The Moon Guard

I stared down at the ring I was just handed. The small chunk of Moon radiated with a silver glow. I slipped the ring onto my left pointer finger, admiring it’s beauty as I moved my hand side to side. I’d always dreamt of this day, fully acquiring my cloud abilities. 

I had to maintain my composure for the duration of the ceremony, as each of us was handed our ring. Every year this ceremony takes place for all who have turned twenty-one, and completed qualifying training. This year there are seven of us, and soon the celebration would start; which meant Cloud Clashing.

I was decent enough at Cloud Gliding, but what set me apart was my ability to maneuver quickly. Recollecting on my training instilled doubt in my mind, I wasn’t sure if my skillset would be enough to win. Our Speaker’s voice quickly shook my thoughts. I needed to pay attention, especially to her speech. 

“Today not only marks our annual Cloud Clashing, but twenty years since the invasion of the Lightning Heavers!” 

A hush fell over the gathered crowd.

The Speaker raised her arms in a calming manner. 

“That was indeed the darkest of our days, a shard of our precious Moon was taken from us. But…”

She paused for a moment.

“…were we not VICTORIOUS?” 

The Speaker’s voice rose to a roar, and soon the crowd followed erupting in a wave of excited cries. My chest swelled with pride, I was only one when the Moon shard was taken, but I heard the stories countless times. 

Lead by our Speaker, an elite squadron of Cloud Gliders called the Moon Guard saved us all. The Lightning Heavers leader Val’Nyr lead an attack on our capitol, slaughtering countless of our people in an attempt to use our Moon combined with his Lightning powers to destroy us all. The Speaker arrived in the nick of time with the Moon Guard, deflecting his Lightning with her ring back into his chest. The Lightning Heavers escaped with a small shard of the Moon, broken off and singed from the deflection. 

“After the ceremonial Cloud Clashing, we will feast together in honor of our people!” 

More cheering and applause erupted. I knew the event would start soon, and the realization made my heart race. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and a chill ran down my spine as the Speaker motioned for us to line up at the start. We marched in unison to the intricately painted marker that was our starting position.  

“As we all know, it is tradition that the victor of this years Cloud Clashing earns a spot in the Moon Guard!” Proclaimed the Speaker.

The crowd erupted even louder, screaming and cheering filled me with anticipation. 

“Take positions!” The Speaker resumed.

“You may summon your clouds.”

I inhaled deeply, my eyes fluttering as I focused the energy flowing through me towards my Moon ring. Gently the silver haze around my ring stretched and grew, surrounding the bottom half of my body in familiar warmth. My Cloud glimmered throughout with an emerald pulsing energy, shifting through the silver and gently lifting me off of the ground. 

We all hovered in place, I glanced around to see fellow nervous faces waiting for the countdown to begin. 

“Three… Two… One…”

The Speaker trailed as she raised her arm, shooting off a spark of silvery magic into the air, illuminating the sky with an enormous crescent moon. 

“Fly!”

Thank you so much for reading! Return next week to read The Moon Guard Part 2!

What did you think of The Moon Guard? Let us know in the comments below! If you enjoy our blog, feel free to buy us a cup of coffee! 

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-Clever & WTF

Fantasy Nerd Summer Reading Challenge

Welcome, Fantasy Nerds! We have some exciting news for you! We are holding the first Fantasy Nerd’s Summer Reading Challenge! The challenge will run through all of June and July in our Facebook Group

I’ll go over the basic info here:

Check-ins will go up every Sunday (the first is today) for you to report your weekly progress. On each Monday, we will have a “ceremony” where you will be bestowed a new “title” based on your progress. Everyone in the group will refer to each other by their titles during the challenge! For example, if you reach the rank of Knight, you will be called Sir or Dame. 

In addition to getting referred to as a Lord, Duchess, etc. all summer, there will be small prizes! I will be making Facebook banners and profile frames with the different titles that you will get as you rank up. The top 3 most read participants will also get custom stickers with their final title and some other fantasy related stickers!

Anyone who commits to the challenge (comment on the Facebook announcement) will be taken on as a squire. From there you can show your talent and earn a higher rank. In order to be crowned the King or Queen of Stories, you will have to work for it!

Example of the Squire Profile frame

Here are the titles and how to earn them:

Squire – Join the challenge

Knight of Stories (Sir/Dame) – 1 book

Lord/Lady of Stories – 2 books

Baron/Baroness of Stories – 3 books

Viscount/Viscountess of Stories – 4 books

Count/Countess of Stories – 5 books

Marquess/Marchioness of Stories  – 6 books

Duke/Duchess of Stories – 8 books

Prince/Princess of Stories – 10 books

King/Queen of Stories – 12 books

*I’m not going to be super picky by saying you have to have started the book in June. Just be fair. If you are almost done with a book, don’t count it. However, I know some of us started books before I announced the contest. If you are only a few chapters into your book, feel free to count it once you finish. I just want us to have fun with this!

**Even though we call this a Fantasy Nerd’s challenge, you can count books of any genre.

Example of the Squire Facebook cover photo

Remember, you have 2 months to reach these goals. I tried to find a balance that would push us to read more than we normally do, without making the goals so hard that it’s discouraging or feels unattainable. (After the challenge, I will have a poll and possibly adjust the tiers for next time.)

*Bonus Challenge Alert* Want a boost to your progress for the Summer Reading Challenge? If you read this 3-part short story plus the 4 other stories we will be posting on our blog during the duration of the challenge, you can count it as 1 book read for the challenge! The last story will be posted the last week of the challenge, so you will be able to get that last minute boost you might need to earn a new title! To get notified when we post stories, just follow the blog or join our Facebook group. For those of you that read our stories, thank you so much!

If you have questions, comment below or hop on over to the Facebook group. Good luck, and get your nose in a book! What is everyone’s first book for the challenge?

Want to help fund prizes for this and other challenges? Buy us a coffee by clicking the button below.

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Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

The Society – Part 3

This is Part 3 of Clever’s short story, “The Society”. If you haven’t read the rest of the story, you can start here!

The pull of the genie had led Zynia to an inn in Al Sanad. As soon as she steps inside, she spots the girl. Zynia walks up to her and leans in close.

“We need to speak privately,” she says.

The girl nods. “We have a room.”

Zynia follows them up the stairs and down a cramped hallway. Once the door is closed and locked, she examines the room. She lifts the coverlet to peer under the bed, and opens the creaky wardrobe. Now that she is certain they are safe, she turns to the girls.

“How many wishes do you have left?”

“Two,” replies Alainn.

“That leaves you with two choices,” says Zynia. “I cannot risk sending the genie home with you. The Black Cloaks will find you and take him. So, you can either make two wishes now and return home on your own, or go with me to The Society to drop the genie off there. If you come with me it would be safer for the genie, because the Black Cloaks cannot steal him until you have made your wishes. And The Society would make sure you got home safely in return.”

The girls look at each other, and Alainn plops down onto the bed.

“Who are the Black Cloaks, anyway?” Myla asks.

