Leiko and the White Wolf (cont)

Ko walked down to the ferry, the mud squelching under her feet, pulling at them when she went to take the next step, as if the ground didn’t want her to leave.

The man who’d stopped her merely watched her board, watched her father skulk away in the pouring rain, soon lost even to his sight.

He took note that Ko never turned to watch him go.

She stood with her back to him, saying nothing, her hat her only real protection, and her hands bunched up her clothes as she swaddled herself, trying to keep in what little warmth remained.

A weight fell across her shoulders, a shimmer of color, and she realized the man had given her his own robe, a bit too long, but warm with his own heat, and a tinge of something between musk and mandarin, not unpleasant….but not her father.

She murmured a ‘thank you’ over her shoulder, still not moving.

He gave the order to move, and the ferry creaked and groaned and listed slightly.

Ko grabbed the rail for balance, and stumbled a bit as she got used to the motion.

The current seized the boat, and it swerved, then straightened, and glided across the water as if there were no rain at all.

Realizing what happened, and not wishing to know, Ko watched the river water spackled with fat raindrops rush past them.

“You are using magic to make the ship resist the current.”

“No, Ko. Magic is in another realm; I am using power.”

She turned that over a moment, then told him the truth.

“I don’t understand.”

“That is why you are here.”

“I am here,” she sighed, “because my father is a poor fisherman.”

He chuckled, to her surprise.

“That is a level-headed conclusion, but not entirely the truth; I sought you out, Ko.”

She turned then, watched him, though he was still looking out over the stern of the ferry.

“Sought me out?”

He turned and walked toward her; he was slender, but strong, and moved with confidence on the wet deck.

His face was kind, but authoritative; he was handsome, in a way the men of her homeland were not. His skin was darker, and age had stamped a seal of authenticity to it that he would probably die at sea.

His facial hair framed the lower part of his face, neatly trimmed, and tinged with gray.

His eyes had radiance to them, not natural, but a soft light seemed to emanate in the whites of his eyes. Ko couldn’t be sure if it was real or her imagination.

“There is much to explain, but the journey is not long; take your ease under the awning, and think on your questions. I will answer them all.

“You have nothing to fear, Ko, not from me, or any man on this ship, or where we are going.

“Do you believe me?”

She sensed this was some type of test, and knew what he wanted her to say, but she decided not to say anything anyone wanted to hear; she was the victim, after all.

“No, I don’t.”

He said nothing, but inclined his head, looking at her in a new way.

A small smile flashed across his lips, and he went back to looking over the stern, as she went underneath the awning.

Sitting down, she watched him watching the past, his bare torso pelted by the rain, as she sat shivering, not entirely from the cold, under the awning, and wondered what her future held.

Justice = Just Us

So as a cop, you don’t even have to engage the tween with the TOY gun in the department store. No criminal record, no threat to you, himself, or anyone in the store, but he never even got a ‘drop your weapon.’

Just pull up, and bang.

When we’re innocent, cops plant evidence.  Alabama ‘police’ did it for 10 years. Where’s the outrage from #ALLLIVESMATTER?

Make up your mind:

Don’t want us ‘thuggin,’ but won’t hire us.
Don’t want us on welfare, but don’t want us educated.
Don’t want us holding political office, but it’s okay if it’s a ball or a microphone we sing and rap into, as long as we’re not decrying supremacist / oligarchal bullshit disguised as ‘policy.’

Then redline the districts to remove black representatives, and put them in districts where prisoners can’t vote.

Then talk about ‘reverse discrimination’ when it used to be called ‘hiring on merit’ before.

Worried about terrorism? Guess it takes one to know one.

Time to segregate, on our own terms, for our own reasons, to rebuild ourselves, our youth, and our communities. Stop celebrating Kwanzaa for a week when we’re not living out the principles 24/7/365.

We weren’t brought over here to live, but to work, and as long as we’re not turning a profit for anyone else, we can ‘go back to Africa.’

But let’s get back to Black Wall Street instead. Let’s build schools where our youth will excel and begin to invade the halls of power: science, law (and its enforcement),  finance, technology, and trade, in the same numbers we seek to invade the NFL and NBA.

We’ll be talking about a different country then; help is not coming from the outside, and for damn sure reparations are not coming for slavery. You’re paid less for the work you actually do, as opposed to the work you didn’t, where no one was paid at all.

