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Tales told - a.k.a free reads > July 2016 Creative Writing - Fantasy Violin - STORIES WANTED

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message 1: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments The winner this month is this lovely, ambiguous, fascinating picture. Who is this fiddler? Where are they? What's the story, the mood, the thought?

Give us your fiction - anything from haiku to novel. (Just keep it YA-appropriate, and something LGBTQ.) - if you need more than one comment box for work over about 2,000 words, feel free to reserve sequential boxes, then go back and edit in the sections. And do mark the end of your story with a symbol (like ### or "end") so we know when comments can begin. Have fun. Can't wait to see this one bring out the writer in us all.




message 2: by Kaje (last edited Sep 09, 2016 07:01AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments reserved for story links

Darren - poem
Kaje - story
Darren - poem


message 3: by Darren (last edited Jul 30, 2016 07:59PM) (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments Closing my eyes I can see you again

My whirligig, dancing as if on water

Not watching my fingers play

Bow loosely threaded like your wild hair

Red reflected in the flames behind you

Colouring my eyes with warmth and longing

 

While my hands tire, my arms sink

My violin hits the ground I hear them say

Boy, play me some more, their faces

Grey and distorted while all I want to see

Is you, all I want to hear is your husky voice

The rasp of fresh beard on my skin

 

Walking to the dying fire, trampling ashes

Raising my arms and once more seeing

You, arms around me, dancing together

Your soft hum in my ear, while you hold my

Violin high, bowing for me, striking a chord

In my heart, forever in my heart

 

###


message 4: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments Wow, lovely and melancholy, Darren. Thank you.


message 5: by Mel (new)

Mel (melleach) Beautiful, Darren. Just beautiful. You have such a wonderful way with words. Thank you for sharing.


message 6: by Darren (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments Thank you, both of you :)


message 7: by Kaje (last edited Jul 31, 2016 09:43AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments This will be a bit rambling, as I don't have time to edit... hopefully still fun.

Musical Collection

Space is silent. Space stations are definitely not. They whir and ping and rumble, with the noise of too many people too close together in an artificial world. But this is a new sound. Music?

It's not the bass thump of someone's speaker up too loud. It's high and thin, and yet it pierces into me, tugging at my insides. Subliminal, almost unreal, I can't make out the tune and yet it stops me in my tracks, wafting through the stale filtered air toward me, like a magnet calling to an iron filing.

I've taken two steps into the service corridor before I even realize it. Idiot. You have no time for this.

As I stand there the music changes. It's sadder now, softer, the pull like a child's hand on the corner of my tunic. Something that could be ignored, if I'm willing to break a heart. A plea, not a demand.

I turn away from the well-lit hallway, and head down the corridor.

About twenty feet along, there's a branch, and the music thread bends left. I walk around the leftward corner and take a few more steps. The bare plastosteel walls and overhead ducts close in, and the light gets very dim. This is nuts. When service techs come here, they activate the light strips. They don't wander around ducking under half-seen cables in the dark. I hesitate, about to turn back. Then I spot a new light ahead.

Warm light, oddly yellow, flickering. Almost like a flame, like the tiny candle we're allowed on our birthday cake each year, in a moment of true fire, before it's blown out and carefully dowsed. This light reflects off the walls opening to the next branch. It dances on the dark grey panels, winking off a stainless connection in the rats' nest of cabling.

At least I won't end up wandering in the dark.

My feet carry me forward, and around that corner. The music swells, filling my chest and ears and taking my breath. The musician looks up at me from where they sit against one drab wall, bowing an antique fiddle. And they smile.

He? She? They? Not that it matters much, but my perception flickers along with the light. Old. Young. Sad. Happy. Worried It's as if the musician is a hundred different people, all in one. Then the music stops and they lower their bow. As if that releases my eyes from a kaleidescope, I see them clearly now.

They're smooth-skinned and slender, with a mop of hair dyed a silver-grey. Probably dyed. They're overdressed for the constant temperatures of the station, with knee-high cuffed boots, a thick draped tunic, and fingerless gloves. I've seen a costume or two like that, in some of the historical vids, and Jamii wore one not too different, the year he was a Victorian pickpocket in theater class. This person wears it without irony or show, though, and the clothes seem old and well-worn, not faked.

Without untucking the violin from under their chin, they say, “Well. You're not quite what I expected.”

“Neither are you!” I retort, before my brain catches up with my mouth. “I mean, who are you?” The station's not that big. I know everyone my age in this sector. And most people of any age.
They hesitate, looking me up and down. “You came into my space. Why not tell me who you are?”

“These are public corridors.” But I'm too curious to argue. “I'm Annalyn Bard. Now, who are you?”

“You may call me Lisst.”

Okay, I'm not going to ask if that's their real name. That would simply give them the chance to smirk and say of course not or one of them. Because I've obviously fallen into some kind of cos-play complete with all the clichés. “What was that music you were playing?”

They tip the bow toward me. “Surely you still recognize a fiddle?”

