Golden Obsidian

Act 1


Beginning Scene

“Ephraim?” Cecilia called throughout her quiet home. “I’m busy,” was the usual reply, but it didn’t come. 

“Are you there?” She asked again, peering into his library. She figured he might be trapped in some new book he bought. The only sound she could hear was the muffled bustling market streets—caravans carrying goods across cobblestone and murmuring voices. Cecilia started towards the door when it suddenly opened. Ephraim appeared, breathless and his long dark hair tostled contrary to his usual reserved appearance. His eyes were wide upon seeing Cecilia at the door. 

“Hey where were y—?” Cecilia started.

“We have to go. Like now. Grab your bow,” Ephraim interrupted. “I’ll explain on the way, but there’s something weird following me.” He began stuffing tomes into a satchel, but only the most versatile.

“What’s going on?”

“Pack for at least a few days.”

Cecilia was annoyed, but she relented. She trusted her half-brother’s judgement.

“Grab your cloak too,” he added.

Covering her bright orange hair, Cecilia and Ephraim left their little house and stepped onto the busy street. She followed his tall figure swiftly, dodging any market shoppers or officials. Ephraim stood out. He towered over the street saturated with humans, dwarves, and half-lings. Hardly any elves lived in Taiyorka, despite it being the grand, diverse capital of Feridela. Most elves resided in Avira, but they wouldn’t have a half-elf like Cecilia. The Elven bloodlines must stay pure in order to receive the special gifts of the Goddess, Ferina. Faiyans who chose paths of worship to the Goddess were especially blessed for their devotion.

Ephraim led Cecilia all the way to the Grand Gate where the guards simply nodded and wished them safe travels.

“Can you tell me what’s happening now? You’re scaring me,” Cecilia said as they exited Taiyorka.

“I saw a fey spirit in an alley, and it attacked me.”

“A fey? Magic shouldn’t work within the walls of the capital,” Cecilia challenged.

“It gets worse,” Ephraim said. “The fey spirit bore the same brand as you. It was the same magic.”

“That’s insane. Did you see anyone?” 

“No, but I think it was after me. It has to be related to you somehow.”

“Well it wasn’t me!” Cecilia exclaimed. Cecilia’s brand was unique, unknown to the point of having no official name. She named her brand, the Mark of Catria, after her late mother who was a renowned priestess of Ferina.  She didn’t practice magic in fear of the possible chaos that summoning flaming animals could have. Her brand was too unpredictable, so Ephraim didn’t train her as a wizard like him. He taught her the ways of the bow. The more distance, the better.

“I know it wasn’t you, that’s why we’re going to the Taiyan Temple,” replied Ephraim. 

“You think the Goddess will know?” Asked Cecilia.

“Of course.”

The Taiyan Temple stood just outside the walls of Taiyorka. It was a temple where pilgrims travel for wisdom, guidance, and blessings from the goddess, Ferina. Luckily for Taiyans, it was just a rock throw away from the city.

Cecilia nodded and clutched her cloak tightly. The thought of danger inside the walls of Taiyorka was terrifying. People of all races from all around Feridela enter the capital for balance and security (Ephraim and Cecilia included). It was determined that the safest place for Cecilia and her unique brand was under the control of Taiyorka.

The grounds in front of the temple was crowded as always. Street vendors selling charms and talismans lined the entrance and benevolent guards stood watch as worshippers meander in and out of the temple. Cecilia and Ephraim walked up the marble steps, not bothering to admire the exquisite paintings and sculptures littered around the hall. Up ahead was the large structure of Ferina, a stunning feminine statue posed with her arms wide open in welcoming. Ignoring the voices of the others in the temple, Cecilia and Ephraim knelt in front of Ferina and closed their eyes.

The effect was almost instantaneous. Heat flared up in front of Cecilia in the form of purple flames as she opened her eyes inside what must have been a vision. Her stomach felt a powerful lurch of familiarity and abstractions of fear and love assaulted her emotions. Sensory overload. Through the fire, she appeared to be at the base of an enormous tree at the center of a lake. And then, her mother. A beautiful woman who had the same green eyes and orange hair as Cecilia smiled serenely. 

“I bring this from the Goddess Ferina. Find her, and protect her…” said Catria. She held her hands together and a bright light shone between her palms. As the light fades she floated towards her daughter. She placed a thin, cold object into Cecilia’s hands.

“Mother, what is this?” She asked, but Catria only smiled. The lake and the great tree began to blur as Cecilia was suddenly snapped into reality.

“Are you okay?” Ephraim placed his hands on her shoulders. His light eyes filled with concern. Onlookers who noticed Cecilia receiving a vision stared in their direction. 

“What did the Goddess show you?” 

“It wasn’t the Goddess,” Cecilia replied. “It was my mother.” Cecilia glanced down at what her mother had given her in the vision. The object was tangible. She held a silver circlet, intricately woven with amethyst gems. 

“She gave you a magic item,” stated Ephraim, observing the elegant metal jewelry. “Let’s get out of here first.”

The two of them left the temple, avoiding the other gawking worshippers. Outside, they rested near a tree to examine the circlet.

“Tell me what you saw.” 

Cecilia explained her strange vision, and felt the circlet in her hands. Somehow, she didn’t want to put it on. She had no idea why it was even given to her.

“Relax, your mother would never give you something that could hurt you,”  Ephraim reassured her.

Tentatively, Cecilia rose the circlet and gently rested it on her head.

“A perfect fit,” Cecilia said.

“How do you feel?”

Warmth gathered in her chest. It was the feeling of magical energy, only she had never wielded this much mana before. Cecilia was untrained in magic, and she immediately felt the urge to take off the circlet. Her human half made sure that magic was never her true path. However, the tickling feeling of seeping energy was pleasant.

“The circlet gives me mana. A lot of it,” she told Ephraim. Ephraim made a noise with his throat. 

“Maybe I should wear it, Cecilia. You don’t know how to control it.”

“No way,” She answered. “Mother gave it to me.” 

“Don’t do anything reckless. And by that I mean don’t even try casting until you ask me,” Ephraim insisted. 

