Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Loksfjoer
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Winner of RPGC #35: There's no camp like...




A camp for the night


The sun was on its way down as a man dressed in simple clothes made his way through a thick part of the forest. Simon had left the village in the morning and had been travelling the entire day. There should be a clearing ahead and if his memory served him where there was a good place to rest for the night at the edge of the forest.

The bard followed an animal track uphill and ducked to go under a thick branch. When he stood straight again, he had a good view of the area ahead. Instead of an empty field, he saw rows and rows of tents and the flags of their kingdom.

After a moment of hesitation, he went to the camp. The soldiers looked up as he approached and one of the lower officers came towards him.

"Civilians are not allowed," he told him.

Simon took in the camp as far as he could see it; the tents were put up in neat rows, but the soldiers seemed pretty laid back. "Are you at war?" he asked.

"No. Training exercise and equipment check."

"Ah…" Simon paused. "And… would you guys like some entertainment this evening?"

"Entertainment?"

He opened his cloak and showed the lute he always had with him. "I'm a traveling bard. I can tell some stories or sing some songs when it's time to eat."

The officer let out an amused sound. "And join us for the meal, I reckon."

"A meal and a dry place to sleep is what I ask in exchange for my services," Simon replied with a bow.

The officer promised to ask his superiors and asked Simon to leave the camp for now. Simon retreated to the hill he had stood before and sat down between the roots of the tree. He nibbled on some dry fruits he had purchased in the previous town and watched the camp below. It was possible he wouldn’t be allowed to enter, but if they felt he was far away enough, this was a suitable place for tonight. Wrapped in his cloak he shouldn’t be too cold during the night.

He heard people shouting orders and witnessed a group of soldiers doing marching exercises, but nothing seemed urgent. He noticed a soldier leave the camp and come in his direction. He remained seated and waited patiently for the soldier to reach him.

“My superior wants to know if your offer still stands.”

“Of course.”

“Then you are welcome to stay the night at our camp, bard. Fires are being lit; pots will boil soon. It’ll only be a simple soldiers stew.”

Simon got up and brushed off some twigs and leaves from his cloak. “My meals are rarely lavish.” He extended his hand. “My name is Simon.”

“Steve,” the soldier said in reply as he shook it. “Come, there’s a place at my fire.”

“Am I supposed to bring entertainment to the entire camp?”

“Only to south quarter.” As they walked to the tents, Steve explained the camp was always divided in four groups; each group had a commanding officer, who had a couple of lower officers under him. And then there was a camp commander who had his tent at the centre.

That evening Simon joined Steve and some of his fellow soldiers for a meal and told them a story. After that the south quarter gathered and he sang a couple of songs for them. He was allowed to sleep in the tent where the supplies were kept; the tent was there because it was a part of the camp, but because it was just a training exercise there were barely any supplies kept inside. It was much better than sleeping outside, and Simon praised Lady Luck this had been on his path.
Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Loksfjoer
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Loksfjoer Lucky flame

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Winner of RPGC #36: Change is upon us




The Doom Blade, by @POOHEAD189


It plummeted.

Whistling through the air, spinning slowly as the wind batted it back and forth into a clockwise roll. Where it had come from was unimportant. Its destination lay before it, rapidly approaching as it fell through the clouds with all speed.

Far below, the fields of Gossenland spread across the land like a flood. Wheat and cotton and breen grain was ripe for picking. Peasants tilled the fields and picked them clean for harvest as lords oversaw their progress. But not all serfs worked the fields. Some scraped from a living off the rocks, finding flowers or loose sediment and salt to give to the local manorial tithe. Gaul was such a man, and on this day, he crawled amid the wild brush and crags, bending down and moving roots and kicking aside stones.

Where the Gossenland fields ended, the stout Daggerfork Mountains began, wheat fields shoving against the stony slopes like crashing waves. Gaul had lived here for ten years, having been released from his service to his old manor-lord in a trade, being leased to the local lord of Hrufken in exchange for an old mare, with Gaul's consent and writ. He lived a hard life in the small mining town, but he preferred it here. The man had found love, wedding a local girl named Mary. Together they made a home and had a daughter they named Trinity in honor of the triarchy of Gods that watched over their kingdom and had blessed Gaul's home with warmth.

The toil had reduced his fingernails to naught but stubs, dirtying his face and giving him the smell of soil. But it was honest work. He knocked aside a fallen branch with his staff, peering through the jumble of leaves to see if they hid any slate or travertine for the miners to dig at. Instead, the limb revealed a viper. Gaul blanched and stepped back, but the creature hissed, coiled like a spring. As Gaul stepped back, he tripped on what must have been a stone and hit the ground, the snake's hiss loud in his ears. His skin felt clammy as he anticipated the bite that would freeze his blood and kill him in moments, until something strange happened.

Gaul flinched when a flash cut through his vision; a glint of the sun on something smooth. He heard a queer noise, like a knife running along the edge of another, and he gasped when he beheld what stood before him. A sword, glimmering in the sunlight. Its blade, polished like a mirror and made of glass or a deep, scarlet crystal, had sliced through not only the snake, but the stone! It stood aloft, cobalt iron hilt absorbing the light like a pit of endless nothingness. He looked to his left and right, and then upwards.

"Hello!?" He cried, wondering who threw such a dangerous thing. No answer came, and he wondered where it had come from. Silent moments passed, but eventually he realized he would get no answers. Rather, he got to his feet and brushed the leaves and dirt from him, regarding the weapon and the bisected snake. He knelt down and gingerly picked up the front half of the serpent, knowing its venom would fetch a fine price with the apothecary. But the sword? He did not know what material it was truly made of, but it looked very expensive. He did not own a sword, but as there were wolves and cave-beasts in the region, he knew he needed something to protect his family.

