Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hydras are such a headache

The hydra was in a bad mood.
Dozens of head writhed frantically, snapping at each other with enough ferocity to behead.
Which explained why the zoo no longer had a three-headed hydra.
"How long has she been like this?" I asked, turning away from the enclosure to glare at the zookeepers. The younger two shifted nervously, but the third just shook his head.
"Since eleven."
"And you waited eight hours before contacting help?" I said, and the younger two flinched at my tone. How could they have been so careless? Hadn't they noticed the hydra's distress, especially when her heads started fighting?
"We thought it was just irritated by the harpies." Said the younger man, shaking as I glared at him. Barely more than boy, that one. Why they let him around the mythics, I would figure out later.
"I'll have to go in." I said, and final zookeeper started.
"You won't kill her, will you?" She asked, chin trembling as she glanced toward my belt.
I gave a grunt and turned away. "Charmers do what needs done."
Getting into the enclosure was easy, since the hydra was too preoccupied with its heads to notice me. As I approached the creature, I slipped my baton from its sheath. As I lifted it, a long ribbon of magic sprouted from one end and caught the wind.
Of course, it caught the hydra's attention.
All of the heads hissed at once as they turned to me. I twirled the baton, the ribbon of magic coiling in tight loops at the movement.
"Hey girl, I think you've snapped off enough heads for today." It was hard to hide my grin as I stared at the creature. This was my favorite part of being a charmer. Facing off with mythics like the hydra, never entirely sure if I'd walk away uneaten at the end of the day.
I'd been eaten once, and it wasn't fun enough to do again.
The heads on the right shot forward, and I cracked the baton like a whip.
Heads hit the ground with a thud, with the necks neatly cauterized by the baton's magic ribbon.
The remaining heads let out angry hisses, and struck.
I scurried away, snapping out lone heads when I could.
It was great fun, though my supervisor would likely complain that it was excessive pruning.
When there were only four heads left, I put away the baton. As the next head came at me, I jumped onto it.
Releasing a pouch from my belt, I tossed it in the head's mouth. It gobbled it up, and shuddered once before going limp.
Repeating the process with two more heads, I finally faced the main head.
I knew it was the main head by its scales. Hydra's always had one head which was a different shade than the others, and that head influenced all the others.
"You're alright, girl." I said, voice gentle as the main head gave a weak hiss. She probably felt the sedative I'd fed the other heads. Which was good, since that meant I could get closer without having to knock her out as well.
"You've had a rough day, haven't you?" I felt on my belt for the final pouch, knowing I'd only have one chance. The hydra head was moving slower now, with delicate movements.
I took one more step toward her, and the hydra's mouth opened to hiss.
And I threw in the pouch.
It swallowed the pouch, and the hydra blinked. The glazed look of pain faded from her black eyes, and the hydra relaxed. Even the unconscious heads seemed more at ease now.
I slowly backed away, though the creature was no longer interested in me.
Once safely outside the enclosure, I found the three zookeepers waiting for me.
"What did you do?" The girl asked, practically bouncing in her excitement.
"Trimmed the excess heads, subdued the secondaries, and gave the primary some pain killer." I said, before pointing at the head zookeeper. "Never let your hydra get such a bad headache again, or I'll revoke your mythic license."
He nodded, and my work was done.

Friday, September 25, 2015

To care for your feet

1. So they don't hurt.
2. So that you'll always be able to run away from bears.
3. Because you can't play kick the can with your hands.
4.Because ingrown toenails are painful.
5. Because when your only weakness is your heel, you'll need to do more than wear a pair of sandals.
6.Because toe jam doesn't taste good on sandwiches.
7. Because how else would you show off your cool socks?
8. Because hiking on sore feet is never fun.
9. Because if you don't watch out for them, your dance partner will crush them.
10. Because if they're swollen, how could you lose a glass slipper at the ball?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The new monster

