Tag Archives: fantasy

Flight of Fiction 0.6

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The crowds parted before the parade’s advance. Little girls clamored to the street, waving blue and green streamers and shouting the princess’s name in their clear, small voices.

Aileen dismounted. She held out her hands to the children, smiling. She reached out and touched their hair and quietly asked for their names. Excitable voices shrunk into shyness the closer she came to them, but the little ones’ eyes glowed with wonder and happiness at the princess’s approach.

And they always cast fearful glances at the tall figure in red that loomed behind the princess. Aileen acted as if there was nothing amiss. That is, until a little girl screamed when The Guardian got too close.

“There, there,” Aileen said to the girl, holding out her white hand to beckon her back, “it’s all right. My Guardian will not hurt you. The Guardian is only looking after me, the way your big brothers might look after you.” Aileen turned to the creature and smiled. The orange fox around her shoulder flicked its tail happily, as at ease as its mistress.

The Guardian said nothing, but watched. She took a single pace backward. The little ones inched forward as Aileen questioned them and laughed with them.

Aileen melted further and further into the crowd. After all, these were only children, and could do her no harm. The Guardian drifted behind her, a red ghost.

Near an alley, a shadow flickered through the passel of children. A hooded man crept around the brightly colored children, advancing so low that it seemed his belly was scraping the ground. He was stealthy enough that no one noticed him slither closer and closer to the Princess. No one noticed the black Rat keeping close to his heels.

No one, that is, but the Guardian.

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Flight of Fiction 0.5

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It was autumn in the city of Kharador.

The sunlight on the rooftops shined golden yellow and flickered on the green and blue banners hung in the streets, from windows, in the market, along the city walls. Even the stoic palace guards who roamed the streets on the back of their great grey Wolves wore green and blue ribbons on their shoulders. October was here, and October meant only one thing for the people of Kharador: the Princess’s Birthday.

The Hounds were barking up and down the cobbled roads, their masters close behind them, running about to buy ale, to buy apples, to buy fish and beef and festive clothes. It was the height of the harvest, and the bounty gathered from the island city’s pasturelands and orchards was plentiful and delicious. The air smelled of apples and sunshine. From the iron gates that opened to the sea to the outskirts of town on the edge of the forest and fields, Kharador radiated light and energy and joy.

In the city’s center rose the palace of the king. White towers that stretched towards the heavens lay behind high white walls heavily etched in heraldry and scenes from legend. Even the door was white, and even though it was as heavy as iron, it looked as delicate as ivory. This door bore a carving of the king’s Beast: the Great White Wolf.

Its great jaw opened, and the door sung outward. A flourish of trumpets, and the parade began. The Princess had come to walk among her people.

It was a small parade. The Princess Aileen was not fond of crowds. She was surrounded on all sides by her father’s knights, riding the backs of impeccably groomed grey Wolves. She rode the back of a white horse with a silver fox’s mask on its narrow face. The Princess wore a dress as blue as the heavens, making her pale face glow like starlight framed by a barely-tamed cascade of curls as auburn as autumn itself. Around her shoulders rested a fire-orange Fox, her Beast.

The Guardian walked before Aileen, gripping the horse’s harness tightly. The Guardian walked in red from head to toe. Even its face was obscured by a mask and a veil. It was tall and slender and silent. The townsfolk stepped aside to let it pass, hardly daring to look at it lest its invisible eyes pierce their minds and drive them mad, or lest it reach out with its long claws and swipe at their faces, or any number or fearsome retaliations The Guardian was rumored to be capable of. For the silent watcher gliding in front of their radiant Princess could not be human, could not be of Sprite-kind, and could not even be part of this world. It did not belong. It could not exist apart from its deadly function as the Princess’s bodyguard. To the people of Kharador, and to the people of Berasia beyond, The Guardian was fear wrapped in a red cloak.

For the Guardian had no Beast.

Every child in Kharador had a Beast of his own, given to him at birth to walk with him until the day of his death. Even the poorest of families kept a Beast in its home. The humans of Kharador were all of the proud line of Hounds: Wolves and Dingoes and Bloodhounds and Bulldogs and Foxes roamed the streets and walked at children’s heels. The Sprites held the tradition of the family Beast by keeping Rats or Ferrets or Weasels or Mice, according to family heritage.