Gingerly he reached forward and grasped the hilt of the sword. It felt somehow familiar, comfortable, and yet somehow deathly cold. He pulled at it, wondering if the action would break the blade. To his surprise, it slid out of the rock like a sheath. The blade was razor sharp, so sharp he wondered if it could pierce the veil between worlds.

He simply had to show Mary.




Gaul opened the door, careful to keep his hands from the keen edge of the blade. As he heard the raised voice of his daughter, he kicked the door closed and called out.

"Mary! I've got something!"

"Hmmm?" Came the reply. Her voice was like honey to his ears, as if the last seven years had been only a week. Walking through the hall, he stepped into the dining room. The fact they even had one was a miracle. The house had belonged to the alderman until he was given quarters in the local lord's estate, and Gaul had bought it cheaply, though he had a few debts to pay even to this day.

Mary busied herself, placing plates down for later that night, shimmying between the chairs and a cabinet. She had long brown hair, tied at its end, with a smile that could warm the coldest heart.

"You're back early," she commented.

"Look what I found," Gaul said, presenting the sword in front of her. His wife's eyes glanced his way, and then they locked onto him and the blade. Her jaw dropped.

"Where did you get that?" She asked incredulously.

"I found it in the brush. Don't look at me like that, I looked for the owner. There was no one out there but me, it... it fell."

"Fell?" She asked, blinking.

"Maybe from the tree, I don't know. But just look at it. It's gorgeous. How do you think it would look on the wall?"

"The wall? Gaul, you need to sell that thing. We need money, not a sword." She reminded him with a shake of her head, though a smile was still on her face. Gaul sighed and hesitated. He knew she was right, but still. It pained him to part with the thing.

"I don't know, finding a sword? Made me feel like I was one of those men in the tales. But you're right, of course. I'll grab a bite and head to town. I love you."

They shared a quick kiss, and she placed a tender hand on his cheek.

"And I you."




Hrufken was technically the entire area, ranging miles around. But the town itself was located at the center; a crossroads between the outer fields of the Gossenland estates and the mining camps up on the foothills and crags of the mountain base.

Gaul walked along the dirt road, tradesmen, fishwives, and day laborers passed him by. He kept a good grip on the sword, now swathed in cloth to hide its shiny and ornate appearance. Not to mention it was illegal to be armed inside the town save for men-at-arms and those of noble blood.

He didn't know where he would take the thing. Perhaps the smith, or a traveling merchant selling exotic goods. He wished he could take the weapon to Grimaffen and get a fair price for it. Gaul didn't want to go back and argue with Mary, however. He clutched the sword tighter, sad to see it go.

Caught in his contemplation, he didn't notice the clear threat walking through the crowd. Suddenly Gaul felt a shove and a snicker, the man stumbling back and catching himself roughly on the side of a cart.

"Sorry, I didn't see you there." The scoundrel said, Gaul recognized him as Adrian.

Gaul didn't speak. He simply continued to move up the road, before three men barred his way. They were big men, one in particular. Gaul stepped back, only for the sword to get ripped out of his hands from behind. He cried out, but Adrian yanked it away and opened the cloth.

"What do you have here, Gaul?" He asked before his breath was taken away. Adrian whistled, shaking his head in awe. "Where did a deadbeat like you find this?"

"I'm...I'm bringing it to Harmen, to square my debt." He lied, though perhaps it was best if the sword went there. He didn't want his wife to know he had borrowed from a local cartel to pay for their home.

"Smart man," Adrian admitted, admiring the blade. "This might be a good payment. Why don't I take it off your hands and see what Harmen says, yeah?"

"I want to give it to him, myself. Good faith, you know." Gaul reasoned, holding his hand out. Adrian didn't hand it over, rather he shook his head and clutched the blade himself. Fortunately, before he could protest, he yelped and dropped the sword. Blood dripped from his palm into the road, courtesy from gripping the naked steel.

Gaul went for the sword as Adrian did, Gaul grabbing its blade while Adrian took the hilt. Gaul felt the bite of the blade, but he kicked the leg of the footpad and yanked it out of his bleeding hand.

"Get the sword!" Adrian called, and the street toughs took out cudgels and knives, advancing on him. The crowd that noticed parted, but most didn't, too preoccupied with their own errands. Gaul could not look at all four at once, and when his head swiveled to the other three, Adrian drew his own long knife. Gaul stepped back, looking for a way to run, but he stepped in line for the thrust Adrian launched with a deftness born of practice. The other three closed in as well.

Gaul twisted and cried out, and his blade flashed like the glare of the sun. Crimson and brown and screams followed. Blood curdling screams that rent the air like a scythe through wheat. Gaul didn't recall what happened, really. But when he came to his senses, he noticed a small boy looking at him from across the road. A woman grabbed the boy and moved him along, her eyes wide with fear. Other eyes watched him, and the calls of the marketplace were replaced by hushed whispers of fear and awe. Gaul looked down slowly, and saw Adrian and his men. Some parts of them were at his feet, and others were strides away.

Gaul felt bile rise up in his throat. He didn't know what to do, and he couldn't even find the cloth he had brought to clean the blade. Instead, he had only one option.

He ran.