There was a new monster under the bed.
Joey wasn't sure what kind it was, but he could hear the old ones chattering with it.
There was the clack-clack of the biter bird, and the click-click of the crab claws. He couldn't hear the whippersnapper, but it was always quiet.
At least, until it came out to scare him.
Curling up beneath the covers, Joey tried to listen to the new monster's grumbling and guess what it was. A bear with glowing eyes? Or maybe a rhino with snake skin.
The bed creaked, and the monsters chattering stopped.
Joey squeezed his eyes shut. "They're not real. They're not real." He whispered, the words coming out in a rush. His dad had checked under the bed, and he said there weren't any monsters.
His dad knew lots of stuff, so surely he was right about this.
Joey felt the edge of the bed sink, and imagined a scaly claw pulling itself out from underneath it.
A faint noise, like a dog's paws on carpet.
Joey didn't have a dog. If he did, then it would've scared the monsters away.
Something brushed the top of the covers, and Joey froze.
Slowly, the covers shifted, and Joey stared into glowing yellow eyes.
"Aah!" Joey shrank into his pillow as he screamed, and the yellow eyed monster jumped back.
"Aah!" The monster echoed his cry, stumbling as it backed away from the bed. "Don't eat me!"
Joey pulled his covers up and peeked from behind them. "Eat you? Don't eat me!"
The monster blinked, the glow from its eyes vanishing and reappearing a few times.
"Eat you? Monsters don't eat children. You eat us!"
Joey sat up a little. "No we don't."
"Yes you do." The monster gave a grumble and jerked a claw to the toy chest, where Joey's stuffed alligator was hanging out. "You eat our insides, then stuff and shrink us!"
"That's a toy, not a monster." Joey lowered the covers a little and frowned. "If you're not going to eat me, then what are you doing?"
The monster swished its long furry tail and looked down. "Rodger dared me."
"Rodger?" Joey asked, then started as a crab claw peeked over the side of the bed. The monster gave another grumble.
"My cousin. He says I can't play with them unless I scare you."
Joey looked at the monster, and realized that it didn't really seem scary. It had claws, and glowing yellow eyes, but it also was covered in long brown fur that stuck out at odd angles.
"You did scare me." He told it, even though he wasn't very scared anymore. The monster's eyes seemed to glow brighter.
"Really? Great!" The monster barred sharp teeth in a grin, then dived back under the bed.
As Joey settled back under the covers, he heard the monsters chatter begin again.
Only now, the new monster didn't seem so scary.

Friday, September 18, 2015

For helping others

1. To ease burdens.
2. To build friendships.
3. To share talents.
4. To set an example.
5. To provide comfort.
6. To relieve stress.
7. To bring joy.
8. To have fun.
9. To strengthen family bonds.
10. To improve yourself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Crowman