“Okay, okay. So now what? You told me to pack for a few days. Where are we going and why did Mom give me this?” 

“You’re asking the wrong person. Visiting the temple just gave us more questions. But I was planning on moving us to Edela. I didn’t want the fey spirit to follow us home or endanger the citizens,” Ephraim replied, itching a pointy ear.

“What’s safer than Taiyorka?” Cecilia wondered aloud.

“Well whoever was using the Mark of Catria could break through Ferina’s magic barrier around the capital, which means nowhere. What we can do is keep others out of it.”

“The lake,” Cecilia blurted out. “From my vision.”

“You said it was a lake with a huge tree, right? It has to be Lake Ferina!” exclaimed Ephraim.

“Then it’s settled. We’ll go to Lake Ferina,” decided Cecilia.

Act 2

Lapis Lazuli

Cecilia adjusted her quiver and touched her circlet. The two headed west towards the dipping sun, but Ephraim and Cecilia weren’t afraid of moving in the dark. Ephraim had his light magic and Cecilia was a deadly shot even in the night. Cecilia breathed in the scent of dying leaves, an oddly comforting smell. It’s been years since Cecilia had traveled further than the general territory of Taiyorka. They were just past the bridge, leaving the Avira Plains. Her stomach felt filled with fairies. 

“Don’t let your guard down,” warned Ephraim.

“Come on, we’ll be fine. I’ve got the most powerful wizard in Feridela with me.”

Ephraim gave her a disapproving glance, sharpened by his elven features. His look softened.

“You flatter me, Cece. You’re lucky to be related to me.” He chuckled slightly, bringing a grin to Cecilia’s face. It was always a victory to make Ephraim laugh.

“Joking aside, we don’t know what we’re getting into here, and I need you to be prepared to use everything I’ve taught you.”

“If only you taught me about magic,” Cecilia muttered.

Ephraim ignored the comment.

“Feridela would be nothing without the Goddess’s gifts. If something is wrong, we must do whatever is in our power to protect her.”

“I understand.” 

The lands would not bare crops and magic would run without limits if not for Ferina’s rule. The land was said to be doomed without her presence. At least, that was what Feridelan children were told.

Cecilia’s nose twitched. Smoke. She glanced around, searching for the source. There was a campfire glowing faintly ahead.

“Brigands. It’s best to avoid them,” whispered Ephraim. “We’re close to Munt territory.”

Battle in the Forest

Cecilia and Ephraim crept silently, sticking close to the ground. Muntsmen were not to be messed with. They were one of the few villages that did not worship Feridela, and the lands there were practically barren. The townspeople usually turned to lives of thievery in hopes of providing for their families. Cecilia wondered why they don’t want Ferina’s favor. Cecilia tried to prevent rattling her quiver and bow slung across her back. In the distance, Cecilia could make out the tips of buildings that must be Edela Village. Her forehead began to tickle. She reached up to poke the circlet back into place, but a spark appeared from the gem stone. It dropped on the forest floor in a small purple flame. Ephraim began to chant a water incantation but the flame didn’t die. 

“What did you do?” He scolded. 


The purple flames began to  lick the trees, to Cecilia’s horror. The fire was bright and hotter than she’s ever felt. 


The two of them began to sprint ahead, hoping to reach the edge of the forest. An axe whizzed past Cecilia, whacking into a maple. She flinched violently.

“Who’s there?!” A deep throaty voice called out.

Cecilia and Ephraim sprinted away from the flames as brigands started to wake and yell war cries. 

“I’ll make a cover!” Ephraim yelled. His tome shook up and down as they ran, but soon enough, a layer of fog began to rise from the ground. Purple lights glinted within the fog appearing all around them. The brigand’s stiffened and their eyes lit up with lavender lights.

“Come, Cecilia.” A droning voice moaned from one of the Muntsmen. 

“It’s the other Catria Mark!” Shouted Ephraim as he furiously conjured barrier magic. “They’re possessed!”

Cecilia ducked as a mace came close to her head. She drew her bow and fired an arrow in his foot. The arrow was lit with the same purple pyre. 

Cecilia shot out more, heart pounding in her ears. She wasn’t shooting to kill, but flames lit every arrow she pulled from her quiver. 

“Cecilia. The Tower of Two Goddesses,” a possessed brigand groaned.

“Two goddesses?” She said aloud.

Ephraim yanked another tome out of his satchel. 

“Get behind me!” Cecilia gripped Ephraim’s cloak as he began to cast Flash. “This will disorient them for a while!”

A blinding light exploded around them in the fog. The brigands collapsed to the ground, writhing and screaming as the purple flames were extracted from their eyes. The cover began to settle as the Muntsmen quieted, passed out from the Flash spell. The purple flames subsided as well. Cecilia and Ephraim caught their breath, pulling each other in for a hug. 

“What in Ferina’s name just happened?” Ephraim asked against Cecilia’s ear.

As the  fog settled,  a small figure appeared, a violet aura surrounding them.

“Cecilia,” was all the silhouette said. It was a small, feminine voice like her own. The girl stepped forward to reveal her face. She wore a long, hooded, dark cloak, but what appeared to be half-elf ears still poked out. Her skin was youthful and she had sharp, dark eyes. 

“She’s just a projection,” Ephraim told Cecilia. 

“Who are you?” Cecilia asked.

“Cecilia, you must listen to me and trust what I’m about to tell you,” the mysterious girl replied.

“You attacked me,” Cecilia reminded. “Why should I trust you?”

“My name is Hildi. A half-elf like you. I was sent to eliminate you for Feridela’s benefit—” Suddenly, Hildi vanished mid-sentence.

“What?” Ephraim asked, dumbfounded.

“I don’t know. But I do know we have to get away from here to rest.”

They reached Edela, and the village was silent. Few lights were still on at this time of night, but the two headed into the nearest Inn. Cecilia stared out the window at the stars and she very carefully took off the circlet, which was no longer hot to the touch. How was she connected to the Goddess, and what exactly was she protecting her from?

