The Cat’s Eyes

                I slid through the open window, dropping to a crouch in the darkness. A dying fire hissed on the hearth and the wind whispered against the stone walls of the tower, but the room lay still. I pulled myself to my feet, pushing back my dark hood as my eyes adjusted from the bright moonlight outside.  

                The room was half-circular, the straight wall dividing the tower in half. Bunches of drying herbs and roots hung from the heavy beams running across the ceiling. Rough wooden chairs sat before the fire, draped with woven blankets, and shelves lined the walls, piled with books and plants and other objects I couldn’t even begin to identify. Among them, a deep blue sphere on a metal stand was glowing softly. I examined it curiously, rubbing my rough jaw. When I poked it, the light shuddered to green, and I yanked my hand back. I quickly poked it again, sighing in relief when it returned to glowing blue. A skull with enormous fangs sat next to it, but I dragged my attention away. I was getting distracted.

                Across the room, something stirred, thumping to the floor, and I whirled, yanking my dagger from my belt. I fumbled behind me for the sphere, holding it up to flood the room in faint light. Pulsating blue and green shimmered between the shadow of my fingers.

                I crept to the far wall where a heavy curtain obscured half of the thin bed and yanked it back. Nothing. But the blankets felt warm under my hand, and I hadn’t imagined the sounds. I wasn’t alone.

                “Show yourself,” I hissed.

               There was a solid thump on the table behind me, and I whirled to see two luminous green eyes and a pink nose set in a fluffy face. With a sigh, I shoved my dagger back into my belt.

                “Hi, kitty.” I scratched behind the ginger ears with my forefinger. It stared at me, unblinking.  

                I put the sphere on the table, turning my attention to the door set into the straight stone wall. There was no mechanism, just a latch and a keyhole, and the resident hadn’t left a key. I dropped to one knee, fiddling at the lock with the picks I’d slipped out of my boot.

                “I’ll only be a minute,” I said to the cat, who was still watching me from its perch.

                With a soft click, the lock released and the door creaked open into a thin hall falling away at one end to the stairwell that wound down through the tower. Across the hall, another door led to a smaller room, but it was just as locked. Balancing the sphere on my knees, I set to work again. A single emerald eye was peering around the doorjamb at me.

                “I thought witches had black cats.”

                I closed my eyes, letting my fingers do the work, one hand on the latch, the other working the mechanism. “It’s very hard to concentrate with you staring like that,” I mumbled through the pick in my teeth.

                The latch shifted, and the door opened into a black maw. For a moment, I thought the floor had given way and a bottomless pit swallowed me whole, but as I lost my balance, the sphere shifted on my lap and blue light shimmered across a stone floor and windowless walls. Inside stood more shelves piled with sacks and crates and chests. I fumbled in my pocket for my instructions, smoothing the wrinkled note against my chest before squinting at my client’s neat hand.

                “Storage room. Black chest.” I glanced around at the indistinguishable containers. “Any ideas?” I asked the cat.

               It was sitting in the doorway, tail curled around its feet, the tip idly twitching. It had no answer, and I began perusing the shelves, making my way from one end of the room to the other.

                “Your mistress is a clever one, isn’t she? No doors, no windows except for the one I came through. So tell me, is the door hidden or can she walk through solid walls? Gods, I hope not.” I glanced nervously over my shoulder, half expecting to see an angry, wrinkled face sneering at me, but there was only the cat. I nudged a sack aside with the tip of my dagger. “Do I want to know what’s in these? Probably not. I’ve seen worse, sadly. I was hired to steal someone’s brother back from a body snatcher. The stench, puss! You wouldn’t believe it. This is a vast improvement.” I sniffed the air. “Lavender? Your mistress has good taste for a vile, insidious— Ah! Here it is.”

                A solid, black chest was tucked away in the furthest corner of the farthest shelf. I carefully lifted it down to the floor with my cloak, settling cross-legged in front of it. Further inspection with the dim light revealed no lock, no hinges, no marks of any kind, not even a line where the cover should lift away.

                “This is a puzzle,” I sighed. “You wouldn’t happen to know the trick would you.”

                The cat had joined me, sitting by my knee, its green eyes fixed on the box. I tapped the blank surface with my dagger but was rewarded with only a dull clink. A tentative paw reached forward to bat at it, but I snatched the cat up.