The Beastless were outcasts, misfits, rebels, enemies, or beasts themselves.

The Guardian had no Beast.

The Inner Debate

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She sits on the futon behind me, her ankle propped on her knee and her other foot tapping, slowly but impatiently. She’s letting those long claws on her toes click against the bottom level of the coffee table, like a cat who scratches the furniture for attention. And, also like a cat, her long golden tail is swishing lazily next to her, as if it had a mind of its own. 

“Glare all you want. But you’ll just have to wait.”

“I’ve waited for months,” replies Ameryn. “Wait, make that years. You started this when you were thirteen. You’re how old, now?”

“I know, I know. I’ve been busy.”

“You’ve always been busy. Busy being everything but a writer, which this–what did you call it?–bog thing says that you are.”

“It’s called a blog. And I’m working on it.”

“You haven’t written a word about me. Don’t tell me you’re considering another rewrite. Not after all we’ve been through.”

“Your story is set in stone for all I’m concerned. It’s just challenging making your story as compelling or believable to others as it always has been to me.”

She rolls her eyes and lets her head fall back against the top of the futon. “It’s a fantasy. It’s not supposed to be believable. It’s a prehistory. You can make it as believable or as unbelievable as you want.”

“It’s cliche in parts, though.”

“All stories are cliche. There is nothing new under the sun.”

“I’m still ironing out the details of Berasian mythology.”

Ameryn sighs. “All these excuses will never get you anywhere.” I look back. Her half-lidded eyes manage to plead with me, in spite of her queenly bravado. “And Zon asked so nicely that you finish it.”

I look down at the carpet. Up at the ceiling. Over at the glowing screen of my laptop. Anywhere but into the gaze that mirrors mine.

“And Enilor. And Narina. And Aileen. They’ll be grandparents by the time you get done, at this rate.”

“I KNOW.” I look at her. “I’m sorry. You intimidate me.”

Ameryn smiles. She gets up and walks over to where I sit on the desk, putting one of those small, but powerful hands on my shoulder.

“Now,” she says, a laugh in her voice, “whose fault would that be?”

And she vanishes. 

The Beast, Part XVI

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Eli gulped. “He’s the what, now?”

“The king.” Ava beamed.

The door swung open, and a man entered the room. His shoulders filled the doorframe, and he had to duck to enter the room. Despite his imposing frame, his eyes glowed with kindness and joy.

“So this is the man I have to thank?” He pumped Eli’s hand, which seemed the size of a mouse in the King’s massive palm. “I am eternally indebted to you, Eli, shepherd, for the safe return of my daughter.”

“Well, she sort of returned herself.” Eli smiled weakly. “I didn’t do much in the way of bringing her back. She sort of brought me, as she may have told you.”

“But without you, I’d still be a Beast,” Ava interjected. “You’re the only one who had the courage to help me. Give yourself a little credit.”

“Ava told me of what you said to the Prince out in the fields,” the King continued, his face the picture of pleasure. “Never have I met a wiser, more perceptive man.”

“Nonsense,” Eli said. His face was beginning to radiate heat. “I just spoke the truth.”

“And you saved my daughter. Which, if you know her well, you’ll know takes some doing.” Ava and the King shared the same elusive twinkle in the corners of their deep green eyes. “I cannot allow such heroism to go unrewarded. Name your wishes, and I will grant them to the best of my power.”

Eli sat up and thought for a moment. “I should like all the sheep returned to my homeland. My countrymen’s livelihoods depend upon those sheep.”

“Done. And?” The King leaned forward, as if prepared to hang on Eli’s every word.

“I should like my parents to be comfortably settled for the rest of their lives—somewhere in this country, safe from the Prince, and somewhere pretty.”

“Again, done.” The King glanced at Ava. Eli looked at her, her bright eyes watching him anxiously. “Is there…anything else you might want?”

Anything else?” Ava asked. Eli had never heard a voice more hopeful.