“Don’t worry. We’ll get you to the Goddess,” Ephraim said, watching her carefully.

The purple flames danced across her eyelids as she laid down to sleep.

The next morning, Cecilia and Ephraim headed into town to stock up on anything they would need. Edela was a quaint town with sturdy buildings and relics to Ferina everywhere you look. Naturally, this made the village lavishly wealthy. Dwarves wearing pristine robes roamed the organized street, singing their praises to the Blessed town of Edela. Cecilia’s mind whirled around with thoughts of Hildi and what she had told her. Cecilia spotted an information broker with a big nose sitting by some merchants near an alley.

“Hey!” She called out.

Ephraim turned his head to find Cecilia already heading towards the broker with her hand straight in the air.

“I’ve got a question.” Cecilia pulled gold from her bag and held it out.

“I’m listening,” said the short man.

“Have you heard of the ‘The Tower of Two Goddesses?’” she asked clamping the coins in her hand.

The broker’s beady eyes shifted back and forth. “Two.”

The pieces were exchanged.

“There’s an ancient rumor that exists around Northern Feridela,” he started. “One remaining structure stands for the Forgotten Goddess.”

“The Forgotten Goddess….” Cecilia whispered.

“All I know is that there’s a place beyond the Ferin mountains up north. People say whoever does not worship Ferina is left with nothing. That’s all you’ll get from me.”

“Thank you.”

Cecilia started back towards Ephraim, her chest buzzing.

“Stay away from those guys, Cece. Also let’s leave for the tree while it’s nice and early. It’s only a few minutes from here.”

“Who do the Muntsmen worship?” Cecilia asked randomly. 

“Not sure,” Ephraim answered. “Doesn’t matter. Ferina must be waiting for you.”

“Actually, I’m kind of curious,”

Ferina entered Edela’s library, an impressive building filled with the extensive history of Feridela and stories of myth. She perused for hours, despite the nagging from Ephraim. Not a single word of a second goddess or a northern tower lived with the pages. Ephraim used his magic to sort through key words, going through books upon books. Cecilia opened a particularly old book, larger than normal size that wasn’t flying off the shelf from Ephraim’s spell. It was heavy in her hands as she read the cover; Golden Obsidian. Cecilia opened the book to find that it was a hidden pocket book. She lifted the smaller, ancient text and opened it.

“Ephraim…Look at this. Your spell didn’t work on it.”

Cecilia’s eyes scanned the pages rapidly, when she discovered the chapter, “Ferina and Munteia.” 

The story wove a power struggle between not one, but two sister goddesses over Feridela. Munteia, who dispersed her blessings to the needy, and Ferina, who gifted those who were devoted to her. Priests, clergy, and nobility rose above all as the highest power thanks to her. As a result, the citizens looked to Munteia. Ferina’s power declined as less people prayed to her. Ferina was jealous, so she released her people to destroy all shrines and worshippers of her sister. Blood was spilled across the region for years,  but Ferina’s smaller group wielded more powerful weapons. Over centuries, the text and connections to Munteia, weakening her very existence into a sealed, dormant state. The author of the book must have wanted to protect her, The Forgotten Goddess.

“Ephraim, you aren’t going to believe any of this.”

“Try me.”

Act 3


The sky seemed bluer the closer Cecilia and Ephraim traveled to Lake Ferina. They could see the grandeur of the ancient tree from miles away. There was a paved path towards the mystic lake where friendly fairies and benevolent magical creatures milled about. Cecilia couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Every new wonder dropped her jaw open in awe.

Lake Ferina

“This is amazing!” she exclaimed. She wasn’t sure what was waiting for at the Lake of Ferina. The words of the book she found in the Edela library haunted her. Unease crawled around her back like a snake.

“Indeed,” Ephraim agreed, his head whipping left and right. 

Finally they arrived at the base of the lake, a vast, sparkling body of blue. It almost appeared to be illuminated even in the daylight. In the center of the water, the humongous tree stood, stretching its branches as if reaching to the ends of the earth. Cecilia felt the familiar divine warmth from her vision once again as she stared across the lake. Transparent stepping stones surfaced, leading Cecilia closer to the Goddess’s tree, and Ephraim followed close behind. A gentle chiming noise echoed as Cecilia reached out a pale hand to touch the trunk. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A gentle light fluttered in front of her, and Cecilia stepped back to see the silhouette of a familiar shape from the Taiyan Temple. The Goddess Ferina herself descended as though made of thin silk. Cecilia and Ephraim both fell to their knees in adoration.

I am glad you made it here, Cecilia,” Ferina’s wispy voice whispered. “You possess my blood, although sullied through generations.”

Ephraim and Cecilia picked their heads up in shock of her words, but they do not dare to interrupt.  Ferina continued.

My sister, Munteia is roused, and her presence threatens Feridela’s peace. I need you to destroy what is left of Munteia’s blood in the world: the half-elf, Hildi.”

“Destroy…Hildi?” Cecilia murmured.

If the last of her blood is vanquished, we will never have to worry about Munteia’s resurrection again.”

Was Munteia actually cursed? The familiar blur of violet caught Cecilia’s eye. She watched Ferina fade as heat rose from her feet. Hildi stepped out of a swirling magic tortal, a staff in one hand. Her black hair tumbled over her shoulders, casting a shadow over her face.

“You don’t believe her, do you?” Hildi asked softly. “Come with me to the Tower of Two Goddesses.”

“If Munteia is brought back, then Feridela will launched back into war,” Cecilia retorted. “The people can’t handle that.”

“Munteia will bless everyone, and not just her devoted.” Hildi argued.

The creatures floating around the tree fled as  the purple flames grew. The Mark of Catria glinted above Hildi’s portal. Ephraim gripped Cecilia’s hand protectively, prepared to cast. 

“Come with me now and let us bring Munteia back together. I left Golden Obsidian in Edela for you to discover the truth, and make the necessary sacrifice.”

Cecilia drew her bow and her circlet surrounded her with aura. Cecilia felt herself waiver when she met Hildi’s intense eyes.