                “Careful, puss,” I whispered, kissing its soft head before setting it in my lap and absently scratching its ears. “No telling what your mistress has up her sleeve. I suppose I could toss it out the window and pick up the pieces at the bott— Ow!”

                I winced as the cat dug its claws through my breeches into my leg.

                “No? Fine. No guarantee that would work anyway.”

                I cautiously laid my hand on the surface, hoping the leather of my gloves would protect me from any curses. The fingertips had been cut away for climbing and lockpicking, and the cool metal pulsed under my skin. I tugged off my glove with a sigh.

                “Here goes nothing.”

                The cat meowed softly in response. To my amazement, my hand sank through the black surface. When I pulled it back, my fingers had closed around the thin chain of an amulet. I held it up in front of my grinning face, the wrinkled black stone glinting in the green light.

                “Found you. Who’s the clever one now?”

                I tucked it into my pocket and shoved the chest back where I’d found it.

                “I’m tempted to take you with me, kit,” I said when both doors were locked, the sphere had been returned to its proper place, and all that was left was to scale back down the slick walls.

                With a soft chirp, the cat trotted to the hearth and leapt into a chair, wrapping its ginger tail around its feet. My foot was halfway to the sill when a soft voice spoke behind me.

                “Stay for a cup of tea?”

                I froze, my fingers gripping the edge of the window until my knuckles whitened. When I turned, the cat was gone. In its place sat a woman, watching me with the same green eyes, a ginger braid wrapped around her waist. She lifted a kettle from the hearth, kept warm by the dying coals, and the heavy smell of hydrating leaves filled the room.

                I looked longingly over my shoulder to the open window, the cool air seeping through taunting me. I could throw myself into the night and undoubtedly break my neck. If I took the time to climb down properly, there was no telling what she would do to me before I reached the ground.

                “Tea?” she asked again, holding out a chipped cup to me.

                “Is it poisoned?”

                She laughed but gave no answer, and the cup stayed stubbornly extended. I cautiously took it, lowering myself into the chair across from her, my eyes locked on her. She had a sharply pointed chin, high cheekbones, and soft freckles that had taken the place of whiskers. The cat seemed to still hover there, just below the skin. She didn’t look how I expected a witch to look, but this could be a trick too, putting on the façade of a pretty face to make men who had weaknesses for such things let their guard down. I had no intention of being one of those men. Her gaze flickered down to where my hand was nervously playing with the hilt of my dagger.

                “I frighten you.”

                “You’re a witch.”

                “You’re a thief,” she retorted.

               “You turned into a cat,” I said darkly, leaning forward, and she mirrored my movement.

                “You climbed a tower with sheer walls.”

                I had done that, but no matter how proud I was of that fact, I wasn’t going to let her distract me.

                “You live in a tower with sheer walls.”

                “I like the view,” she said with a dismissive shrug.

                “If you’re so harmless, why did my client send me to steal your amulet? An amulet he said he needed to protect himself from you.”

                “Do you know what that amulet does?” She sat back, taking a sip of tea. “It wards off warts.”

                There was no hint of a lie in her green eyes, and I yanked it out of my pocket, staring at it. “Warts?! I risked my life for this thing! Why by all the Gods would he need that?”

                “Because I gave them to him,” she said, laughing into her cup.

                That was hardly reassuring, and she sighed as I narrowed my eyes at her.

               “He said he was tired of looking at his wife, she was getting old and could I please do something about it. So I did. I made it so he couldn’t see her. The poor dear, I think she actually enjoyed it. As long as she didn’t make a sound, she could creep out of the house while he rambled on thinking she was there all the while. I expect she was just as tired of listening to him as he was of looking at her. Well, he was rather peeved and told me he wouldn’t pay until I fixed it, and I said I had done exactly as he asked. He called me a hag, and I may have been rather petty.” She twitched the end of her braid between her fingers. “I covered his feet in warts, the insufferable old pig. Told him I’d give him the cure when he paid. But I suppose he decided it was easier to hire you.”

               “Then why turn into a cat?” I demanded.

               “I was scared! It’s rather alarming to wake to a strange man crawling through your window!”

               All in a moment, I realized her feet were bare, she wore only a nightdress, and that I was not the victim in this situation but rather an armed man creeping through darkened windows.

               “I… I’m sorry I frightened you,” I muttered, rubbing the back of my neck.

               “No harm done. I realized you weren’t here for me. And I suppose I like being called clever, even if it is a thief doing the calling.”

