Posted in serial, Seventh

Seventh Part Eleven

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten

The shadows claimed her only a little ways from the entrance. Her lantern did little to alleviate the darkness she walked through. The sound of her steps and breathing echoed around her, amplified by the emptiness of the stone walls around her.

Despite hearing every minute sound, Crystal heard nothing to indicate anyone else moved around in the shadows with her. If the blood fae were here, she couldn’t detect them.

She stopped, a little hesitant on the path and soft laughter came to her.

“You return again and again, even despite the odds against you.” Blake’s voice did not echo, which disturbed her more as he stepped into the dim ring of her lantern’s light, letting the amber glow color his features.

“I came to make a trade with Lucinda,” Crystal said defensively.

“I know that well,” Blake said and walked a circle around her. Crystal had to turn to keep him in her view. “Tell me. Do you know the story of the young girl who sought help from the dwarves to break the curse upon her?”

It surprised her that he would ask about a story and had to tip her chin up a little as he came to a stop in front of her. “I know it,” she said. “She was given a curse at birth and sought help from the dwarves to break it. She agreed to seven years hard labor in exchange for an item to break her curse.”

Blake inclined his head. “And yet, time moves differently for dwarves. She served her penance and gained her item, only to find it had not been seven years but seven centuries.”

“It’s an old story,” Crystal said.

“Indeed, but do you know what happened after she learned how long she had truly been serving them?”

Crystal shook her head. “Only that she sought the dwarves out a second time but could never find them.”

“Indeed. You humans like to add ‘happily ever after’ onto your stories. There isn’t always a happily forever after, sometimes it’s only ‘forever’ after.”

Her heart left bruises on her ribs as it pounded in her chest. Try as she might, every breath she took came in meager and shallow.

“I only seek the releases of my brothers,” Crystal said and Blake smirked.

“I know that as well,” he said and motioned. “This way.”

She moved carefully to keep him in the lantern’s light. It seemed as if he led her down one short corridor before Lucinda’s throne room opened up before them. She passed the final two columns, glancing up at each of her brothers, still slumbering.

Lucinda herself smirked. “One bag of snow for one brother,” she said. “Do we have an even trade?”

“We do,” Crystal said and held the bag out to Lucinda.

Lucinda took it and frowned a little as she studied the leather pouch.  “This is very small,” she said.

“You never specified a size,” Crystal said and tipped her chin up. “Nor did you offer me anything in exchange for the knowledge of how to make it work.”

Lucinda’s hands clenched. “So I didn’t,” she said. “I will only offer to wake your newly released brother.”

Crystal hesitated. Not doing so could leave her and Flint trapped in the caves, and Clay forever bound to the stone column.

“Agreed,” she said and Lucinda inhaled, clicking her fingers. Flint dropped to the floor with a groan and Crystal gasped before she darted to him.

“Flint,” she said.

“Your information, Crystal Cleary. We have an agreement.”

She’d made a mistake and stood up slowly while Flint continued stirring and sitting up on the ground.

“If you look inside, it will appear empty. It’s only by opening it and turning it over that you’ll find the snow. It cannot be given, only traded and it will only work for a year and a day,” Crystal said.

Lucinda hummed. “A clever piece of work. I do question what other fairy you had to trade.”

“I traded no other fairy.”

Flint had managed to stand up and caught her arm, his expression still dazed. “Crystal?”

“I’m okay,” she said and put a hand to his fingers, feeling how cool and clammy they were. “One final deal, Lucinda.”

“A final deal? What did you do, Crystal?” Flint squeezed her arm in worry and she smiled a little.

“She’s made an agreement with me,” Lucinda said. Her tone had grown icy. “One item for one brother. Six items in total. And now she only needs to retrieve the last item in order to release her brother. Are we agreed, Crystal Cleary?”

“We are,” Crystal said. “Name your last item.”

Lucinda inhaled. “I require a burning coal from a dwarven forge.”

Crystal’s heart sank. Blake’s warning had become clear now. There were two things fairies weren’t likely to cross. Angry spirits.