“That’s nonsense!” Ephraim screamed. He cast a Freeze spell, and shards of ice splintered towards Hildi before bouncing off pathetically. Hildi raised her staff and summoned large bubbles to capture Cecilia. Cecilia shot magic arrows at them as they lingered closer. Only her magic could match Hildi’s. The speed of the bubbles increased, flying towards her before she could draw. Ephraim grabbed Cecilia to prevent them from being separated. Hildi swung her arm, flinging the bubble into the portal. Cold washed over Cecilia and suddenly she found herself lying on damp stone. She picked up her head, slightly disoriented by the sudden teleportation. She touched Ephraim’s arm as they watched Hildi step into the round. 

“We’re in the Tower of Two Goddesses.” Cecilia observed the dilapidated thrones and the torn, deep red carpets. The air smelled stagnant and mossy. 

“Good observation,” Hildi commented, sarcastic. “Now, disappear!” 

The Final Battle

A tiger of flames launched out of her staff, sprinting full speed at Cecilia and Ephraim. They rolled in separate directions, swiftly attacking back simultaneously. Cecilia focused her energy, and a fiery spirit imbued her arrows, making them follow Hildi as she glided around the throne room. Ephraim couldn’t touch Hildi, but he could destroy her spirit tiger. The tiger let out a cry and lunged, clawing Ephraim’s leg. Ephraim collapsed to the ground, his satchel spilling books over the stone ground. He inched forward to reach his Book of Water. He chanted an incantation, rising his tome to conjure a waterfall, dousing the lavender fire, dissipating the creature. Hildi retaliated. She shot a sleep spell at Ephraim, causing him to stay motionless.

“Stop this, Hildi!” Cecilia screamed. 

“I won’t stop until Munteia is awakened! She is the true goddess!” Hildi cried.

“Your battle is already lost!” returned Cecilia. “Bringing her back will only bring pain and confusion,”

“You don’t understand. Anyone who isn’t obsessed with Ferina lives in poverty. You don’t get to see those people though, do you, a daughter of Catria and Elven nobility.” Hildi jabbed. She sent a rain of purple flames, igniting the throne room.

“People will die.”

“But, may everyone have blessings.”

Cecilia concentrated and her circlet lit up with flames. The land would undoubtedly fight over the Goddesses, just like in ages past. She could imagine how theocratic leaders would be torn out of power and their goods being distributed to the poor. The leaders that she has followed since birth. Being the daughter of Catria has had it’s perks. She just wasn’t well-traveled enough to see how everyone lives. Feridela was ever-present. Every meal and every lucky chance was an opportunity to worship the selfish Goddess.

“We can’t endanger Feridela,” she announced firmly. The aura around her blazed brightly. “I’m sorry, but the Forgotten Goddess must remain forgotten!” 

Cecilia stamped her foot down and the ground rumbled intensely. Hildi was blown backwards, banging her head on one of the two thrones. Her eyes fluttered and she yelled as she became engulfed with Cecilia’s fire. 

“I thought you would be strong enough to oppose Ferina. You are a fool if you think things will never change.” Hildi said weakly. 

“I will protect the people I love.” Cecilia approached Hildi, her hands filled with purple fire. Hildi raised her arm again, but Cecilia sent a blast that sent her across the room, sealing Munteia’s existence forever.

Cecilia released the breath she didn’t even know she was holding, and she ripped the circlet out of her long hair. Ephraim lay in the corner, still sleeping. She went to him and held his hand. 

“I will protect the people I love.”

The Scarlet Express

The Scarlet Express

I had eight hours to kill. I adjusted my legs and leaned back in the seat as the train started to rumble and begin moving. Glasses clinked and light-hearted cheers of excitement rang throughout the aisles of the Scarlet Express to commemorate its maiden voyage. The ride to shining Los Angeles wasn’t terribly long, only about half a day, but the wealthy prefer to travel in style, no matter how close the distance. The Scarlet was equipped with gorgeous, comfortable lounge chairs and gourmet food that was served on the finest china. It was almost unfortunate that our escape would be so soon and we couldn’t ride all the way to the destination.

I knew the plan. Despite going through each step a million times in my head, my stomach still felt like it was flipping upside down. Maybe it was just motion sickness, but the risks involved were undeniably high. As soon as the train began to move, there was no chance of going back. About eight hours into the journey, the train was set to slow down significantly as it passed a small town. At that time, my brother, Tom, would block the door and fire a warning shot, allowing me to scare Mrs. Margaret Thistleton, the richest madame on board, out of her priceless necklace. Then, we’ll hop off with Joe and Eric, some buddies of ours, who are driving up behind us and we’ll be out of there. No one gets hurt, and the money would be ours to use for Mom’s treatment as well as Joe and Eric’s families.

I tipped my hat to my brother, Tom, who was settling in the seat closest to the car door in the front. I was seated parallel to Mrs. Thistleton who wore her most prized necklace, a gift from her husband featuring the largest diamonds I have ever laid eyes on. I tried not to stare too long, but the thought of those cold, sparkling diamonds in my hands was so vivid I couldn’t help but be fixated. 

I traveled light. All I had with me was a cheap suitcase for show that only contained a simple newspaper I’d already read. I resolved to distract myself by listening to the shallow conversations of the frivolous, rich folk surrounding me. To them, I looked like any unsuspecting wealthy young gentleman, but in reality, I was just a poor guy who pulled a few strings to steal a ride onto one of the most fancy modes of transportation available in 1925. Their conversations almost made me laugh out loud. 

“Lorna, dear, please stop being ridiculous,” A snobbish woman’s voice cut through my thoughts from a few seats ahead of me. I wondered if anything could be more ridiculous than her hat, which was adorned with large orange flowers that almost covered her face.

“Oh, don’t be rude, Auntie.” a young woman replied. 

“You’ll never find a husband with hands that look as hard as a mechanic’s!” The aunt jeered. 

“Well then, I guess I’ll just have to marry a nice mechanic man. At least I’ll find him interesting,” Retorted the young woman. I grinned to myself and peeked around the seat to look at the girl who was obscured by her aunt’s orange hat. She had a rather pretty face and dark brown hair arranged in short, intricate waves. 

