#2065

“Goodbye, friends!” Remr, standing on the stage where Never would soon play, waved to Dhashi, Row, and Ilkan as they disappeared into the Candlenights crowd. “They were nice,” she commented when Never came up behind her carrying an awkwardly shaped instrument. “I hope they get uncursed and… stuff…” Her voice trailed away.

“Uh, Remr,” Never shifted the heavy object in their grip, “can you move please? I kinda need to put this right where you’re standing.” But the Tiefling didn’t seem to hear them; she was staring into the milling crowd of revelers, frowning as if something there puzzled her. Never was about to ask what she was looking at when she shouted, “Wait!” and jumped into the throng of people. Never, who was honestly pretty used to Remr running off in pursuit of something science-related, set down the instrument and continued to prep for the show as if nothing had happened.

– – –

“Wait!” Remr pushed through the knots of slow moving people, using her Tiefling height to her advantage. Somewhere ahead of her, glimpsed briefly every few seconds between a gap in the crowd, a flash of lavender skin or white hair revealed her quarry. They played cat and mouse in this way through the brightly lit streets, past games and food vendors, performers and fortune tellers, all the way though the Candlenights celebration and into the dark city streets beyond.

Now that they were away from the crowd it was easier for Remr to see her still fleeing target. It was definitely another Tiefling with lavender colored skin and long white hair. The Tiefling dashed down a side street and Remr followed right on their heels, breathless but determined to continue the chase as long as she could. Luckily for her, the street down which her prey ran was a dead end and as she skidded around the corner she found the other Tiefling trapped by a high wall. Face to face, Remr was positive now of the other’s identity and they both stared across the distance between them for a tense second.

“I knew it was you,” Remr took a hesitant step into the alley. “La’lua, what happened? Why did you stop answering my letters? I thought…” She shook her head. “I didn’t know what to think. What are you doing here?”

“Remr…” The other Tiefling grimaced, her tail darting back and forth anxiously. “I’m sorry, I wanted to reply, I did, but there was no way…” She backed up a step. “I can’t explain. Just forget I was here, okay?” La’lua’s eyes flickered to the rooftops above and Remr knew what would happen. “Lua, wait!” Remr broke into a run, but before she could close the distance La’lua bent her knees and leaped high into the air, catching the edge of a rooftop and disappearing over the adjacent wall. Remr slid to a stop and caught her breath, dashing away the tears of frustration as they fell.

– – –

Remr reappeared during one of the band’s breaks, wandering backstage with an aimless expression as she searched for her bag. Never looked up from retuning their lute and asked idly, “Who were you harassing for a sample of their skin this time?” Remr didn’t answer. An uncharacteristic frown tugged at her mouth and her eyes were unusually distant. “Remr? Hello?” Never waved a hand in front of her face. “You okay?”

“Huh?” Remr blinked as if waking from hypnosis. “Uh… yeah. Totally. I just thought I saw the… churro cart. But, uh… they were out.” She managed a poor imitation of her usual smile to cap off the obvious lie. “Bummer, right?” Ignoring Never’s perplexed stare, Remr grabbed her bag and backed up. “Anyway, um, I should probably go do… science… stuff.” She flashed very half-hearted fingerguns at her friend. “Catch ya later.” Never watched her go, then went back to tuning the lute with a shake of their head, muttering, “She gets weirder every day.”

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#2064

Kneeling before Inanna’s altar I eat a pomegranate with my hands, bloody juice dripping down my fingers and chin. Sweet, bitter, I swallow seeds and spit out half-chewed rind. Inanna’s self-love isn’t all rose petals and bubble bath; it’s stained lips, sticky hands, the crunch of firm flesh beneath your teeth. Inanna’s self-love is red, raw, naked and proud of it. It is both the throne and the meat hook, the body and the spirit. She would have me know all of myself, especially those dark depths into which I am afraid to descend. There can be no self-love without acceptance, no acceptance without understanding, no understanding without recognition.

In my dreams I call myself witch.

#2063

Your union always contains an edge of desperation, a need to consume and be consumed that surpasses mere physical desire. It’s as if every time is the first and the last, as if you have never touched before and may never touch again, or at any moment you will be ripped apart for good. If force alone could meld your bodies into one, you would have fused inseparably long ago. This goes beyond pleasure; this is one soul trapped in two bodies, the broken halves dashing themselves against their heavy confines to finally reunite.

#2062

“You can watch them. But you can’t help.”