Eli looked at his friend. There were still little bruises on her face, but they couldn’t tarnish the whiteness of her skin or dull the light in her eyes. She was every inch a Princess. He kicked himself for not having guessed it before. But he knew she was remarkable, whether she was the daughter of a king or not. If he was very lucky, he thought, she might call herself his Princess—one day.

“If you—if you don’t mind,” Eli said quietly, “I shouldn’t mind getting to know you better.” He smiled. “If that’s all right with—all concerned—‘specially you, er, your highness—I mean, your ladyship—”

“My name is Ava,” she replied, her smile a sunbeam. “And I wouldn’t mind at all.”

 

THE END

The Beast, Part XV

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“Who said they were being eaten?” Ava’s eyes held a mischievous glint.

“Well, what else might have happened to them?” Eli asked, bewildered.

Ava’s smile faded. “Ours is a country of weavers and garment makers. Your Prince was stealing the sheep from his people to give to my father as a peace offering—as if I could be bought with sheep. He stole from his people so that he could have his way with me.”

“The wretch,” Eli growled. “My family was starving—and we weren’t the only ones.” He sighed. “Your father must be a mighty man to need so much appeasing.”

“I should say he is,” Ava replied, her smile electric. “He’s the king.”

The Beast, Part XIV

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When Eli awoke, it took him several minutes to orient himself to his surroundings. The last thing he knew, he was lying in a field at the foot of a pompous Prince. But now it seemed he was in a bed, and the afternoon light was coming in a wide window, and there was a little bit of pressure on his foot.

With some effort (his head and neck were very sore), he strained forward to see Ava sitting at the foot of his bed, smiling at him. She was dressed in white woolen robes trimmed in snowy rabbit fur. Her hand was on his foot.

“Oh, good,” he groaned. “You’re all right. And you’re little again. I mean—littler than a beastie—”

Ava laughed. It was such a musical laugh. “Perhaps the Prince hit you harder than we thought.”

“What happened?”

“Well, while you were speaking,” she said, her green eyes cast downward, “Saying all those lovely things, I started turning back into a person. So when he hit you, there was little I could do to retaliate. Thankfully, father had gotten wind of my return, so he ran out with all of his men to meet me, and caught the Prince just as he was about to hit me.” She beamed at Eli. “The Prince is gone, now, never to return. And you and I are safe.”

“Oh, how lovely.” Eli said, slowly propping himself up on his elbows. “I suppose I’m exiled, then.”

“Most likely.” Ava replied. “I hope you don’t mind too much.”

“No, not at all.” His joyful expression faded as he remembered something very, very important. “But what about my—”

“Parents?” Ava finished. “My father has sent for them. They will be here tomorrow, with all their worldly goods.”

“They’ll travel light, then.” Eli could do nothing to conceal how much this news pleased him. “Your father must be a man of incredible means, then.”

“You might say that.” Ava smiled. In fact, she had not stopped smiling. There was a spark in her deep green eyes now that Eli couldn’t quite interpret.

Eli sat all the way up. His head was quite clear now. Now that his head was so clear, a question came into his mind that had occurred to him earlier but had slipped away after some interruption.

“Ava,” he asked, “if it wasn’t you that was eating the sheep, then what was?”

The Beast, Part XIII

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“YOU WILL NOT TOUCH HIM,” Ava bellowed. “OR ME, FOR THAT MATTER. RUN HOME, LITTLE WOLF, WITH YOUR TAIL BETWEEN YOUR LEGS. ALL YOUR MEN DID. WHY DON’T YOU FOLLOW THEM?”

“Avaline, come back with me,” the Prince said. “Lay aside this foolish anger. With me you will have all you ever need.” He smiled up at her.

Ava snarled and took a heavy step forward, the scythe-like claws coming dangerously close to the Prince, who stood with sword drawn. “LIAR.”

“Ava, Ava. Look at you. You’re a freak of nature.” His smile was one part pity and three parts condescension. “One little cut and you balloon into a monster. Ava, dearest, if you come home and marry me, I will even overlook your monstrous tendencies. No other man can promise you that.” More of that smile. “Come, change back, and let me see your pretty face.”