“They are a group that formed in opposition to The Society. We protect the genies’ powers from being used for evil by limiting who has access to them. The Black Cloaks believe everyone should have an opportunity to use the genies’ wishes, no matter the cost. They have been trying to get ahold of a genie for a long time,” Zynia says. “They are dangerous, so I would not blame you if you just want to be done with this and go home,” she continues gently.

“But it would help if we went with you,” Myla says.

Zynia nods in answer.

It’s quiet for a long moment. Alainn speaks next. “I would like to see this adventure through to the end.”

After a night’s rest in the inn, the party rises at dawn to continue their journey. Zynia told them that if they leave early enough, they would only need to spend one night in the desert before reaching their destination. They saddle their horses and cover their heads before riding out.

The horses kick up sand as they ride. They don’t speak much during the day, because their voices are muffled by the scarves. When they stop for water, a thought occurs to Myla.

“How did you find us?”

Zynia smiles for the first time since they met. “All members of The Society are attuned to their genie, the one they are assigned to protect. I feel a tug.” She places a hand on her heart. “It pulls me in the direction I need to go.”

“Maybe you should hold onto this,” Alainn says as she removes the necklace.

“You should keep it until we reach The Society, in case you need to make a sudden wish,” Zynia says. “ But I would like to say hello, if you don’t mind.”

Alainn holds out the necklace to Zynia. She takes it and rubs her palm over the gemstone. There is a pulse of light, brighter than they’ve yet seen, and a thick cloud of purple smoke erupts from the pendant. It begins to form into the shape of a person; a head, arms, and torso revealing itself. The lower half of the body is just a trail of smoke binding it to the jewel. 

“My friend,” the genie says in a low, smooth voice. He reaches out a vaporous arm to pat Zynia on the head. 

“I’m sorry I had to leave you,” she replies.

“No one can predict the twists of life’s journey. You did what you had to, and now we are together again.” The genie turns. “Besides, these fine young ladies took good care of me,” he adds with a smile. 

The girls dip their heads in respect. The genie lets out a laugh like the rush of a fire catching. The genie bows in farwell, before dissolving back into the pendant. Myla and Alainn just stare in silence.

Zynia clears her throat and hands Alainn the necklace. “We better get moving.”

They keet riding until, shortly after dark, they come upon a spring surrounded by cottonwood trees. The horses drink heartily, and they refill their water skins. As they are removing their saddle bags, Alainn laughs.

“Do you happen to need a bedroll?” she asks Zynia, holding up the spare.

“I do,” she replies. “I’m guessing this is my genie’s doing?”

“He knew we would find you.”

The next day’s journey is long and hot, but they push on, knowing it is their last. Sand sticks to the sweat coating their skin. They ride slower today, not wanting to push the horses to exhaustion. They stop to rest in the waning afternoon light. 

As she is drinking, Myla notices something in the distance. A large cloud of sand moves toward them.

“I think a sandstorm is coming.” She points behind them.

“That’s no sandstorm,” says Zynia. “Get back on the horses, NOW!”

They all scramble into the saddles and ride hard. 

“I want you to keep riding, even when they catch us,” Zynia calls out over the hoofbeats. “I will slow them down. Once you’re in range of The Society, they will sense the genie’s presence and allow you entry.”

Myla glances behind them, at the now visible horses. “You won’t be able to slow them all,” Myla yells. “There are too many. The ones you can’t hold off will still catch us.”

“We need to fight together,” Alainn agrees. The pendant thumps against her neck, as she rides. She knows she cannot wish to be at The Society, so she does the only other thing she can think of. “I wish Myla and I had weapons and could fight better than the Black Cloaks.”

With a flash of light, short swords appear at their sides. 

“Fine,” Zynia says, “but if it goes south and I tell you to run, you don’t question me.”

They ride a little further before Zynia turns her horse to face the oncoming enemy. Reaching into one of her saddle bags, she pulls out half-a-dozen small knives.

“Is that entire bag full of knives?” Myla asks. 

Zynia lets two knives fly in rapid succession, and two Black Cloaks fall from their horses. Two more follow shortly after. 

“I think I should’ve wished we could fight better than Zynia,” Alainn says in awe.

“Get ready to fight,” Zynia says, as the closest group of riders approaches them. She flings one more pair of knives before reaching for two scimitar. 

The rider’s collide into them with a ring of steel, as their swords clash. After they pass, they jump from their horses. The women meet them blow for blow in the sand. Myla is surprised to find that she is able to tell from the enemy’s shifting body weight where he will strike next. She brings her sword up to block a downward strike aimed for her shoulder. 

Zynia cuts through two of the Black Cloaks, and turns toward the others riding up. She fells one with a knife before rolling to avoid the sword of another. She clashes with two at once as they dismount, trying to keep them from the girls. 

Alainn screams. Myla turns to see a man clutching his stomach in front of her. Alainn just stares at the blood running through his hands.

“Lookout,” Myla yells, as another man rushes toward Alainn.

She snaps back to the present and gets her sword up just in time. Alainn steels herself. She will need to kill more people before this is over, if they are to survive. 

The desert becomes a blur of clashing swords, as they lose themselves to the movement of battle. It’s not long before Myla and Alainn are panting, and their arms become heavy. Zynia still moves like the wind, but she is facing too many opponents in order to protect the girls. This leaves her vulnerable to a strike that slices her thigh. 

Her leg buckles, but she quickly rights herself. She spins to avoid a sword, but her wound slows her. She takes a slash to the side with a grunt, but swings her scimitar to finish off the opponent. She looks up to see the last wave of Black Cloaks, but knows she is too injured to win this round.  

“Get to your horses,” Zynia cries out. “RIDE!”

She doesn’t wait to see if the girls obey her. She flings two knives, hitting her mark. She faces the remaining five riders, and raises her scimitars. At the last second, she ducks, swinging her swords out to take down the first two horses.

With a scream at the pain in her thigh, Zynia leaps for another rider, pulling him off his horse. The final two riders gallop past after the girls.

Myla and Alainn run to the horses and scramble into the saddle. They give the reins a snap and lean forward. Tears leave streaks in the sand coating Myla’s face, but she doesn’t look back. She hears hooves pursuing them. 

They ride hard, trying to stay ahead of the Black Cloaks long enough to reach The Society. Myla thinks the hoofbeats sound closer, but she can’t be sure. She only hopes they don’t have far to go. 

She glances around the flat desert, looking for any sign of where they need to go. The only thing she sees is what looks to be a hill, a ways ahead. She angles toward it, seeing no other option. 

After a few paces, a blur of movement catches her eye. It’s coming from the hill. She hears a rider close behind her, spurring his horse on. The Black Cloaks are catching up. 

Myla blinks at what she sees moving toward them. It looks like a small group of people riding on…rugs. They fly through the air at an incredible speed. As they approach, the people stand up on the rugs and raise bows.

“Duck!” she yells to Alainn.