Stop rapping about money and hoes and guns and drugs, and pull your pants up so you can stand up and man up. You do know by now that showing your ass means anyone can screw you, and screw you over?

If you ‘love your hood,’ stop poisoning its people with drugs imported from countries that don’t like you either, and shooting your brothers, and impregnating your sisters with babies you can’t take care of from behind bars. You leave them vulnerable, like Tamir was vulnerable.

Stop riding around in expensive cars through neighborhoods that look no better than bombed out Syria, talking about ‘I got mine’ before the cops add it to the Criminal Forfeiture fund to pay for their bodycams, which they’ll turn off the next time they aim for your heart.

Poverty is a mindset; it just manifests as an economic factor.

Wake up. Strap up (your mind first, your home second).

The revolution has started, and it’s not only televised, it’s being broadcast all over the world.

Resolve in your spirit, now, to answer this question:

How long are you willing to remain a target?

Overmorrow (6)


I waited just outside the Summoner’s door as once again the yellow, green and blue eyes of the night creatures flecked the darkness as they came to watch me and wait for the ideal opportunity.

In time, as they eyes crept closer and closer, Jirus appeared at the top of the rise; his eyes were still that pale blue.

“Mitre Harkin.”

At his greeting, the eyes began to recede into the trees.

I walked up the rise and he took my hand.

“Vilus is back at the camp, and the meat is cooking. Did you do what you needed?”

“I did.” I stopped, and since he held my hand, he stopped with me.

“I may need your help later. I’m afraid that the Dark Wood won’t be spared this time.”

He nodded.  “I didn’t think it would be; with the departure of so many, there are holes in its protection, and what magic remains has faded, or weakened, to the point where we’ve been vulnerable for some time.”

We began walking again.

“We’ve been relying on reputation to keep out intruders for some time. The truth is, Mitre, you wouldn’t have been able to get as far as you did if everything was still intact.

“The original barrier prevented travel through the last of the hill country, and you were very lucky to survive.”

That was a sobering thought, but I let it pass.

“So no, we won’t be spared, and we’ll help in any way we can.”

This time, he stopped, and looked up at me with a rather fierce expression.

“But I’ll not put Vilus in harm’s way for you.”

I was taken aback, and said so. “I would never ask you to do that.”

We started walking again.  “War makes men do all sorts of things they’d never do.”

I had no answer for that either.

We arrived at the camp, and Vilus ran up to me and hugged me.

“Were you able to help her, Mitre?”

The most expedient thing to do in the moment was lie, one of the first things I vowed never to do when I donned the temple’s robes. Already what Jirus told me was proving true.

“Yes Vilus, I was.”

She smiled.

“The food’s ready,” Jirus called.

As we ate, they regaled me with some of their more dangerous hunting stories, and while they weren’t exactly feral children, if their exploits were true, they were relentless in their pursuit, and brutal in their killing.

They said nothing of their family, or how they came to be alone, much less survive, in the woods all these years, and nothing of how they gained their hunting prowess, and why the animals feared them so.

Something told me that if I asked, I would lose them, so I didn’t.

That’s a tale for another day.

It was what my father often said to us when we’d ask him for another bedtime story because we didn’t want him to go, and we didn’t want to go to sleep. Sometimes he’d indulge us, but when he didn’t, that’s what he’d say.

I felt it applied here.

Soon time and quiet exacted their price, and the light in the children’s eyes was flickering as their lids closed as they too, fought sleep; but as the fire died, their stories trailed off into light snores

Knowing I was safe as long as I stayed close, I watched the unfed fire dance across the embers, and darken, and took what rest I could in the remainder of the night.



In the morning, Vilus woke me.

“Mitre Harkin, it’s time to go.”

I woke up, rubbing my eyes, my face, as I looked about to see Jirus not in the camp.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He got your horse.”

“He found it alive?”

She smiled. “Yes, and it’s already saddled for you.”

She took my hand.

“It’s not dark, Vilus.”

“I know.”

She gave my hand a little squeeze.

Friends again.



Jirus held the reins as I mounted, and I gave the bag with the rest of the gold.

“That’s very generous, Mitre.”

“You’ve more than earned it. I only hope you find it of some use before the demons come, before their masters gain more power.”

“I wish we met under better circumstances.”

“Well, we have a chance to make them better before we meet again.”

“I’d like that.”

“Me too,” Vilus said. She handed me my crossbow.