And Dwarves.

“You can’t,” Flint said.

“I have to,” Crystal replied.

Blake chuckled again. “These caves are a labyrinth,” he warned. “You’ll only become lost trying to find the dwarves. I will offer my aid to get you to the dwarves.”

She hesitated and looked at Flint. “Can you find your way by yourself?”

“I think so,” he said. “Maybe I should go with you.”

A head shake was her answer. “I know why I have to be the one to do this. Don’t risk yourself.”

“Perhaps I can aid you both,” Blake said. “I do believe the brother carries a gold ring. I will exchange that for delivering him to the entrance.”

Flint hesitated and then nodded. “Agreed,” he said and dug in his pocket to find a small bag, which he emptied to reveal the ring.

A shadow snatched it up and Crystal shivered as the shadow formed into what she thought might be a dog.

“My shadow will guide you whenever you are ready.”

Flint looked at Crystal and she inhaled. “Name your price for aiding me,” she said.

“The ribbon in your hair,” he said. “That and nothing else.”

The ribbon she only wore because Juniper constantly lost them. The ribbon she wore so she’d have an excuse to fuss and play with Juniper’s hair when it needed straightening again. It wasn’t hers to give.

“It’s not mine to give,” she said.

“I’ll accept nothing else,” Blake answered. “The ribbon or nothing.”

“Crystal,” Flint murmured in warning and she inhaled before she reached up to slide the ribbon out of her locks.

“Let the others know I’ll be away a while, and tell Juniper I’m sorry about the ribbon.”

“You can’t be serious,” Flint said.

“I am,” she said and pressed it to her lips for a moment, wishing she had another option before she held it out. “The ribbon for your aid to both find the dwarves and then to leave again.”

Blake grinned and took the ribbon. It slid from her fingers as easily as water ran through a clenched fist, leaving only the trace feel of its silk behind.

“This way then,” he said. “And mind the light of your lantern is low.”

She turned the wick down before she followed him down into the cave, leaving her brothers behind as they descended once more.

Blake turned away from the other paths she’d trodden before almost as soon as they’d properly entered the cave. There was no sound, save for the shuffle of her feet, and his steps.

“This part drops a bit,” Blake warned and Crystal hesitated a moment before she followed him down, easing down the steep turn with some trepidation. There would be no coming back from this, she sensed, and followed down, deeper and deeper into the darkness.

Ahead, the glow of her lantern only offered a few glimpses of the stony walls. It painted her surroundings amber and gold, but she doubted the truth of the colors.

The caves branched, but Blake moved ahead, forever fearless and always just a little ahead. He never slowed, but his pace was easy to match as they ventured farther away from anything familiar and ever deeper into the cool, quiet dark.

Slowly, the tunnels they followed changed. No more were the stalagmites reaching for the sky, instead they were rounded, or flattened at the top. The walls began to smooth, and Crystal became aware of a faint heat from somewhere as they moved ahead.

Blake paused, listening at last before he inhaled. “Cut the lantern, before they become aware of our presence.”

Crystal complied, not certain she wished to find out what he meant by ‘they’ or why it sounded almost as if he was afraid.

The lantern extinguished, but she could still see. The light, she realized, came from somewhat farther ahead, cherry red in its glow.

Silent in his stride, Blake moved around, away from the ruddy light. Crystal followed, and he motioned her down as they approached another opening. They both crouched and she eased around Blake to peer out.

Dwarves, she saw. Not the Dwarven miners she might have expected, but rather the smiths with singed and charred beards who pumped bellows. Though short, they carried hefty hammers, each one easily the size of its bearer.

She inhaled slowly.

“They do not barter as we do,” Blake said. “Time means nothing to them.”

“I need a coal,” Crystal said and considered it. She had nothing to offer them, couldn’t risk giving them her time.

She closed her eyes as she thought. How did she get a coal from a dwarven forge, she wondered?

Once more she opened her eyes, looking about and inhaling slowly.

There were plenty of fires, she realized, and saw one not too far from another opening. “That opening there,” Crystal said.