“I said the music, not the instrument.” I sound more snappy than usual, because I can still feel the tug of that music down under my breastbone. Probably someone fiddling with subsonics. Maybe they're testing it out here, before playing it for an audience in the theater. I sneak a look at the violin, trying to spot a cord for a pick-up. But it must be wireless.

“A little tune of my own,” they say, then they laugh. “Ah, that does sound coy, doesn't it?”

“More like a line from a play. Is this being vidcorded? Some kind of performance art?” I want to look around more for cameras, but nothing looks dumber on a vid than someone twisting their neck in pretzels, trying to find the hidden lenses. So instead I decide to cooperate and play along. “You called me, O Master Violinist?”

Lisst laughes again. They have a nice laugh, real enough to have a little snort at the end. It doesn't sound like bells, or like that perfect social laugh actors use in interviews. “Hardly a master, more like a journeyman. But it serves me.”

“To do what?”

“Open doors. Find players.”

I really wish they'd given me a script before pulling me into this. I can't help a glance over my shoulder, but all I see are dark service corridors. The little light by the violinist's knee is awfully low-wattage for filming, although the dancing shadows are cool. “Players. Well, I flunked drama. Sorry.” My teacher said Annalyn has a hard time immersing herself in the subject material. She wasn't happy when I kept pointing out the logic-fails in the plots.

“I think you'll do just fine.” They swing the violin off their shoulder and stand, glancing me up and down. “Small but fierce.”

That's the last straw. “Take a long walk out a short airlock!” I turn on my heel, but then the sound of the fiddle starts again. Faster, louder, a dance tune that snares my feet. I mean to walk away, but instead I turn back. Lisst is dancing as they fiddle, those cuffed boots strangely silent on the scuffed serviceway tiles. They sway, their body bending like water, with their elbow rising and falling, fingers almost separate characters cut off by the line of those black gloves, flickering over the strings. No one plays like that!

Lisst's whole body beckons to me. Their music rises, filling me, until the sound becomes the air I breathe, and the light in my eyes. Grey, and green, and dark, and green, and GREEN. I think I step forward. Or maybe sideways. The ground feels like it tilts, although with artif-grav that's not possible. Down is always down. But I'm sliding, into the music. Straight at Lisst and the green around them, until I raise my hands to fend them off.

Instead, my hands pass into them, improbably sliding into the raised arm and the slim shoulder draped in tunic folds. “Sorry,” they whisper, as my slide brings my mouth close to theirs. Then, as I brace for an unexpected, unwanted kiss, the music twists and we're both falling sideways, into the GREEN.

I wake up with a jolt. Just a weird dream. I'm both disappointed and relieved. Then, as I blink sleepily, I sit up and my braced hand feels an odd rough prickle under my palm that isn't my familiar sheets. I open my eyes fast.

The stuff under my hand must be grass, although I've never felt it before. Overhead actual trees arch higher than I'd ever imagined. I tip my head back to track their leafy branches against the sky. Higher than the Archway. Impossible. Dizzy. I blink fast. This is crazy. Just a better VR show. That's all.

I've done virtual reality, of course, in school. Geography. Nature studies. Even one with grass and trees, recorded in one of the Preserved Miles on Earth. Never had the high end kind like this, with feely-touch. This must be one of those. It's cool-o, right down to the little flow of air across my cheek like a real breeze.

Behind me, Lisst's voice says, “We really should be going.”

I whip my head around. Sure enough, they're standing a few feet away, in that ridiculous outfit that looks only slightly less crazy against the backdrop of wide trunks and gnarled bushes. “You!”

Of course they grin and say, “Me!” Of course they do.

I scramble to my feet and cross my arms firmly. “You can stop now.”

“Unfortunately not.”

“Look.” I'm getting worried about how crazy this is, but VR at this level of detail - especially VR that must be lased to my eyes because I have no goggles or lenses on – well that stuff is expensive. Whatever they're up to, it's not some prank. “You made your point. This tech is hot-hot. I'm sure you'll make a bundle off it. But I really need to head to work.”

Lisst shakes their head. “Your work is a bit out of reach right now.”

“It's just over there…” I turn in a circle looking for the break in the VR but it's perfect. Trees, taller than any I've seen even in classic Old Earth pictures. A sky over head like a distant blue dome. Grass and little plants and flowery things all around me. I want to run away, and at the same time I freeze, so I don't step on delicate life. If those are real… plants are vital to station ecology and atmosphere.

My heart beats faster. I turn again, little tiny steps to not crush anything underfoot. The trees waver in my vision. But not because they don't look real. “You can stop now,” I whisper.

“Annalyn.” Lisst shakes their head. “I'm sorry. I know this is always a shock.”

“Always? What?”

“To mortals, I mean. Ending up here.”

Mortals? I don't ask. I don't want to know how crazy Lisst is. Instead I say, “Where is here?”

Lisst waves their hand at the forest. “Fae-home. The Neverlands.”

I can't manage to push out words. I take a big step back. The green smell of grass crushed under my feet makes me shudder.