Dhashi leans over the Raven Queen’s stone basin, hands gripping the sides. Tears roll down her cheeks and splash into the water below, sending ripples through the image displayed on the surface. “Row…” she sobs, “Ilkan…”

Through the basin she watches her friends struggle to grasp what has happened. In the living world there is nothing left of her, only a smear of black ash, her staff, and Charlie the betta fish in his little glass bowl. Row kneels over the ashes, nearly hysterical with guilt and disbelief; Ilkan, tears even leaking from his own eyes, gently scoops up the fish bowl and cradles it in his giant calloused hands.

She watches Row smear a palmful of ashes onto the knitted scarf Dhashi made her. She watches as Ilkan and the priestess Solenna try to resurrect her, not knowing they will summon someone else into the aasimar’s body. A champion, the Raven Queen had said, sent as a ringer to ensure the party’s success against Bezos. Mage, the champion is called. But this Mage is a cruel soul, mocking and arrogant, and her presence only serves to rub salt in the wounds of Dhashi’s friends.

She watches as the trio travels on to the next temple, even more eager now to see this awful quest done. She watches Row try to drown herself in drink, in battle, in anything that makes her feel differently or not at all. She watches Ilkan shoulder Row’s grief and carry it silently with his own, just as he carries the little fish bowl with such care. She watches a stranger parade around in her body, someone far stronger and cleverer than she, and Dhashi wonders – just for a brief, lonely second – if her friends are better off with someone more useful than her.

Dhashi watches but can do nothing to comfort her friends, to let them know that she is okay, if not… okay. She can only hope they find the strength in their grief to keep fighting, to complete the quest for which she died. They do not trust the creature that inhabits her body and she does not either, but she knows she must trust the Raven Queen. The goddess is not unkind, after all; she told Dhashi she had done well by her friends, and Dhashi knows it was not the Raven Queen who made Row use the curse. Plus, she has already told Dhashi that she might return to the living world, albeit in the goddess’ service as another of her champions. The girl agreed without hesitation or question. She must go back as soon as possible. What will her friends do without her?

Eventually her tears are too many and she must turn away for a moment. But she will continue to watch. She will be with her friends even if they cannot see or hear her. She will become the Raven Queen’s champion, no matter what this means, and she will return to her friends. She will tell Row it wasn’t her fault. She will tell Ilkan he’s not as unfeeling as he pretends to be. They’ll keep traveling together and do good deeds and save the world again, maybe. Everything will be okay.

It has to be.

#2061

o wounded Lucifer, beautiful in your pain, your wicked smile daring make it quick as the blade presses against your bared throat, there are none more perfect than you, none more suffering than you, none who dare lay claim to your crown of madness for you were born to wear it

#2060

Dhashi dreams of a lightless corridor. Even her highly sensitive aasimar eyes can detect no light, and only her outstretched hands touching dry, flat stone tell her she is hemmed in on two sides. The hairs on her neck tingle and she walks carefully forward, hoping to find an intersecting wall against which to put her vulnerable back. The walls seem to curve slightly as she walks and around the bend she begins to detect a faint orange glow. Foreboding settles heavy and cold in her stomach at the sight; she freezes, heart hammering in her chest and temples, but a sound like chains rattling behind her drives her forward again. She sprints down the dim corridor, one hand trailing against the stone wall, and with another turn suddenly bursts out into a fierce red light.

“Pop… Dad… no!”

The corridor is gone. Dhashi stands in a clearing lit red by the flames consuming the nearby farmhouse and, farther back, the fields of crops. At her feet lay her fathers, their throats cut and torsos impaled. The wide pool of blood seems to flicker and ripple in the firelight. Tears stream down Dhashi’s cheeks at the sight but terror holds her in place, unable to move either toward her slain family or away from the carnage. She can only sob, horrified, and urge herself to wake up.

The hot, dry wind carries the sound of a low chuckle to Dhashi and she finally tears her gaze away to find its source. A figure stands on the deck of the farmhouse, apparently unbothered by the surrounding inferno. It wears heavy black robes which obscure its figure, as well as thick bandages across its face. Seeing Dhashi’s attention, it smiles through a gap in the bandages, a wide gash of a grin with a mouth full of needle-like teeth, and speaks in a rasping, sibilant voice the girl cannot understand. Through other gaps in the bandages red eyes begin to open and focus on Dhashi, slitted pupils blown wide as they bulge.

The figure raises a hand and a crushing weight closes around Dhashi’s slim body as if an invisible fist has gripped her. Its arm lifts and she mirrors the motion, rising into the air as the grip tightens. She kicks desperately, unable to breathe with her chest so constricted, her vision darkening at the edges. Somewhere, distantly, a raven crows.

Dhashi woke with a cry, her cheeks and collar soaked with tears. Beside her, Row also jerked awake, hand moving automatically for her staff. From the jenasi’s unsteady breathing and jumpy nerves, it was easy to see she had been visited by a nightmare of her own as well.

