face. He looked into her hazel eyes that begged for relief, to have this burden lifted. “You are different, you have something more than what I know, how you live, how you deal with this, will be up to you. All I can do is arm you with what I do know, give me your bow.”

Aliene lifts her weapon with both hands bowing her head, as she does the weapon changes flashes of light force her eyes closed. When the light subsided, she looks at what her bow had become. Heavier than before and almost pulsing with magic. It was thinner, but as she gripped it the ends fanned out like the gods own arm. “Give it a try.”

Aliene stood her mind asking why there was no bowstring, but her body just moving. Her arm went through the motions and as she drew her magic was pulled from her hand. She aimed at a tree that appeared some ways off, half rotten and released. With a hiss and whistle her target more splattered than splintered but was missing a huge section in an instant.

“Raw power has its uses, merely think sharper to pierce a target, though try not to use this more than ten times a day child. Don’t lose it I have blessed it but Hafwen did spend weeks making it for you in the first place,” Centauri smiled at her beneath his star filled eyes and nodded at Jacobus, “He is more than he seems, don’t discard such faith.”

Jacobus had stayed a good distance form the girl and the god, kneeling and as the being of hunters nodded at him he stood only to drop the meteor stone. “What the,” Jacobus picked it up as Centauri appear beside him, no sound, no warning. The being took it, examining the stone for the moment.

“Interesting, this is the star that fell to you?” Jacobus nodded to answer him. “This is from the House of Crafting.” Centauri looked up towards the sky, seemingly past the darkness. “I give you this advice young one, in the heart of a mountain north of here lives a being much like myself, should you find him give him this stone.”

Aliene opened her mouth to reply but was suddenly blinded by white hot light, when she blinked rapidly to adjust her eyes she heard the buzz of insects calling and the song of birds fill the air.

Castle of Crows – Part 6

After all the noise of the night before, I think it was the silence that woke me up. The rain had finally stopped, and the world had finally gone quiet after the wild panic of the night before. The candles around the room had gone out while we slept, but now that the sun was up there was dim light shining through the curtains. The door was still locked, and it seemed undamaged despite the best efforts of whatever had attacked the room earlier.

Now that there was nothing trying to force its way in, I felt safe enough to investigate the room. The wood cabinet was locked up tight, but the work table had more then enough weird things on it for me. Besides the cauldron, there was an assortment of herbs and stones, and several rows of shelves holding dozens of little bottles filled with powders, liquids, and what appeared to be bones. Each bottle was labeled in Aunt Pen’s neat script, but not in English. There was also a book filled with recipes, but none of them looked like they made food. At least, I hoped they weren’t food.

Macey yawned behind me, and I turned to see her rubbing her eyes as she woke up. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 6

Castle of Crows – Part 5

The moment the sky went dark, Aunt Pen was grabbing us both and pulling us out of the room. I could hear howling from outside, followed by the familiar cawing of crows, and while the noises scared me, the panicked look on Aunt Pen’s face was what kept me from asking questions. Her face had lost all color, and as she pulled us through the halls and up the stairs she kept looking around like she expected something to jump out of the shadows at us.

When we got to the third floor, Aunt Pen started leading us down a very familiar hallway. It was where we’d first started looking for the passage to the tower, and when Aunt Pen stopped in front of that blank wall it occurred to me that she might not have been completely honest when she said she’d never found the passageways.

There was a crash behind us, and Macey and I turned to see a crow had crashed through a window down the hall. Before I could even try to identify him though, there was a scraping sound, and we turned again to see the stone wall opening up to reveal a staircase. Aunt Pen grabbed us and pushed us through the opening. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 5

Child of Starlight: Issue 2 – Part 3: Pasts That Define Us

The day continued and the two travelers began sticking to the shade of trees, avoiding the searing sunlight of midday. Aliene was beginning to feel the rebound of her exertion. She looked back to Jacobus who had stayed quiet over the past few hours. The man still looked as if he was on a leisurely walk. Does he outclass me by so much? The thought had wormed its way into her skull, exacerbated by the silence between them. Aliene had only been able to compare herself to Hafwen growing up; her mentor had always been better at everything. Speed, power, endurance, and stealth, the four tenants of a hunter. Hafwen told Aliene she was better than some but how could the young girl really know?