The flowers withered at her touch.
"Oh," Turning, the woman set the dried husks on the balcony's stone railing. She stayed like that for a moment, a hand hovering over the bouquet as she stared out into the twilight.
The young man who'd given her the flowers shifted behind her, possibly regretting his decision to waste that night's token on the enchantress.
That is what they called her, though such disrespect was unbecoming in courtiers.
Taking a quiet breath, the woman stilled her expression, though her silver mask hid all but her red lips.
Red like the roses he'd given her, before her touch destroyed their beauty.
Turning back to the young man, she twisted those lips into a smile.
"I accept."
He straightened, though the stiff movements as he offered her his arm betrayed his apprehension.
As they strolled into the ballroom, the women studied the courtiers which filled it. Men. Young men, filling the room with the musky scent of their cologne and the sickening stench of roses. Yet there were only three things all the men had in common.
They were beautiful.
They were noble.
And they were prisoners.
As she and her escort moved to the center of the dance floor, the crowd of men parted to allow eleven other couples through.
She barely glanced at the men her sisters had ensnared tonight, or at the lovely corsages that graced their dainty wrists.
Instead, she stared at the one man who didn't move to the edge of the room with the others. Older, with hair darker than a crow and a feathered mask to match.
Her sisters settled into their positions on either side of her, forming the crescent moon which always seemed to embrace the old crow.
The young man shifted to face her, and the crowman was blocked from view. Draping one hand on the young man's shoulder as he took her other in his hand, the woman noted his clumsiness.
It wouldn't take long for him to tire.
Yet as the music began, she almost found herself hoping that he would last to the end of the night.
They danced slowly at first, their crescent spinning around with the crowman always at its center. The young man did better than she expected, making it through that first dance without stumbling.
During the second dance, the tempo increased, and the dancers broke from the crescent.
Weaving through patterns that shifted into another just as the young men figured them out, the twelve sisters never lost the music's rhythm.
Their feet moved with each note, pulsing, aching as the soft slippers they wore deteriorated.
The women knew the moment her partner slipped.
His hand lost its grip to hers, and her hand grasped empty air instead of his shoulder.
On she danced, partnerless.
She savoured those brief beats, almost allowing herself to hope that she hadn't been the first.
Then a cool hand with a puckered scar on the palm clasped hers.
"My enchantress." The crowman's voice was soft, with its usual allure that called the ear to heed.
The woman turned her head away as his other arm wrapped around her waist. "How is it that my courtiers always faint before the fifth dance?"
The crowman rubbed her back with his thumb. "Perhaps if the lady would tour the ballroom with her sisters, a more capable partner would present himself."
The woman turned to face him, resting her hand on his shoulder. Spending her free moments in the ballroom wouldn't get her a stronger partner, even if she flirted with the men as her sisters did.
No, being in the ballroom would mean placing herself beneath the crowman's gaze.
Spending most of every night dancing with him was more than enough.
She stared at that feathered mask, and they danced in silence for a while. Beneath the music, she heard as her sisters lost their partners to exhaustion and received shadowmen as replacements.
Her feet were a constant agony, but they refused to obey her desires.
They wouldn't stop until the music did.
"We could end this now." The crowman said, in that persuading tone that almost begged her to give in. "One word, and the dance ends."
"One word, and my sisters go home, along with all these courtiers." The woman's voice was ragged, breath coming in quiet gasps now. She knew the night must be near an end. The crowman always waited until then to voice his bargain.
"They all go free. Your sisters wake in their beds, feet sore but minds free from any memory of this place." The crowman shook his head, as if such a fate was horrid.
"They would forget me." The woman glanced toward the other dancers, but all she saw were glimpses of masks and shadows.
"Else they might be tempted to venture into my domain a second time, and I'd be forced to keep them." The note of pleasure in the crowman's voice sent a shiver through the woman.
One word, and she could end the dance. Send her sisters home.
And condemn herself to the crowman.
If she held her tongue until the dawn, then she would have a reprieve.
Another day to ease the pain of tattered feet, and dread the coming of night.
Another night of new courtiers in the crowd, and the previous night's dance partners nowhere in sight.
It all hung on a single word.
Staring at the feathered mask, the woman took a breath.
The music stopped at the sound of her name.
Her legs gave out, and the crowman caught her in strong arms.
The ballroom was empty of all but her and the crowman.
He laughed, a caw of a sound.
"Adelaide, my enchantress." He spun her around, and she could imagine his smile beneath the mask. "Such a beautiful name for my bride."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Pleasant things

1. Finding a penny on the ground. Sure, it's not worth much on its own, but finding one is always a nice surprise.
2. Hearing your favorite song play at a store. Sometimes your favorite song isn't popular,but hearing it play in a public place can brighten your day.
3. Children. Kids can be cute, and often offer smiles to anyone they meet. It can be difficult to maintain a sour mood after encountering a happy child.
4. Waking up refreshed in the morning. When you wake feeling good after a restful night, it provides a happy foundation for the rest of the day.
5. A cool glass of water. Sometimes, a refreshing drink is all you need.
6. Running into a friend, Your friends can be a strengthening influence, and there are times when that is all you need.
7. Having a pet. Be it a dog, cat, or even a goldfish, having something there to greet you when you get home is great.
8. Comfortable shoes. Being able to wear something that won't leave your feet aching by the end of the day is quite enjoyable.
9. A quiet moment. With the craziness of daily life, being able to take even a brief moment for yourself is wonderful.
10. Family. Your family can be a pillar of strength and support in your life. Cherish each day with them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Realm's Champion, part VI