#2059

Dhashi stared down at the tea the proprietress of the roadside tavern had set in front of her; while she wasn’t normally a suspicious person, and firmly believed in consuming whatever your host shares with you, even she was doubtful of the tea’s contents. She sipped it to be polite, though, covering the reflexive grimace at its bitterness with her tried and true smile. As she pretended to wait for the tea to cool she glanced around the tavern. This far from any established towns the tavern’s patrons were the usual mix of drifters, desperate travelers, and bandits slyly tracking anyone who might carry gold. In her bright pink traveling dress, complete with matching hair bow, the aasimar girl definitely stood out – but not as much as the goliath who had already put away half of the tavern’s ale.

Dhashi saw the inevitable collision too late to call out a warning. The goliath, leaving his seat to order another ale at the bar, bumped into a blind fire jenasi who was making her way from the bar to a table, a mug in one hand and her walking staff in the other. It wasn’t a particularly dramatic collision; neither fell down and only a few drops of ale splashed from the mug. All might have been forgiven if the goliath, not even bothering to glance back at the jenasi, had not muttered, “Watch where you’re going,” under his breath as he passed by. “Excuse me?” Despite the cloth covering her sightless eyes, the jenasi seemed quite capable of taking care of herself. Setting down her mug on the nearest table, she turned to face the goliath with her head held high. “What did you say?”

“You heard me, lady,” the goliath rumbled, his attention focused on his new drink. The jenasi snorted. “I think you’re the one who ought to watch where he’s walking, you bloody oaf.” This definitely got his attention. The goliath turned, glaring down at her. “You got a lot of attitude for someone who can’t even see.” The jenasi grinned and held one arm out toward the door. “Want to test that theory outside this charming establishment?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ve got two minutes,” The goliath downed the rest of his ale in one giant gulp. As if not to be outdone, the jenasi finished her own drink in a long swallow, then tossed down her mug and headed for the door. As the two disappeared into the yard beyond the wind carried in her smug reply, “I doubt you’ll be feeling so confident when I’ve shoved those axes so far up your anus that you can pick your disgusting teeth with them.”

“Um, is anybody going to…” Dhashi glanced around the room, expecting someone to step in and deescalate the situation, but none of the patrons seemed to have even noticed the exchange. She frowned in moral disappointment. “No? Okay… guess it’s up to me.” She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and followed the ruffians outside. “I hope you’re going easy on me,” the jenasi was laughing as she dodged one of the goliath’s hand axes, “or this is just depressing!” The two seemed evenly matched, speed versus strength, and if Dhashi had paused to assess the situation she might have suspected they were both enjoying themselves. She didn’t, however, because fighting isn’t the proper way to solve a disagreement and she felt honor-bound to bring things to a peaceful conclusion.

“Excuse me-” Dhashi tried to get their attention but her voice barely carried above the sounds of the scuffle and their casual banter. “Excuse me, sir, miss-” She stepped closer, one hand raised in a half-wave. “Excuse– HEY EXCUSE ME!” This time they heard her; every animal within a two mile radius did. The jenasi, her hearing unfortunately quite acute, staggered at the sound. “Am I experiencing an auditory hallucination,” she asked her opponent, “or is there a chipmunk yelling at us?” The goliath shook his head and eyed the tiny girl. “No,” he grunted, “just some kid wearing about ten pounds of ribbons.”

“Excuse me,” Dhashi approached them now that the dust had settled, hands on her hips and wearing her best Disappointed face, “why are you fighting?” The opponents looked at each other, then shrugged and answered simultaneously, “Why not?”

“Why n–” Dhashi huffed. “Because you shouldn’t, that’s why! What if you hurt each other? Or cause damage to public property?” Now her finger was out, pointing and jabbing for the full lecture experience. “Can’t you just settle your argument using feeling words to communicate your emotions in a non-accusatory manner and come to a mutually beneficial solution?”

“Do you have emotions?” the goliath muttered to the jenasi. “‘Cause I don’t have emotions.” She shook her head. “Nope. Can’t say that I do.”

“Of course you do!” Dhashi let out an exasperated sigh. “Come on, we’ll all sit down with a cup of milk and discuss things rationally.” She reached out and grabbed their hands – or at least in the case of the goliath, a finger. He tried to yank his hand back but couldn’t seem to break the aasimar’s enthusiastic grip. “I…” He tried again without success. She simply wouldn’t budge. “I can’t pull my hand away.” On the other side the jenasi tried as well. “Neither can I; how is she this strong?”

“Oh,” Dhashi grinned as she dragged then back toward the tavern, “and my name is Dhashimri but you can call me Dhashi! It’s so nice to meet you, I know we’re going to be great friends!”