“This land is my home. I brought you here in obedience to my king.”

There are so many things wrong with that I don't know where to begin. “We're in space. Station Minerva is suspended five hundred and seven kilometers above the surface of Altera Five. There are no trees.”

Lisst walks a few steps, and slaps their hand on a huge, rough trunk. The sound echoes in my head. “Seems solid to me.” They raise one eyebrow. “Care to try it?”

“I want to go home.”

The faint humor in their face fades. “I know. But you can't. You're here now, and you'll have to make the best of it.”

“Why? Why me?” My voice gets louder, shriller, till I sound like a three year old. “I don't want to be here. I want to go back. I don't belong here. Let me go!”

“Annalyn.” They take a step towards me.

I take a bigger one back. “Don't touch me. What did you do?”

Lisst stops, and shrugs, raising the violin in their hand. “I played, It's my job, to play, in all the odd corners of the human worlds, and call the unwanted, the lost, the ones with a touch of magic in their bones, and bring them home.”

I grit my teeth. “This is not my home.”

“It will be.” They sigh. “What is done is done. You have fae blood in you, from somewhere, and the music called you.”

“I can't stay here. I have duties.”

“So have I.” They raise the violin and draw the bow across the strings. The music swims in the air, soft and warm like a mother's hug.

I know it's not real, the calm I feel washing through me. It's the music. The magic, even, although I never believed in that. When less than a meter of plassteel stands between you and the cold of outer space, you'd better be putting your faith in mathematics, not magic. And yet… here I am. Explain this, Pythagoras.

The tune changes to something brighter, and faster. Lisst turns on their heel and walks away, and I follow without meaning to. They lead me down a path between the trees. I feel better once the sky is screened out overhead by the arch of branches. It was too open and high above the meadow. It felt like I might get sucked up into the blue. This path might almost be the great hall at home, decorated for some kind of nature festival. I try to pretend it's true.

After about ten minutes, we arrive at a stone wall, with a door in it. Lisst has to stop playing to reach for the handle. With the silence, my fears come crashing in again.


message 8: by Kaje (last edited Jul 31, 2016 09:56AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments Only not quite as hard. I manage to bite my tongue and not beg to be taken home. They swing the door open and look at me. “This isn't some magic threshold. You already crossed that. This is just the way in to find food, and beds.”

I don't need a bed, and I feel like I may never eat again, the way my gut is twisted up. But I nod. When they hold the door open, I step through. What else can I do? I could run away into the forest, but even if they didn't catch me, for all I know there could be wolves or bears out there. I yearn for solid walls and a roof over my head.

Lisst follows me inside, and pulls the door closed behind us.

We're in a long hallway, lit by fixtures along both walls. The lights flicker and glow like fire, but there's no scent of wax or char. I suddenly remember the lamp on the corridor floor back home. “These lights. Do they really burn? With fire, I mean?”

Lisst blinks at me, as if wondering what I'm talking about.

“The one you left behind. It won't start a fire when it burns down, will it?” Fire is the the one thing that scares the crap out of all of us on Minerva.

“Oh! No, be at ease. It's sun magic, light without heat.” They walk over and lay their bare palm on the glass over one of the lights. There is no hiss, and they don't appear to feel it, any more than I would touching a corridor LED.

“Oh. That's good.”

“It's the queen's magic. To bring light. The one I left behind will have gone dark when I withdrew.”

“Ah.” What do you say about magic, when it's lighting the dark place you're in? I don't believe in you - go away?

“Come. This way.” Lisst leads off along the corridor, and I can't think of anything to do but follow.

We're halfway to the big doors at the end, when a bit of the side wall draws back and a tall, lovely woman almost bumps into us. She stops short, her arms full of satiny fabric. “Lisst? You're back?”

They make a sweeping gesture down themselves. “As you see.”

The woman turns to me with a quick glance. “Who? I don't... No, no time now.” She turns to Lisst. “You're late. Marian makes her choice tonight. If you hurry you might bear witness.” Brushing past us, she strides to the big doors, fumbles the handle to open one and slips through.

Lisst says, “Come on. This will explain better than I can.” They jog on after the woman.

I catch up with them at the door, and grab the trailing bit of their tunic drapery. “What will?”

“Hush. Quickly, follow me and do not draw attention to yourself.” They pull a door open and step through.

I want to say no, but I also don't want to lose the one connection to my real life. I follow them.

The doors open to a much wider corridor with windows on one side and doors on the other. Lisst hurries along it and I follow in their wake. Other people, mostly tall, slim and as lovely as Lisst, pass us in both directions, and most throw me a sharp glance but say nothing. The corridor takes a sharp turn right, losing the windows, and then we reach an atrium. The vaulted ceiling is painted with moons and stars, and stone pillars break up the space. People are hurrying through it, into three doors at the far side. Lisst leads me to a small staircase winding up a wall to a kind of landing, and opens a small door there.

“We'll be less noticed up here.”