“Thank you. Both of you.”

“Until we meet again, right, Mitre Harkin?”

“That’s right, dear Vilus. That’s exactly right.”

I turned the horse, who took off at a gallop, eager to be back on familiar ground.

I didn’t bother turning around this time, because I didn’t want to see the empty space.

The sun was rising.

Overmorrow had now become today.




Overmorrow (5)



The door opened, and the soft red light of the hearth fire glowed invitingly.

“Come in, Mitre Harkin, before the scent of the Hunters fades, and the animals grow overbold.”

I stepped inside, and the being that greeted me was somewhere between fae and monster.

It was female in form, tall, angular, a smooth, with platinum hair fanning across its shoulders like a silvered cowl, and I took a step back.

“Do I frighten you in my true guise?”

Before I could answer, it began to change: the shape grew more feminine, the flesh took on color, tone and shade, and the silver hair turned the same shade of red as the fire, as did the eyes.

It never turned its gaze from me, and I could feel the magic tingling under my skin.

“Is this more pleasing?”

Not able to trust my voice, I nodded.

“Relax, Mitre Harkin; you’re among friends here.”

“And how did you know my name.”

The Summoner smiled. “A little bird told me.”

She pointed to a cage with an open door, where the pearlescent white bird sat, now more interested in its seeds than in my face.

“Well then,” I said, “I’m going to guess that if you know my name, you know why I’m here.”

“I do, and it’s important we don’t delay.”

She led me to a small table with a small lantern, and lit it.

“Sit, Mitre.”

I sat, and she took the seat across from me, and began to change again, into an exact replica of Xantara.

“This is the girl you seek across worlds?”

“Yes.” Questions were burning on my tongue, but time was of the essence, and I had to tell myself that despite my curiosity, I didn’t really want to know.

“Very well.” The Summoner didn’t change back to her true form, and sensed my discomfort.

“If this is who I am summoning, this is how I must remain,” she explained. “There are rules governing these things too, Harkin. We are not allowed to do as we please.”

I cleared my throat. “Good to know.”

She smiled without amusement. “Give me your hands, and call to mind what you know of her.”

I obeyed, and she closed her eyes for a long moment before she spoke again.

“Ah, you are fond of her, but not in love.”

“She trusts me; I would not violate it, and she is of another time, and young.”

“You are a man of fortitude, for she is a surpassing beauty.”

“My message…?”

She smiled again, with amusement.

“Indulge an old crone, Mitre Harkin; I don’t get many visitors these days.”

I said nothing so that she could get on with it.

Another long moment, then more words.

“The demon gravely frightened you.”

I swallowed, then replied, “Yes.”

“It wants to use you as bait, to kill the Protector.”

I said through gritted teeth: “Yes, that is the message I want to tell her; she is returning tomorrow, and I don’t know what time. I have to warn her.”

“Very well.”

Since my ride out of the temple gates, it seems my senses were heightened: colors were more vibrant, the air had scents riding its currents, and it seemed as though I could see distances as if they were near.

The sounds of birdsong were never sweeter, and the tangy musk of the horse I rode was sharp in my nostrils, but not unpleasant.

During the walk through Dark Wood, the night seemed to want to blend me into it, and I wasn’t afraid, even though I was with the Hunters. It might also have been Vilus conveying her own fearlessness through her small hand into me, but that didn’t feel entirely true.

Now, I was aware of a sweet, slightly cherry scent from the hearth, the even breathing of the Summoner, the crackling, hissing dance of the red flames and the small branches, and the redolent scent of patient age and fleeting time laced with pine and spices the Summoner used in her art.

My own breathing evened out, and the rigors of the day seemed to peel themselves from my spirit.

I wasn’t aware that I’d closed my own eyes until she spoke again, in Xantara’s voice.

“Mitre Harkin?”

My eyes opened, and I gasped: the Summoner’s eyes were milky white, with nothing else inside them. A jolt of fear that Xantara was struck blind flitted through my mind.


“I can’t see you, Mitre, but I can hear you. What have you done?”

It was Xantara’s voice.

“I…I got a Summoner to call upon you; something’s happened, and you need to know.”

“Oh…What is it?”

“I got a visit from a demon; it first sent a messenger, that only manifested part of itself; it snatched away my covers, and then there was laughter, loud and deep, beneath the floor when I set out to warn you.

“They’re going to use me to get you, Xantara. You mustn’t come back today. They’ll strike at you through me.”