“If her pretty face is all you want to see,” Eli yelled down at the Prince from his vantage point, “then what makes you think you’re worthy of her?”

“Silence, boy, the grown-ups are talking.”

“No,” Eli cried, and slid down Ava’s mighty arm to stand nose-to-nose with the offending Prince. “No, I will not be silent. You only see her beauty, but I have seen much more. I know intelligence when I see it. Do you know how clever she is? No. Do you know how much she can endure? No. Do you know how bravely she faces death? No. Do you know the expression in her eyes when she hears a lovely bit of music? No.”

The Prince’s mouth hung open, gaping in astonishment. The sight encouraged Eli.

“In short, your majesty, you have no claim on this creature behind me, for you know nothing about how beautiful she really is. I saw how lovely she was before I knew she was a human—before I knew she was a girl—and I’m no hero. I’m just a shepherd,” Eli said, almost apologetically, “but by all I hold dear, I stand for this girl, this creature, that stands behind me, if only so she won’t have to stand alone against the likes of you.”

Without blinking, the Prince snapped his mouth shut and struck Eli on the side of the head. The field went black, and Eli did not see what happened next.

The Beast, Part XII

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There was a crackling from the forest’s edge and the rumble of frantic little goat hooves against the ground. Avaline and Eli whirled around to see men on horseback barreling from the woods, sabers and lances drawn and down. At their head, the handsome Prince, his eyes blazing with jealous rage.

“Run!” Ava cried, and Eli needed no encouragement. They sprinted down the field, the horses hot on their heels. Lances thudded into the earth around them. One grazed Ava’s shoulder, and she toppled to the ground.

Eli drove his heels into the ground, standing over her with his knife drawn. He made up his mind that he would not touch her. Never again. Not while he drew breath.

He found himself borne into the air, higher and higher. The horses below him reared and whinnied in fear, and all but the Prince ran from the sight of the thing that carried Eli on its shoulders. Ava was a Beast once more. And she was angry. 

The Beast, Part XI

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“What happened to you, Ava?” Eli asked.

Ava’s smile slipped away. She reached down and started tugging blades of grass from the ground with jerky movements. Her jaw clenched.

“The Prince barged into my father’s home and demanded my hand. I and my father said no, but he would not take ‘no’ for an answer. He took me away, sneaking into my room at night.” She shook. “He bore me over the mountains, far from my home, smuggled me into his castle. Not even your King and Queen knew I was there.

“He said that I had no choice but to agree to marry him. Still I refused. I fought him tooth and nail. One night I ran away, but his men brought me back. I even lied and told him I was betrothed to someone else.

“He flew into a rage, screaming that if he couldn’t have me, no one would. Then he stabbed me. Neither of us were prepared for what happened next.

“I turned into that thing. There is an old fairy blessing that protects my family from harm. None of us knew how it worked, since we all live such charmed lives, but it seems that bodily harm turns us into creatures capable of protecting ourselves.

“My new shape terrified me. I burst through a stone wall and ran as far as I could and found the cavern. I could not go back—I could not go home, not as I was—and then they began to hunt me. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, so I frightened them all away. All of them except you.” She looked at him, her gaze a question. “Why weren’t you frightened of me?”

“Well, I was—”

“At first, yes, but after a while you weren’t afraid at all. Why?”

Eli shrugged. “Any beast that loved music as well as you did couldn’t be too fearsome.” He smiled at her, pulling out his ever-present pipe. “Before the Prince came banging on my door, I made up a song to play for you. I haven’t had a chance to play it until now. May I?”

Ava nodded, and closed her eyes, her head tilted up to the sun. The music wound around them both, and even the trees leaned in to listen.  

The Beast, Part X

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As dawn crept into morning, they finally hit the level ground. They came upon a farm with goats clambering over a sunny green hillock beside. The girl knocked and begged for provisions, which they found shoved into their humbly outstretched hands. Cheese and bread and a flask of something fruity. After walking a ways, they sat on a rock in the sun. Eli ate rapidly, suddenly aware of how hungry he was. The girl gnawed on her food like a starved animal—which in many ways she resembled.