We step out onto a little balcony, above a big, noisy hall. There are other small balconies around the wall, but only a few are occupied. Most people crowd the main floor. Everyone is dressed in gorgeous, exotic wear, from flowing silks to shining armor to furs and cloaks and one well-endowed green-haired woman in what looks like pasties made of shining leaves, with a trail of blossoms from a wreath on her hair. It's barely decent and if I wasn't Ace I might have given her more eye time. But the rest of the crowd is more fascinating.

As I look, I start seeing the body-mods, the little differences of winged eyebrows, pointed ears or no ears, horns, even antlers, skin so pale it's translucent, or so thick and gnarled it's like wood. I know I'm staring. I'm really glad Lisst brought us up here, where I don't have to worry as much about being rude. Even as I think that, a tall man with horns like the old vids of mountain sheep looks up and meets my eyes. At this distance it's hard to tell, but I think his are yellow. I know he's not happy to see me watching him, and I look away fast.

There's a stir, then a warble of some kind of brassy synth. No, I'm wrong. It's the short guy by the back door, with an actual bugle-thing to his lips. He steps to one side, the door opens, and people come through in a swirl of cloaks and skirts.

The first must be the king. There's something about the way he walks, the way he looks around the room, singling out this one and that for a stare, that reminds me of a predator. There's a ripple of bows and knee-bending as he walks past the edge of the crowd and steps up on a low stage. There's a pair of chairs there, fancy enough to be thrones, and he swirls his cape out of the way and sits on the higher one. The woman behind him, in her silver gossamer gown and white furs, sits in the other. Gradually the fancy people who came in arrange themselves on the stage. Only one other is a woman, and although she's dressed in something gorgeous and blue, my eyes keep wandering to the colorful array of men who line up at the back of the stage.

There are probably a dozen of those men, each dressed like they're auditioning for royalty in a play by Shakespeare. The youngest seems like a boy, as smooth-faced as Lisst, with a similar mop of hair, although the width of his shoulders and the cut of his legging-things make his gender pretty clear. The oldest has some slack to his skin, and a line of bone that is more prominent, with bushier eyebrows. But his age is impossible to guess. His hair is black as space, without a strand of grey, and he doesn't look like the type to color it.

The king raises his hand, and the crowd immediately shuts up. You can feel their attention lasering in.

He says, “Marian, my dear?” and gestures at the stage in front of him. I shiver, because I've never heard “my dear” sound like a threat before.

The woman in blue glides forward and goes to one knee on the polished wood at his feet, and bows her head. Her smooth balance in that cumbersome costume is pretty amazing, and I wonder why she seems so dull to me. It's like her skin is muddy, or pasty.

No, it's the way everyone else shines.

I put my hand on the balcony rail, next to Lisst's. My skin looks like tan mud, next to their slim, pale, perfect fingers, so white against the black half-gloves.

Before I get the nerve to ask why, the king speaks again. My gaze snaps to him, as if on command.

“Marian, have you made a choice?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Speak, then.”

She glances past him at the row of standing men, then says, “I choose Lord Carabal.”

There's a little sigh in the room, as if a hundred people breathed in at once. The king raises an eyebrow. “Truly? Very well. So be it.” He glances over his shoulder. “Carabal?”

The second youngest-looking man steps forward, and walks over, to kneel at Marion's side. They glance at each other once, but I can't read their expressions. Then they each hold out one hand to the king, Marion turning hers so Carabal's fingers can lace with hers. The queen passes him something that proves to be a ball of silver ribbon. He stands, and begins to wind the ribbon around their wrists, tying them together. “I pronounce the Lady Marion and Lord Carabal handfasted, in the sight of this court. The wedding will occur at the rise of the new moon, four days hence.” He finishes the wrapping with a twist, then taps it with one finger. “By my will and my rule and my word.”

There's puff of white vapor, and when it dissipates, the ribbon is gone. Or invisible, because Marion and Carabal still hold their hands locked together. The king steps back and gestures to them to stand, and they do so with hands clasped.

“Let the celebration begin.” The king waves toward a corner, and the crowd parts to reveal a quartet of musicians. As they start playing a song with a fast beat, Lisst's fingers close on my wrist.

“Come on,” they say.

“Not to the party.” I look down at the swirling crowd, where a space for dancing has opened up in the middle of the floor. “I can't.”

“Of course not.” Lisst tugs me away from the rail. “You have to be presented to the king, before aught else to do with the court. But first, we'll go to a quiet room and clean and dress you.”

I clutch my tunic close with my free arm across my chest. It may be my work-wear, and not fancy, but I'll be spaced if I'll give it up. I tug back against the pull. “First, you'll answer questions.”

They hesitate, then say, “Yes. If I can. Come along now.”

We go down the stairs in the lobby area. Several people look our way, but no one comes over as Lisst tugs me to another door, another corridor, a bend, a passage. I'll never find my way out. I'm about ready to scream when they open a door and usher me in. “This will be your room, for now.”