They flatten themselves over their horses as arrows strike the riders behind them. With a storm of wind and sand, the flying carpets whiz by.

After a brief struggle, Zynia stabs the man she tackled with a knife that was strapped to her thigh. She stands to face the remaining two Black Cloaks, hoping the girls can outride the others.

Her eyes narrow at one of the Black Cloaks, and her chest tightens with hatred. 

“Hello, Zynia,” he says. 

“Harun.” She spits blood at his feet. This is the man that tortured her, one of the leaders of the Black Cloaks. 

While she is distracted, the other man charges her. She ducks his sword and flips him over her back. Spinning, she stabs him in the chest. She turns back to Harun.

“It looks like it’s just you and me,” he says with a wicked grin.

Her adrenaline is pumping so hard that it keeps her from feeling the pain of her wounds, but she knows she needs to finish this fight before she loses too much blood. She spins her scimitars and settles into a fighting stance. 

Harun charges with an overhead blow, and she raises her swords to meet it. The fight is on. The battle is a dangerous dance, and the throbbing of her leg is just one beat of the song. It’s there in the background, altering some of her movements, but not the primary melody. 

If Harun wasn’t such a despicable person, she would call him a worthy opponent. He is strong and quick, and answers her blow for blow. But he knows she is injured, and will expect her to be slow and careful.

Taking a deep breath, Zynia braces for the onslaught of pain. She launches into a flurry of aggressive movements, acting as if her wounds do not exist. She takes Harun unawares, and he is left on the defensive. With one smooth movement, she slices open his side. He goes down to one knee, but she shows him no mercy.

After Harun collapses in the sand, Zynia drops with him. Blood pours from her wounds. Shock and pain drag her into darkness.

The people on the flying carpets return with Zynia unconscious atop one. The rugs are ornate and colorful, and those riding them are draped in light silks. They motion for Myla and Alainn to follow, as they float toward the hill in the distance.

When they get closer, they see that it is a sandstone structure.  Pillars mark the entrance to the rounded dome. Once they are inside, the flying carpets lower to the ground and the riders step off. The entry room is covered in various rugs, looking quite ordinary until someone sits upon them and they rise off the floor.

The carpet carrying Zynia still floats above the ground. As they walk down the hall, the rug moves behind them. Outside every door they pass, another rug lays at the threshold. They enter a lavish bedroom, and the carpet lowers Zynia onto the bed. 

Sheer silk curtains hang from the bed and windows, and piles of cushions surround a low table in the corner. A woman comes in to tend to Zynia’s wounds.

“Please, sit,” another woman tells them, motioning to the cushions.

Myla and Alainn plop down, exhausted.

“I know you must have questions, but first, do you have the genie?” the woman asks.

Alainn lifts the necklace and hands it to the woman. With a rub of her palm, she sets the genie free. The cloud of purple smoke floats to Zynia’s side and forms into its humanoid shape. The woman turns back to them.

“Thank you for your help in returning him to us. Do you still have any wishes?”

“Just one,” replies Alainn.

“You can rest here as long as you need, but you will have to use the last wish before you return home.”

Alainn nods.

“My name is Lyendah,” she tells them. “I will take you to a room of your own, and after you have all recovered,” she looks to Zynia, “we will speak more.”

When they wake, a carpet is waiting at the door. After they sit upon it, the rug takes them to Zynia’s room. She is reclining in the cushions next to Lyendah. 

“Ah good, you found your escort,” Lyendah says with a smile.

“I could get used to this,” Alainn replies as the carpet lowers to the floor. 

Zynia and Lyendah exchange a look. 

“You should be the one to tell them,” Lyendah says. 

She motions for them to join her at the table. Myla and Alainn raise their eyebrows, but settle into the cushions. Zynia clears her throat.

“I was with you for part of your journey here, and my genie filled me in on the rest. He has spoken with the others of his kind, and they have judged you to have used your wishes wisely and in service of others. Most importantly, you have protected one of their own,” Zynia pauses. “The genies would like to offer you membership into The Society.”

Myla looked to Alainn. 

“What does that mean? I know The Society protects the genies, but what would being a member entail?” Myla asks.

“Well, you are both now talented fighters,” Zynia says with a grin, “so you would keep up on your training. You could be sent out on missions, as guardians for the genies when they need to be transported outside of The Society. Some of our members are stationed around the kingdom, looking for a need and those who are worthy of a genie’s wishes. We would find which role is the best fit for each of you.”

“Would we live here? Could we go home?” Alainn asks.

“Yes to both,” Zynia answers. “This would be your primary residence, but the flying carpets can take you to see your family whenever you aren’t needed on a mission. They can travel quite fast.”

Alainn turns to Myla and takes her hand. “It’s up to you Myla. I won’t do this without you.”

Myla smiles at her best friend. “I think our adventures have only just begun.”

What Do You Think?

Did you enjoy this story? Would you like to read more of Myla, Alainn, and Zynia’s adventures? Let me know in the comments! If you liked this story, you might also enjoy “The Mastermind”. As always, click the button below to buy us a cup of coffee. We promise to share!

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Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

The Society – Part 2

This is Part 2 of Clever’s short story, “The Society”. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here.

Myla wakes in her own home to the sound of too many voices. When she tries to sit up, she notices her hands and feet are bound. That’s when it all comes flooding back. 

She tries to twist free of the ropes, but it’s no use. A man in a black cloak notices her struggling. He points a sword to the other side of the living quarters, where Alainn and her family are also tied up.

“I wouldn’t try to escape. Your family will pay the price, girl,” he says.

“Momma, Poppa, I’m so sorry. This is all my fault,” Myla tells them. 

“Hush now. We’re just glad you’re alright,” her father replies.

Another sinister looking man walks into the room. His eyes scan Myla, and she holds her breath. He pulls the necklace from his cloak and holds it up.

“How many wishes have you made?” he asks.

“Just one,” she replies.

“I’m willing to be kind,” the man says. “I’ll let you make two more wishes. Then, I will take the necklace and leave you be. All I ask is that you don’t try to stop me.”

Myla laughs. “I know you don’t have a choice but to let me make my last wishes. The genie won’t answer to you until I do. You’re doing me no favors. Besides,” she continues, “how do I know you won’t harm us, once you have the genie?”

“Clever girl,” the man says with a smirk. “Since we’ve done away with the pretense, you will make those wishes, or I will start killing your family one-by-one. As for how you can ensure your safety, you can simply wish that no harm comes to you all by me or my men. Use your other wish for a fortune or a handsome suitor for all I care.”

Alainn snorts. 

The man ignores her and squats in front of Myla. “Just make those wishes. Now.”

“Just give me a moment to think of what I want most,” Myla says. “Then, I’ll do as you say.”

Satisfied, the man steps back. Myla’s head swirls. She needs a way out of this that doesn’t leave this man with the power of a genie. She doesn’t know what happened to the woman from the market, but she clearly went to great lengths to keep the necklace from him.

“I’m ready,” says Myla.

The man hands her the necklace. His men grab her parents and hold knives to their throats.