“It’s possible to reach it,” Blake said. “But reaching the forge would be difficult.”

“I have to try,” Crystal said and slunk back along the tunnel.

Blake took the lead again. The only sight she had of him for part of it as he moved was the faint silhouette against the rocks.

They rounded another corner, and there ahead of them, she saw it. The edges of the cave where the smiths worked. She could hear the ring and grind of their work clearly now.

She crouched, one hand feeling at the rocks under her. They were warm to the touch, perhaps baking in the heat of dwarven fires.

One singed her fingers and she jerked back from it. Her blessing, as always, came to hand.

Carrying it back herself was out of the question. She needed a way to hold it. She thought only for a moment before she pulled her coin purse off her belt. The coins she dumped into the larger bag on her. She opened the pouch to its widest before she once again felt along the floor, fingers tender.

This time when it singed her fingers, Crystal plucked it from the ground and dropped it hastily in the pouch. Blake watched in amazement as she peered in to see the coal was a glowing red stone.

“A dwarven coal,” he said.

“And so it is,” she agreed. “You agreed to lead me out again,” she noted and he smiled.

“Then come,” he said. “This way to my mother.”

His steps were steady and sure as she followed him once more into the shadowy depths, heading up instead of down.

 

 

Posted in General, serial, Seventh, writing

Seventh Part Ten

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Crystal stared at the maps in front of her, knowing they could tell her nothing she didn’t already know. They hung on the wall behind her usual worktable, dotted and colored with painstaking detail. She’d made meticulous notes over the years. Her gift worked to let her find things she needed, but it was easier when she knew where to look.

Had it been winter, there wouldn’t have even been a question. She could have brought entire carts of it back from the northern side of the mountain in a day, maybe two. A single bag would have been easy.

With summer nearing its peak, there was no way to get even a flake, much less keep it frozen all the way back to Lucinda’s cave.

The door opened, banging into the wall behind it and she looked up. “Crystal? Crystal!”

Juniper slammed the door shut again and pulled her to her feet. The feel of icy hands on her skin startled her. “You’re freezing, are you alright?”

“Yes, yes, yes! I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I have it.”

“Have what?” Crystal said and Juniper grinned.

“The bag of snow,” she said.

It took Crystal at least a full minute to properly understand what Juniper was saying. “How?”

“I have a friend,” Juniper said. Her excitement came through as a bright glow on her face. “Who knows another person, who once spoke with Godmother Dawn, and they recalled from speaking with Godmother Dawn about where to find a very tiny patch of ice.”

“Ice?”

“Ice,” Juniper said. Her cheeks remained flushed as if she’d just stepped in from a light winter snow, and her eyes blazed with delight.

“Is that why you’re so cold right now? You’ve been digging in ice?”

“What? Oh. Oh, I hadn’t even noticed. That’s not important, what’s important is that I have the bag.”

“A bag of unmelted snow.”

“Yes! The only condition is that I can’t simply give it to someone, I have to trade it,” Juniper said.

“I—oh. You’re not going anywhere near that cave.”

“Of course not. I’ll trade it to you. I can think of at least half a dozen things I’m willing to trade it for. A hot cup of tea sounds lovely.”

“Then one cup of tea, unsweetened, for your bag of snow?” Crystal offered it with a faint lift of her brow. She knew how Juniper liked her tea and the resulting grin was enough to lighten her own bleak mood.

“Agreed.”

“Good,” Crystal said and kissed Juniper’s cheek. “You’re absolutely frozen. It’s a good thing I just took the kettle off. It should still be hot.”

The water was still steaming as Crystal poured it over the leaves. Juniper settled to the kitchen table, her delight clear. The smell of hot tea spread through the kitchen.

“How exactly did you get it?” Crystal questioned as she set the kettle down. She scooped one of the last tarts out of the basket on the sideboard as well.

“Oh, well,” Juniper hummed a little. “It’s a bit…of a story.”

“What sort of story?”