It's about five times as big as my room back home, but I don't look around. Putting the stone wall to my back, I snap out, “What are you doing?” Words begin to tumble over themselves. “I don't belong here. I'm not staying. I'm a hydroponics tech. I need to be at work… soon.” I have no idea how much time has passed. I'm probably crazy late already. Or just crazy. I shudder, and wrap my arms around my middle. “I'm not staying.”

Lisst still has their violin and they raise it to their shoulder, taking the bow in their other hand.

I slam forward off the wall, and smack the wooden side of the fiddle, sending it to the floor. “No!”

Lisst looks furious! I cower back against the wall, sure they're going to punch me. We stand, huffing short breaths, eyes locked. But instead of hitting me, they slowly sigh and step back one pace, bending to pick up the violin. “Better hope it's not damaged. You cannot earn the cost of this one in a lifetime of service.”

“I don't care. You try to drug me with it again and I'll break it in pieces.”

They look at me from under that grey mop of hair, eyebrow raised as they run fingertips over the strings. “You could try.”

“I would.” The tremble of my voice makes me grit my teeth.

“You don't understand.”

“So talk to me.”

Lisst hesitates, then sets the fiddle on top of a chest of drawers that looks like real wood, and sits on the edge of the high bed. “Promise to hear me out?”

“Do I have another choice?”

“Well, not a good one.”

“Then shoot.”

“I'll not shoot you. Yet.”

I'm not sure if that's a joke. They travel between worlds or times or whatever this place is. They may or may not know my slang. Too bad. “Talk.”

“Once upon a time—”

“I don't need fairytales.”

“Ah, but this is the land of the fae. Here, they're true.”

I have no answer for that, so I ask, “How old are you? You look my age, you know, eighteen Standard, but you talk like an old person.”

“I'm ageless.” They give me a look that challenges me to contradict them. “And you're interrupting. Once upon a time, Fae-Home and the mortal worlds lived side by side. Sometimes people crossed, one side to the other, but rarely. Just enough that some fae seed was sown in the human realm.”

“You mean some women got pregged by fae guys,” I say, because my teeth are on edge.

Lisst winces. “As you say. Pregged. Ye gods. Anyhow, humans multiplied and flourished in the sunlit lands, while the fae realm continued on apparently unchanged. But we began to notice, over centuries—”

“Centuries!”

They frown at me. “We're long lived folk. But not immortal. As I was saying, we noticed that few of our women were with child. Every decade fewer babes were born. Here. In human lands it was different.”


message 9: by Kaje (last edited Jul 31, 2016 10:00AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments “You were luckier.” I remember the stories of the lands swarming with more people than they could feed, of air too polluted to breathe, of the droughts that led to the Diaspora, and the wars that followed. The fae hadn't suffered the great Plague that might have been engineered, or might not, as it killed one in four of us. They'd gone on living in this green land while we struggled to come back from that, and then reach for the stars.

“We were dying out. That's not luckier.”

“I guess.”

“First the king send out a few of his men to bring back human women.”

“Bring? Like, kidnap?” Am I kidnapped?

“Entice. Lure.” They sigh. “Steal. Kidnap. Anyhow, it turned out not to help. Though they became pregnant easily enough, they soon sickened here, and died, and the babes with them.”

“Great Asimov, you kidnapped them, raped them, and this place killed them, and the children?”

“There was no rape!” Lisst bounced to his feet, glaring at me. “They all chose the man they would be with. Many were love matches. But they could not survive it.”

“Not much difference.”

“It was to them, and the husbands who loved them.” They pace to the door and back. “We despaired then, and resigned ourselves to dwindling slowly. Because we fae cannot live long in the human lands without fading, anymore than full humans can live here.

"Then my father, who was King's Bard before me, did a favor for the magic hills, and was given this fiddle in payment. He went to the human lands. There he played the fiddle in a traveling show for a time, and earned the love of a beautiful human girl. When he had to return to Fae-Home, she followed him back here, although he tried to forbid her. And she thrived here and had three children. Myself and two sisters.”

“How?”

“That was the question on everyone's lips when my older sister was born. And again on the second child. And they sent scholars to the human world to trace what was known about Bria Lori White and her ancestors.”

“And?”

“And most of the records had been destroyed. But my father became convinced that his wife had fae blood in her. When I was young he began going back to the human lands with his fiddle, and he played here and there. On rare occasions, the fiddle would call a person to him, and if they were a young woman he would bring them back here.”

“So I am kidnapped!” I wished I'd shut my teeth on that because Lisst gave me a very dark look.

“As I was saying. The women who came here were shown the wonders of this land. Where they had lived it was dark with ash and dry as bone and deep in sorrow. They chose to stay. After a year, each chose a husband from among the eligible nobles. And babes were born once more. And then my father was killed, on one of his trips to the human world.”

“I'm sorry.” I knew how that felt. Dad had been only forty when the asteroid holed his suit, too far from an airlock. I wondered where Lisst's father had been going. “Dark with ash” sounded like the mined out surface of Terra-two, or maybe even the backslid colonies on Old Earth.