The use of magic had always been compared to how she used her muscles normally. Magic just made up the difference in what she could normally do and what she may need to do. The farther the difference, the more magic needed. Outer magic was a little different but pulled from the same source within her. Hafwen had drilled Aliene till her magic was drained, then made her keep going, fighting through the sharp tingling that ensued. A sensation Aliene was starting to feel now in her legs.

Should I just rest? A foreign concept after twenty years of scheduled life. They had food for a few days and nowhere to go. I have nowhere I need to be. The realization of that fact stung Aliene more than she expected. Continue reading Child of Starlight: Issue 2 – Part 3: Pasts That Define Us

Castle of Crows – Part 4

The rain kept on for the next three days. Macey and I explored every room we could get into: spare bedrooms, parlors, a study. The first day was all hide and seek, and while there were plenty of great places for us to hide, with only two of us it got boring quickly, with the seeker often being unable to find the other. Hiding got boring when no one was around to find you. After I hid behind a couch and under a curtain, Macey spent an hour trying and failing to find me, so we called off the game until we could get more players. On the second day we stayed together and explored what we could, even venturing into the basement to see if there was a dungeon, but we only managed to find the wine cellar before Macey insisted on going back upstairs.

Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 4

To Sell Your Soul- Part 1

Demon deals are perfectly ordinary. Sure they’re a terrible idea, but an ordinary one. And despite the fact that they’re illegal, and despite the fact that demons aren’t trustworthy, and despite the fact that making a deal will guarantee you a spot in hell, people are constantly making them. And, in the especially stupid cases, breaking them. People think they can get away with it by moving away, either to a Haven or a big city, as if hiding behind a barrier or getting lost in a crowd could actually stop a demon. Slow them down a bit maybe, but never stop them, not when they had humans to act as debt collectors.

Continue reading To Sell Your Soul- Part 1

Castle of Crows – Part 3

The sky had darkened with the rain, but it wasn’t until the sun started to go down that the large windows that lined the ballroom no longer provided enough light for us to see by. There were no light switches anywhere that we could see, so Macey was forced to end her impromptu ball in favor of finding Aunt Pen for dinner.

As Macey and I made our way towards the kitchen the rain only seemed to grow heavier, beating on the windows with new force. In the time it took us to reach the kitchen, the noise of the storm had swelled so loud it was almost enough to drown out the voices arguing in the kitchen. I stopped upon hearing them and pulled Macey back from the open door when she didn’t. Continue reading Castle of Crows – Part 3

Castle of Crows – Part 2

The trouble started when Aunt Pen set us loose while she worked on the library. We were too young to be helpful, and she didn’t have anyone to watch us, so we were given instructions not to bother her and to be in the kitchen at noon and at six for lunch and dinner. Macey took this as a sign to play princess, and I took this as a sign that I was on my own when it came to getting out of it.

So while Macey ran off to get dressed, I decided to explore the castle grounds. The lake was huge, or at least it seemed so to me, and there was a short pier with a little wooden boat tied to it. It would have been perfect for swimming, but the water was freezing. It was like trying to wade through ice water, and I couldn’t seem to adjust to the temperature, even after standing in the lake for five minutes.

The lake was a bust, but it was also the most interesting thing within the fence. Aunt Pen’s one rule was still stuck in my head, but I figured that I could still investigate it, so I left the lake and walked to the edge of the forest. When I reached the fence, a crow landed on the fence next to me. It was large and familiar, so I smiled at him.

“Hi Baron! I don’t have any meat for you right now, I’m sorry.”

Baron cawed softly at me, and I took it as a sign that he forgave me.

“I was going to walk the perimeter though; do you want to come with me?”