“Try anything funny and they will die,” he tells her.

Myla gulps and nods her head. “I wish for myself and my family, and Alainn and her family, to be safe from these people…in a place far from here,” Myla rushes out the last bit, before the men can act. 

The necklace flares to life. Myla sees a flash of rage on the man’s face, and then they are gone. 

Zynia picks her way through the market, feeling a pull to the north. She stays aware of her surroundings, knowing the Black Cloaks could be searching this very place. She swipes a few provisions, since her coin purse is now gone.

Exiting the market, Zynia finds a secluded spot by a stream to eat and fill up a waterskin that she took from the market. She will need strength if she runs into the Black Cloaks, which seems likely. She is about to rise, when a pulse thrums through her body.

Someone has made another wish. She only hopes it is the girl.

A moment later, the feeling that had been pulling her to the north shifts directions. Interesting. The wish must have transported the bearer.

Zynia chugs the last of her water and refills the skin. She turns toward the southwest and begins walking. She grins. It appears the girl has made an escape.

Myla appears in a small cabin with a crackling fireplace. Everyone starts talking at once and asking questions of her and Alainn. Alainn calms everyone and gathers them on comfy couches around the fire. They tell their tale, as their families listen with wide eyes, interjecting with questions now and then. 

When they are done, silence fills the cabin. They have all been transported far from their homes, with no idea when it will be safe to return. Myla can think of only one thing to do.

“I wish we had precisely everything we will need to make the trip to The Society,” Myla says. 

The necklace glows bright. At first, it appears nothing has happened, and Myla wonders if this wish is also forbidden. Then, there is a whinny from outside. 

They rush out the door to see two horses loaded with provisions. Myla turns to Alainn and places the amulet around her neck. It pulses once more.

“Are you ready for an adventure?” she asks her friend. “Or would you rather stay here with a husband and mounds of gold?”

Alainn opens up one of the saddle bags and peers inside. “I’m sure there’s gold in here somewhere.”

Myla laughs and links arms with Alainn. “And I bet there are plenty of dashing men along our path.”

“It’s settled then,” replies Alainn. 

“Now,” says Myla, “let’s see what we can learn from these supplies.”

Alainn raises her eyebrows, as Myla starts sorting through the items. She carefully inventories the food.

“For two people, this is about three days worth of food. Since we have horses, wherever we are going must be a three days ride from here,” Myla says.

“Oh, that’s brilliant, Myla,” Alainn says, as she understands the purpose behind Myla’s last wish. She begins looking through the provisions, as well. She holds up a head-wrap that is used in the south to protect from sun and sand. “It looks like our journey takes us through the desert.”

Myla pulls out a map and lays it on the ground. The map has a star on a spot in some foothills outside of a small town no more than two days from the desert. She looks at her surroundings for the first time. The cabin sits in a hilly countryside. She draws a large circle around the star, encompassing the area within a three days ride. She then sections off the area that would take them through the desert, before continuing to look for more clues. 

“Why would we need three bed rolls?” Alainn asks.

“Maybe one of us sets ours on fire,” Myla replies, as she holds up a firestarter. 

“Ah ha!” Alainn says as she holds up a handful of coins.

“You found your gold,” Myla says with a laugh.

“Not just any gold,” Alainn replies. “Usoyan currency.”

Myla returns to the map. She sections off the path to the eastern desert kingdom.

“We head to the south-east, and see what awaits us.”

Zynia will need a horse if she is to stay ahead of the Black Cloaks. They will likely head back to their fortress to regroup, which takes them in the direction she must travel. As dusk approaches, she finds an unoccupied stable on the outskirts of town. 

She makes off with a strong black stallion, and rides down the main road until it’s fully dark. She searches by moonlight for a spot to camp. She makes sure she’s a good ways into the woods before tying the horse to a tree and building a campfire. Just before she drifts off to sleep, she hears voices.

Bolting upright, she douses the campfire. Zynia creeps through the woods toward the noise. She sees the shadows moving ahead, but it’s too dark to see them well without getting close. A fire flares to life, lighting up the group. Black Cloaks.

Zynia creeps back from the camp, choosing every step with care. She reaches her horse and unties him, willing the mount not to make a sound. She leads the horse through the woods, away from the Black Cloaks. Only once she is a good distance away does she hop into the saddle.

Now that her adrenaline is pumping, she races through the night, putting as much distance as she can between her and the Black Cloaks.

After a night’s rest at the cabin, Myla and Alainn depart on their quest. All they have is a general direction in which to look for The Society, but it will have to do. Myla tracks their course with a compass and the map, and Alainn makes good company. Before they know it, they are nearing the desert. 

They decide to stop for the night at the last river before entering the wastelands. At the first light of dawn, they rise. Making sure they drink plenty and fill their waterskins to the brim, they mount their horses and ride on. 

When they reach the sands, they pause only to wrap their heads in the silk cloth. The heat is nearly unbearable, but they try to conserve water. Even the horses are showing signs of exhaustion by the time they reach Usoya. 

They stop at the first town they see, built around an oasis. They roam through the streets, nearly overwhelmed by the colorful silks and spicy aromas after a day in the desert. They turn down a side street, in search of an inn, when Alainn feels a tug on her arm.

“Lost, are you?” a man says, never letting go of her arm. Another man sneers from beside him. 

Alainn tries to yank her arm free, and the pendant slips from beneath her shirt.

“Ooh, what do we have here? I think you should hand that pretty necklace over, girl.”

Shaking, Alainn grasps the necklace and starts to pull it over her head. “I wish someone would save us from these men,” she says. 

The men’s chuckles are cut short by a flash of light. Two more men turn onto the street and, taking in the scene, pull scimitars from their belts. After a brief clash, the would-be-thieves run off, only to be hauled away by two more men.

“Don’t worry about them anymore. They’ll get what they deserve,” one of the rescuers says. “Are you alright?”

“We’ll be fine, but do you know the way to the inn?” Myla asks.

“I rather think we should escort you,” the other man says.

The kind strangers lead them to an inn, where they inquire after a room. The price of a room, stable for the horses, and two meals adds up to the exact amount of Usoyan coins in their possession. 

“It looks like this is the final town before we reach our destination,” Alainn says.

“But where do we go from here?” asks Myla.

Neither of them has an answer, so they take their supplies to the room and head back down to the tavern for their meal. They are served lamb kebabs with yogurt sauce and mint rice. They are nearly finished eating when another customer walks into the tavern. Myla’s jaw drops and she elbows Alainn.

“That’s her,” Myla says. “The lady that left me with the necklace.”

What do you think of the story so far? Click here to continue reading Part 3! If you enjoyed this short story, we would love for you to leave a comment, or even buy us a cup of coffee! We promise to share!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

The Society

“Excuse me, Miss.” A woman taps Myla lightly on the shoulder. “Would you mind holding onto this for a few moments?” 

The woman wears a lavender cloak with gold trim, and holds out a woven basket containing something wrapped in a pale cloth. “I’ll be right back,” she says with a kind smile.