Lisst picked up the fiddle again and sat back on the bed, holding it in their lap, running a finger around the satin curves of its shape. “For years, no one could play this fiddle. It was silent, even when the best musicians in the land lifted the bow.” They gave an odd laugh. “I remember watching Dorian, still in his golden years, drawing the bow across the strings and getting no more than a squeak. I think he'd have smashed it if it weren't a treasure of the realm. And our only hope.”

“Let me guess,” I say sarcastically, to hide the shaking in my gut. “On the day you came of age, you raised the bow and it sang for you alone.”

“Precisely,” Lisst says, as if to take the wind out of my sails. “But actually, it was my sister Veria who found she could play it first.”

“So where's she now? She dumped the job of girl-snatching for the nobles onto you?”

“She didn't like the human realm, and sickened when she visited it. She's in charge of the king's stables now. She passed the violin to our sister Tania, who has no ear for music, who passed it on to me.”

“And you what? Go out on girl-hunting roadtrips?” A thought occurred to me. “Marian. Did you kidnap her?”

Lisst shook their head. “It was not kidnapping. She was the bed toy of a ship captain of very ill repute, when he paused on a street in New France to hear my sister play. Later Marian crept back and begged Veria to take her away with her. She did, and she is well content.”

I hoped that was true. Nonetheless. “I didn't beg to go with you. I didn't even know it was possible.”

“Don't you like it here? Do you really prefer your drab little shell of a world, orbiting above the land? Steel and oil and noting real about it?”

“Hey! That's my space station you're talking about. Minerva may not be perfect, but no one starves, the kids all get free ed, even the station rats, and free med too. The vids are livestreamed. We do all right.”

“It was like a can, small and hard and echoing.”

“Wait.” Something occurred to me. “You said Marian was one of your sister's victims.”

“Rescues.”

I waved my hand. “Whatever. She passed the violin to your other sister, then to you. So how long have you had it?”

Their chin jerked up. “Long enough.”

“How many girls have you brought here?”

They glare at me. “This will be your room, for now. I'll have suitable clothes brought for you, to wear to meet the king. The court will be taken up with Marian's wedding for the next three days, but after that—”

“No!” I folded my arms, confidence rising. “No. You say I'm not kidnapped. Well, I want to go home. Now.”

“You can't.”

“Then I am kidnapped.”

“No! Yes, well, not really.”

“Which is it? Am I able to go home or am I a prisoner?”

They run a long-fingered hand through that mop of grey hair. “You're not a prisoner. But how can you leave before you see the beauty of our gardens, taste the food, and the wine? At least a meal.”

A vague memory surfaces. “Isn't it supposed to be bad to eat food in fairyland?”

“Don't call it that. We're not fairies.”

“Answer the question.”

“It's not bad.” The emphasis is faint, but there.

“Is it safe? Does it change anything?”

Lisst huffs. “All right. I'll take you back.”

“You what?” I put a hand on the wall, off balance as if they'd pushed me. “You will?”

“Yes. But it must be now. Right away. You'll see nothing more, taste nothing. Back to your little iron can with you, spinning in space, doing a drab job, marrying some drab man who will probably beat you.”

I laugh, because that's sour grapes for sure. “For one, if I ever marry it'll be a woman. And no one lays a hand on me, at least, not twice.”

“You don't like men?”

“I like them. Don't want to live with one. And I don't screw anyone, so it's pretty moot. Most Aces don't marry, although some do. Marriage is really about kids, though.”

Lisst's dark eyes blink fast, as if they're trying to process what I said.

I put a hand on my hip, cock my head. “You do have Rainbow folk here, right?”

“Rainbow?”

“Guys who marry guys? Women who love women? You obviously have genderbender folk.” I gesture up and down their body, and yeah it's rude, but so is kidnapping.

“Men don't marry men.” They frown. “They may be with them, as lovers, yes. And women with women.”

“Well, like I said, marriage is about kids. If I marry, and it's a big if, it'll be because some woman has convinced me children aren't little squealing demons and I want to nurture hers.”

“You don't like children?”

“Not in big doses.”

Lisst finally looks less than sure of themself, the bow drooping from their fingers.

I press my advantage. “Look. The fact that I like girls is irrelevant. The thing is, you didn't ask me. I don't want to be here. I won't stay here!”

“I must not fail my people.” Their voice is thin.

“Hey, it's not a disaster, just take me home and go find some other girl who wants to be rescued and become a princess. A pregnant princess.”

“The Prince is already wed.”

“Fair lady, then. Elfwife. Whatever! It's not for me.”

Lisst shakes their head. “It's not that simple. In ten years we have only found a dozen women who responded to the music and came back here on its magic. That's a start, but not much of one. And we've never taken anyone back.”

“But you can?” My heart thumps against my ribs.

“I've never tried.”

“Well, you went to Minerva when you grabbed me. How did you get there?”

“I played the violin within a gate, and something called me. When I do that, the music changes and shows me the way. And then I am there.”

“A gate?”

“A thin place, between the worlds. They can be crossed if one has the power.”

“So we go back and you do it again.” My voice is steadier than I feel.