“Nothing serious,” Juniper said. “I just had to go argue with an ice spirit, that’s all. Listen, the bag will only work for a year and a day and it can’t be given, only traded.”

“A year and a day?” Crystal brought the steaming cup over and Juniper wrapped her hands around it.

“Yes,” Juniper said and then smiled, pulling it from her belt. “As agreed. One cup of tea for one bag of snow.”

Crystal took the bag with care. It felt like simple, plain leather and she frowned as she opened it.

“Juni, it’s empty.”

“It is,” Juniper agreed. “Now turn it over.”

A little concerned that Juniper had gotten tricked by a spirit, Crystal nevertheless complied. A few soft flakes drifted out, falling to the kitchen floor where they melted, dotting the floor with miniscule puddles as they faded from crystal to water.

“Snow,” she said.

“One bag of snow,” Juniper said. “It will only work for a year and a day.”

“And after that it will return to being a leather pouch,” Crystal said.

“Yes. If anyone attempts to gift it, it will also stop working, or so I’ve been warned.”

It was probably information she should give Lucinda, she realized, but right now she was more concerned with how cold Juniper was.

“Juni, what did you trade?”

Juniper hesitated and then sighed. “I know you liked that ribbon I wore,” she said and Crystal smiled as she came around to hug her. “And a day of my warmth,” she said.

“Silly, I only like that ribbon because you enjoy wearing it,” Crystal said. “I’m more worried you’ll get too cold.”

“It’s summer,” Juniper replied. “I’ll be alright.”

“Still. I’ll ask Mica and Jasper to stay with you.”

“What about Coal and Jet?”

“I’ll have Coal come with me,” Crystal said.  “Jet can keep watch for us from the farm.”

Juniper smiled and stood, wrapping her arms around Crystal. “Just come back to me, that’s all I ask.”

“Always,” Crystal promised and squeezed her for a moment. “I won’t be long.”

They separated and Juniper smiled. “I have some sewing to do anyways,” she said. “It’s tedious, but I can sit on the back step. It should be plenty warm enough there with the sun.”

Crystal nodded. “I’ll send Mica and Jasper along soon,” she promised.

“Thank you,” Juniper said.

Crystal took the time to collect her lantern, and her longer knife before she left. The farm wasn’t far outside of town, but it still took her several long minutes to reach it. As she approached, she could already see the where her brothers were focusing their efforts, trying to catch up on the work they had missed in the days they’d been trapped by Lucinda.

She knocked all the same, though part of her told her she could have easily gone in. It had been her parent’s home, the same place she’d spent her childhood in.

It wasn’t until Coal swung the door open that she dared to step inside. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I have the next item,” she said and a thump from the other room heralded Jasper as he shuffled in. She glanced at him and then back to Coal. “I want you to go with me, and wait at the entrance.”

“Why not go all the way in with you?”

“I can’t risk you like that,” Crystal said. “But I’m not silly enough to think I can carry Flint all the way back home by myself if I don’t get him out before sunset.”

“The sunlight,” Jasper said. “That’s what wakes us.”

Crystal nodded as she looked at him. “Juniper’s at home, can you and Mica sit with her?”

“Of course, but why?”

“That’s how we got the bag of snow,” Crystal said. “There’s a patch of ice she knew where to find, so she traded one day of warmth for the bag of snow. I just want someone to stay and look after her, just in case.”

“We’ll do it,” Jasper said.

“You haven’t even told Mica,” Coal argued and Jasper chortled.

“We’ll do it,” he said. “Are you certain about this?”

“I am,” she said.

“Then let’s go,” Coal said and pulled another lantern from the hook by the door.

“I’ll go get Mica now,” Jasper promised and turned, shuffling off to wherever their oldest brother had hidden himself.

The path up the mountain was becoming familiar, but Crystal felt her heart pounding as she moved along it. If something went wrong, Juniper could be tangled up in the consequences.

Spirits weren’t likely to actively cause harm, but if their prices weren’t paid, they were twice as vindictive as any fae.

Coal stopped her at the entrance. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to go alone?”