Myla takes the basket and nods her head. The woman turns on her heels and pulls a hood over her dark hair, weaving her way through the crowded market. Myla goes back to shopping, but makes sure to stay within sight of where the woman left her. 

Her own basket now full with bread, meat, and cheese, Myla searches the stalls for the woman. Seeing no sign of her yet, she treats herself to some candied nuts. She’s sure it won’t be long now.

Further down the street, in the direction the woman went, she hears a commotion. A group armed with polished swords and dressed in black cloaks rushes through the crowd. People scurry out of the way, some jostling stalls in their haste. Vendors shout as they try to protect their wares. 

As quickly as they came, they turn down a side street and disappear. Chatter fills their wake. It is rare for someone to be armed in the market, and a sure sign of trouble. 

Myla spins, searching the street for the woman. Anxiety fills up her chest, making her breaths shallow. With one last glance behind her, she heads towards her home, keeping an eye out for the woman the whole way.

Once she is home, she sits the basket on her bed. It feels wrong to snoop, but the woman left Myla with the basket and no way to find her. Maybe there will be a clue to her location inside. She pulls back the cloth to find a large purple gemstone in a silver setting. It must be worth quite a bit of money. Feeling even more confused, she lifts the necklace by the chain and lets it dangle in front of her. 

It’s not a transparent stone; the inside is foggy, leaving it dull even in the light from the window. For a moment the fog seems to shift inside the stone, but she blinks and it’s still. Why would the woman entrust such an item to a stranger?

Zynia spits blood onto the hard earth and laughs through her dark hair. The Black Cloaks surround her, but she knows her plan has worked. And the longer she fights, the better chance the girl has of losing them. She only hopes the girl left the market at the first sign of trouble. 

She unclasps her cloak and lets it fall to the ground, revealing daggers beneath. The first one to find her had gotten in a punch to her jaw after she had disarmed him. Now he lay motionless in some alleyway, but the fight had given the rest the chance to catch up. 

She lets fly a dagger in an overhand throw before another fighter can approach her. Spinning, she lets the momentum carry an underhanded toss into the gut of an oncoming Black Cloak. She slides two more daggers from her thighs. One strikes the chest of an attacker, and he drops. The other goes wide as the intended target swings for her head. 

She ducks and rolls, coming up with two more daggers that were strapped to her ankles. She grips them in her fists, knowing she is in a close range fight now. Popping up before the attacker can fully raise his sword, she strikes downward, stabbing the wrist of his sword arm. The weapon falls, and she takes the chance to thrust her other dagger under his chin. 

Zynia pulls her dagger free, hand slippery with blood. As she turns, she feels a crack to her skull. Blackness sweeps in. 

The necklace burns a hole in Myla’s pocket all through lunch. The moment the chores are done, she bounds out of the house, yelling behind her that she’ll be at Alainn’s until dinner. She finds her best friend hanging clothes on the line to dry. 

“Something strange happened at the market today,” Myla says. 

Alainn’s eyes glitter. She’s always one for a good tale, or gossip, if the former is lacking. “Well, go on,” Alainn probes.

Myla recounts the tale of the woman and the necklace, pulling out the amulet at the end. Alainn steps closer and examines it.

“A woman just left this with you?”

“I think she was being pursued. I don’t know what to do now. I have no way to find her,” Myla says.

“Maybe she will come looking for it. We can go back to the market in a day or two to search for her, if she doesn’t come round. Until then, do what she asks and hold onto it for her.”

Myla places the necklace back in her pocket. She doesn’t have a better plan. 

“Don’t you think it would be safer around your neck?” Alainn asks with a look of mischief.

Myla laughs. “I think it would be very conspicuous if I showed up for dinner with a jewel around my neck.”

“Oh, you don’t have to wear it to dinner. Just try it on!”

“I guess no one will know…”

Myla takes out the necklace and slips it gently over her head. The moment it falls to rest on her chest, the pendant lets out a pulse of light. Myla lifts the gem to stare at it. Her eyes flick to Alainn.

“Did you see that?”

“It’s magic,” Alainn practically squeals.

Zynia wakes with a throbbing head in a small stone cell with a thick door of wood and iron. Chains rattle as she sits up. A guard at the door hears the sound and slides open a slit in the door to peer at her. He shouts to someone she cannot see that the prisoner is awake. A couple of minutes later, she hears footsteps marching down the hall. 

The door opens, and a Black Cloak walks in. Two others station themselves just inside the door. The man closest to her wastes no time.

“I suppose there’s no way you will tell me the location of the society, so I’ll settle for the location of the gemstone…in exchange for your life.”

“You mean you didn’t find it?” she taunts him.

“We know you don’t have the object with you. We searched everything in your possession with a detector.” His eyes dart to her crumpled cloak in the corner of the cell. He walks closer and kneels in front of her. “Tell me where it is.”

Zynia rises to her feet, for a moment looking down at the man before he stands to face her. She resists the urge to headbutt him, knowing if she fights now it will be a waste of strength. Instead, she smiles a devilish grin. 

“I met someone at the market and had them take it far away. You’ll never find it now. Not even I know where it’s gone.”

The man turns to the other Black Cloaks. “Send everyone we can spare to search the market and the surrounding towns.”

“Should we kill her now? She’s of no use if she doesn’t know where the jewel is,” one of the other men asks. 

“No, we keep her until we find it. Then, we kill her.”

For three days, Myla and Alainn tried to unlock the magic of the amulet. But since that initial, unmistakable glow, nothing had happened. Myla was beginning to think they imagined it. 

She is just finishing dinner with her family, when someone pounds on the door. Her father opens it to find Alainn standing there, looking breathless.

“I need to speak with Myla, if that’s alright,” Alainn asks.

Myla’s father turns to her. “Be back before dark.”

As soon as the door shuts behind them, Alainn turns to her. “You have the necklace with you?”

“Yes, it’s right-”

“We need to go.” Alainn grabs her hand and pulls her through the backyard.

“Alainn, what is going on?”

“I’ll explain in a moment. We need to hide first.”

Neither of them speak as Alainn hurries them into the woods and finds a spot behind some boulders. 

“This should be far enough,” Alainn finally says. “People are looking for the necklace. A group dressed in black cloaks showed up and searched my house. They had some type of staff that seemed to be able to detect it. As soon as they left my house, I ran to find you.”

“Those must be the people I saw chasing the woman in the market. What do we do?”

“We’ll just hide out here until they finish searching the town. It will be fine,” Alainn comforts her. 

They stay in the woods until dark, and then creep back towards Myla’s house. Myla gasps when they get within sight of her house. Alainn pulls her behind a tree.

“Why are they still here, surrounding my house?” Myla asks.

“They must know,” Alainn whispers. “Come on, we can’t let them spot us.”

Numb with shock, Myla follows her back through the woods. How could this happen? How did they know she had the necklace?