“Oh, Mitre! That you’ve used such unwholesome means to warn me…”

“It’s nothing, my child. I had to do this.”

The Summoner looked away from me, as if someone else was in the room.

“What? Oh, it’s nothing Antarus, I was just practicing a spell over distance.”

“Antarus? Xantara, who are –“

“Oh, I’m sorry Mitre Harkin. I didn’t tell you? I found another Protector!”

She reddened. “Or rather, he found me. He’s one of the male sect who escaped the slaughter of the last war. His name is Antarus; he’s been with me awhile, and,” she reddened again…”we’re betrothed.”

I knew it wasn’t physically possible for my heart to sink, but it felt that way.

I admit that I was careless, that I panicked, and I blurted out the truth as I knew it.

“He’s going to kill you, Xantara.”


“Yes, he’s in league with the demons. You must leave, now.”

“I don’t understand…”

“I’ll explain everything. Meet me in the Dark Wood, at the Summoner’s. I’ve friends to guide you.”

“Mitre Harkin, I do trust you, but…”

“Then trust me now, dear one. Flee for your life.”

The Summoner began to change again, the shoulders broadened, the hair grew light and curly, and the eyes went from white to blue.

“Ah, Mitre Harkin. Foolish of you to speak to her so, when you knew I was here.”

“Antarus! Don’t you dare harm her!”

“Or what, Mitre? You’ll perform a ritual for a god of stone to hit me with a rock?”

He started laughing.

“No, you lowborn dog, I will do it myself.”

He stopped laughing.

“Xantara is ours, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve blocked her senses, so she doesn’t know about our conversation; I’ll even let her come back to you, just to prove that we can take her from you, whenever and…however…we want.”

His tone changed from threatening to casual, as if we were talking over a cup of wine.

“You’ve been a friend to her, Harkin. She blathers on about you all the time, and how wise and kind and good you are, so I pretended to be those things too, and now,” the Summoner’s arm went out in the air, as if around someone’s shoulders,  “she belongs to me”

“Why would you turn against your own kind to aid in the destruction of man?”

“Why do you think, Mitre?” The Summoner’s arm settled back on the table, her hands clenched not quite into fists, but close enough.

“They promised you something. You idiot child, they’ve lied to you. They do nothing but lie; they are incapable of doing anything else!”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Harkin. Don’t you see?

“They’ve already done it.”


“I’m immortal.”

“Then you sold your soul for a trifle. If you come for Xantara, I will fight you, Antarus, with everything I know.”

The Summoner sat back, and smiled the way Antarus would; smarmy and cocky, confidence corrupting into arrogance.

“Good, then, Mitre Harkin. It shouldn’t take long.”

The Summoner began to change back to Xantara.

“Mitre Harkin? Are you still there?”

I was sick of heart, and gut, and mind, but I couldn’t let her stay there.
“Yes, Xantara, I’m still here.”

“What was it you wanted to tell me?”

“Nothing, my dear. I’ve taken enough of the Summoner’s time. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“I look forward to seeing you again, Mitre Harkin. I enjoy our time together.”

“As do I, dear one. See you soon.”

The Summoner smiled as Xantara, and the smile faded as she began to change back into her original form, all milky substance, a spirit coated in liquid flesh.

Her expression, much as it could be, was stern.

“Your fondness for her made you reckless, Mitre.”

“I know.”

“The war will come sooner than later, then.”

“I suppose. What will you do?”

“What I’ve always done in troubled times; rely on the Dark Wood to keep intruders at bay.

“That will be ten gold pieces, please.”

I dug it out, but had to ask. “Why does something like you need gold?”

She took the pieces, and held them in her hands, gazing at them with a small smile on her lipless mouth, then looked up at me with those milky eyes.

“It’s pretty.”

Black smoke began to roil in inky tendrils up the chimney.

She inclined her head toward the door.
“Mitre Harkin, I wish you well.”



Overmorrow (3)

They would use Xantara’s affection for me to catch and kill her.

I was sweating, and were it not against the rules of the gods I served to do so, I would have sworn.

The silence that followed was even more nerve wracking; I dared not get up to retrieve the covers, and the light of my night candle seemed too tenuous and meager to venture. Still, sitting up against the headboard and cowering would serve no purpose either, so after some minutes, where nothing else seemed it was going to occur, and the desire to sleep had fled, I got up.