“No,” Crystal said. “But I’m even less certain that Lucinda won’t try and tangle you up in this mess as well.”

“I just don’t want you getting hurt,” Coal said.

“I won’t,” Crystal said. “I know what I can offer and I know what she wants.”

“That doesn’t mean much,” Coal counseled. “Don’t take anymore risks than you absolutely have to.”

She smiled. “I won’t,” she said and took a second to adjust the lantern wick. “I’ll be back. Hopefully before sundown.”

Coal only nodded, but his expression indicated he wasn’t sure he liked it. Crystal inhaled once, slowly, and turned back to the cave. A soft wind made the air inside whistle and she had to steel herself for a moment before she went down, stepping into the darkness of the blood fae’s realm.

 

 

Posted in serial, Seventh, writing

Seventh Part Nine

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight

It was evening by the time they reached the cave. With the evening shadows falling on the rocks, two pale faces stood out, clear against the pitch of the cave behind them. Lucinda chuckled a little as they pulled the cart to a stop.

“The family reunited,” she hummed a little and Crystal drew herself upright, trying to ignore the tension in her neck and shoulders. “One branch of harpy wood, for one brother.”

“One branch, one brother,” Crystal agreed.

Lucinda hummed a little and lifted a hand. Her fingers clicked and instantly, Jet fell forward, dropping onto the ground. Mica and Coal both jerked, as if going to him, only to have Jasper stop them. His gaze however, remained on Lucinda’s face as though he could burn through her with his glare alone.

“We are agreed,” Lucinda hummed and Crystal nodded, motioning to the branch.

“The branch and the branch alone are yours,” she said.

Another click, and the branch vanished, replaced by Jet’s sleeping form. “As agreed,” Lucinda said. “The next item I require is a bag of snow.”

“A bag of snow?”

“Unmelted,” Lucinda said. Her smile displayed her upper fangs. “I’m not picky about where it comes from, but if it proves too hard do remember I can only convert one of your brothers should you choose to skip an item.”

“I’m not leaving any of my brothers behind,” Crystal snarled and jerked towards Lucinda. Jasper’s hand on her shoulder kept her from going too far.

“That’s up to you,” Lucinda said with a shrug. “I’m only giving you options. A bag of snow.”

With that, both she and Blake vanished into the shadows again, fading as the last of the evening sunlight did.

Crystal ground her teeth together and jerked away from Jasper to climb into the back of the with Jet.

“It’s too dark already,” Mica said as she tried to lift Jet up. “There’s not enough sunlight.”

Her jaw tightened until she felt her teeth might break. Forcing herself to inhale, she had to drop her head.

“Let’s get him home,” she said.

The others only nodded once. The horse snorted when Coal clicked his tongue, and started forward again, pulling the cart behind it as they wound down the path.

Years of use had made the road smooth though she could see little divots from other traveling carts. The sun had faded from the horizon by the time they reached town, with the sky truly blackened when they reached the cottage.

A few lights had been left on, but Crystal still jumped out into the darkness, mulling where she could possibly get a bag of snow from. It was summer, none of the mountains would have any.

The door opened, the rattle of the handle jolting her out of her thoughts. Juniper stepped out onto the porch, holding the door as Mica and Jasper worked to pull Jet from the cart and then to haul him up the stairs.

“I’ll get the cart and the horse,” Coal said and nudged Crystal. “I’m sure you want to talk to her.”

Crystal nodded, just once and came up the porch, inhaling a little as she took Juniper’s hand.

“Are you…?” Juniper left it hanging and Crystal smiled.

“I’m alright,” she promised and reached up to retrieve the ribbon falling from Juniper’s hair. “I’m more upset that I keep having to wander off while you’re here.”

“I don’t mind as long as you come home again,” Juniper said and Crystal smiled at that. “You’re peeved.”

“I’m not sure how to solve this one,” she admitted. “She wants a bag of snow.”

“A bag of snow?”

“Yes. Unmelted. There won’t be snow around for miles and even if there was, getting it back before it melts could be impossible,” Crystal explained.