They sat, brushing crumbs from themselves and basking in the morning light. The sun brought temporary warmth to an otherwise chilly day.

“Where are we bound?” Eli asked.

“My father’s house,” she answered. “He will protect us. The Prince will not give up so easily, but my people have ways of keeping wolves at bay.”

Eli nodded. He was silent for a while, hesitating to ask the next question on his lips. But she was looking steadily at him, as though anticipating what he was going to say.

“What is your name?”

“Avaline.” She smiled. “But you may call me Ava.”

The Beast, Part IX

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“Run? Run where?”

“To the back of the cave. There’s a way out. Quickly!”  Her bare feet carried her swiftly over the rocks. Eli stumbled behind.

“Wait! Why are we running?”

“The Prince,” she called. “There’s no way he’ll let me get away this easily. Since you were seen with me, he’ll call you an accomplice and have you killed. For your own sake, boy, run!”

And they ran. They ducked through long winding tunnels that echoed with the cries of bats and fouler creatures. They reached a tiny chink in the cave wall and squirmed through, tumbling out into the night.

“Where are we?” Eli gasped.

“The other side of the mountain,” the girl panted, her hands on her scabbed knees. “At least, I hope we are. Come on.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him down the mountainside, deeper and deeper into the valley below.

The sun rose in a rush of crimson. In the heat of the journey, Eli had forgotten it was winter. Now that they were advancing at a quick march instead of a sprint, he became aware of how cold it was. So did the girl. She shivered in her rags, her skin goosebumped and pale, but she did not hug herself to get warm, nor did she allow her teeth to chatter. She only marched forward relentlessly, dragging Eli behind her.

“Aren’t you cold?” he asked after a long space of silence. “Stop a moment, and I’ll give you my coat.”

“Not important,” she said, shaking her mane of tangled brown hair, not even turning to look at him. “I’ve got to get home. I’ve got to get away from him. I can’t stop to get warm.”

“Where are you from?”

“I am from the country next to yours. We are garment makers and weavers. Your Prince came to our land in search of a bride, and he found me pretty.” Here she turned enough where Eli could see her profile. She was watching the sun to get her bearings, but her face had hardened into an unreadable mask. “He stole me away.”

“Most girls would envy your position,” Eli said tentatively.

She stopped, breathing hard, her hand over the gash in her side. She looked at the sun awhile, panting, before she looked Eli in the eye again.

“I did not want him. Perhaps had he spoken to me, asked me questions—or even asked my name—I might have considered giving myself willingly. But he did not. Love is not love when taken by force.”

She swallowed hard and turned away, plunging down the mountain to the valley below. 

The Beast, Part VIII

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“Where am I?” the girl asked groggily. She blinked as one who’d been asleep a long time. “What am I?”

“Ah—well—you were a great hairy beast a few minutes ago—well, a big dead one, anyway—but you’re pretty, now—I mean, pretty human now…”

The girl held her hands in front of her face, rubbing the fingers together. She smiled.  

There was a rustle in the woods beyond the cavern’s mouth. The girl sat up suddenly, peering into the dark.

“Did someone follow you?”

“No, why would anyone—”

“Someone followed you. Look.”

One of the Prince’s soldiers was staring at them from behind a tree. He jumped up and fled back into the woods.

“A scout,” she hissed. “Or a spy. Or both. Well, Eli,” she said, gripping the shepherd’s shoulder and pulling herself to her feet. “It seems we only have one choice left for us.”

“And what might that be?” Eli gulped again. Something about the girl was far more fearsome than the Beast she’d been a few moment before. It was a nice sort of fearsome.

She leveled her glittering green eyes on his and said: “We run.”

The Beast, Part VII

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Eli rocked back on his heels, staring numbly at his fallen friend. He let the dagger slide from his limp hands. He reached out and stroked the hide of fur and scales, sad that the Beast was gone, but glad that it was no longer hurting.

Slowly, he stood to his feet and turned, walking heavily towards the cave’s mouth.

There was a flash of light and a crack like stone splitting. A rush of wind knocked him to his knees, and another gust sent him sprawling. He rolled to his back and sat up, gawking at what he saw occurring behind him.