               Everything I’d done with the cat beside me came flooding back, and I stared wide-eyed into the fire, excruciatingly aware she’d heard everything and there was no way to hide the kiss I’d placed on her ginger head. Her smirk told me she had guessed my thoughts, and I quickly cleared my throat.

               “That’s quite a trick. Think you could teach me?”

               She narrowed her eyes. “You’re already much too adept at getting into places you shouldn’t. I’m not helping you along.”

               She took another sip of her tea, her nose twitching slightly as she stared into the fire. I set my own untouched cup aside, pulling myself to my feet.

               “Well, I suppose I should be off then before the sun rises.”

               I still wasn’t sure she was going to let me leave, and my heart sank as she jumped to her feet and yanked a key from her pocket.

               “Wait,” she told me before vanishing through the door into the dark hallway.

               I could hear her rummaging around and was contemplating making a break for it when she reappeared with a vial in her hand. “Give this to the wife and tell her she can drink it whenever she wants him to see her again, though I wouldn’t blame her if she never did.”

               I tucked it into my belt, breathing a sigh of relief as I finally made it back to the window and the night air seeping in.

               “How did you get up here?” she asked, leaning over the windowsill to stare down at the sheer walls.

               “Maybe I have a little magic of my own.” I grinned, winking at her.

               Wise or not, my fear had vanished, or maybe whatever charms her thin face held were working on me. I had always had an unhealthy penchant for danger. She pursed her lips at me, but the corner of her mouth twisted into a rueful smile. “I don’t get many visitors. Witch and all that.”

               I gazed out the window, looping my thumb through my belt. “I suppose I could stop by again, if I’m in the area. Just to make sure you haven’t fallen down the stairs and broken your neck.”

               Her laugh followed me as I climbed into the darkness, feeling for holds on the slick surface as I slowly descended.

               “You could use the door next time,” she called, leaning out the window.

               I grinned up at her. “Where’s the fun in that?”

               When I looked again, a ginger cat sat on the sill, watching me, idly flicking its tail, its green eyes glowing in the moonlight.

The Fog: Revisited

I thought we’d dip into the archives this week. Please enjoy The Fog, first published in March 2020. For more stories, visit my archives here.


The tiny village nestled in a valley carved between two rugged mountains. Forest blanketed the rocky slopes stretching endlessly away from the small clump of huts. For as long as she could remember, a heavy fog had laid over the land. The residents of the village moved always in a hazy mist, their clothing and hair wet and limp from its cloudy blanket. White sheets hid the tops of trees, and she moved through the forest as if through a great hall, with a ceiling of cloud, pillars of wood and bark, and a soft carpet of moss, damp and silent, beneath her feet.

She tugged her furs more tightly around her shoulders and readjusted her grip on the leather-wrapped handle of her bow. Since the first gray light of dawn had filtered down through the mist, she had been out in the forest hunting. With any luck, she would return with a few hares or grouse, their downy and feathery coats dark and slick with moisture.

The sound of steps on leaves floated through the trees, and she froze, crouching in the underbrush. The steps stopped, and she held her breath in the silence as neither hunter nor prey moved. A soft chuffing floated through the trees. Deer. Her grip tightened on her bow. Scents hung heavy in the mists, and deer usually avoided the forests near the village, but a harvest like that could feed them for days. The chuffing stopped, and the steps resumed. Through the mist hanging between the trees, she could see a dark form moving slowly up the slope. Antlers glistened white in the occasional flicker of light that filtered down to the forest floor.

Her arrow would never reach its target through the thick undergrowth, so she quietly followed, drawn forward by the occasional chuffing and the sound of hooves on damp leaves. A soft breeze brushed her cheeks as it floated down the slope toward her, carrying her scent away from her prey. The stag moved slowly onward, occasionally stopping to lift its great head to the wind and inhale, its grunting breaths making her hold her own until their journey resumed.

The ground became slick and the air heavy the further up the slope they went. The fog grew thicker until she could barely see the wet leaves beneath her leather shoes. An occasional snort and the sound of shifting undergrowth through the fog led her forward with timid steps. The heat in the air grew stifling, and the mists swirled around her like phantoms. She was about to turn back, giving up all hope of bringing down the stag, when the rushing roar of water caught her attention.