For three days, I either studied salamanders, gathered volcanic rocks, or worked with Mervyn.
I learned that some salamanders were poisonous, so much so that they could taint water merely by touching it. Others could cause trees to wither. Some never ate anything, but survived by bathing in flames.
Mervyn couldn't do any of this.
My salamander didn't get larger when placed in a bonfire. He consumed enough fish during one meal to fill a wagon, and nothing about the little salamander was poisonous.
Mervyn did learn how to control his inner fire during training, so now Ruebin didn't squeal when Mervyn sat on his back.
Now back on the plain, I strode toward the newest challenger.
A young girl with pigtails, her moon rabbit was a sleek little thing that gave off a milky glow.
This is my first challenge!” The girl announced as she shook my hand. Mervyn and the moon rabbit were watching each other, the rabbit's gray nose twitching.
Your moon rabbit looks well cared for.” I said, and the girl grinned.
Spots is the best, he can do anything!” The girl smiled at the moon rabbit, and the milky glow brightened. A moon rabbit was a great champion for a child, as they drew strength from the imagination of their master.
After we recited the traditional opening of a challenge, our champions took off.
Spots the moon rabbit was fast, but that milky glow revealed his position in the tall grass.
And even though Mervyn wasn't big, or poisonous, or anything else a dangerous salamander was supposed to be, he was fast.
Fast enough to catch this moon rabbit, and win his second challenge.
And so we added a moonberry orchard to the mainland.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Animals that eat mice

1. Barn owls.
2. Cats.
3. Snakes.
4. Coyotes.
5. Lizards.
6. Skunks.
7. Tarantulas.
8. Ferrets.
9. Hamsters.
10. Hawks.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Realm's Champion, part V

My new volcano was hot.
Really, really hot.
Wiping sweat off my forehead, I looked over at the lava flow far to my right. Mervyn's head popped out of the lava, the molten rock slipping off the salamander like water.
Dreadful place.” Ruebin crossed his arms and pawed at the dark, rocky ground with a hoof. He had a pair of saddlebags bulging with volcanic rocks strapped to him, and he wasn't happy about it.
It seems to me that centaurs are rarely happy. Though having to act the role of a pack mule probably didn't inspire a cheery mood.
Mervyn likes it, and the rocks might fetch enough credits to start repairs to the barn.” I said, smiling as we headed down to the dock. If Ruebin didn't want to improve the barn, then he wouldn't haul the rocks.
You never know, maybe centaurs liked leaky roofs.
He got lucky, facing a grass element. If it had been a lynxoon or a cragar, he'd be dead.”
Reaching the dock, I started unloading the rocks into a chest inside the shed. At a hundred and fifty credits a stone, they were the best export I'd ever collected. And as a favored food of many fire element champions, I knew someone would buy them.
We have the respite before anyone can challenge us again.” I'd never thought about how I would spend the three days a champion received after surviving a challenge. Why would I, when my first champion had been a scrawny moon rabbit, and the three after that spotted carps?
But now that I had the champion's respite, I wanted to take advantage of the volcano.
After all, Mervyn's next challenger probably would be a water element like the lynxoon.
And if he lost, I would probably lose the volcano too.
Use that time well.” Ruebin's tail swished as he turned to looked at Mervyn swimming in the lava. “And train that lizard to do more than play.”
Finishing with the first saddlebag, I nodded. “I'll try, but I don't know anything about salamanders.”
Ruebin gave a horselike snort. “Then learn.”