Baron cawed again, hopping along the fence and then turning to look back at me. I grinned back and started walking, with Baron following along on the fence.

“I’m glad I’ve got you to keep me company this summer; it seems like it might get kind of lonely here. Aunt Pen is cool, but she’s really busy, and Macey and me don’t get along very well.”

Baron cawed sympathetically.

“Do you have a sister, Baron?”

Baron cawed again, and then he was joined on the fence by a smaller crow, who cawed a greeting at me.

“Hello! Are you Baron’s sister? Wait, Aunt Pen introduced us yesterday, didn’t she? Your name is Nixie, right?”

Nixie cawed, hopping around and bobbing her head, almost like she was nodding.

“It’s nice to officially meet you, Nixie. I’m Dillon.”

Nixie cawed again, and the three of us walked on together. We followed the fence around the castle, until I could no longer see the lake. The forest trees were different from the trees inside the fence. The treeline was surprisingly orderly, for a forest. Nothing grew past the shade of the trees, and the trees didn’t grow within a foot of the fence. There were no tree branches hanging over the fence either, and I wondered if Aunt Pen  trimmed everything back. It seemed like a silly thing to spend time on, and I didn’t think she could have found the time anyhow, but someone must be doing it.

As I studied the treeline, I noticed something glimmering a few feet passed the fence. It was bright and gold and beautiful, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was, no matter how much I stared at it. Nixie and Baron were cawing again, frantically this time, but the noise seemed far away and unimportant. All that mattered was the glimmer.  It wasn’t very far in, and if I hopped over the fence I knew I could get it. It wouldn’t be hard. It wasn’t a big fence; it was more of a border than a barrier. I could be over and back in seconds. I just needed to get the glimmer.

“Dillon!” Suddenly there were arms around me, and Aunt Pen was hauling me back from the fence, and I felt like a veil had been lifted. Nixie and Baron were still cawing, loud and panicked, and they’d been joined by several other crows too. I didn’t understand how I could have ignored them.

“Aunt Pen?”

Aunt Pen breathed a sigh of relief. “Dillon, you scared me. What did I say about going over the fence?”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Pen. I was just trying to get the…” I turned back to point out the glimmer, but it was gone. It was like it had never been there at all.

“There’s nothing in the woods but trees, Dillon. Now come inside. It’s going to rain soon.”

Aunt Pen led me back inside, and while it hadn’t looked like rain to me, it started coming down shortly after we got back inside.

“Well, I’d say that’ll be the end of playing outside today. Why don’t you go find your sister? She was looking for you earlier. I think she’s in the ballroom.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the ballroom, getting yelled at by Macey for stepping on her feet.

Castle of Crows – Part 1

Every summer for the past three years my sister Macey and I have stayed with our Aunt Penelope in Scotland. It started because Macey was having a princess phase and found out that the reason we never saw Aunt Pen was because she was restoring a castle. I hadn’t really wanted to go back then (Scotland was a long way from Virginia and I was pretty sure castles were for girls anyway), but Dad wasn’t about to send one of us and not the other, so I was overruled on the matter. So when I was ten and Macey was twelve, we flew to Glasgow and saw Aunt Pen for the first time since she’d left the US.

“Macey! Dillon! Oh, look how big you’ve gotten!”

Aunt Pen started fussing over us immediately, ruffling my hair and fawning over Macey’s princess dress. She was an eccentric lady, too. Every move she made was accompanied by the clinking of her bright gold bangles, and her dress was maroon with long dragging sleeves. Her nails were long and painted red, and her hair was pulled back by a flowered headband. Before we got to the castle we stopped in a nearby village, and she bought us each a cinnamon bun before going to the butcher and getting a bag of scraps. It smelled awful, and when Macey asked what they were there for, Aunt Pen just smiled at her, which put us both on edge.