Gaul had never been so scared in his life. He felt exhilaration, but it was mixed with horror. How had that happened? He remembered none of it, he... he had never used a sword in his life. He let the miles under his feet pass under him as he ran, going home. He knew of nowhere else to go. It was likely going to be a justified defense of his life, but he should not have had a sword. And even so, Harmen would bribe the magistrate and make sure Gaul's home was taken before the winter. Yet somehow, he didn't feel crushing anxiety about the future. He just felt adrenaline.

He rounded the corner of the road, passing by a mule-led cart loaded with ore and ran up to his door. As he reached for the handle, he noticed a bright gold sigil glinting in the light of the day, going northward up the road. He recognized it, but didn't quite comprehend its significance. He walked into the house, calling for his wife.

"Mary!"

No answer. Gaul walked past their empty room and passed by Trinity who played with two wooden toys on the floor Gaul had carved himself. He went to speak to her, but up ahead he heard soft weeping. He stepped into the kitchen and found Mary wiping tears from her eyes on the floor, lifting her head off her legs.

"Mary, what's the matter?" Gaul asked, kneeling down and placing a comforting hand on her. She looked at him in confusion.

"Honey...No, what? Why do you have that sword still?" She asked breathlessly.

He hesitated. "...There was a problem in town..."

"You need to sell it, Gaul. The tax collector he...he just came by. He took double what we were meant to pay. Said its interest for the lord. Some new law, I don't.... Gaul, we have nothing." Mary looked distraught, shaking her head. It was physically painful to see her so lost.

"I'll go see the meaning of this," He told her softly. "And I have a few things to sell to the apothecary. Don't worry, things will be different. Things will change. Why don't you get dinner ready, ok? Keep yourself busy."

When she nodded, he helped her up and, gripping the sword in one hand, stalked out the door. As he moved, he heard Trinity marveling at the sword as he passed her room. He hadn't even noticed there was no longer blood on the crystalline blade, and could not wonder where it had gone.

Gaul made his way up the road, passing by another three homes before reaching the tax collector a few dozen strides from the crossroads leading to the mines. The gold sigil shined proudly, and when he called, the collector turned. He was a weaselly man, with a thin mustache and a sharp nose. His eyes were heavily lidded, and they did not make him seem the agreeable type. They widened when he saw an armed man waving him to stop.

"What is the meaning of this new law!?" Gaul called out to him.

From under his robes, the tax collector produced a loaded hand-crossbow. Gaul skidded to a halt just a few strides from him, holding a hand up to stay the man's ire. He wondered why he had felt so threatened, and then glanced down at his left hand holding the sword. Why had he even brought it?

"Do not halt me in my duties, serf. Go back to your home and be happy I did not take that as well." He sneered, looking down at Gaul passed his piercing nose. "The lord wages war, and sometimes he is in need of more coin to protect this realm. Are you questioning our liege?"

"We should have been warned," Gaul replied gruffly, taking a step forward. "We need to feed ourselves and prepare for winter. We have heard no missives of this."

"If you had properly prepared, you would not be in such wanting as to threaten me."

"I am not threatening you," Gaul said evenly, taking another step. "Even so, I wish for an extension. Take the normal tax and we will double it in a month." His tone was even, but the tax collector's eyes were on his feet.

"No! And do not take another step or I will end your life. No leave me!" He warned, showing rat-like teeth.

Gaul nodded, knowing that to challenge a gang was one thing. The lord or his representative was an entirely different matter. The iron bolt was aimed just at his heart, and if he died here, who would take care of Mary or Trinity? He thought of them, of his wife weeping. He would go to her empty handed all because of this wretch. Gaul looked down, and wondered why he stood frozen, and the words of the tax collector were coming back to him.

"Leave and begone!" The weaselly man ordered. The words fell heavily from his mouth, as if an unseen force had kept them from carrying across the air. Gaul looked at him, anger in his eyes. The money this man had. Stolen money.

Gaul was caught in a whirlwind of emotion, and he knew what he should do. But all of his ire broke through, and he took another step forward despite his judgement.

The crossbow clicked, and the bolt flew straight and true. Gaul pulled at his sword, and there was a loud clang that rang in the air like a gong. The two men looked aghast, the crossbow bolt bouncing harmlessly off the flat of the sword blade. Somehow it had intercepted the missile. An impossible block.

Gaul's eyes were wide with shock, and the tax collector, as flabbergasted as he was, moved first. Hastily he began reloading his crossbow, placing his foot in the front pedal to help pull the string back. Unfortunately for him, his movement caught the attention of Gaul, stirring him from his shock as well. Gaul knew he couldn't let the man reload.

He took another step forward... and another.

Then he raised his new sword.




Mary hummed to herself, rolling the flour with her trusty rolling pin, flattening it across the table. She had lost herself in her cooking, the worries not leaving her entirely, and those that did ebbing out slowly. Still, she felt better. Gaul was a dunce sometimes, but he was a good man and more capable than many gave him credit for. He would get them through the winter, and she smiled at the thought. Despite it all, she was a lucky woman.

"Mommy, when's dinner ready?" Trinity called from the hall.

"Soon, sweetheart. Daddy will be back in a moment and then once I'm done cooking, we'll eat." She said warmly.

"Daddy's already back," came the reply. Mary blinked and looked up, and she saw Gaul stepping into the kitchen with the sword and a sack in his hands. He looked tired and worn, his face wizened but not far different at first glance. There was an odd glint in his eyes. He looked pleased, at least. She tilted her head, confused at his sudden appearance.

"You got our money back?" She asked, surprised.