Curious, she fought her way onward through the mist, the roar growing to an earth-shaking thunder. A loud snort rang out behind her, and she whirled to see the stag watching her. He turned and darted back into the fog. A gust of wind sent the mist swirling away from her revealing a deep chasm carved into the earth, the edge inches from her feet. A rush of water cascaded into it. She grabbed a nearby tree branch and leaned out to gaze down into the pit, the scorching mist burning her face. At the bottom, dizzyingly far below, a red mass heaved and spat as the water poured into it. Billows of steam belched up toward her. She stared into the heart of the earth until her eyes ached with the heat.

The stag had seen her, and the morning had long since passed, so she turned her steps back toward the village, searching for the steady decline of the ground under her feet. Her hair hung loosely around her face, and her furs were drenched. She shivered as the air began to cool around her, chilling her damp clothing. The trees grew tall around her again, but she recognized none of them. She fought her way onward, more and more disoriented, until she had little hope of finding her way back to the village.

She stopped to free a pebble from her shoe, and when she looked up, the stag was standing at the edge of the swirling mists, staring at her. With a loud snort, he spun, rushing into the fog. She stumbled onward drawing up short when she saw the stag again standing at the edge of the fog. With another snort, he retreated into the white mist, and she found herself led onward by its ethereal form, the ground gradually sloping away beneath her feet.

The trees suddenly ended, and she stumbled into a familiar clearing. It was the spreading field of browning grasses around the village, their blades wilted beneath the heavy fog. The stag stood at the edge of the trees, watching her, the tall undergrowth brushing the wet fur of his belly. Dropping to one knee, she notched an arrow and drew back her bow with cold fingers, the tip trained over the creature’s heart. For a moment, they stared at each other before she let the string loosen and dropped the bow to her side. With a snort and a toss of his head, the stag galloped back into the forest.

Where She Walks

Roses bloom from her palms,
Orchids tangle in the vines of her hair.
Where she walks, life awakens.

Bees and butterflies, her aura.
Pools of water, her eyes.
Her skin, the earth.

Thorns adorn her limbs.
Nectar drips from the well of her lips.
Life to some; to others, poison.

Death and beauty, embodied.


This poem was based on the writing prompt: flower power.

Swept Away

To hear this story in podcast form with original music, click here.


        The Orinath village perches on the edge of the great river, and it is there we have dwelt for longer than memory can tell. Each morning, we gather on the misty banks to plunge our buckets into the streams, and our days are spent foraging within the lush forest or standing on the riverbank with ropes in hand to catch what fish we can. The waters sustain us with their teeming schools and clean currents, but the children of the Orinath know never to enter the river, for it is told that any who do shall never return, and what the river takes, the river keeps.

Thus we had lived our lives in quiet simplicity, but now, the Day of Marking
drew near and we eagerly prepared for its arrival…


To keep reading, join my Patreon (https://patreon.com/rerule). This story is available to the Fledgling and Bookwyrm tiers.

~ R. E. Rule

Arbora

When the world was young and still barren, Arbora alone walked across it. She wandered the dry expanse, reveling in the earth beneath her and the heavens above her. From afar, they watched her with joy, though she did not know they were there, and earth guided her steps across his lands.

One day, light fell upon the earth, for the sun had taken his place in the sky. His glory awed Arbora, and she turned her face to him, stretching her arms to the heavens where he sat and crying out her adoration.


To keep reading, join my Patreon (https://patreon.com/rerule). This story is available to the Hatchling, Fledgling, and Bookwyrm tiers.

~ R. E. Rule

29. Writing Prompt – Don’t Let It Fall

The urn shattered, fragments of broken rock and precious gems clattering across the stones. Ehrik, Knight-Guardian of the Realm, who had just dispatched the last of the temple guardians, froze, sword still held aloft.

“You dropped it, didn’t you?”

His squire stared, mouth agape in horror, at the remnants of the intricately carved vessel. His hands hovered uselessly inches from the pedestal where he had intended to place it.

“It…slipped, sir.”

“The precious artifact… The most important quest of my life… The object we carried through the shrieking forest, across the wailing sands, over the devouring waters, and you drop it?!”

His voice reverberated through the cavernous chamber, and he hurled his sword against a crumbling wall, but the squire ignored him, frowning down at the shards.

“Wasn’t something supposed to happen? End of the world or the like?”