“Edward Galloway has been absolutely dying to see you again since the Gala. He is the perfect match for you darling, don’t you remember how much time you spent together?” I heard her aunt say, exasperated. 

“In no way was it my choice to be in his company. I think he’s absolutely boorish. He’s as perfect a match for me as an actual pig,” The young woman said.

“Lorna! How dare you. You understand how this match will benefit us. You’re lucky enough that he’s handsome,” The older woman insisted. “I don’t want to hear another word about this. What would your parents say?” She said sternly. 

“They would have valued my happiness more,” She answered.

“Honey, happiness is never going to be easy for a woman. Even if she’s spoiled like you,” The aunt grumbled.

Abruptly, the young woman stood up. 

“Excuse me, auntie. I’ll be sitting with different company for a while.” 

She left her seat to make her way down the aisle towards my direction, contempt still showing in her dark eyes.

“Where are you going?” the aunt protested. She whispered angrily, probably trying her best not to make a scene in a train car filled with influential people.

I could now see the young woman more clearly. She wore a simple pale blue knit dress and she appeared to be about my age— twenty or so. As she sauntered down the aisle, she caught my gaze. Before I realized I was gawking, the young woman was right next to me. Her eyes peered curiously into mine, and her thin strand of pearls dangled in front of my face. 

“Hello sir, I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but may I sit here for a while?” she asked me in a silvery voice.

Slightly dazed, I nodded and cleared my throat. I tipped my hat politely and responded, “Of course.”

She sat down next to me and fixed her skirt. A part of me wanted to turn her away. The stress about the heist was festering within me, but another part of me needed any company to distract my worried thoughts. Especially the company of a young woman with a story to tell.

“What brings you on the Scarlet this morning, miss?” I asked her. 

“My aunt is taking me to Los Angeles hoping I’ll be engaged to a boring man,” she responded dryly.

I laughed lightly. “What makes him boring?” I couldn’t help asking.

Her face relaxed, and she turned to face me. 

 “He has no hobbies. No dreams. Everything is very well set in his life. There’s just no uncertainty,“she complained.

“Do you enjoy uncertainty?” 

“I sat here with a stranger, didn’t I? My name is Lorna Weldon by the way, and I quite enjoy uncertainty.”

“It’s a pleasure, Miss Weldon. My name is R-” I coughed, remembering I was supposed to be someone important. I spouted out the most important name I could think of in the moment.

“My name is Rodney Sterning.”

Lorna’s eyes lit up, and her mouth curved into an excited smile. 

The Mr. Sterning? The very Sternings who helped fund the Scarlet and other trains? I am very interested in your family’s projects!” she enthusiastically said.

“You know of them?” I asked nervously. If I had to talk about the specifics of trains I would’ve jumped off right then.

“Yes, indeed! My father taught me a great deal in mechanics and technology. He always wanted a son, you see,” Lorna explained.

“Is that so? Is he with you?” 

“Oh, no,” Lorna said. Her dark eyes turned downcast for a brief moment. “My parents were killed in a robbery. I was there.”

“I’m so sorry, Miss Weldon. I didn’t hear of it.” My chest squeezed. 

“I was their only child, so it makes sense for my father to teach me everything he knew, son or not. Hunting, engine repair, numbers. He taught me all.”

“Dirty business. You sound quite capable. Do you even need a husband?” I joked. 

“If my father was still here I just know he wouldn’t allow this horrible match,” she answered, glancing down at her lap. “I don’t think he would’ve approved of any man.” 

I met her brown eyes again.  “He sounds like a wonderful father.”

The conversation fell silent. The buzz of voices around us continued. I could tell she felt uncomfortable about sharing so much. Hearing Lorna speak of her parents made me think of my own, struggling to make their living back in Salt Lake City. My father was depending on me to take care of Tom. Even though Dad worked like crazy, we couldn’t afford to make Mom better without extra cash. Even if the extra cash came from stealing. The heist today was supposed to be our biggest yet, but also the most risky. I felt a twinge of guilt about Lorna’s loss. I knew it was irrational, but I couldn’t stop myself from feeling responsible about her parents. They died in such a needlessly violent robbery. I couldn’t help wondering how old she was when her parents were taken from her.

“I’ve told you too much about myself. I apologize if I sound spoiled or rude. I realize the match my aunt made for me is necessary. Edward Galloway may be an idiot but maybe I don’t know him well enough. I’ll return now. Thank you very much for humoring me, Mr. Sterning.” 

Lorna stood up, but I grabbed her hand. Embarrassed, I quickly released her.

“Miss Weldon, I think you are the most interesting company a boring man like me could ask for. You are welcome to stay here as long as you like.” I blurted out.

I could feel Tom’s eyes on me. He probably thought I was insane, socializing with a woman who I was supposed to basically threaten into hiding under a seat in a mere few hours. I was painfully aware.

Lorna sat down again with a small smile on her face. 

“You can call me Lorna,” she said shyly. “Mr. Sterning, will you share anything about your own family?” she asked. “I can’t be the only one sharing personal things this early into an encounter with a stranger.”

“I have one brother. We’re very close.”

“Why is he not with you? Now that I think of it, I haven’t even asked for your own intentions in Los Angeles.”

“I am going to L.A. to help my father with the business. My brother is already there.” I felt guilty for being so vague, and I found myself more and more despicable for lying to such a kind woman. I should’ve just let her return to her seat so she could forget about this whole conversation, but for some reason, I couldn’t allow myself.

“Mr. Sterning, could you please tell me something very important?”


“Do you prefer dogs or cats?”

Hours passed, and Lorna and I had covered everything I loved and everything she loved in a perfectly endless conversation. My anxiety about the imminent event had slipped to the back of my mind as Lorna and I discussed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom of the Opera, Chéri, A Passage to India, Jazz music, Emily Dickinson poetry, and horse racing. In the midst of all the laughter, Lorna’s hand found mine in my lap. 