"And a bit more," Gaul said happily, placing the sack down on the table. It was far larger than the one that had been taken from their stash. She lifted it up, and it was heavy indeed. She shook her head, laughing in disbelief.

"Wait, where did you get this? The tax man would not have given you this. You didn't promise the house, did you?"

"No," Gaul chuckled, watching his wife gazing at the coin in awe. Her eyes flicked to him as he continued speaking. "Today has been one weird day, but I'm getting happier as it goes by. I think everything will turn out all right."

"Is this blood?" She asked, noticing a stain on the purse. Gaul told her 'no,' and her eyes flickered up to him, confusion on her face. She reached forward and gently tugged at his collar, running her thumb along it. When she pulled it back, a red streak was on her fair skin. Her lips moved, but no noise came out for a few brief moments. "Gaul, what happened today?" She asked slowly.

"I had to uh, defend myself in town." He reluctantly admitted. "Adrian and his guys tried to take the sword from me. There are witnesses..."

"And the tax man? You did speak to him, right?" She asked cautiously, letting his careful wording sink in. She saw his trepidation, and there was silence for many moments.

"...At first."

Her eyes darted to the sword, the blade as clean and crisp as ever. For the first time did she really look at it, at its pommel and hilt. Something about it seemed baroque and wicked, and terribly old. The blade itself had strange, hooked waves at the weak and the strong of the blade. Had they always been there? She tried to control her breathing.

"Well, what matters is that you're home safe and sound," She said with a smile. "Why don't you put the sword down and I'll cook you something nice? You've earned it after a hard day."

He seemed relieved at that, but looked at the sword. He blinked slowly. "Put it down?" He asked.

"You can't eat with one hand. You going to use it as a fork?" She chuckled.

He chuckled back, shaking his head as if to ward off some fog. "You're right. I'm...I'm just tired. I ran a lot today, you know? So many weird things happening all day. I knew I needed a change, but I wasn't expecting so many occurrences." Gaul turned and walked over to the wall, gingerly leaning the sword against the wall, blade down and hilt by a cabinet hanging a stride above the floor that held various dishes.

"I love you," he heard Mary say, and the creaking of floorboards as she approached him, doubtless for a kiss.

"I love.." He began, and glanced at the glass that held the extra plates. He saw his wife's form, holding aloft the rolling pin just behind him.

Gaul lurched to the side, the rolling pin hitting him on the shoulder rather than the head. His hand moved and he whirled, Mary and his eyes meeting just a step from one another. Her eyes, so blue like the sea, were wide with horror. Then they moved. Not from side to side, but fell with from his level along with her head. His wife's decapitated body hit the floor with it, and it was only then that he saw the sword in his hand.

Gaul was, once again, frozen. Not out of caution, but pain, fried, and loss. Confusion and lament welled up in him, and his eyes wet for a moment as he realized what he had done. Despair took him, and his pain was replaced by a hollow feeling he couldn't fill with anything he had left.

Save the sword.

He gripped it tighter and turned, looking in the glass once more. He saw a new face there. One that looked scarred, with red and black streaks across it. Small, blunt horns had burst from his scalp, and he ran his tongue over newly sharpened teeth. Glancing down at the sword, he noticed it looked different. Sleeker, with a longer hilt and a shorter crossguard. At the butt of its hilt, another blade was even then slowly protruding out of it to mirror the first blade.

"Mommy, is dinner ready yet?" a small girl's voice asked from her room.

Gaul, or the being that was once Gaul, left the kitchen with his sword, and followed the voice.

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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Loksfjoer
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Loksfjoer Lucky flame

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Winner of RPGC #37: The royal life




The Starless Kingdom, by @Nymian


✧˚·̩̩̥͙˚̩̥̩̥·̩̩̥͙✧·̩̩̥͙˚̩̥̩̥˚·̩̩̥͙✧*✧˚·̩̩̥͙˚̩̥̩̥·̩̩̥͙✧·̩̩̥͙˚̩̥̩̥˚·̩̩̥͙✧


If you find yourself alone in the dark, beware - for you might just find yourself in Starless Kingdom. A place where the lost find themselves, and where suffering finds the lost. It wasn’t always so - for it used to be named Starlight Kingdom, where the stars seemed to shine just for them. Starlight Kingdom used to be a lively, bustling place - stars dancing in the sky, lighting the way. See, the stars were their only source of natural light. You have the sun, the moon, and the stars. They just had the night sky, and the stars to guide their way. Under the stars, the people were happy and safe. The kingdom earned its name when Galixi, God of the Stars, took back their only light source when his own had extinguished. The light in his life, a star called Lumses, had vanished. Lumses was rumored to glow so brightly her energy soaked into those in her presence, lending great benefits. Though the powers one would possess were just whispers, it was said that they could do great things. Angry, Galixi punished Starlight Kingdom - for he knew that the king, Icas, had stolen her.

You have taken my light, so I shall take yours.


The stars began to flicker brilliantly before disappearing. Soon the last one fluttered out, letting darkness spill across the land. Only a soft glow bounced in the distance.

“Where are you taking me?” Lumses cried out, as Icas dragged her along behind him, latched onto her wrist.

“Somewhere you’ll be safe.” Icas replied, trudging further along. “Somewhere Galixi will never find you.” It was Icas’ intentions to hide her away in a room he had built underneath his castle.

“You realize that he will destroy your kingdom searching for me.” Icas stopped and turned to face the star.

“That doesn’t matter. The one that possesses you yields great power, or so it is told. As long as I have you, I can do anything. I can destroy Galixi.”