“The court wizard claimed it contained a powerful evil threatening the royal line, but clearly, he’s as useless as you.” Ehrik sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with a heavily armored hand. “Clean up your mess, and fetch my sword. I’m getting out of this stinking cave.”

He stomped away, muttering to himself about inept squires and ill-informed wizards. The squire dumped the urn fragments into a pile on the pedestal and retrieved the discarded sword before scurrying after Ehrik, tripping over bodies and nearly impaling himself as he went but breathing a hearty sigh of relief that his mistake paled in comparison with the wizard’s.

Leagues away, across the roiling waves, past the blowing sands, and beyond the haunted forest paths, deep within the royal castle, servants ran screaming down the hallways. The princess, leaving her dolls and her nursemaid in pieces on the nursery floor, ripped the heart from one of her guards and devoured it whole.


I may have strayed from the original writing prompt a bit, but I wanted to write something fantasy and was inspired to ponder what would be an absolutely terrible thing to drop.

Editing is an arduous task but also an indispensable one and incredibly rewarding. I was able to cut thirty words and make the story more vivid in the process. Every bit helps.

More soon!

~R. E. Rule

Falgar the Great

Deep in the mountains above the kingdom, it was said a beast of unimaginable horror made its lair and that the one who could slay it was worthy of the throne. Fifty years passed, and the beast yet lived. The mountainside was strewn with the bones of those who had tried their hand, yet the crown sat forgotten and dusty. When Falgar the Great, Slayer of Derahk the Tormentor and Liberator of the Valoreth, heard of the challenge, he took up his sword and set forth.

The battle was long and fierce, but eventually, the beast succumbed and its head cut from its body with Falgar’s mighty sword, Eledeth, Bringer of Doom. Then Falgar passed back through the mountains, coming to the high city of the kingdom, and entering the great hall, cast down the severed head, crying, “Hail and take heed, for the beast has been slain, and from the shedding of its blood, a king has arisen!”

The people were awed by his mighty presence and disturbed by the severed head lying upon the floor. Miktahn, mouth of the people, stepped forward and raising his voice for all to hear, proclaimed, “That’s great and all, but that doesn’t really mean you’re qualified for a leadership position.”

A murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd at Miktahn’s words, and cries of, “we need no king,” and, “our present system of governance is adequate!” rang out.

But Falgar was dismayed.

“I have slain the beast as the legend foretold, with my hand and my sword!”

And Miktahn, trusted and wise, spoke again for the people.

“A mighty feat to be sure, but slaying beasts can hardly be compared with, say, setting a taxation policy or encouraging foreign relations.”

“But—“

“And would you, Falgar the Great, Slayer of Derahk the Tormentor and Liberator of the Valoreth, even know how to settle domestic disputes between neighbors or man and state? It took us like a decade to set up a suitable justice system.”

“I, um…no.”

Elgath the Fair, who had thus far been silent and still in contemplation, stepped forward and spoke quietly with Miktahn.

“How about captain of the guard? I’m sure they can find more things for him to…slay since he’s so good at it.”

Miktahn agreed, and at length Falgar accepted his new duties. But when he turned to take his leave, Miktahn called after him.

“And take this…head with you! Leaving blood all over the place,” he muttered. “Doesn’t he know maids are expensive?”

Thus they lived on in peace and harmony, achieving a golden age among men, for a land is best governed by justice and rationality, not men with big swords. And whoever came up with that legend probably meant it as a joke anyway.


I like to call this Tolkien meets Monty Python. (“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no system for a basis of government!” – Monty Python & The Holy Grail)

I read an article last week that said you should never start a story with the character waking up, which is unfortunate because that’s how my draft starts. But the opening sentence, “she awoke in darkness,” is possibly the most important sentence of the first half of the book. It doesn’t just describe the action taking place in the scene but also encapsulates her overarching story and the larger action taking place of which the reader is not yet fully aware! In other words, I’m keeping it.

More soon!

~R. E. Rule

Work in Progress: World Building

I don’t think I’m going to get any writing prompts out this week, so I thought I would post a brief update on what has been keeping me busy.


I finished the draft of my science-fiction book and am setting it aside for a few weeks to allow myself a fresh perspective before editing. In the meantime, I am diving back into my fantasy draft. After reading through it, I realized the story world needs more development before it’s ready for what is turning into a multi-book series (Oops).

Below I will outline each of the elements I’m working on and how they impact the story.