Aunt Pen’s castle was about five miles from the village. The road curved through the woods, and the trees were so tall that we couldn’t see the castle until we were right in front of it. It was a large building made of stone, built at the bottom of a hill and overlooking a big lake. It was old, but it looked well taken care of, and I could feel Macey’s excitement finally rubbing off on me. As soon as the car was parked we jumped out, racing to the doors, Aunt Pen trailing behind.

“Just a moment, kids!” Aunt Pen called after us. “I want to show you something.”

We followed Aunt Pen around the side of the castle, towards the treeline. There was a wooden fence separating the castle grounds from the forest, which was dark and made me uneasy. Aunt Pen whistled. For a moment nothing happened, and then suddenly crows started lining up on the fence, cawing as they landed and eyeing us curiously. Aunt Pen started pulling the scrap meat out of her bag and feeding them one by one.

“This is Macey and Dillon, my niece and nephew. They’ll be spending the summer here.”

“Er, Aunt Pen? Are you talking to the crows?” Macey looked mildly terrified, and I couldn’t help but feel the same. One of the larger crows cawed at us, and Macey took a step back.

“Yes dear, crows are very clever and very loyal. One never needs to fear if they’ve befriended the crows. Would you like to feed them?”

Macey was horrified, but I was curious. The crows were a little bit creepy, but Aunt Pen seemed so at ease with them that I couldn’t help but feel more at ease too. So I nodded, and I reached into her bag of scraps.

“Hold it by the very edge, and reach out carefully,” Aunt Pen instructed,  guiding me towards the large crow. “This is Baron; he’s the largest crow in the murder.”

“Murder?” Macey asked.

“Yes, that’s what a flock of crows is called, dear,” Aunt Pen said. “Now say hello and introduce yourself. Then give him the meat.”

“Hi Baron,” I said, only feeling a little bit silly talking to a crow. “I’m Dillon. It’s nice to meet you.”

Baron cawed at me, then snatched the meat out of my hand and scarfed it down in seconds. Baron cawed some more, and I smiled at him in return.

“Well done, Dillon! I think he likes you. Would you like to try, Macey?”

“She’s too scared to try,” I said, grinning smugly. Macey glared back at me.

“I’m not scared! If you can do it, I can too!” Then Macey marched forward and grabbed a piece of meat, only looking slightly disgusted by the feeling of it.

Aunt Pen led her to a smaller crow and had her hold her hand out. “This is Nixie. Go ahead and say hello, dear.”

“Hi Nixie, I’m Macey! Your name is really pretty,” Macey said, holding out the scrap meat. Nixie cawed softly, then grabbed the meat. Macey jumped a bit when she did, and Nixie cawed at her again.

“Well done, Macey! You two are going to be very popular; I can already tell,” Aunt Pen said, turning to look at the sunset and frowning. “It’s getting a bit late, so we’ll have to head inside now. While we’re out here though, I need to tell you the most important rule of staying here with me.

“See this fence? It goes all the way around the castle grounds. It is very important that you don’t cross it without me. The woods are tricky to navigate, and as you might have noticed during the drive up, the castle isn’t visible if you get too far away. So stay out of the trees, alright?”

“Sure thing Aunt Pen!” Macey said, smiling.

“Good,” Aunt Pen said, returning her smile. “Now let’s head inside and get washed up for dinner.”

We followed after her, and I quickly forgot about crows and forests and rules. For that night, all that mattered was me and my sister and our joint effort to keep Aunt Pen from making haggis for dinner. It was the first simple night we had at the castle, and, though we didn’t know it then, the last simple night.

I’m Dating a Magician

So I started dating a magician last year. I didn’t know this when I first started dating him. I guess magicians don’t like to advertise what they do; otherwise, people would think they are creepy. They are not wrong. Anyway, because 80 percent of the people in the audience of any magic show are other magicians looking for ideas to steal for their act, I’ve been dragged to about 40 magic shows. I’ve seen a couple of good shows, but I’ve seen way more terrible acts. Along the way, I’ve made a list of my top three favorite magicians. See if you can figure out what they all have in common.