This time, they don’t stop at the rock outcropping. They pick their way further into the woods until they find a cave a few miles out. Myla sinks to the ground and puts her head in her hands. She yanks the necklace out of her pocket and stares at it.

“I wish I knew what this stupid thing is that’s causing my home to be under siege,” Myla says.

The jewel begins to hum and lets out a flash of light. A book plops down on the ground next to Myla, along with a lantern. It’s an old leather bound book with yellowing pages that smell musty. She flips open the cover to see a title page that simply reads “History and Rules of the Society”. She begins to read.

“Well, what does it say?” Alainn asks after a moment of silence.

“It’s about an ancient society that protects…” Myla pauses to examine the gemstone closer, “genies.”

Alainn snatches the stone from her hand. She squints at it. “I don’t see any genie in here.”

“It did just grant my wish though,” Myla says. “The book says I get three wishes, and no one can take the genie from me,” she grabs the necklace back, “until I use them all.”

Alainn stands and starts pacing. “You can wish for anything. No wonder those people want to find the necklace.” She spins to face Myla. “What are you going to wish for?”

“I don’t know. I only get two more wishes. I’ll need to choose carefully.”

“Why couldn’t I find the genie? I’d wish for a fortune and a handsome husband and…”

“My family might be in trouble, Alainn,” Myla interrupts. “I need to make sure we’re all ok. After that, you can have the bloody genie for all I care.”

Alainn sits back down next to Myla. “You’re right. I’m sorry. We’ll figure out how to help them. Does the book say anything else useful?”

“Well, it seems like the woman who left me with the necklace must be a part of this society, but it doesn’t tell me how to find her. It says that no one can wish to find the society, or its members, for the safety of the society and the genies.” Myla moves the book closer to the lantern. “I’ll keep reading.”

Alainn curls up on the ground to rest. It’s not long before Myla’s eyelids get heavy. She rereads the same paragraph five times, before she finally sets the book aside and turns off the lantern. Maybe sleep will clear her head.

Myla wakes when rough hands hoist her from the ground. She screams, and a hand clamps over her mouth. Alainn wakes, only to be grabbed as well. They are dragged from the cave, hands tied, and thrown upon horseback. Black cloaked riders hold them firmly in the saddle, as they gallop into the darkness.

Zynia fumbles with the ornate clasp on her cloak, which doubles as a lock-picking tool. She dislodges the pieces she needs and sets to work on the chains binding her. She’s free in moments and wraps the cloak around her, making sure to cover her hands and feet. 

When the guard enters, it looks as if she’s sleeping on the floor. He sits a plate of food by the door and nudges her with his foot. Zynia leg swipes the guard and jumps atop him before he can cry out. She bangs his head onto the stone floor, knocking him out. 

Zynia takes the guard’s knife, but leaves the sword. It’s too large for her. She opens the door and peeks her head out. The guard at the end of the corridor is facing away from her. She weighs the knife in her hand before launching it down the hall. It strikes true.

She bolts down the hall and yanks the knife from the guard’s body, before arming herself with his knife. Creeping through the corridors, she hears voices ahead. She looks through a doorway and spots the exit, along with three Black Cloaks. 

Zynia takes a steadying breath. 

She throws the first knife as she runs into the room. The second leaves her hand just before she ducks into a roll, dodging the swing of a sword. As she comes up, she pulls the first knife free from the guard’s body. She spins, only taking a split second to lock onto her target, and it’s over.

Zynia slides five knives into the straps on her clothing and walks out of the dungeon. 

What do you think of the story so far? Click here to read Part 2! If you enjoyed this short story, we would love for you to leave a comment, or even buy us a cup of coffee! We promise to share!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

Logo Reveal

Welcome, Fantasy Nerds! Today we have a couple of surprises for you! You may have noticed the first surprise already…we changed our logo!

New Logo

We wanted something a little more unique and customized. We thought fairies would be a great fit because they are tiny, clever, and sometimes known to be mischievous…like us! Also, the poses reflect our relationship pretty well. Clever is a bit more reserved, and WTF draws Clever out with her wild magic! Do you think the fairies fit our personalities?

We also made our fairies match our favorite colors. Clever’s is purple and WTF’s is green. It’s a good thing the colors go nicely together. And with the logo change, we decided to update the blog slightly to fit with the logo. What do you think of the changes?

If you need a logo of your own, we got ours designed on Fiverr by kingdom_queen. We thought she did an incredible job, and wanted to give her a shoutout!

Giveaway

We wanted a way to mark the occasion and thank our followers for being a part of our journey. What better way than with a giveaway? We thought the perfect giveaway for this moment would be…stickers! We will choose two winners to receive excusive custom stickers. One of the stickers will be of our new logo! The others will be fantasy related stickers, of course. To enter, just comment on this post with the mythical creature that best represents you. You must also follow our blog to qualify, so make sure you hit that follow button!

Want a bonus entry? Visit us on Instagram and comment on our giveaway post.

Happy Mother’s Day

We also wanted to take a moment to say Happy Mother’s Day to our mom and grandma. They have both been super supportive of our blog from the beginning and take the time to read our posts. We love you both!

What Do You Think?

Do you like our new logo? Does it give you a better sense of who we are? Don’t forget to comment for a chance at the sticker giveaway! If you would like to contribute the price of a coffee toward the cost of our logo design, click our Ko-fi button below.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

Best DIY Projects for Fantasy Nerds

Welcome, Fantasy Nerds! We thought it would be fun to share some fantasy-themed DIY projects. Here are some creative ways to bring a little magic to your world!

Parchment Paper

For a Fantasy aesthetic, parchment paper is perfect! It’s quick and easy to make. I use parchment paper in my crafts often, as well as for my Dungeons and Dragons character sheets. All you have to do is place a piece of white printer paper on a cookie sheet, lightly cover with plain coffee, and cook for five to seven minutes in the oven at 325! I also sometimes burn the edges for an ancient scroll look. 

Bullet Journal Spreads

The awesome thing about Bullet Journals is that you can do whatever you want with them! I love to create fantasy-inspired spreads in mine. With the right stickers and washi tape, it’s super easy to track your calendar or goals in magical fashion. The Ravenclaw spread is one of my favorites that I’ve done. I also found an amazing set of mermaid washi tapes that I used to create some pages. Do you use a bullet journal? If so, look for some ways to make it magical!

Potion Bottle Decoration 

You can find glass corked potion bottles at just about any craft store, and they’re only one to two dollars in price. You can add lights, crystals, flowers you’ve hand picked or even a scroll made with parchment paper! I have multiple around my house, and a shelf of them in my crafting room. I love to feel like I’m in an apothecary or a magical potion shop! 

Magic Wand

I love this clever idea for how to make your own Harry Potter wand! All you need is wooden chopsticks, a hot glue gun, and paint. You take a chopstick and make designs and/or a handle with the hot glue. Let the glue dry and then paint it however you like. The pics above are of the wands that I made! Check out this blog post for more detailed instructions: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/151756/harry-potter-crafts-diy-wand/

What Do You Think?