MAP: The first thing I did when I started was to draw a map. My characters travel a lot, so I wanted to develop a better understanding of the terrain and geography. As the series continues, the rest of the land becomes important, so I placed and named all the major holds. The next step will be creating profiles for each of them (leadership, major imports/exports, attitudes of the citizens, terrain, history, etc) and developing the characters from each hold that will play a part in the story.

LORE: As I’ve been writing, I’ve also been developing lore ranging from the overall story of the land, including the creation ‘myth’ (though it’s not a myth), to the history of the country for the five hundred years before the story within the books begins. Both are tied to the plot, so I want to make sure they are developed before I move forward.

SOCIETY: Developing recent history as well as some societal structures informs the way people will act. There are two races within my world and while their cultures intertwine, they are still unique in the way they organize themselves. Understanding these hierarchies and where my characters fit into them, informs how they act and are perceived. Each race has its own abilities that directly impact their culture and how they interact with each other as well as how they interact with the other race.

BACK STORIES: Each of my main character’s backstory becomes pivotal to the plot. I feel comfortable with their personalities and where their storylines enter and intertwine since I’ve already spent a lot of time with them. However, while working through these details and the ending of my draft, I realized my villains are currently flat and undeveloped characters. I tried to write some dialogue with one of them and I had no clue what he would say, so that will be my project over the rest of the week: making my antagonists dimensional people with clear motivations. Being evil for the sake of being evil doesn’t work.

LANGUAGE: The ancient language of one of the races plays a huge part in the plot as well as influences the way characters speak. While no longer commonly spoken, it permeates the colloquial language of the entire world. The runes I created were also used to name several of the holds which were founded thousands of years ago when the language was spoken. While this is in no way a functional language (I’m not Tolkien), I am creating enough to color the story.

OUTLINING: My draft was…a bit of a mess, so I went through and outlined what was happening. Doing this helped me realize I had no idea what the impetus was in the middle of the book. While character development was occurring, the plot was dragging along if it was there at all. Once I realized that, I was able to take a step back and pay more attention to what was happening in the world as a whole. This gave the characters something to react to, opened up the world, and increased tension. Stakes are important.

While time-consuming, this work is going to create a strong foundation for my story and ensure that all the books in the series are congruent. I would hate to get three books in and realize I left out a major, plot-destroying element. I also love doing it. My creation myth is one of my favorite things that I’ve written. For anyone curious, here is the working blurb for my current draft.

For as long as she can remember, she has lived within the dark monotonous safety of the tower. Challenged by unsettling dreams and the arrival of a mysterious prisoner, she begins to wonder about the unreachable outside world and even herself as she realizes she has no idea who she is, why she’s there, or the purpose of the silver collar around her neck.

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

THE FIEND & THE FOUNDLING: Part 3 – Frenzy

Part 1 – https://inthewritingstudio.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/the-fiend-the-foundling-part-1-the-fiend/

Part 2 – https://inthewritingstudio.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/the-fiend-the-foundling-part-2-the-foundling/


The human settlement was an unorganized jumble of wooden buildings and dirt streets. I cautiously fluttered into an alley between two rough wooden walls, the little creature trailing behind me. This place seemed deserted and while human voices echoed off the walls from the street ahead, none of them turned down here. My follower found a crate turned on its side and climbed into it. Assuming by her unintelligible speech and the solid seat she had taken inside that she intended to stay there, I darted down the alley to peer around the corner into the street.

Humans passed by yelling merrily to each other, their arms full of wares and baskets. Small stands or carts stood along the walls covered with what I assumed to be food, though it was mostly plants. I was about to dart into the street when a frantic woman barreled past, grabbing the arms of strangers and imploring with them. They each shook their heads, and she hurried onto the next person. The human language was mostly a mystery to me, but I understood enough to know that she had lost something on the road. I laughed to myself realizing it must have been the work of my kind.

She passed on down the street and as quietly as I could, I fluttered to the first stall, distracting the beefy man behind it by knocking over a stack of crates, and gazed over his array of wares. Green leafy plants were piled high over the rough wood, and I moved to the next stall with a grimace. I couldn’t comprehend how they coped with consuming something so bland and fibrous.

After a complete search of the options and causing a rash of misplaced objects or sending neatly stacked items tumbling into the dust, I decided on a fresh fish. It was the only thing I recognized besides the hunks of red meat which I knew better than to bring her. Retreating into the alley, I found her still in the crate. The fish was deposited at her feet, but she quickly kicked it away. Getting annoyed at this point, I shoved it back.