Snatching covers, then? A rather childish prank.

My pounding heart had begun throb once more, and my breathing evened out.

I ran a hand through my hair, more out of distraction than a need to straighten, and went over to my writing desk, where my brandy decanter sat, and poured myself a healthy dose.

I’ve never had them come to me before. They’re after me now, to get to her.

   Fool! You should’ve known it would only be a matter of time.

That meant the temple was now at risk too, though it was all but abandoned in patronage and congregants, all stragglers really, like me, who, for whatever reason, just didn’t want to let go.

I possessed no certain powers or gifts that they would need, and I realized the childish prank was a message: they could get to me, and when they did, they would use Xantara’s affection for me to catch and kill her.

I will return overmorrow. The day after tomorrow.

We were now into the wee hours of this day, which was all I had to try to send her a message, though I had no way of knowing how to do that.

Find a way.

There was only one way, and it was not an easy one. It was perilous in terrain as well as the occupants in it, but it would be my only chance.

In the hillsides surrounding the temple was a hidden path, stony and steep, that led into the dark woods, known for having little sun and nothing good inside. It was a pestilence on the land, but we’d defeated them long ago, and they remained there, also in dwindling number, being unable to prey any longer on the populace.

A victory the gods of light had won, at great cost.

But their ancient magic still pulsed in putrid waves throughout the woods, corrupting tree and creature and stream, and it seemed they too, were unwilling to let go.

In this, I was fortunate, for now I could seek a Summoner, one of those who were able to bridge the gap between worlds untold and unspeakable, and ours.

For the remainder of the night, I packed for my journey, though I had no idea how long it would take. I was a fair enough horseman, and handy with a crossbow (which for all I knew they could burn in my hands).

While packing, I shook, and mumbled, and drank brandy, but the overall factor was protecting Xantara. I told myself I was not, in fact, running away; if they killed me, I’d have no further part in things, and therefore would not be blamed for the inevitable, even if history branded me a coward.

Still, it felt like I was doing exactly that: no one would know if I left for good, and when they found out, they wouldn’t care.

They scared you off without even touching you.

I ignored that voice, and checked the crossbow to make sure everything was still working. I didn’t hunt often, but I used this when I did; I liked the feel of it, the swiftness of the arrow, the finality of the kill, and the silence of the falling prey, like Xantara’s falling demon.

It was almost graceful the way it fell, until it crashed.

I admit to being surprised the noise of the table breaking brought none of the other clerics running, but when I looked over, the table had been as it always was, so there was no reason to fear.

Leave now, Harkin. You’re conflicted, and trying to put it off with useless memories.

I began to leave, and the sound of footsteps behind followed me to the door.

I stopped and turned, and said to no one visible, “You can’t have her.”

And once again, the laughter, far more low and sinister, rumbling through the soles of my feet, filled the room.

I somehow managed to close the door with my hand shaking.       



The sun was just kissing the edge of the horizon awake when I finally set out.

I would reach the dark woods in the late afternoon; it was doubtful if the horse would go in, or if I could maneuver him if he did, so I’d already resolved to do the last leg of the journey on foot, which meant I would be in the Dark Wood at night.

Since no one had ever explored it to chart it, at least that I knew of, what happened in there at night was even more of a mystery than what happened during the day, but I’d also resolved to make it out alive, otherwise, this undertaking was purposeless.

It would be no mean feat if I survived, but would I be coherent.

I shook my head; too much speculation on the unknown. I’d have to trust myself, and this animal, to deal with whatever came up.

Leaving my thoughts, I gave over to admiring the view.

The hills were yet green, with a tint of autumn in the leaves now, and birdcalls sounded in cacophonous harmonies in the trees, as morning flocks of geese took wing to their feeding places.

The air was sharp, and clean, invigorating me, and I promised myself that if I did live, and remained sane, I would explore the surrounding countryside more frequently.

Duties were binding, and sometimes limiting, and kept one from doing things far more important.

The gods were served were benign, and I would go so far as to say, somewhat ineffective: gods of trees and stones and water, small gods of nature to micromanage what the bigger gods of planets and stars and weather had no time for, or didn’t want to be bothered with.

The people, for a time, seemed to be content with that, and the temple, while not wealthy, prospered well enough until the years of drought, and everything died but the trees of the Dark Wood.

Those brave enough to try and bring out the occupants to help us were never seen again, and the pyres of livestock and people burned high and long during those years.