“I have a secret for you, Mr. Sterning.” She leaned close to my ear.

“A secret?” I wondered allowed. I was like a young teen with a crush again.

“You just don’t seem as stern as your name implies.” She burst out laughing, her vivacious laugh tickling my ears. Doubt crept up my spine and I couldn’t laugh with her this time.

“And you don’t seem like you’ll be marrying Edward Galloway,” I said in a low voice.

“Bold of you to assume, Mr. Sterning. I should be offended.” Her voice was light. I squeezed her hand. 

“What I mean is, I hope you won’t marry Edward Galloway, Lorna.” Her face blushed a slight shade of pink and I felt my own cheeks heat up. 

“Why is that?” She asked.

“I’ll find you in L.A. You have to teach me some things. Stuff like hunting, engine repair, numbers,” I said.

She giggled, tracing circles on my palm.

“I would love to. And you’ll teach me about the train business?”

“Maybe, but I feel there are many other things I can teach you.” 

“Oh, yes? Like what?”

“For now, I’ll just leave it to be another thing for you to be uncertain of.”


Once Lorna fell fast asleep, I got up from the seat and walked over to sit with Tom.

I plopped down in front of him and glanced around cautiously. I leaned in towards him, and kept my voice quiet.

 “Tom. This plan is starting to feel like more and more of a bad idea. I think we should just stick to what we know.” 

His eyebrows rose. “Listen, I knew you were a little hesitant about this, but we are already in it. We need to do this for Mom and everyone at home,” Tom whispered. 

I let out a long sigh. Despite being the youngest, Tom was always the more decisive one between us. When we were young kids, he took on three bigger kids just to get back a toy of mine. It was embarrassing to have my little brother fight for me, but I was still thankful, even if I’d never tell him. I always respected his decisiveness when it came to helping the family, but right now, I wasn’t so sure. 

“I’m not sure these people deserve to be stolen from. Not anymore. I just feel like it could be dangerous,” I told him. 

Tom’s face turned sour. “Don’t deserve to be stolen from? Are you serious? All they do is put their wealth on display for everyone to feel jealous of them. They don’t do anything to help the poor, to help us. We can’t just jump off and leave with Joe and Eric without that money, they’re counting on us. What’s gotten into you?” Tom snapped. 

“We barely know how to use these guns, Tom,” I said, tapping the pocket of my coat. “And there are too many things that can go wrong.” 

“We don’t need to use them,” Insisted Tom.  “Joe got ‘em just for the threat. Think about it. Losing one necklace isn’t going to affect that woman’s life, but you can be damn sure it’ll affect ours. Relax, man. Go take a seat, we’re almost there.” Tom gestured outside the window where I saw the outline of the black automobile driven by Joe and Eric approaching in the distance. 

“I know, but…” My voice trailed off. His head had already turned back towards the window. This train was already moving. The plan was already moving. All I knew is that I didn’t want Lorna to be a part of it. I went back to my seat where Lorna was napping peacefully. Her head was tipped backwards and her breaths were slow and even. She even twitched a little in her sleep. I lightly tapped her on the shoulder.


“Good morning, Mr. Sterning.” She stretched her arms and yawned. 

“You have to leave this car for a while. Just for a few minutes. Can you do that?”

Lorna’s eyes narrowed. 

“What? Why?” she asked.

I pulled her into a hug.

“You have to. I don’t want you to be involved with what’s about to happen.” I said, squeezing her. 

“What’s about to happen?” Her hands gripped my coat, and her body tensed.

“See that woman over there with the gray hair and purple dress?”

“Mrs. Thistleton?” Her voice was close to my ear.

“That woman is wearing a necklace worth more than my parents have earned in their  entire lives.”

“But you’re a Sterning?” She paused, processing my words. 

“That necklace could get me the money my family needs, Lorna. It could help other people survive. We need it more than Mrs. Thistleton ever could.”

“But— so you lied to me? ” She asked, her grip on my coat pocket loosening. 

“Hurry!” I urged. 

 A loud crashing sound broke our embrace as Joe and Eric drove up and smashed a train window in. Seconds later, I heard the sound of gunfire.

My head whipped around to see Tom with his revolver in the air. 

“Everybody get down! You won’t get hurt if you cooperate!” he exclaimed. Screams of terror resounded throughout the train car as women and men dove beneath the seats for cover. My brother blocked the door.

“You! With the purple dress! Give that pretty necklace you’re wearing to that man!” Tom shouted, pointing towards me.

I got up and moved towards Mrs. Thistleton,  lightly pushing Lorna aside. 

Mrs. Thistleton slowly stood up and rose her hands to unclasp her diamonds, tears rolling down her blushed cheeks. “What if I gave you my pearls? Or my bracelet?” She stuttered.

My mouth was like cotton. I hesitantly reach for my pocket. The gun was just for a threat, not for killing. However, my pocket was empty.


“On the ground, ‘Rodney Sterning.’” 

I slowly turn to see my own revolver pointed at me. I stood in shock and silence as I stared into Lorna’s piercing brown eyes. She must have stolen it.

“I can’t believe I trusted you, a stranger on a train.” Lorna’s voice shook. “I won’t let something like this happen again. Not like with my parents. This time, I’ll stop it.”

“Lorna…I need to do this, we just need the necklace,” I said, trying to keep my voice from breaking. 

Lorna snatched the necklace from Mrs. Thistleton. 

“M’am, if you wouldn’t mind, I’ll hold on to your necklace for safekeeping,” Lorna told Mrs. Thistleton. “I’ll return when these men are off this train.”

The older woman took cover beneath her seat, whimpering.

 Lorna’s fiery gaze returned to me.

“As for you, you are going to get off this train right now and head back home with those guys in the car outside.” Her sweet tone from before had disappeared.

“Get down Lorna and listen to the men!” Her aunt screamed from across the train car.

Lorna didn’t waver. Her gaze was pointed in the direction of my gun, between my eyes.

“If you get off this train right now, I’ll spare both of your lives. I have two shots and I sure as hell will not miss,” she hissed at me.