Lisst glares at me. “Just like that? Oh, sure, just do it again.”

“Well, what does it hurt to try?”

“We could end up somewhere totally different.”

“Somewhere human?”

“Well, yes. Probably.”

“I'll take it.” There were no doubt a thousand human worlds and times worse to live in than this green world, but I felt like the air was getting thin here, imagining being trapped forever. “Maybe I'll go back to the golden age of Old Earth.” That's bravado. I miss Minerva suddenly with a gut-deep ache.

Lisst shakes their head. “We do not cross time. Only worlds.”

“Even better. Let's go.” I turn to the door.

“Wait!” They actually sound panicked.

I turn back reluctantly. “What?”

Their elegant face is creased with worry, and they reach out a gloved hand to me. “We have to plan this. You were right.”

“Of course I was.” I don't take their hand. “About what?”

They bite their full lower lip between very white teeth for a moment, then say, “About me. That I haven't… I mean, that this was my first actual rescue. Of a girl.”

“Kidnapping.”

“Well, how did I know?” They slide the violin onto the covers and bounce to their feet. “There you were in that drab, dry, dirty, echoing place, dressed in naught but a sack—”

“Work clothes. You try draining hydroponic lines in your party dress.”

“And I was excited, because I'd tried and tried and you were the first, and maybe I rushed it…”

“Maybe?”

“I did. But you're here now and I don't know if I can take you back, and the king will be furious if he finds out, and I may not lure another girl for years. Would it be so bad to stay?”

“Yes,” I say flatly. “It would.”

“Oh.” For a long minute we just look at each other. Their dark eyes under the tousle of grey bangs seem sad, or maybe scared. “I didn't mean harm.”

“But you did some. So now undo it.”

“The king would compel you, for the good of the realm.”

I shiver, unable to do more than shake my head. I remember that shining figure on the throne, all light and strength, but without softness and humanity. I bet he would.

Softly, Lisst says, “But my mother was human, and I will not. We'll leave now, before word of you spreads.” They laugh bitterly. “There was a time the king and guard awaited my return with the fiddle, in hope, over and over. It's a good thing they long ago despaired of me being of much use, and stopped bothering to watch for me. But someone will mention that I did not come back alone this time.”

“I'm ready.”

They pick up the fiddle and bow, and tilt their head toward the door. “Follow me.”

When we return to the corridors, they're pretty deserted. Maybe some other party is going on. I don't ask. It's lucky and I'm not going to jinx us. We turn down a couple of different branches, before we run into anyone who stops to take a second look.

A boy, barely into his teens but with tiny horns parting the dark curls on his head, pauses as he passes for a second look. “Bard, who's the lady?”

Lisst says, “One of the Lady Marion's handmaids, dressed down to not outshine her mistress.”

The boy smirks. “Well done, then. I'd almost say she looks human.” He tips his head to me. “No insult meant, m'lady.”

“Get along with you,” Lisst says sharply, and the boy hurries off.


message 10: by Kaje (last edited Jul 31, 2016 10:08AM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments Lisst blows out a breath. “He's not the sharpest blade in the armory, but eventually it will occur to him that my explanation made no sense, and he still doesn't know who you are. Come on.”

We turn again and end up at a door that is larger and thicker than those lining the hallways. Lisst unbars it and ushers me through. Outside, the sky is darkening. There are stars appearing in one direction. In the other, the sky has a wash of lavender and pink and turquoise, draped with gilt-edged clouds. I stand, gaping at it, my mouth hanging open. I mean, you can see pictures of sunsets, and vids, and read poetry about them, and yet none of that comes close to having that amazing color arcing high over your head.

Lisst grabs my wrist. “Come on. You didn't want to stay, so move.”

For a second that glory in my eyes makes me want to change my mind. But I remember almost human and no offense and decide my instincts are on the money. I follow Lisst, stumbling a bit as I take glances up. Within a few minutes we're heading along a path between the trees.

It's darker in here, but still the brilliance of the sky is enough to light our way. Lisst hurries, the violin and bow cradled against their chest, still gripping my arm painfully tight. It feels like no time at all before they tug me along off the path into a grass-paved clearing.

“Here?” I look about but it seems no different from any other open space we passed.

“This is one of the gates. A minor one. I tried using the major gates at first, but—”

“But?”

“Failing is less painful when no one is watching.”

“Hey.” I put my hand over theirs on my wrist, not sure why I feel the need to comfort them. “You didn't fail. I mean, yeah, you got the wrong girl. But it worked.”

They nod slowly. “True. I will remind His Majesty of that fact, when he finds out what I've done.”

“Will you really be in trouble? You did your best.”

Their laugh is not reassuring. “As long as I am the only one the violin sings for, all will be well.”

“That's not an answer.”

“It's close enough.” They raise the violin to their shoulder, and tap it with the bow once, softly.

“Wait. Are you coming with me? You know, to find a better choice?”

They quirk a half-smile at me. “Right now, I'm not even sure you're going anywhere. Who knows. I play the music, but the magic plays me.”