What did you think of our DIY ideas? Are there any that you are excited to try out? Do you have some other ideas to share with us? Let us know in the comments! If you found this post helpful, you can always buy us a cup of coffee. We promise to share!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

P.S. We’ve had a couple of people ask about the coffee button. If you click it, it will take you to our Ko-fi page, where you can leave a message and donate a “coffee” ($3). Click the button for more info!

The Doorway

I had the dream again, it was the third time this month. I’d been having it for years, and I couldn’t seem to escape it. I wiped sweat from my brow, closing my eyes against the memory of it. 

Darkness, empty space that if I keep walking, no matter the direction, eventually leads to a giant wooden door. Strange mist looms around it, as if hiding what is beyond. A circular metal handle hangs from the middle, almost out of my reach, it’s shape is an intricate serpent eating its own tail; Ouroboros. 

Every time I reach up to touch the handle an androgynous voice echoes in my head “If you choose to go through this door, you will never return. Your old life will be lost, but a new life gained.” I could never discern if I was terrified or curious, or maybe both at once. Fear always won, I never failed to wake myself up.

  But each time I had the dream, my curiosity grew. My thoughts always came back to the Ouroboros, I knew what it meant. The cycle of life, death and rebirth. It was my only clue. What would happen if I stepped through? What was on the other side? Would I truly never return? These questions ate at me, constantly lingering in the back of my mind. 

I would find myself daydreaming about the possibilities ceaselessly. I couldn’t help myself wondering maybe I was meant to go through, maybe this new world was unfathomably wonderful. But my fear of what horrors could be beyond the doorway always crept back, shaking me free of my curiosity. If I never returned what would happen to me in this world? 

Would it be even worse to never know?

What did you think of WTF’s short story? Would you go beyond The Doorway? Let us know in the comments! You can even buy us a cup of coffee, if you like, by clicking the button below!

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Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

Self-Care for Writers

Welcome, Fantasy Nerds! We decided to cover the topic of self-care for writers this week. Everyone needs to make time for self-care, but we wanted to specifically talk about some ways that writers can recharge our creativity.

Write for No One to See

As writers, we can get caught up in writing for others. We write for “the market” or a specific submission theme. Sometimes we tone down our writing because we are afraid it may be “too much” for our readers, family, or friends. Other times we don’t allow our child-like wishes to come out in our writing, because we think it would be cheesy to write a story where a dragon, a fairy, and a mermaid team up to rescue a princess who only ever wears purple gowns…or whatever story contains everything you love mashed up into one.

Occasionally, just give yourself permission to write whatever is on your heart. You don’t have to show it to anyone. You can just write what needs to get out in order to unblock yourself. You can write something corny that makes you really happy. You can write something terribly melancholy because it needs to get off your chest.

I do this when I feel like I am stuck. I have a job where I see and hear a lot of dark things, but in my writing and reading I usually like to escape into a fantasy. Every so often, it happens that I have things weighing on me that I need to express. Sometimes these dark moments or themes do make it into my stories, and other times I just vent them on paper and no one else sees them. Give this idea a try the next time you feel stuck.

Positive Self-Talk

Most writers tend to spend a lot of time in our heads. Too often, our heads are not an encouraging environment. It takes effort to switch from frequent self-criticism to self-love, but it is a worthwhile pursuit. Taking some time to remind yourself of your positive qualities and successes can be a big help, especially if you do this before a writing session. Try to catch yourself when you have a negative thought about yourself or your abilities, and see if you can turn it into a positive thought. 

Connect with Other Writers

No one is going to understand the joys and struggles of writing better than other writers. It helps to have people who will cheer on your successes and allow you to vent your frustrations. Both of us have grown as writers by working together and learning from each other. 

Even if you don’t know any writers, you can easily find groups online. We have a group for fantasy writers called Clever & WTF’s Fantasy Nerds, and we would love to have you join! Clever is also a moderator and guest speaker for a wonderful group of women writers called Creative Central. You can also look for local writer’s associations to join, if you prefer in person meetings. We encourage you to make an effort to find at least one other writer you can connect with.

Get Excited About Your Story

Keeping the excitement alive is a key to creativity, but sometimes we writers can forget that. Take some time to bring the fun and joy back into your writing process. Create drawings of your characters or a map of your world. Make a collage with actors who would play your characters and places that remind you of the setting. If you aren’t much of an artist, you could even pay someone on Fiverr to draw fan art of your main character. Find a way to celebrate your story that speaks to you!

Reconnect with Your “Why”

Why do you write? This is an excellent question to ask yourself if you’re in a rut. Reflecting on what inspired you to be a writer, as well as why you continue to write is so helpful. Getting back to those roots can be a great way to rejuvenate yourself! 

Read for Pleasure

As a writer I sometimes find it difficult to get lost in a book like I used to. In a strange way, it’s a reminder of what I’m lacking in myself. I’m sure we’ve all felt this way at some point, but remember why we read! To enjoy an incredible story, escape into new worlds, and to gain an attachment to characters is a feeling like no other. It’s healthy to take a break, and read just for the pure joy of it! It can also help you feel refreshed, especially when you’re experiencing someone else’s writing, and not lost in your own!

What Do You Think?

What are some self-care practices that help you? Do you like our list? Let us know in the comments below! Self-care is important for you as a person, and a writer! As always, if you enjoy our blog feel free to buy us a cup of coffee, we promise to share! 

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Thanks so much for reading!

-Clever & WTF

The Culling – Part 2

This is the conclusion to Clever’s short story, The Culling. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here.

I have my theory, but I know the other villagers will need more before they agree to fight back against the monsters. I need more information to come up with a sound plan. The creatures caught me off guard before and were able to knock me out before I learned anything. This time I resolve to be a better spy. 

I go straight for my tree this time. The monsters seem to come out late at night, and they caught me by the houses, so I don’t think they’ve discovered my hiding spot. I sit in the tree, not daring to move, watching the sliver of a moon rise in the night sky. I hear rustling and the crunch of snow not far off, and hold my breath. 

Last night I made the mistake of rushing down from the tree in my haste to catch the monsters. Tonight I wait and listen, searching for any sign of movement in the darkness. Goosebumps creep up my arms as I watch lanky shadows stalk from the woods to my right. 

They appear humanoid, but hunch forward with their long arms nearly dragging along the ground. As I look closer, I realize it’s not their arms that are long, but the large claws extending from their fingertips. And something is off about their skin. It looks to have a greenish tinge and reflects too much of the moonlight. No, these are definitely not humans.

It’s only once the monsters move out of sight between the houses that I climb down. I stay in the treeline this time, moving until I can just spot the creatures again. I peek around a large tree trunk, hoping they can’t hear the pounding of my heart. I watch as all six of the creatures walk through the wall of one of the houses. 

I blink, uncertain what to do now.

Although I want to stay in the woods, I can’t see anything from here. But I also can’t walk through walls. I crouch and make a dash for the house. I move to the closest window and peek through a crack in the curtains. No sign of them. I move around the corner to the next window, and this time I spot movement.