A faint sigh escaped Juniper, and from the candlelight seeping through from the door highlighted the thoughtful pursing of her lips. They stood in silence a moment before Juniper shook her head and squeezed Crystal’s hand. “We’ll think of something,” she said and tugged gently to get Crystal moving up and into the house again. “Did she say how big?”

“No. Just that it was to be a bag of snow.”

“Then tomorrow we’ll need to figure out where to find snow, and how to get a bag of it back.”

 

Posted in serial, Seventh

Seventh: Part Two

Announcement | Part One

Crystal rose slowly, never taking her eyes off Lucinda’s face. She took a moment to form her words, phrasing them with care. “I don’t know how you know me.” 

“How could I not? You’re an apothecary, potion maker, seventh born and if a few rumors are to be believed, you were blessed by a godmother when you were born.” 

Not many people knew about the blessing. They knew Crystal was resourceful and talented, but they didn’t know she’d been fairy-blessed. Seventh child of a seventh child, third generation over. That carried its own power, enough that any unusual strengths she had could be forgiven as nothing more than the family’s good luck to have seven children. 

Not something she needed to discuss with a fae. “I came looking for my brothers.” 

“They’re not far. I can take you to see them.” 

“I hope they’re unharmed.” 

“No harm came to them in coming to my home.” 

Crystal took a long moment to formulate a response. Hospitality and politeness were two things she didn’t dare challenge a fae on. “Thank you for accommodating them.” 

It earned her a laugh. “They were most helpful, though they couldn’t aid me in what I needed,” Lucinda replied. “There are a few things that I need, but they need a particular set of skills. That however, is why I wanted to speak with you. Come with me.” 

Lucinda turned, still holding Crystal’s lantern, and moved off into the darkness. Crystal hesitated only a moment longer before she followed, her steps shuffling a little over the rocks. 

“They must have had a reason to come here,” Crystal said.

“They did. I invited them of course.” 

“Invited,” Crystal said. “It must have been a surprise to them.” 

“Oh of course. I needed them to get a message to you, so I invited them here.” 

“You could have left your message with them in their home.” 

“Services rendered must be repaid,” Lucinda answered. 

“Services that also required my help to fulfill.” 

“Yes. There’s a few things that I need collected,” Lucinda said. “It’s for a project of mine. Normally I wouldn’t need to ask for help, but unfortunately, getting those items and returning home in a timely manner without risking myself is difficult to say the least.” 

“You truly can’t touch the sun.” 

“Not without consequence,” Lucinda said. “Though I assure you, running water poses no such problem, nor will iron be sufficient to bother me.” 

“You know all the legends about the blood fae.” 

“Of course I do.” Lucinda turned. “Do they not speak of me up there on the surface?” 

“We don’t want to offend by speaking of others behind their backs,” Crystal answered. 

Lucinda hummed almost as if thinking of it. “A pity. I might like to have some tales told of me. Perhaps you’ll be the first to tell the mortals above of me.” 

“Perhaps.” Agreeing would only tie her up in fae games. Denying would only risk the fae’s anger. 

Another hum and Lucinda turned again. Ahead a faint glow illuminated the ground. “The rocks are phosphorescent, but fragile, and there are more caves below us. Avoid stepping on the lights.” 

Lucinda moved a little bit ahead, and Crystal followed in her path. The eerie quiet around them offered no clues as to how deep Lucinda intended to take her. 

The caverns opened up again, leaving them staring into pitch black arches. The paths ahead of them opened and Lucinda sighed a little before she looked at Crystal once more.  

“Your help would be greatly appreciated,” Lucinda said. 

“I may not be able to help you as much as you need,” Crystal said. 

“It’s relatively simple. As I’ve said, I just need some things collected.” 

“You haven’t said what sort of things.” 

“They’re very particular and I’m happy to discuss prices with you,” Lucinda said as they passed at last into a cavern with metallic walls. The light of her lantern strengthened, reflected by the ore present in the cave. 

“Prices,” Crystal said. She didn’t like how it was said.