“No!” she yelled, hurtling it at me from her chubby fist, coming close to damaging my delicate wings.

It was with some anxiety that I noticed her mood was significantly worse than when we had met though I had done my best to appease her. She kept opening her mouth wide, revealing rows of tiny white teeth, and with a little sigh she’d clamp it shut again, rubbing at her eyes with a dirty hand until they were red.

Maybe I had misjudged and leafy plants were the better option. With a sigh of irritation, I hurried back to the street, wondering if this was all some ploy to torment me further. It was certainly effective if it was, but I couldn’t let the thing starve. Not before she imparted her secrets.

I shoved over the stack of crates the human had just finished re-stacking and examined his stand again while he was distracted. These articles looked inedible, but I was desperate. I was about to select a strange orange branch when I noticed the little creature had abandoned her crate and pushed her way into the street after me. A wagon was rumbling right toward her, but she didn’t move. She bent down and was trying to pick up what looked like a pebble.

At the last moment, the human driver yanked back on the reins. The horse, apparently disliking the sudden bite of metal in his mouth and already disturbed by my smell, reared. The wagon crashed onto its side, throwing the driver into the street. The horse was dragged after it, but it thrashed wildly against the leather bindings, finally freeing itself and flying down the street, sending a wake of humans hurtling themselves out of the way. The little creature was still in the middle of the street, and to my horror one of the humans was making his way toward her.

All fiends know they must never be touched by human hands or we lose our powers, so I darted into the street and dragged her by her small garment back into the secluded alley. After I let her go, she held her arms up to me, her bottom lip again protruding itself. I had no idea what this meant and backed away suspiciously. With a whimper, she crawled back into her crate, pressing her face against the side. Loud voices floated from the street, and I fluttered back to the end of the alley, perching on a barrel to observe.

She had revealed herself to these humans without hesitation. I would never do anything so insane, but I was curious to see the outcome. I gazed in awe at the destruction around me. One of the wheels on the overturned wagon was still half-heartedly turning. The contents had spilled into the street, and one of the stands had been crushed under it. Several humans helped the driver to his feet, half carrying him away.

The frantic woman I had seen earlier rushed into the chaos, anxiously questioning the passersby. I shook my head in confusion. With everything that had just happened, how could she care about a lost trinket? When she saw the wagon, she collapsed onto an overturned crate and buried her face in her hands. A tall man, who had followed her through the crowd, knelt next to her, speaking softly to her. She nodded and buried her face in his shoulder.

My chaos was inconvenient, but even chaos needs balance. The duty of the fiend is to inconvenience, irk, and irritate, but never maim. We’re masters of mayhem, maybe malevolent, but never malicious. The little creature possessed too much power, and I made my mind up right there that this had to end.

The villagers managed to get the wagon back on its wheels. They called over to the frantic woman, and she started weeping profusely. The tall man beside her pulled himself to his feet and glanced around before starting toward my alley.

Realizing this was my chance, I flew back to where the little creature was still curled up in the crate. As the human passed by, I knocked over the crate next to hers. He paused before kneeling next to her hiding place.

The tiny shriek that echoed off the walls made me wince, but it had to be done. She was extracted and swept up into the arms of the tall human. I watched sadly as she laced her arms around the human’s neck, obviously trying to overpower her captor with her grip and her tears, but ultimately failing. When she was again placed on her feet, all traces of menace had vanished, and she stumbled along with her hand firmly gripping the human’s. It was done. At the end of the alley, she turned back and examined the walls for a moment before extending a hand to me.

“Bye-bye.”

I perched on the thatched roof to watch the scene below. The weeping woman rushed to them, dropping to her knees and crushing the tiny creature in her embrace. It all made sense now. She was the one responsible for whatever they had lost. How else would they recognize her? She must have revealed herself as she had when the wagon crashed. I might have felt bad for turning her over to those she had wronged, leaving her a hapless victim, but I was a fiend. We are prided for our chaos not our conscience, and I was proud of finally gaining the upper hand over her.

I had hoped to learn from her, and in a way I think I had. There was no shame in taking pride in the small successes: a missing trinket or a misplaced item. It is better to act from the shadows then flaunt your power and end up in the arms of a human. Satisfied, I spread my wings and soared off into the sky searching for my next victim.