Those who didn’t get sick, or try to wait things out, packed and left.

With their leaving, the temple, and its useless clerics and ineffective gods, fell from favor, and the offerings dried up along with the crops.

Some of the clerics, like me, who had no other family, simply waited for the end, and lived off the last of the stockpile we’d saved, and somehow made it through the winter.

That spring, the rains returned with a vengeance, and had remained more or less consistent, but the people who trickled in now to try their hand were mostly new farmers, so the land would take some time to turn fertile again for abundant crops; they could still eke meager ones while they worked together to establish themselves.

They were willing to do the hard work in order to claim the land their own, but few had come to the temple to replenish the congregation.

But we had another problem: with the Protectors gone, and the creeping demise of the temple, whose minor gods had now abandoned the faithless, the demons, sensing the absence of power to stop them, were returning.

And with only one Protector left, after they killed her, the clerics were the next line of defense they would take down.

I then recalled the dream of the young boy who’d beheaded Xantara, but whether it was dire prophecy, or just a nightmare, I couldn’t know.

I was on a fool’s mission, to save a world that didn’t deserve it, and to place the burden of that squarely on the shoulders of a young, untried girl who shouldn’t be alive, and trusted me.

You can’t have her, I’d said to the demon that dogged my steps, and even now, was certainly trailing me.

You can’t have her.

And now, I had to make that happen.

At any cost.




Overmorrow (2)


On my walk around the grounds, I met the sexton, who only nodded in that grim way he always had, as if a perpetual crown of thorns in a black cloud burdened his brow.
I smiled, for all the good it did, and continued on.
Satisfied that no one else remained, I retired for the night, and drifting off to sleep by the light of a single candle, I dreamed I saw Xantara’s head taken, not by a demon, but by another Protector, unknown to me, a lad of strength and beauty, who’d captured her heart, only to murder her.
I felt myself tossing, but was unable to wake, when a vision from my youth emerged, as if from underwater, as if I was scrying, as an unclean oracle, or a foaming, raving prophet…

It was late, but the old librarian, the one with the tortoise-shaped head, who seemed as if, also like a tortoise, he would live forever, had taken a liking to me, confessing that I looked like the son he’d fathered on a young girl shortly before coming to the temple.
Given his age, on which I could only speculate, I had no idea how he’d know what an infant would look like in his young adulthood, but I didn’t press, and he didn’t elaborate, and it was of no great matter to me.
I had to study, and he made a pot of his special coffee, which was now thrumming in my veins, and sleep would not be forthcoming tonight.
Finding the compendium I needed, I opened it, perusing casually before I got to my subject; it seemed to contain the history of everything, written twice.
I was about to locate my subject, and turned the page, when an illuminated illustration caught my attention.
It was a picture of a young dark-haired girl, praying at night as she stood in her novice whites, in the middle of a stream, the moonlight bathing her from above, and the water from below.
Above her, in the star-strewn sky, she was circled by fierce, hideous demons, with gore filled grins, and straining jaws filled with rows of teeth made for rending flesh and snapping bone.
Their weapons were as sharp and gruesome as their assorted teeth and claws, dulled with ages of reaping hapless souls.
Grim as their visages and weaponry was, they seemed unable to break the barrier of prayer she’d erected about herself, and as I peered closer, admiring the depth of the detail and time the illustrator had taken, I saw that in their expressions there was something of a hallowed fear, and a dread anticipation…They were ensnared, about to die, and they knew it.
Fascinated, I proceeded to read the text:

These are the Protectors, weaponless watchmen standing guard between the realms of flesh and spirit, the divine and unclean, and the living and the dead.
The origins of their power are lost to time, but in their orisons, they are as lethal as any demon, the latter of which, oddly, gather to hear the prayers that ultimately destroy them.
No one has ever recorded the prayers for posterity, but the language is said to have a sibilant quality that renders it almost as whispered, and therefore as indecipherable as it is incomprehensible.
This compendium has no records of their gods or demons, their names, or when they became Protectors. Once our mutual fates were intertwined, as we relied on their protection, and they relied on us for sustenance; as such we were gradually beginning to understand each other.
They are seemingly by nature reclusive, shy, furtive to the point of sneakiness if their motives were evil.
In what few encounters we’ve engaged, they are affable, but loathe to get close. 