“You fool. You can’t stop Galixi, and he will not stop until he gets what he wants. He is a god. You are but a king. A mere mortal.”

“But with you, to my people I will be a god. I will hold unimaginable power, and no one will be able to stop me.”

Lumses tried to come up with a rebuttal. She wanted to stall him, distract him to try to get away, because she feared what was to come. Her power in the wrong hands could corrupt the wielder.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Thunder echoed in the distance conveying Galixi’s fury. Lighting danced across the sky. Icas dragged Lumses what felt like miles below the castle. Finally reaching their destination, Icas threw Lumses in a room, tied a chain made of silver around her ankle, and left shutting the door behind him. The door, Lumses noticed, locked from the outside. She looked around the room, which only qualified as a room in the sense that it had four walls and a ceiling, and noticed that they were so far under the castle that there were no windows except for a small, barred cutout in the door. The only things in the room were herself, and a bare cot. She knew Galixi would find her if he could see her shine.

Lumses centered herself, and tried to unleash her power - hoping that if she shined bright enough, it would penetrate the walls, the earth, everything. She started to shine but it fizzled out.

Icas watched from the other side of the door.

“You can try all you want but your powers won’t work down here. The chain tied to your ankle is of a special kind. Binds anything tied with it, and any powers those bound by it may possess.”

Lumses looked down at the rope and tried to remove it. She looked for the knot so she could untie it, but couldn’t find anything.

“My dear - it’s an enchanted chain.” Icas chuckled, amused. “You can’t simply untie it. I bought it from a traveling witch in Stormhold. With word being that some witches are tricksters, I was worried I was sold nothing more than a silver trinket. So far, I feel it is a very useful purchase.”

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


King Icas had a son, Prince Keiren, his only child and next in line for the throne. The queen died during childbirth, and the king never remarried - leaving the king to rule alone and pass on this legacy to his son. After the queen died, King Icas’ heart grew cold and he sought to fill the rot that begun to take over. As he raised Keiren to be fit for the throne, he found ruling with terror and flaunting his power to be fulfilling. A terrorized, submissive kingdom proved to be much easier to control. But not nearly easy enough. He needed more. From then on, he set out to find anything said to bring him power. When Keiren reached a suitable age for understanding tales, Icas would sit him down each night and tell him stories of how one could possess the utmost power if they managed to catch a star.

“A real star? Like up in the sky?” Asked a young Keiren.

King Icas chuckled. “Yes, a real star. And one day, you will have one for yourself to rule with, for we will find one and I will pass it onto you once you take over the throne.”

“How do we get a star?” Keiren asked.

“You have to wait for one to fall. Or, steal it from a god.”

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


As the years passed and Keiren grew, the staff grew to loathe him, for he was nothing but a spoiled, entitled brat. There were no consequences for him, being the prince, and the king overlooked any wrong doings. He wreaked absolute havoc throughout the castle, becoming a nuisance. As he got older, he took to evading the staff looking after him and exploring the castle. One afternoon, as he was exploring the dungeon, he discovered a tunnel. Peaking his curious, adventurous nature, he followed it. The tunnel went on for what seemed like ages, and it seemed to be going further down below the castle. Finally, he reached a large room, with a door at the other side of it. He crossed the room to the door and peered in through the barred window. A woman with long, golden blonde hair in a pale blue silky dress lay on a cot with a silver chain attached to her ankle.

“What is it now, Icas?” She called, uninterested as she stared at the ceiling with her hands clasped atop her stomach.

“Who are you?” Keiren asked, trying to piece together what his father done.

Lumses sat up to look through the window to see Keiren staring at her.

“I should ask you the same thing. The only one that comes to see me is King Icas. My name is Lumses. And you are?”

“Prince Keiren.” He replied sternly. “Why does my father have you so far down here? What have you done?” He asked.

“What have I done?” She asked, taken aback. “Your father stole me and brought me here. He chained me to this cot with this enchanted silver chain, and has kept me down here for many years. I have done nothing.”

“Why did he bring you here?” He pressed further.

“He stole me from a god and hid me down here so no one would find me.”

“Why did he steal you from a god?”

“Because I’m a star. Anyone who possesses me hold great power.” She told him quietly. Keiren looked down, and then back at Lumses. He started to remember the stories his father would tell him when he was a child. So the stories were true.

“I’m going to find a way to get you out of here.” He told her. Currently, he had nothing to unlock or break this door. Surely his father had a key, he just had to find it.

“I’ll be back.” Keiren announced, turning to head back up the tunnel in search of something to free the star.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


His next stop was his father’s study. He sauntered into the study, checking to see if his father was there. His father must’ve been out, as it stood empty. He checked the hall to see if there was anyone there. With the coast clear, he checked his father’s desk. Nothing but scrolls, quills, and ink sat atop the desk. He noticed a single drawer, and pulled it open. A small gold key, and a knife lay in the center. He hastily snatched up the items, shoving them in his coat pocket, closed the drawer and made his way back towards the tunnels.

“Ah, Keiren, there you are.” Boomed King Icas from the end of the hall, behind Keiren. He was headed to his study. “I’ve been looking all over for you boy.”

Keiren turned around “I’ve been out on the grounds milling about.” He said, which wasn’t unusual for him. At this point he had uncovered every nook and cranny and had found every good hiding place for when he wanted solace.

King Icas nodded and cleared his throat. “Yes, well, I need you to do something for me. Now that you’re of age to go out on your own, I need you to run a note over to a friend in a nearby kingdom.” He gestured for Keiren to follow him back to his study. He rounded his desk and stood in front of his chair, reaching for a tied scroll on his desk.