THE END


Let me tell you, writing has been hard lately. My brain feels like pudding, but I’m slowly making progress. I am at 90,000 words in my draft. It’s almost done, and then I will move into the editing phase. I am also in the midst of putting together a small collection of short stories. I hope to have that done by the end of next month. Good things are happening, slowly but surely.

More soon.

~ R. E. Rule

24. Writing Prompt – Fog

The tiny village was nestled in a valley carved between two rugged mountains. Forest blanketed their rocky slopes, stretching endlessly away from the small clump of huts. For as long as she could remember, a heavy fog had laid over the land. The residents of the village moved always in a hazy mist, their clothing and hair wet and limp from its cloudy blanket. The tops of trees were hidden by its white sheets, and she moved through the forest as if through a great hall, with a ceiling of cloud, pillars of wood and bark, and a soft carpet of moss, damp and silent, beneath her feet.

She tugged her furs more tightly around her shoulders and readjusted her grip on the leather-wrapped handle of her bow. Since the first gray light of dawn had filtered down through the mist, she had been out in the forest hunting. With any luck, she would return with a few hares or grouse, their downy and feathery coats dark and slick with moisture.

The sound of steps on leaves floated through the trees, and she froze, crouching in the underbrush. The steps stopped, and she held her breath in the silence as neither hunter nor prey moved. A soft chuffing floated through the trees. Deer. Her grip tightened on her bow. Scents hung heavy in the mists, and deer usually avoided the forests near the village, but a harvest like that could feed them for days. The chuffing stopped, and the steps resumed. Through the mist hanging between the trees, she could see a dark form moving slowly up the slope. Antlers glistened white in the occasional flicker of light that managed to filter down to the forest floor.

The undergrowth was thick, and her arrow would never reach its target unhindered, so she quietly began to follow, drawn forward by the occasional chuffing and the sound of hooves in damp leaves. A soft breeze brushed her cheeks as it floated down the slope toward her, carrying her scent away from her prey. The stag moved slowly onward, occasionally stopping to lift its great head to the wind and inhale, its grunting breaths making her hold her own until eventually, their journey resumed.

The ground became slick and the air heavy the further up the slope they went. The fog grew thicker and thicker around her until she could barely see the wet leaves beneath her leather shoes. An occasional snort and the sound of shifting undergrowth through the fog led her forward with timid steps. The heat in the air grew stifling, and the mists swirled around her like phantoms. She was about to turn back, giving up all hope of bringing down the stag, when the rushing roar of water caught her attention.

Curious, she slowly fought her way onward through the mist, the roar growing to an earth-shaking thunder. A loud snort rang out behind her, and she whirled to see the stag watching her. He turned and darted back into the fog. A gust of wind sent the mist swirling away from her revealing a deep chasm carved into the earth, the edge inches from her feet. Water cascaded into it. She grabbed a nearby tree branch and leaned out to gaze down into the pit, the scorching mist burning her face. At the bottom, dizzyingly far below, a red mass heaved and spat as the water poured into it. Billows of steam belched up toward her. She stared into the heart of the earth until her eyes ached with the heat.

The stag had seen her, and the morning had long since passed, so she turned her steps back toward the village, searching for the steady decline of the ground under her feet. Her hair hung loosely around her face, and her furs were drenched. She shivered as the air began to cool around her, chilling her damp clothing. The trees grew tall around her again, but she recognized none of them. She fought her way onward, more and more disoriented, until she had little hope of ever finding her way back to the village.

She stopped to free a pebble from her shoe, and when she looked up, the stag was standing at the edge of the swirling mists, staring at her. With a loud snort, he spun, rushing into the fog. She stumbled onward drawing up short when she saw the stag again standing at the edge of the fog. With another snort, he retreated into the white mist, and she found herself led onward by its ethereal form, the ground gradually sloping away beneath her feet.

The trees suddenly ended, and she stumbled into a familiar clearing. It was the spreading field of browning grasses around the village, their blades wilted beneath the heavy fog. The stag stood at the edge of the trees, watching her, the tall undergrowth brushing the wet fur of his belly. Dropping to one knee, she notched an arrow and drew back her bow with cold fingers, the tip trained over the creature’s heart. For a moment, they stared at each other before she let the string loosen and dropped the bow to her side. With a snort and a toss of his head, the stag galloped back into the forest.