I looked at my brother across the car, who was now aiming his gun in her direction. 

“Tom!” I called out. “We can still escape. She says she’ll let us go.” 

“She’s bluffing. She’s just a spoiled girl,” He said turning towards Lorna. “I’ll give you thirty seconds to drop that gun, before I start shooting these rich folk here. Does a woman like you even know how to use a gun?” 

“I can shoot a quail from 30 yards, so that big head of yours should be an easy shot,” Lorna snapped, aiming the revolver in Tom’s direction.

“You better listen to her. She knows her way around a gun,” I said nervously. “We have to give it up.”

“We can’t just give it up. I’m not leaving without that necklace, and it seems like you’re running out of time,” he shouted before taking a cautious step forward.

“Not another inch!” Lorna screamed. They stood there, unmoving, eyes intensely fixed on each other.

“5,” Tom started his countdown.

“Lorna, please!” Her aunt yelled.

“4.” Sweat dripped down Lorna’s brow and her knuckles turned white.


“Lorna, I never wanted this.” I said. “Just drop the gun,” 

Neither one seemed willing to stand down. My heart pounded and it became difficult to breath in the thick tension.


“Tom, put it down!” I cried.


I watched my little brother crumple to the ground. Everything stopped. My vision blurred with hot tears and my hands went numb. No one was going to get hurt. No one was supposed to die. We were supposed to be gone by now. We were supposed to have the money. We were supposed to help Mom.

 I sprinted towards my only brother and lifted his head, but his green eyes looked at nothing. 

“Tom, please. No…” I whispered.  “Brother…”

“What’s going on in there?” yelled Joe from outside, driving faster to try to keep up with the pace of the accelerating train.

“You…” Behind me, Lorna stood, clutching her stomach, the necklace and her hand soaking red. Blood leaked onto the ground, leaving scarlet splotches on the pristine yellow carpet. Lorna dropped to her knees, then onto the ground of the train car.

“LORNA!” Her aunt rushed towards her. “My baby,” she sobbed. Lorna looked at her aunt and smiled weakly. She twisted her head towards me, 

“You were supposed to… I didn’t…” I stuttered. 

Picking up my brother’s gun, I took a shaky step towards Lorna and her aunt. The aunt screamed and backed away, leaving Lorna and I alone. 

“Here. Isn’t this what you wanted?” Lorna asked, dangling the diamonds out for me. Her eyelids fluttered open and closed as she struggled for breath.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Lorna,” I said again, taking her hand. My mind was blank. It was only a few hours ago that her now icy hand was so warm and fit so well in mine.

“I am now perfectly certain of something,” she gasped. “I will never forgive you.”

Lorna’s arms went limp and the necklace dropped out of her hands. Her familiar dark brown eyes closed for the last time and I stroked her pale cheek.

I lifted the diamonds, dripping blood onto my own hands. I heard the distant voices of Joe and Eric yelling for my brother and I to escape. I stood up, releasing the necklace from my hands and watched it hit the ground before leaping off into the back of the car.

Dove Call

Dove Call

Writer’s Notes:

My idea for this was inspired by something I read about abuse. It was about the subtleties in an action from an abuser that can instill fear in someone. I wanted to write something psychologically weird and dark because that’s not usually what I do, as well as character-driven but with very few characters. I’m really trying something new as far as the writing style. I wanted short sentences that are powerful rather than long descriptions like I would normally feel comfortable with. The ending of this weird story can also be taken literally or metaphorically. Did she actually turn into a bird? Or did she actually just jump off? I tried to make the reader feel confused about Lavender and her mannerisms. I wasn’t sure how to write a character who deals with abuse, so there might be cliches. I don’t know, I just wanted to write something weird.

Grass is making me itchy and the sun is so bright I can hardly see but it’s not very hot, more of a partly cloudy and wet day that makes you sleepy but I wasn’t sleepy because I was with her. My friend, my only one, who is dropping flowers in my hair and I’m squinting at her and feeling the corners of my mouth curl up like my frizzy hair. I’m combing my thick hair with my fingers as it trailed down into the damp grass. My pants were stained with mud but I didn’t really think much of it. I just watched her and we sang all sorts of songs I have never heard before. 

But Mom is here now. I hear her footsteps rustling, unlike a deer and unlike a friend, she struts towards me from thicket like a beast. I knew I was out too long and I’ve gotten filthy and I should be ashamed but as Mom grips my hair I cry because I want to stay. I want to stay in a forest clearing in the half-sun with my friend. She just flitted around desperately and helplessly as I watched her get smaller and I’m forced back into the bubble of the forest. My pants feel the wet mud and my breath hitches and I cry like a brat because I am one.

I miss her.

The creaking of my feet on my parent’s front porch makes me feel at ease. My feet lightly touch back onto the ground over and over again as I rock in my mom’s rocking chair. The front porch is my air source in this bubble. Inside the house is too tight and outside in the woods I’m too free. It’s a lovely twilight outside, the sky is red and purple and the trees filter the moonlight into my eyes. There are a few critters who form a line in the wood cracks and I smile and tell them hello. I scoop a few ants up in my hands. They’d be squished if anyone else here saw them. It must be difficult to be so small in a forest where everything is so big. I look at the little critters crawling around in my pale palms and they walk around wildly and it’s funny. I know they’re safe now but I wish they knew that too. I let them down in the leaves off of the first porch step, while holding my breath. 

Inside again, I must eat dinner. I’m lucky to have such a delicious dinner, it’s beans and chicken that doesn’t taste that juicy but it has some flavor. Across from me is Dad, his beard is graying and there’s a bean in it.

“You look tired,” He says to me, his mouth full.

I touch my face, self-conscious

“Stop touching your face and eat your food.” 

I do. My parents take care of me. 

In the kitchen, mom begins the dishes. Her hands fly across cold glass, decisively swishing soap onto the counter, sighing. We have a fluorescent light hanging in he kitchen, but it’s kind of dim now. Mom hates it. 

I want to go outside to the porch. My heart feels weird when she washes the dishes like this. A passive-aggressive, silent way of completing a simple action.