“Please run this over to Asterin. Here’s a map to take with you.” Icas handed him both the scroll and a folded map, which Keiren placed in the same pocket he stashed the key and knife in.

“The journey should take you no more than a week there and back. Staff should have your provisions ready in the stable with your horse prepared. You should leave immediately.”

Keiren bowed his head. “Yes sir, I will.”

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Keiren made his way down the hall from his father’s study briskly. Once he was far enough away, he ensured there was no one around and made his way back to the tunnel. He rushed down the tunnel and into the large room, throwing the key into the lock.

“I’m back, but we have to hurry. My father wants me to take a note to a friend of his in Asterin.”

“Asterin? That’s where I’m from! But why would your father send you to Asterin?”

Keiren had entered the cell and took out the pocket knife, cutting the chain around Lumses’ ankle.

“I’m unsure of that myself, but if you want out of here this is your chance.” He took the chain and wrapped it around her waist, and the other end around his.

“You’ll need to stick behind me. This is simply to prevent us from getting separated, but we’ll have to move quickly. I’ve been instructed to leave immediately.” He wasn’t going to drag her behind him, but they needed to hurry.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Keiren made his way to the stables with Lumses in tow, making sure no one was following. Once at the stable he loaded his horse with the supplies that had been set aside for him, and threw Lumses on before climbing on himself. They set out for Asterin.

Once they were far enough away from Starless, Keiren stopped to pull out the map. A note fell out.

I know you found my star. I am proud of you, my boy, but if it’s power you want you’ll have to fight for it.

Years ago when you were but a boy, I stole the star from Asterin. Galixi, angry, took our stars away. I ruled with great power for a long time, but without someone to share it with it is useless. I miss your mother. I would give the world to share this with her.

In your gear the staff packed for you, you should have spied a sword. This is not any sword, this is the sword to defeat gods. You’ll need it to vanquish Galixi. Vanquish Galixi, and the star will be yours completely. The knife, as you’ve come to find, is a special knife. It pairs with the chain. Unless you’re a witch, the knife allows the holder to cut the chain. Otherwise, the thing bound by the chain is bound until death.

Come back alive, and I will give you the kingdom.

Your father,

King Icas


Keiren had spied a sword, but it was not common to go without one. He untied the scroll and opened it to see what he was sending to Asterin.

Galixi,

I, King Icas, stole your star all those years ago. Duped by a mortal! Oh, what joy that brought me. I’ve grown tired of her. How do you live with all her power?

I relinquish her to you.

I thank you for letting me borrow your precious trinket.

Yours truly,

King Icas


What a fool his father was. He was sending him on a suicide mission. He knew that Galixi would do anything to get back his star, including killing his own son.

“Keiren? Is everything okay? Are we lost?” Lumses asked from behind, still wrapped around him. Keiren handed her the note and the letter.

“Your father is a fool, but I told him as much the night he took me away. He’s sending you to die. You are no match against Galixi.”

“Yes but it says if I do, you’re mine. I can set you free if you’re free of Galixi.”

“Keiren, that’s a fool’s mission. You’ll die.”

“We have to try.” He grabbed the sword and slung it across his back, and they set off again.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


After a day and a half of travel, thunder boomed off in the distance. They were nearing their mark. As they got closer to Asterin, it started to rain, getting heavier the closer to Asterin they got. Soon, it was raining so hard they couldn’t see a thing.

Lumses shrieked. “Let me go!” She was ripped from the horse. Seconds after, Keiren was ripped from the horse as well, still chained to Lumses. Some large brute had her slung over his shoulder, dragging Keiren along on the ground. He grabbed the knife tucked in his pocket and cut the silver chain around his waist, freeing him. The heavy rain blanketed the brute and Lumses and Keiren lost them.

“Keiren!” Lumses called out in the distance. He made his way towards her voice.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Once inside the gates of Asterin, the rain cleared. He made his way to the castle. Guards stopped him.

“Name and business.” The guard timbered.

“Prince Keiren, of Starless Kingdom. I come bearing news from King Icas.”

“The king of Starless would send his own son?” The guard laughed, a guttural laugh from deep in his belly. “Your father is a fool. He has sent you on a death trip. Follow me.” The guard motioned for Keiren to follow, leading him to Galixi.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Galixi sat in his throne, servants fanning him and feeding him grapes off a vine, lowering it into his mouth so he could pluck them off one by one, in true godlike fashion.

“Prince Keiren. So, your father has sent back my star. I’m so thankful for that. However, justice still needs to be paid.” Galixi waved off his servants, and rose from his throne. “Surely by now you understand, I have to kill you. This brings me no joy, but it is what must be done.”

Keiren grabbed the hilt of the sword strapped upon his back and readied himself.

With a simple snap of Galixi’s fingers, the fires lighting the room went out with a gust of wind, leaving them in darkness. A strike of lightning hit the center of room, filling it with blinding light, leaving Keiren unable to see. Keiren was knocked to the ground.

“No, Galixi let him be! He had nothing to do with any of this.” Cried Lumses

Keiren hit the ground hard, disorienting him after being blinded. As he gained clarity, he unsheathed the sword and got back on his feet.

Another strike. This time, he spun and parried, jabbing the sword out in front of him as hard as he could. Not being able to see, he had to rely on force. He hit something. Lightning struck again, and the fires reignited. Keiren let go of the sword, and Galixi, attached to the end of it, fell to the ground. As he gasped for air, his body shriveled and turned to dust.