There is an unseen barrier, brilliant in its concealment, that we may not cross despite our best efforts, either by strength of sinew, or power of arrow.
In time, as men do when they are unable to solve mysteries, we decided the difficulty of pursuing any kind of relationship with them any further, possibly decimating the storehouses of our youth in future generations, was not worth the risk.
With the passing of years, since we could not get close, we became suspicious, and such allies as they had among us began to dwindle, and in the winter of their fiftieth year among us, we used our trade with them to gain access behind the shield, driving them out to seek and make their way some other place.
Our clerics, who’d witnessed their powers first hand in matters ceremonial, and it is rumored, in cases of demon attack and possession, advocated that we needed them, and would find ourselves at a disadvantage in their absence.
We did not listen, and when the demons tried again, they found our collective belly exposed.
If you are reading this, know that even now they are here, and my hand grows erratic as I hear the sound of their laughter mingling with the screams of the slaughtered.

And so I end, imploring that if it is at all possible, find them.
Find them soon.

Amid the din of screams and weapons smacking flesh, grunts of effort and groans of misery, pleas for mercy and cruel laughter denying it, my eyes flew open and I screamed.
My scream reverberated in my bedchamber, and something ripped my covers from me, and I scrambled backward to sit up.
At the foot of my bed, a deathly pale hand with short, sharp nails, pulled the covers to the floor, and low laughter, wrought through with ill intent, ascended through the floor.



Kneeling by the light that beamed in a soft corona about her, not quite an aura, setting her prayer shawl and priestess gown alight, hair coiled about her head like an ebon halo, I came through the door and held my breath at the vision.

Above her was a monster, weeping in rage, his muscles bunched, his thick and heavy neck holding up his massive head and horns.

Her whispered fervent prayer was binding him, and the axe just shuddered in his trembling hands.

“Xantara, is this one yours?”

She didn’t turn, or give answer, or acknowledge I was there.

The monster turned its head, regarded me with pleading in his soulless eyes.

“You were going to kill her; I can’t allow that, and you deserve your punishment.”

At my refusal of intercession, it redoubled its effort, but Xantara never wavered; I could hear the reverberating sibilance of her foreign, arcane tongue, long vanished from these walls, long banished from these shores.

No one else knew she was here, for no one else could see her.

The colors in the stained glass windows deepened with the dying light, and the candles flared a little brighter as the power of her prayer began to manifest, and the muscled monstrosity that would have taken her head, and probably mine, seemed surprised to find its neck cleaved clean through, almost as if with the very axe it carried, and the knobbed head tumbled in ponderous slowness, to crack on the black marble floor.

Its body listed like a great old dying tree, and shattered the great oak table where the ceremonial cups and candles were, cracking and splintering it like a ruined spine.

The dust cloud was massive, and dark, acrid, smoking blood seethed across the marble, hissing and pitting it as it puddle and pooled.

She stood up and looked at me, as if the creature she’d just slain was nothing more than a reed blown over in the wind.

“Good evening, Mitre Harkin. I’m…sorry…about the mess. I’ll clean it.”

“It’s alright, Xantara. There’s no one here but the two of us, anyway. It’s no great matter.”

She smoothed her gown as she approached.

“They keep coming after me.”

“I’m afraid they won’t stop; your powers have grown.”

“I’ve thought to renounce them.”

“Your powers? You mustn’t.”

“Why not?”

“We’ve been over this, my child. You are the protector.”

“It’s the job of the gods to protect us.”

I laughed.

“Don’t laugh at me, Mitre.”

“I’m not, my dear. I’m laughing at the innocence of your youth as it concerns the gods; they choose their servants, not always willingly. Truth be told, not even always wisely.”

“Are you now saying—?“

“I’m saying, Xantara, that your role in the events to unfold is irreplaceable, and unfortunately for you, irrevocable.”

She sighed, and even in her forlorn state, was rife with divine sweetness.

“You will help guide me though, won’t you Mitre?”

“I will ever be here for you, Xantara; you have my word.”

She nodded, a tear running from her eye.

I took the corner of my prayer shawl, and dabbed it away.

“I must be going,” she said.

“I understand.” The demons didn’t regard the time of day, and she was tired. Rest replenished her powers, and exhaustion weakened them.

But she hesitated.

I inclined my head, inviting her to continue.

“Can you make it so I don’t have to kneel and pray so long?”