Her fingernails clink against the saucepan and she’s not talking and I swallow my throat because her expression is that expression. Crinkles in her powdered face that traced a frown around her thin, shiny lips. Over-plucked eyebrows furrowed downward and oval glasses pushed up her nose. I won’t speak when she’s busy like this but I need to eat but I can’t make a sound. I notice Dad’s eyes. They look downcast, guilty, annoyed but not present. He probably pissed her off. I don’t know how to read my father’s emotions all the time, but he’s too unpredictable for it to matter. He swallows more chicken and I feel too close to him.

“Lavender.” Mom did what I didn’t want her to. “Why the fuck are your shoes still on?” 

Her voice scares me and I look down and she’s right; I should have taken them off.

I immediately stand and start to take my sneakers off my feet. The brown floor as twenty-five lines in the wood. It’s a good number.

“STOP!” Mom screeches.

I freeze. 

“This is why there’s so much fucking mud in the house always. We have a place for shoes.”

I don’t know what to do and I don’t know what to do, my heart is sprinting. The bubble inside the house is causing my breath to disappear. I glance at Dad who stands up to his full 6”4 inches of height.

I was standing and now I’m not, and this piece of floor has seventeen lines in the wood. My elbow hurts and dad’s hands are on my ankles yanking.

“I can do it—” I gasp. 

He only pushes me over again and my ankles hurt and now my socks are going to get dirty.

I’m outside again but not all the way. I’m out on the porch and my socks touch the wood over and over as I rock in the chair. I hear a dove call from afar but I haven’t heard one in ages. Not since I saw my friend. I close my eyes and picture her face. Then, I bring my hands to my lips and call back.

I love the morning the most. In the morning, it’s loud. It’s busy and everything comes alive. Leaving the porch is risky, but if it was just to go to the creek, Mom doesn’t get mad. I’ve been there dozens of times. I know the trail down towards the creek well because nothing seems to change but the leaves and the plants. Still, I have to control my breaths. Slow and long, I can’t let myself get out of control. I stick to the path. The farther I move from the house my stomach flips up and down anyway and I can never decide if I like the feeling or not.

I haven’t been out of the forest for years. Not since I was about six. But I feel safe in the woods. My parents feed me, I have a bed. I hate having wishes, Mom told me it makes me selfish, but I can’t help wanting to see my friend again. I saw her in the forest clearing when I was thirteen and I played with her everyday until Mom told me I couldn’t. I’m not allowed over there anymore. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the sky without trees. I hop over a stump and crispy leaves stick to my socks.

Down at my feet is a bird. A dove. Crumpled up, weak looking, but alive. I lift her up in my hands being careful not to damage the creature. My eyes burn with tears. Waiting for me this whole time…My friend. My chest heaves as a sob passes through me. I need to save her. I whip around and start to run, my lungs compressing as I rush her back to my parent’s house.

“Mom, please help!” I cry, busting open the door.

Mom turns her head from the couch and makes a sour face. 

“What are you holding?” She asks.

“A bird. She’s injured and I’m afraid it will die.” Tears drown my vision.

“It will die. We can’t do anything about it. Get it out of my house, it’s disgusting,” She says calmly.

Dad walks towards me and I step back, wary.

“Give me the bird.”

“I-No, I,” is all I could get out before Dad takes my wrists and snatches my friend from me. He’ll help her. He’ll do something.

“Please, don’t do anything to her, please let me help her. She’s my friend and she’s important, please.”

“Dave, please get the dead bird out of my house,” Mom says.

“She’s not dead, can we save her? Please.” My voice weakens.

Dad carries the dove towards the front door and I collapse on the floor, bruising my knees. He raises the body of the bird with one giant hand and he throws her hard out into the forest.

“Get up!” He growls.

I’m shaking. She’s gone again and I’m alone. My body shutters and I sob, clutching my brown hair in clumps on my head. The world is blurry and I am alone. The door is still wide open.

I hear a dove call from the treetops. I move towards the door and lift myself up. My feet are always on the ground. I look at my socks, caked with mud. 

“Collect yourself, Lavender. It’s just a fucking bird. There’s thousands of them. Go outside and come back when you’ve calmed down,” I hear Mom say. Dad shuts the door behind me and I stand on the porch again. I walk towards the closest tree and I listen. I listen and hear the doves.

My fingers reach up to a twig attached the the grand trunk. I could hear better if I could just get closer. My knee scrapes up against the bark but I lift myself up past the first twig and find my footing in the ridges between the twig and the trunk. It was a thick tree, and the lower branches could very well support my weight. I heard the dove call again and I continue to cry. My knees are purple and my eyes feel swollen. 

My hands find another branch and I shimmy my body higher. My ankles throb. Dad hurt me. I’ve been hurt. Why do they do that? I look down but I don’t care about heights. I scuffle up again for another branch. If I could get to the top would she be there? I see little bugs I’ve never seen and I suddenly feel afraid. I see my house and I climb higher like a child but it’s different from that. I stop at the branch I’m at and I balance myself to tie up my hair. 

My feet dig into the sides of the trunk and I can’t believe how high I am. I feel dizzy and elated and terrified it’s thrilling. I listen against the wind for the doves. I feel like I might be almost there and I keep climbing, my ankles pounding with my heart. Go somewhere new. See something else. Go somewhere new. See someone new. My mind screams. There are too many ridges in the trunk to count. On this high branch I commend myself for my strength. I allow myself to praise me. The birds call again and my breath hitches and I Breathe. The bubble is below me. I can breath I can breath.

At the peak I blink through tears. She’s here.

“You’re here.” My voice breaks. She was fine after all.

 Black little eyes stare at me. She’s lifting her wings up. 

“Don’t go—”

Her feathers match the clouds as I see her go, from the peak, alone. Without me. I’m alone. I scared her away. My breathing quickens again and I step towards her body, my arms turning milk white and my useless mouth shrinking into a beak. I should follow her longer I just made it here. I don’t remember who hurt me. Feathers erupt from my thin frame and I can fly.