Lumses rushed over to Keiren and wrapped her arms around him. “You saved me!”

Keiren leaned back to look at her. “You’re absolutely glowing.” He said. No longer in Galixi’s power, she had it back to herself again.

“My powers have returned to me, thanks to you. I am forever grateful.” She stared into his eyes, smiled, and then planted her lips on his. His eyes widened, but he leaned in and kissed her back.

“I give myself to you, as long as you’ll have me.” She said.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Once they returned home, they found that their stars had returned. The kingdom rang out with cheers and cries of joy.

When they arrived at the castle, the guards greeted them at the gate.

“Welcome home, King Keiren.” They said.

“King?” He asked.

“Aye, your father passed away the night you left. We’ve been waiting for your return. We’re all ready for the coronation.”

“Since we’re already having a grand event, why not make it a wedding?” He looked at his new love. She grinned, and glowed so brightly.

“I think that’s a grand idea.” She laughed.

“That settles it. Invite everyone, pull out all the stops. Starlight Kingdom has a new king and queen.

⁂⁂⁂⁂⁂


Together, King Keiren and Queen Lumses, rulers of Starlight Kingdom, vowed to keep the kingdom safe. They vowed to use their power for good, never letting temptation set in, knowing it would lead down a lonely path.

The kingdom never lost their starlight again.
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To Be Seen, by @artexercise


Jackson sat at an outside table of Tobius Internet Cafe. He passed his card over the bill terminal and paused a moment to see the green checkmark appear before he put his card away. "Well, Marilyn, I have had a wonderful time, as always. Do you want to go out again next Saturday? Museum?"

"I would like that," Marilyn said. "But, I think..." There was hesitation in her voice, and Jackson could hear it. He leaned in a little. She continued, "I think I might be willing to take this to the next step." She giggled a little and let out a breathe of air.

Jackson was flattered. It had been only three dates, which had all gone perfectly. They had so much in common, books, music, taste in food. "I am honored. I look forward to it."

"I mean here," she said in a low tone. "I could take the next step here."

Jackson looked around. There were a few other men at the cafe but like any other place, it was hard to tell if they were alone or with another. He tried to see if any had been listening or were trying to look as well. One made brief eye contact with Jackson and looked away. Jackson looked at the space across the table from him. Like all other woman in public, she was invisible. They revealed themselves only by choice. "Are you sure?" he whispered.

There was silence for a moment. "You're right. Perhaps it's not safe." But then a pair of eyes appeared, blinked, and then disappeared again.

Jackson stared into the space before him. In the distance beyond the outdoor railing, cars passed, some with drivers, some without. Some with fake drivers, which were obvious to the discerning eye. He was trying not to see the activity in the street beyond, however, he was trying to keep and remember those eyes.

"You're quiet," she said in a subdued way.

"I'm sorry. I was just trying to hold on to what your eyes looked like. Beautiful," he said honestly in awe. Jackson had seen his mother and his two sisters growing up. His mother appeared all the time inside the home. His sisters, as they got older, appeared less and less frequently. He knew what they looked like, however, and they didn't have eyes like Marilyn's.

"Oh," she laughed. "Well, in that case, you'll look forward to seeing me again. I have a whole face to admire as well."

"I'm sure that I will," he smiled and pushed his seat back, standing and straightening his coat.

"Next Saturday, then," Marilyn said. The sound of her retreating footsteps indicated that she was already on the go.

"Next Saturday," Jackson said.

---

Throughout the week, Jackson worked like he always had. He arrived at the office building, found his desk, and proceeded to work through data and reports. The only woman in the office who chose to be visible was Susan, the office grandmother. Susan was in her nineties and actually had great great grandchildren. She could be seen talking to the men and to the women, although when talking to other women it always appeared as though she were talking with no one.

Men and women in the office hardly ever talked with one another unless it was necessary, at least not in the physical. Talking though the computer was another story. Rapidly staccato keyboards clickity clacked all across the office space. It was the norm. Messages from cute avatars and plain ones scrolled up the side of one computer monitor all work day as the conventional method of 'water cooler' socialization.

One topic scrolling quickly, the main topic, this week, was that of a news story: Film Actress Kim Porfaux was rumored to be dating someone. Office coworkers speculated about the actor that could be her real life love interest. Famous names leapt up the chat history one after another. Jackson, as usual, only glanced at the chatter, until someone mentioned that her real name was Marilyn Kim Porfaux.

He had been in the middle of creating a prompt for the AI to compile data from two reports when he saw the name. "Marilyn," he chuckled to himself. Then looked up the actress on the internet. He had not seen any of the films before, but none were really the genre that he watched. In the movies she always only wore "the bag". "The bag" was a piece of fashion clothing designed to show where a woman was without revealing much about her. Miss Porfaux was as mysterious as any other woman, but it stuck in Jackson's mind.

"What are you looking at, Jackson?" the ancient and jubilant voice of Susan startled him from behind.

"Susan! Oh, ah, the office chatter is about the actress. I'd never heard of her."

"Not a fan of historical romance? Me neither. I like history, but not romance. Had enough of that in my life. Documentaries are my thing. A little adventure show from time to time."

"Yeah, Sci-fi and Cop shows for me. I was just curious," he looked at the screen again.

Susan patted him on his head, "Whoever is dating her is a lucky guy." She then moved on down the rows of cubicles to chat with someone else.

"Lucky guy," Jackson said looking at the image of Marilyn Kim Porfaux in the bag, cinched at the waist, hat and sunglasses, waving to the camera.

