Illume, the light of the soul, had been blessed with the gift of life. She could animate all that she touched with a flick of her wrist, turning earth into gnomes, water into spirits, wind into doves, and fire into sprites. The dark lord who wanted to possess her however cast a pernicious spell while she slept.
One night, Illume encountered an ebony mirror in her dreams. The mirror did not reflect who one was but instead who one could be. On that night, a resplendent queen appeared in her guise who commanded the adoration and love of all the subjects in the land. The next night, a powerful sorceress emerged atop a mountain who fended off a great barbarian invasion from the north. On the third, a fierce huntress and she-wolf materialized and nearly leapt out of the panel.
The midnight encounters continued for centuries as the dream world slowly bled into her waking life. Illume developed her powers, transmuting herself into every one of the possibilities that the mirror showed. Each time, the ebony mirror absorbed some of her light, slowing turning its dark shade into a translucent sheen until she was eventually no more. By the end, a magic mirror stood in her place in a lonesome tower. The dark lord at long last arrived to claim his prize. When he gazed between the frames, he saw nothing but a blinding light for the magic mirror no longer reflected what one could be, but what one can never have.
Incubus: I saw atop the fortress a seducer who had captured the host’s maiden. The two had eloped before abandoning the domain. Their unholy union left a pair of twin changelings in the wake. A clan of ravens took pity and raised one of them as their own where it assumed their eponymous title.
Raven: The sky temple looms over a barren city. A woman on the ledge stares into distant lands across borders. She seeks her father whom she’s linked to but never met. Shapeshifting into a raven, she forms a portal and flies into another’s dream. I follow suite.
Succubus: A seductress reins over the court. She assumes the role of queen over an absent throne. Suitors line up offering their hand, but she strings each along until they are spent and discarded. Her eyes then fixate on mine before a silver bolt struck her in the heart.
Dhampir: The hunter emerges from a shadow in the corner of the room. A man of few words, he quickly unloads several more rounds as the Succubus thrashes against the ground. When she finally bled silence, the Dhampir tasted a sample before spatting in disgust. Half-bred he scowled.
There once was a route that only monks could pass. It belonged to a sacred pilgrimage that initiates took to cleanse their souls of the karma from previous lives. For three-hundred miles, a monk traverses alone through sheer cliffs and narrow crevices until reaching a shrine atop a mountain. Each day, he or she burns off an article of their clothing as to release an attachment to their life. Those without the proper discipline and resolve do not complete the journey and succumb to the elements.
Legends tell of the monkey king who had once made this very trip in a bet against the Buddha. Stripped bare of his immense strength and disguised as a monk, the monkey king quickly realized that he was in no condition to finish the task. Using magic, he plucked a single hair out to make a clone fully attired and expendable. The Buddha who saw the deception transformed the clone back into a hair and hid it up the deceiver’s nose during the night. When morning broke, the monkey king attempted the same trick but without success. Realizing the ruse was up, he continued the journey with sheer willpower until by the end atop the cold mountain, all his fur was plucked gone. After the Buddha had restored his powers, the discarded fur subsequently transformed into wild monkeys that now watch the pass for cheaters.
Mathew: The folks who manage the Belvedere have a saying that there’re two types of people who stay here. Stray cats, and lost dogs.
Joseline: Oh is that so. Why not a third like a homely Kangaroo?
Mathew: Hear me out.
Mathew: The stray cats are a flighty bunch who can’t settle in any one place for long. Their daemon is an ever-rising tide that follows them. Boredom is the trigger but I believe it to be dread. What’s on the other side of the tide, they refuse to see much less willing to dip their paws into. And so, they must keep scurrying from one ledge to the next till none remain.
Joseline: Ha! must be why existential cat loathes the tub. But how do they end up at the Belvedere then?
Mathew: Well that is because of the lost dogs.
Joseline: Let me guess, orphans who are looking for a home?
Mathew: Yes in a way but more sad. Lost dogs are sniffing for a master that they have never known. It’s an instinct that should have never evolved had they stayed wolves instead of submitting to the other. Because of this, they carry an aura of loneliness of the most repellant sort and will follow the slightest affection to the ends of the Earth.
Joseline: Is Belvedere at the ends of the Earth?
Mathew: Almost. When stray cats and lost dogs meet, a terrible misunderstanding happens. The former confuses attention for a perch. The latter mistakes charm for love. The Belvedere is the prison from which the cats can’t leave and the dogs can’t enter. It is hell on Earth!
Joseline: Who are you?
Mathew: Why the exterminator of course. How else to keep the numbers down?
Vengeance: The Chieftain had been accused of treachery and hung. I watch his family flee to the four corners of the land. They cut-off their own tongues to swear a blood-oath of secrecy, vowing to reunite one day only under the banner of hatred. The Erinyes raptured with glee.
Justice: The King had been poisoned and assassinated. I watch his young daughter rally the guards in defense of the castle. Barbarians surround the gates but she wields neither spear nor sword, offering herself in her people’s stead. Athena lent her her Aegis.
Seth received careful instructions for the wedding. A cornucopia of balloons, draperies, and fans would spring from the building’s façade. Explosions of color, fruits, and music would fill the venue. A pink convertible will take the newly weds away into the sunset. The promised day came but the bride and groom were no shows. Seth called all the family members, friends, attendees as to their whereabouts but nothing turned up. Frantic, he checked their social media, but no updates had been made. The following day, he received a text message from the would be couple. Both the bride and groom developed cold feet and fled the state. Chance found the two at the very same casino in Vegas after a night of heavy drinking. Swords were drawn and venom spewed but by early morning, the pair found themselves happily married outside a gaudy chapel.