“Services rendered must be paid for,” Lucinda said and smiled. “I can give quite a bit,” she said. “Fortunes, favors, fame. I only need these six items retrieved.” 

Steps came down from somewhere else, the sound distorted as the noise bounced around the cavern. Crystal turned her head and took a step back from the man approaching.

“No need to be frightened,” Lucinda said. “This is my son, Blake.” 

Blake bowed, hair darker even than the shadows her lantern’s feeble light tried to push back, and skin a sort of marble white in the shadows. 

“May I have the name of our honored guest?” Blake’s voice came out, a soft hiss of whisper that seemed overly loud in the caves. 

“My name is my own,” Crystal answered and Lucinda smiled while Blake inclined his head. 

“As you decide. Your other guests have been seen to, Mother. They’re waiting by your throne.” 

“Thank you. Such a sweet boy,” Lucinda said. “Come, this way. We’ll take the short route. Thank you, Blake.” 

He nodded, but his expression remained almost dead as his mother swept passed. Crystal wasn’t sure she trusted going past him, and kept glancing at him as she moved by, hurrying to keep up with the light of the lantern. 

She wished Lucinda would give it back. 

“These items. You say they need delivering and that I can help.” 

“They’re not everyday groceries,” Lucinda answered. “They’re the sort of items that need a particular touch. They need hands that can carry magic.” 

“Someone who is blessed, or gifted with that ability,” Crystal said.

“Indeed. I was hoping your brothers would be able to tell me when you would return, but they haven’t. I asked Blake to make accommodations for them.” 

“Why would they need accommodations?” 

“As I said, services rendered must be paid for. Their help in getting a message to you will be sufficiently paid back,” Lucinda said and she paused for a moment to look at Crystal. “This was the price your brothers and I agreed to,” Lucinda said and moved forward. 

Here the room darkened again, the light illuminated each pair of natural columns she passed. Crystal’s skin crawled as she realized some of the columns looked to have people tied to them. She followed, seeing that each ‘person’ was little more than a stony statue. 

All, save for the last six.

Instead, each of her brothers took up one column. Mica, Coal, Jasper, Jet, Flint and Clay all remained held to the stone, heads bowed and eyes closed. 

“What did you do to them?” The question slipped out, horror making her forget that it was a dangerous thing to question any fae. 

“Made accommodations,” Lucinda said and set the lantern down on a small table before she moved up carved steps to turn and settle into a solid stone chair. “This was the price we agreed on.” 

“You’ve tied them to stone.” 

“You never asked what they were paying for.” 

“You told me their help in getting a message to me was being paid back.” 

“And it has been! Look, they’re asleep.” 

Crystal only dared to just look at each of her brothers. The two oldest, Mica and Coal were nearest to her throne, faces set in repose. Next, the twins Jasper and Jet, and then at least Flint and Clay. Six brothers, and one sister now standing between them. 

“To get a message to me,” she repeated. “You put them to sleep.” 

“Of course. It takes a terribly long time for a body to become stone. They got the message to you that I had them and needed help. Therefore, as payment for that, they’ll simply sleep forever.” 

“You’ll kill them.” 

“Also part of the agreement,” Lucinda replied. “You see, they didn’t want me inviting you here as well, so they agreed to come and stay in your stead.” 

Her temper and fear flared up. Her brothers might very well be paying the price for some game she knew nothing of. She had to inhale the cold air of the cavern, taking it deep to try and calm herself. 

“You only ever needed me, not my brothers and I don’t understand why.” 

“Because, you are a seventh daughter. I don’t need much for boys. I have a son. But, Blake needs a bride.” 

Crystal’s heart dropped. There had to be a way out of this. “You broke your deal then. I’m here.” 

“Of your own accord. I never asked you to come, you were never invited into my home, you simply walked in.” 

“You also said no harm had come to them.” 

“In coming here, no harm was done. And they will remain unharmed for a time. How long the stone takes to claim them isn’t something I control.” 

Her throat seemed to be closing as she swallowed. “You’ll keep them here forever.” 