---

He knew it was an insane idea. Friday night and even into Saturday morning, he looked up as much information on Marilyn Kim Porfaux that he could. He listened to interviews, but all interviews involving women had synthetic voice overlays. It was impossible to tell. He watched the historic romance, "Unseen Hearts along the Nile", and found that he liked the movie well enough. He even thought that the actress sounded like his Marilyn, which caused him to sweat a little. Who was he to be dating someone famous?

Saturday morning just before he was getting ready to leave his apartment, it occurred to him to try, "Kim Porfeux most recent sighting" in the search engine. The image that returned was unmistakable, the Tobius Internet Cafe. Jackson didn't know what to think. He was an IT guy, not some Hollywood hotshot. His watched beep twice, and he glanced at it. He needed to leave to make their date at the museum, but how could he focus now that he knew who she was.

On the drive to the museum he tried to remember their previous dates. Were there any clues? He remembered what when he said when he explained his job. "I look at reports and write more reports," he had joked.

Her response had been, "That sounds better than what I do. People tell me what to do all day. They don't really see me. I'd really just like to quit and be a landscape painter." 'They don't really see me' was a phrase many woman used because of the whole invisibility thing, but maybe she'd said it because everyone sees her in way, to be ironic.

He was in the museum parking lot before he knew it. He got out of his car and stood there holding his phone in a tight grip. Wouldn't most guys be thrilled to know they were dating a movie star? Jackson just felt overwhelmed. Then he saw the people far across the parking lot at the entrance: Paparazzi. He laughed a nervous laugh.

A fancy car pulled up. A woman's voice shouted, "It's Marilyn!" Camera's took pictures of the car and the driver as it arrived. The doors of the car opened and someone threw a bag of bright pink colored Gulal powder right at the open door. The partial outline of a woman's head and shoulder beside the driver could be seen. Camera's flashed and filmed the event in high definition. The pink peppered partial ghost looked around and appeared to be looking right at Jackson for a moment.

The driver yelled, "Back in the car!" and the pink dusted silhouette jumped back into the car and the doors all closed. The vehicle made a quick exit, and some paparazzi were quick to follow. Jackson walked up to the area where the car had been and watched as the car sped away with some pursuers close behind.

It all happened to quickly. Other bystanders not involved with the whole event looked around at each other. People exchanged shrugs and looks of concern and wonder. Jackson backed up a few steps and then finally retreated to his car. His blood was pumping, his mind was spinning, and he looked down at his phone. "Are you at the museum?" he texted.

A quick moment later a reply appeared, "Yes! That was crazy, right?"

Jackson breathed a sigh of relief. He laughed out loud. It couldn't have been her. He'd been psyching himself out for nothing. Maybe she was already waiting inside. He texted, "I'm at my car. Where are you?"

"I'm at your car, too," the text returned.

Jackson looked around as if he might see an invisible person. He laughed internally at himself and with a breath said, "You're here. Were you going to surprise me? Hard to do after seeing that."

"Yeah, my sister likes to plan elaborate things," Marilyn's voice came from the other side of Jackson's car.

"Your sister?" he said a little confused.

"Jackson," Marilyn said some shakiness in her voice, "I have a confession to make. It's about my job. Can I tell you in the car though?" The doors opened and Jackson sat in the car and the doors closed.

"Marilyn Kim Porfaux," Jackson said staring forward. In front of the museum some of the paparazzi still milled about hoping to see her come back through. Someone from the museum was yelling at the man who through the pink dust. A few visitors were looking confused as they tried to enter attempting to ignore the strange throng. Camera's occasionally took pictures of vacant air hoping that something would come of it.

"Yes... You knew?"

Jackson could hear her timidness. His mind softened towards her. For three weeks he'd simply gotten to know Marilyn, just a woman named Marilyn. Somehow he still couldn't reconcile the information he'd discovered online about the actress to what he'd learned on a few dates about the invisible woman beside him. "I think I just found out by accident this week."

"The rumors," she sighed. "I shouldn't have been so bold at the cafe. I should have been more observant."

"But," Jackson was riding the roller coaster of thought and emotions, "Our similar interests, and... and Historical Romance?" His incredulousness against the genre of her movies came off as an accusation.

"Have you seen my movies?" a slight embarrassment in her voice.

"Just one. Last night. I was trying to discern if it really was you? Unseen Hearts along the Nile."

"That one?" she groaned slightly, "Why not Hidden Promises and Hidden Guns?"

"Unseen Hearts along the Nile high a higher Rotten Tomatoes score," Jackson said as plainly as he could, and Marilyn laughed. Jackson could not help but chuckle along. "You said, 'People tell me what to do all day'. I'm guessing now directors."

"And an agent. also the studio. And maybe a few others. They won't let me do a Syfy movie original, or a Sitcom Comedy. It's off brand." She sighed, while the people in front of the museum continued to wait.

Jackson could hear the woman he'd been getting to know in her answers and her voice. He'd let some of the office gossip affect him, and he shouldn't have. She was still Marilyn from the dates. "There is another museum about an hour down the interstate. You want to go there instead?" He looked at the empty seat next to him, imagining those eyes, hoping she'd say yes.

Marilyn's eyes and lips appeared transparent then translucent in the air before him. She smiled, "That sounds like fun." Then suddenly that vision of her disappeared, and she was invisible again with a giggle, her giggle.

Jackson was captivated as a smile grew on his face. Those lips, those eyes, that smile. "Alright," he said turning on the car. It was a date. He laughed as he pulled out of the paparazzi plagued museum parking lot, "I see you."
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