The Beast’s body was shrinking. Not so much shrinking as it was deflating like a feed sack emptied of its contents. All that remained was a massive hide, crumpled like cast-off clothes on the floor of the cave. The hide had collapsed flat, save for one small lump in the very center.

The lump stirred.

Eli crept back to the body of the Beast. Mustering his courage and bracing himself for whatever it was he might see, he pulled back a layer of hide to reveal what lay beneath.

He saw a girl. She was curled into a defensive ball, dressed in rags. In the dim light of the cave, Eli saw bruises and scratches marring the whiteness of her skin. Her hair was a tangled mass of brown.

There was a deep gash in her side, but she was breathing. Eli shook her gently. Her eyes opened—they were green as the sunset on summer grass.

Eli gulped.

“Miss? Miss?” he whispered. “Are—are you alright?”

The Beast, Part VI

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Word of Eli’s nightly battles reached the ears of the Prince, who decided to visit the village with an entourage of soldiers. They arrived at his door while he was sleeping during the day, as had become his habit. The Prince gave several sturdy knocks before Eli came to the door, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

“May I speak to Eli, the shepherd?”

“Present, your lordship,” said Eli, quickly standing at attention.

“Ah, yes. Good to meet you. There have been some interesting rumors about you, Eli, and these rumors have brought me to your door. I hear that you fight the Beast every night in the woods.”

“This is true, sire.”

“And have you had any success?”

“I have learned that fighting the creature is a fruitless activity,” Eli said. “It is not the Beast who eats our sheep. Its cavern is full of wolf bones, but not a sheep skeleton is in sight.”

“I see,” replied the Prince, stroking his royal beard. “So what do you do up there, night after night? Does it not try to kill you? Why hasn’t it followed you into the village? Surely you realize your behavior is endangering the people of your country.”

“It does not try to kill me,” Eli said, swallowing hard. “It wants to hear the music I play on my pipe. My nightly concerts prevent it from entering the village. Otherwise…I do not know what it would do.”

“Precisely,” said the Prince with a diplomatic smile. “Regardless of whether or not the Beast is eating our sheep, it must be exterminated. In the morning, you will guide me and my men to the creature’s hideout, and we will rid the nation of this menace once and for all. Until tomorrow, sir,” said the Prince, and he left Eli’s home to make camp in an adjacent field.

Eli knew he had to warn the Beast. In the darkest part of midnight, he sallied to the woods.

Panting from exertion, he reached the Beast’s cave.

“My friend,” he gasped, “the Prince is here, and he means to have your head mounted over his fireplace. Tomorrow he will come here and kill you—he has ordered me to lead him here. I cannot disobey him. Those who disobey royal decrees meet death. Oh, my friend, you must run, and run tonight.”

The Beast looked up at him forlornly. It was collapsed on the floor of its cave, breathing heavily.

“I CANNOT RUN, ELI,” it groaned, its voice a shadow of what it had been. “I CAN HARDLY EVEN BREATHE. THE DAGGER HURTS TOO MUCH, AND I AM SO…TIRED…”

“But you must,” Eli cried in desperation. “I cannot stand by and watch them kill you. I cannot stop them. They will come and…and…”

The Beast’s great green eyes were fixed on his. They counted his tears and his sorrowful glances to the ground.

“DRAW THE DAGGER OUT, MY FRIEND.”

Eli stared at the Beast. “But I can’t. You said you’d die if that dagger came out.”

“I WILL,” replied the Beast. “BUT I WOULD RATHER DIE AT YOUR HAND THAN AT THE HANDS OF HEARTLESS STRANGERS.” The creature smiled a small, rueful smile.

“I can’t…”

“YOU MUST,” it said, “FOR MY SAKE, ELI. PLEASE.”

Eli stepped forward, slowly, hesitatively. The Beast would not take its eyes from his face, even as he knelt beside its heaving chest, even as he placed one hand gently on its ribs and wrapped the other around the dagger’s hilt.  Its eyes remained fixed on him, even as he gave the dagger a sharp tug and pulled it free.

The Beast sighed. The lanterns extinguished, and its head sank to the ground.