My number one magician is Zabrecky. He performs in the “The Zabrecky Hour.” He looks like Lurch from the Adams family and acts like the Count of Monte Christo. He feels like a character that would perfectly fit into an Edgar Allan Poe story. All of his tricks find a perfect balance between funny and creepy, but he will never understand why the audience is laughing. He has a Sheldon Cooper level of social awkwardness, but once the audience is on his side, he hits that sweet spot of lovably awkward.

My number two magician is Rudy Coby. He performs as the “Labman,” a mad scientist magician. His show captures the best parts of classic 90’s zaniness. Rudy demonstrates his various inventions and creations in a way that just barely works on the supposed shoestring budget of the show. There is also a superhero component to the show, as various supervillains interrupt the show, and force Rudy to do some sort of magic trick to vanquish the villain. It’s the perfect mix of comedy and action. He is also famous for parodying other magicians. His roast of David Copperfield is a must see.

Rounding out the list is my number three magician, Jeff Hobson. Most magicians like to pick a lady volunteer for their tricks because they can’t interact with women in any other context, but Jeff is famous for picking men volunteers. You see, if Jeff were on fire, he would be less flaming than when he is performing. This man has a very openly homosexual personality. He prances about the stage, plays ABBA music while his helper shuffles the cards, and generally does everything he can to push boundaries with his male volunteers. I laugh to the point of screaming watching this man work his magic on the men.

Have you found the link between the acts yet? Here’s a hint. I never told you a single magic trick they did. That’s because the tricks they did were not important. These magicians could have done any trick and still been entertaining. These acts are character driven. The characters are so interesting and fun to watch that they could have done anything on stage and would have been good. That’s the real secret to being a good magician, having a good entertaining character, and then picking tricks that really let the character shine through.

Marigold Tea House

Marigold took a deep, steadying breath, closed her eyes, and pictured Comfort. She held the image of being at ease and soothed in her mind: wrapped in warm blankets on cold winter nights, settling into the soft curves of a caring lover amidst the steady sound of rain pattering on the window pane, watching fireflies from her porch in evening twilight while cicadas sang, the smell of freshly poured tea mixing with old spices and herbs in her mother’s kitchen and workshop. Some memories were much, much older than others, but they were still fresh in her mind even all these decades later.

Opening her eyes, Marigold observed her tea bags, prepared and almost ready to be set out for sale. Inside the handcrafted bags she’d mixed Chamomile and Skullcap herbs, spiced with her own blend of seasonings and marketed as a heavy duty stress reliever. Now Marigold set to adding the final and most secret ingredient. Memories held firmly in her mind, she took a small pen loaded with a dark, non-toxic ink. With a steady and practiced hand, Marigold drew the sigil for Communication on each bag. With her memories clear and present at the forefront of her mind while she wrote, the message was clear. A small taste of power glowed from the sygills, shining in the early morning light for a glorious moment before fading into the background hum of everyday magic.

Marigold placed the pen back in its carefully crafted and well-loved case on her kitchen table and allowed herself a moment to lean back in her chair and regather herself.

“A simple spell like that wearing me out…” she said to herself. “Aging is certainly no task for the weak.” Marigold smiled.

The peace of early morning reflection was nudged away by the soft and quietly insistent chime of Marigold’s smartphone. Glancing over to the counter where her phone charged overnight, Marigold caught sight of the time on her hanging wall clock. It was a well-crafted wooden piece, a gift from an old friend. The handsome face informed her eyes what the phone had informed her ears; it was half past seven and time to open her store front.

Marigold stood and gathered her things from the small wooden table. The kitchen around her was still, lit a warm yellow by sunlight peeking in through the eastern facing window. A brass tea kettle sat cooling on the stovetop from her breakfast cup, shining bright against the dull practicality of the old stove. Her sink was much more modern, shiny and chrome from when Marigold had been forced to replace the original the space had been built with. A vital pipe had finally rusted beyond the point of no return.