“As I’ve said. I don’t need many boys. What I need is a daughter. You only have to name your price for doing so. Fame, glory, anything you wish for at all.” 

“I don’t want any of it. I want my brothers.” 

“Of course, they’ll always be here with you,” Lucinda lifted a hand to indicate the natural pillars around them. 

“Alive and unharmed,” Crystal said.

That brought a hum out of Lucinda’s throat as she settled back on the stone behind her. “That does prove a sticking point. I can of course turn them into fae as well, but I only have the ability to do so to one person a year on the summer equinox. We’re approaching that soon.” 

“I won’t choose one brother to save when it means sacrificing the rest.” 

Lucinda shrugged. “I am a fae. Choices must be made and prices must be paid.” 

It was dangerous to question a fae and Crystal knew it. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to think of a way around this. 

“What is the price to release all six of my brothers?” 

Another little hum, which echoed back and forth through the cave until it seemed more like the growl of some great beast. 

“I do need those items, but Blake needs a bride. It’s a bit of a conundrum for us, isn’t it? Your price is your brothers, but your brothers’ price was you and I’m still without what I need.” 

“If Blake is to be my groom, I will only make that deal with him,” Crystal said. “His agreement, his price.” 

Lucinda beamed as Blake once again appeared, stepping out of the shadows. “I suppose since he is to be your groom, it’s only fair to negotiate with him. Are we agreed Blake?” 

“We are agreed,” Blake answered. 

“Then I suppose you and I are free to negotiate on the release of your brother.” 

“My brothers in exchange for your items,” Crystal said. 

Lucinda smiled, fangs fully displayed. “Fair. I require six items therefore I will agree to release one brother after each item is delivered.” 

“We’re agreed.” It felt like she was getting the worst end of the deal and she knew as soon as she got back she needed to talk to Juniper. Juniper would know more about fae and how to handle their deals and agreements. 

That fanged smile on Lucinda’s face only grew however. “Then the first item I require is an apple from the restless tree.” 

Her heart dropped a little. She knew where the restless tree was and even what it’s apples were prized for. 

“A three day journey there and back,” Crystal said.

“Indeed,” Lucinda said. “And in exchange for the apple—whole and unbroken—I will release your oldest brother.” 

It was a trap and Crystal knew it. “Agreed,” she said. “One whole and unbroken apple in exchange for my oldest brother.” 

Another soft laugh. “Go then. We will be here waiting.” 


If you’re enjoying my serial, consider checking out my books and short stories as well!

Seventh is updated on Fridays, so stick around to see more of the story.

Posted in Exercises, General

Thematic Elements

If you’ve ever heard that there’s no new stories, you might feel a little disheartened, especially if you’re wondering why you should be writing. The bad news is that for the most part, it’s true: there’s no new elements in storytelling. The good news however, is that the elements themselves are only minorly important, what makes your story unique is how you combine them.

For today I want to talk about thematic elements specifically. By definition, theme is an idea that recurs in art or literature. That covers a lot of ground from particular settings to character archetypes to messages.

One of the best examples of thematic elements are fairy-tale retellings. The characters tend to crop up again and again, often facing some of the same conflicts. Cinderella has to face her Evil Stepmother. Red Riding Hood faces the Wolf. Beauty saves the Beast.

Some elements, such as symbols, are also powerful thematic elements. The glass slipper, for instance is often used to represent Cinderella. Mixing these symbols up among stories gives a new angle on the story. What happens when it’s a bite of Snow White’s apple that can break the Beast’s curse, instead of true love? What happens when Rapunzel is the one cursed to sleep for a hundred years?

Even playing with setting as a thematic element can create unique stories. Taking Robin Hood out of Sherwood Forest and putting him in New York City certainly changes things! What happens when King Arthur is removed from the settings of Camelot and Avalon?

As an exercise: Pick three of your favorite books or movies and compare their thematic elements. Consider what character archetypes appear. Think about the symbols and messages used throughout. And finally, think of how the story might be impacted by changing the setting.