I thought it over; that would mean facing the Council, making them aware of her existence, or believing me insane, for which the consequences would be immediate, and final.

“You know I can’t appeal to them without revealing your presence.”

“I know, but I’m tired of hiding. Perhaps I will reveal it to them myself.”

I shook my head.

“Xantara, they will pull you from both sides like quartering horses.”

I put my hand on her cheek, and she leaned into it.

“If rest comes so uneasy to you now, child, imagine it never coming at all. They will use you until your very essence is a husk, and they will toss it in the fire, and forget you, taking the credit for your victory.”

She placed her hand over mine, removed it, but held it.

“My dear Mitre, always so wise.”

I chuckled, and she smiled. It was beatific.

“My innocence again?”

“Yes. Go, my child. The hour grows late.”

She nodded.

“Overmorrow, I will return.”

“I await the welcome vision. Farewell, Xantara.”

She gave a small, endearing curtsy. “Farewell, Mitre Harkin.”

Truth be told, I should have been afraid of such burgeoning power in the hands, heart, and mind of one so untried (for there was no fear in her at all), but I was not, and would have cause to regret it later.

Looking back to where the monster had fallen, there was no trace of severed flesh or steaming blood, and no thick hafted weapon to leave behind the threat of death.

It was as if she’d merely stopped praying, and was now leaving.

I turned back toward the doors.

She seemed to glide down the black marble path, the temple doors parted of themselves, and in the last rays of the sun, she faded like an unfulfilled wish that never came true.





When the Broken Dolls are Screaming

She left me here alone with them again.

I asked her not to; I always ask, but she always forgets.

I try not to look at them, but the room is only four walls, and I’ve read all the books in the case now, some more than twice.

I do the, read the books, to keep from looking at them.

They seem whole, serene, even, their painted poker faces never moving.

Dust motes drift in the persimmon light of a dying sun, and there’s an air of expectation, though no one’s here but me.

And them.

Their eyes glitter as they track me aimlessly moving about the dark and stuffy ‘guest quarters,’ for such is my dwelling called.

The days of glory, when it housed royalty, heads of state, politicians, and valued courtesans (two sides of a coin, that), had long past.

It was now little more than a storage room containing forgotten tributes and trinkets of those times, but the dolls took up the most space.

They belonged to Doll Kensington, a woman child with a moue for a mouth and the morals of a…

No…no, I will not brand her a whore; she was voracious in her appetite, and highly skilled at sating them; she enjoyed sex unapologetically, and when expedient, or necessary, charged highly for those skills.

I was a fool to think I could save her

She was a fool for laughing at my foolishness.

Even now, I wonder if her spirit is the one within these dolls; I can fell the heat of the hellfire in their eyes, the longing for revenge.

They are, after all, no different from their namesake: her eyes glittered, but had no life, her limbs were pliant, but without strength, her face was garishly painted, and her red, red lips were cold.

But I never touched her.



I was alone in the bar.

   Life and music, women and smoke, vice and danger all danced around me with the familiarity of tired old couples no longer in love, clinging to a tattered remnant of a happy, fading memory, even as they trampled it underfoot.

   In the bottom of my glass, I saw myself.

  It wasn’t appealing, so I ordered another to drown the face, but it only floated to the top again, and looked at me with sad, defeated eyes.

   “It’s on me,” a voice next to me said, and a pale hand with painted nails slid money across the bar, and an old hand, bristling with white hairs and missing a finger, slid it off and took it to parts unknown.

   I didn’t look up, or say ‘thank you,’ or do anything.

  The pale hand went from the bar to my thigh.

   “I can make it better.”

  “Only for awhile.”

   “It’ll have to be enough, love.”

   I tossed back the whiskey, felt it burn my blood, and followed her out into the abyss.


Inner Cage

Inner cage  Outer rage

Kill the people Turn the page

Bleeding in an alleyway

Watching darkness hunt the day


We’re the only monsters here

Gods of violence, blood and fear

Rule blue heaven overhead

Die not with me when I’m dead


I am dead to faith and hope

Love is but a hanging rope

I’ll not dangle; Best beware

I will roast your heart so fair


Toss you like a broken knife

Dare you still to be my wife


Break inside the inner cage

Sail the sea of outward rage

Take me safely back to land

with your roughened, gentle hand


When your love has calmed the beast

Claim his heart your wedding feast

Ever fast and ever true

In the inner cage





© Alfred W. Smith Jr.  2015


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