Her Council had been baffled by her choice to replace it the old fashioned way, she remembered. ‘Marigold, a simple sygill for Remembering and the pipe will be good as new! Why bother with hiring a plumber and tearing out the whole sink?’ Marigold remembered what she’d placated them with – something about the landlord knowing the pipe had been troubling her and the problem suddenly vanishing would have cast eyes where they shouldn’t be, easily understood and entirely logical caution for the sake of cover.

teapot
“A brass tea kettle sat cooling on the stovetop from her breakfast cup, shining bright against the dull practicality of the old stove.” Photo from: www.thetearoom.typepad.com

Marigold’s actual reason was significantly more complicated and close to her heart. If she’d been forced to put into words, Marigold might describe it as the same reason she had purchased a smartphone and tried to keep on top of how it worked. A desire to have common ground, perhaps.

But that was entirely too melancholy a train of thought for such a fine, bright morning. Placing the box of tea carefully under one arm and her phone in her apron pocket, Marigold left her kitchen and walked through the tight, light green hallway of the flat. Past her tiny bedroom and the cozy sitting room were the steep stairs to her shop below, which Marigold descended with practiced ease even at her age. Once at the bottom, Marigold reached up with her right hand and felt for the sygill precisely carved into the doorframe. The feeling of Protection and Alarm at the Ready still rang in her mind as strong as ever. No ne’er-do-well was getting in without Marigold’s knowledge and swift retribution.

Marigold opened the door. Her shop greeted her nose first, tea leaves and herbs from the world over mixing into an intoxicating aroma entirely unique to her space. Marigold Tea House was the official name, though most of her customers couldn’t help tacking a possessive ‘s’ onto it. Marigold’s Tea House really wasn’t that different at the end of the day, so she rarely bothered correcting it. She smiled as her eyes swept over the space, cleaned and prepped for facing another day of thirsty customers.

Unfortunately, Marigold’s gaze caught onto her most hated enemy. How she despised it, how she loathed it, how even the look of the thing threatened to sour her mood. It crouched on her countertop like a giant cockroach. Marigold frowned at the offending black menace while laying out the basket of tea bags.

“Now,” she calmly said to the pest. “Are you going to be cooperative this morning, or are we going to have issues?”

The cash register said nothing. Marigold wasn’t expecting it to; it was only a cash register. She calmly and steadily marched to her spot behind the counter and confidently keyed in the sequence for opening the store. The register paused for a moment, thinking over Marigold’s simple request as though it was a monumental task.

Beep Beep! The register chirped. Marigold sighed through her nose and looked at the display with a slow curl of dread.

Err//Op Not Valid

“Ah. This again. I admit it has been a long while since your opening volley has been the literal opening.” Marigold keyed in the sequence again, more slowly this time and carefully ensuring that each button press was inputted correctly.

Err//Op Not Valid

“What pray tell is not valid about the sequence that has opened your drawer for customers every single day for the past 35 years?!” Marigold tried again, more forcefully that necessary.

Err//Op Not Valid

“Technical support isn’t taking my morning calls anymore, you beast. I am going to enter this code one final time, and if you do not cooperate I swear on all the sygils known and not that I will end you. Most likely with a baseball bat.”

The register mulled things over for a while, and though Marigold knew it could not have actually heard or understood anything she said, it was very satisfying to see it finally accept her code. The cash drawer popped open with a merry ching! Battle won but war far from over, Marigold quickly counted the cash and noted the sum in the books. As she removed the various piles of bills, sygils were revealed. Smooth Workings and Sensitivity and Clean were the most obvious ones, but countless attempts at enacting her will on the stubborn machine were visible if you knew how to look for them. Marigold hardly remembered what problem she had initially been trying to fix after all this time, and she had a sneaking suspicion her continued attempts were only making it worse.

“One of these days,” Marigold muttered to herself, “one of these days I will finally grow sick enough to replace you entirely, and what a fine day that will be!”

The cash register said nothing, but Marigold knew the fiend was being smug again.