I close one eye and focus on what I can see through the sliver of the window. One of the monsters sneaks up to a bed and leans over someone sleeping. Eyes flash open and just as a look of pure terror crosses the man’s face, the creature opens his mouth. The person in the bed falls back, eyes closing again. I remember the breath of wind on my face last night before I woke up in the snow. Is this what they did to me?

The monster lifts one claw and places it against the man’s thumb. It drags the claw from knuckle to knuckle. Blood wells up and the creature hisses, recoiling from the sleeping man. All the monsters hiss and back away, turning toward the wall along the back of the house. I don’t stay to see the creatures disappear through the back of the house into the woods. I scramble across the side of the house and press myself into the front wall.

I stay this way until my breathing slows and I don’t hear anymore sounds of movement in the woods. I walk back through the center of town and think about what I’ve seen. It seems clear now that blood is harmful to the monsters, or at least some people’s blood. The blood of the marked. My blood. That must be why they leave the marked alone. They go around testing people’s blood until they find…what exactly? Blood that doesn’t hurt them? I still don’t know why, or what they do to the people whose blood they like. I shudder. 

When I arrive back home, I lay awake thinking about what I’ve learned and what to do with that knowledge. By the time the man who was marked last night begins his trek through town, I have a plan. 

I stand in the town square as people huddle together against the cold and fear. Families group together, and those who are unmarked choose each other’s company over the families who are safe. In the light of day, I can see that the man now marked safe is Walter, who tends the fields just outside of town. When he has finished showing his mark, I step forward.

“I saw the monsters last night,” I say.

A few people chuckle, but quickly fall silent when my face stays serious.

“I saw them walk through the walls into Walter’s home, and I looked through the window as they marked him,” I continue.

“You had a nightmare,” someone shouts.

I turn to Walter. “I watched you wake and start to scream, but the creature put you to sleep. When you woke up, you felt disoriented. You probably had a flash of memory of a green monster breathing onto your face, but whenever you tried to focus on it the memory faded. At least, that’s how I felt after I had been marked. The only reason I can remember what they look like is because I spied on them last night.”

Townspeople start to murmur, and some turn to leave, but the people who were marked are now focused intently on me. That’s fine, the marked are the ones I need.

“I know their weakness.”

The crowd stills.

“These monsters made a mistake. They left a mark on everyone who is capable of stopping them.” I hold up my hand.

People look between each other. Those who are marked stare at their thumbs. I wait until the eyes settle on me again.

“The blood of the marked can hurt them. That’s why they leave us here. I watched as they recoiled from the blood on Walter’s finger. They hissed and fled his house as soon as the blood welled up.” I direct my attention to the largest group of marked families. “We have the power to stop them in our very veins.”

I let that statement settle, watch the shift in posture as people begin to feel something we haven’t in a long time. Hope. 

“I can’t do it alone. There were six monsters last night. I’d like to have more of us than them. Who is willing to join me in protecting our town?”

Tomas and Walter step forward at almost the same time. Some men marked in the last Culling volunteer next. The seamstress joins us, and after a moment a couple of other women step up. Soon, at least one person from every marked family is with us, about 20 people in all. 

For the first time, the unmarked look at us with something other than resentment and jealousy in their eyes. They look at us like we are heroes.

We meet at dusk in the center of town. People are bundled up and stamp their feet against the cold. Nervousness and an anxious energy fill the chill air. We split into two groups, so we make sure the monsters don’t slip in unnoticed. We agree on a bird call to whistle when we spot the creatures. I spent the day making knives, and I hand out one to anyone who is unarmed before we go our separate ways. 

I take my group to my previous spot. A couple of us climb into the trees to serve as lookouts, while the rest huddle against tree trunks. For most of the night all I hear is the others’ breathing around me and the occasional sounds of them shifting position. And then a bird call whistles through the quiet.

I slide down from the tree, and we begin running toward the sound. I dart my eyes in search of movement, as we circle the outside of town. I hear the call again, and turn my head to see Tomas give a wave from the treeline. He points past him toward some houses, and I nod for everyone to move forward. 

We step from the woods and walk towards the monsters standing between two houses. My hands shake, but I grip the knife my father made me in my hand for reassurance. These monsters are scared of us, I remind myself.

One of the creatures rushes for us, claws kicking up snow as it digs into the ground. I lift my knife to my palm and slice it open as the monster lunges. I’m knocked to the ground, but I shove my bloody palm against the creature’s chest. It lets out a high pitched scream and scrambles backward. 

A couple of townspeople cut their own hands and hold them out to the monster, as I push myself up. The creature cowers, and it’s skin where I touched it blisters up like a severe burn. The metallic scent of blood fills the air, as the other villagers are emboldened by the wound and cut their own palms. We surround the monsters with outstretched arms.

“Do not hurt usss. We will go,” one of the monsters hisses out.

I’m taken aback for a moment at the realization that they can speak. Some of the townspeople lower their arms.

“We can’t allow you to hurt anyone else, not at our village or any other,” I say.

“Pleassse,” the creature begs, “we were onccce human like you.”

I blink, not expecting this turn of events. The people behind me gasp and murmur.

The monster must take this as a sign of encouragement, because it takes a small step forward.

“We were cursssed.”

“Why?” I ask.

The monster shifts its feet. “We were raidersss. We brought about much bloodssshed. And then we came to the wrong village. A witch who lived there sssaw the ssslaughter and curssed usss. ‘Blood will bring you both life and death.’ Sssince then, we have needed blood to sssurvive, but sssome blood was toxic to usss. Mossst of usss died out jussst trying to drink blood to live, until we figured out thisss method of tesssting.”

“So you were cursed for a good reason, and you continue to shed blood in order to preserve your own lives? You learned nothing from this curse then,” I say. “We will let you leave, but only because I don’t want any of my friends to get hurt killing you.”

The monsters sigh and turn to go.

“BUT,” I call after them, “we will spread the word about what happened here far and wide. All the humans will know your weakness. The people you have marked will serve as protectors over their towns.”

The monsters turn back, hissing, but they listen.

“So you know that word has spread, we will tell each village to mark their entrance with a handprint in blood from the marked. Then, you will know not to bother them. And just in case you manage to find a way to survive the years ahead,” I continue, “the marked will tell our descendants about the power in their veins. Our ancestors will serve as protectors for generations to come.”

The creatures look ready to rip our heads off, but their nostrils flare at the scent of our blood. We step aside, and they flee back into the woods. We cheer and hug each other before marching back to the center of town. Villagers hear the noise and wake to join us. There is loud chatter as we share the tale of what happened, and those who were with us show off their palms. 

We make a parade to the entrance of town, the heroes of the night carried upon shoulders the whole way. Each of the protectors places their palm against the front gate one-by-one amid cheers and whistles, leaving their own mark behind. Then, those who can travel saddle their horses and head into the fading night to spread the word far and wide about the power we had inside of us all along. 

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-Clever & WTF