“Do you want to come? You could even stay.” I'm suddenly taken with the idea. My best friend Jess left on an out-system freighter last year. It would be fun having Lisst to show around, even if immigration would have conniption fits if they ever found them.

But they shake their head. “I may not be good at this, but I have value, real worth, to my people. And I couldn't live in a dry tin can.”

Before I can answer, they draw the bow across the strings. The sound is amazing, an arrow into me that tugs at my bones. I move closer, my feet jittering on the grass without my control. The song soars, and my breath goes with it, lifting toward that sky of stars. But after a while I'm snapped back to reality as Lisst breaks off short.

Reality in a grassy forest clearing.

Not Minerva's corridors.

Asimov's balls! It didn't work.

Lisst pauses, violin on their shoulder. “That was the song that I used before.”

“Well.” I tug at my hair, trying to think. My brain is still whirling somewhere above the ground, and I can't put words together.

“Maybe this,” Lisst says, and raises the bow again. They play something else, something with weight that pushes at me, until it weaves into another song that flows over my skin like water, and then another. Something shifts under my feet and I catch my balance, waving my arms. Lisst pauses again. “Yes, that might work. Last chance?”

“Last chance for you too,” I say. “Come with me. Don't be a tool.”

A voice to our left says, “Bard? What are you doing?”

We both whirl and look. Lisst slides to one knee, the fiddle still on their shoulder. “My lord.”

It's not the king, but a man who looks a lot like him. Maybe a bit younger, a bit less severe, but with the same features so perfect they could cut glass. The new man says, “I felt the gate opening—”

Then suddenly, without standing, Lisst whips the bow across the strings. The sound wails from the violin, leaping, climbing.

The man says, “Wait!”

I feel myself lifting, that odd disconnection from the ground as if I'm being pulled through an airlock by a pressure gradient. I see the new man draw a short blade from a sheath at his hip, and want to shout a warning, but the music is sucking my breath from my lungs.

With their cheek still pillowed on the violin, Lisst calls to me, “Don't worry. I'm worth too much to my king to be damaged.” Or maybe he's calling it to the other man, because the guy stops and stands still, the blade bare in his hand but not doing anything with it.

Then the music climbs, louder, denser, filling my head until sight and vision and touch are nothing but song. It's gorgeous and too much, too strong. The very cells of my body are saturated with it, until I cry out, losing myself in the sounds— and drop hard onto a smooth, slightly dirty tile floor. My ears ring with the silence, my knees ache. A tiny blade of grass clings to my left shoe.

I collapse all at once, like a blob of slime mold. Flat on the corridor floor, breathing hard, I reach with shaking fingers to touch that tiny fragment of green. There is no grass on Minerva. It's a useless plant, on a station. I stroke that fragile wisp of another world, and breathe, and gasp, and breathe, in the stale, dry, perfect air of my home.

***

Epilogue

It's two years since the workers found me collapsed in a corridor, after I was reported missing. No one was sure why it took so long for me to be found. The S&R folk swore they swept that corridor hours earlier, and found only an odd metal box. I couldn't tell them anything about what had happened to me. Nothing they would believe anyway. I got out of the hospital after a day. There was really nothing wrong with me.

Except the nightmares. Sometimes I dreamed that the king was standing in my cubelet, right by my bunk, reaching out to drag me away. Sometimes the guy with the blade cut Lisst's throat, before they were done playing, and they bled out in my arms. Sometimes I was returned to a Minerva silent and echoing, a far future where my home station was a dead moon around a dead planet. But they were only dreams. They faded when I switched on the lights.

Somewhere I lost that blade of grass. Nothing remained, except odd memories and dreams, until I began to believe I'd imagined it all. A collapse, a seizure, a hallucination. A gas leak maybe, though none was found. Lisst's face, their grey mop of hair, their voice, faded from memory. Although sometimes I could still hear a wisp of their music, somewhere in the back of my mind.

Then today, someone brings me a gift, a thing, found lying in a station hallway. It's real paper, the ancient kind, inscribed on the outside “Annalyn Bard” and sealed with a blob of wax. The finder is desperately curious why such a valuable artifact has my name on it, but I send them off with no more than a thank you. I sit for a long time, turning it in my hand, before gathering the nerve to open it.

My Lady, it reads.

In case you were worried, I am still useful to my king. And this time, she has no hope here and wants to come with me.

Just that. Not even a signature, and the wax is not embossed. I have no doubt, of course, who it's from. Should I do anything? Must I warn Security there's another way on and off the station besides the airlocks? Should I search for a missing person report?

In the end, I set the paper inside my closet, in the box with my father's service pin, and the lock of my mother's hair. I will believe that Lisst is well, and that they would not repeat the same mistake twice. I will trust their words and their intentions.

Some other girl, this time one who had no hope, is waking amid the green grass and tree trunks of a fairy world. Good luck to her. I do not regret being the girl who stays here, when some other Minervan travels to fae-home. But I pull up the list of down-planet jobs and start thinking about a temporary transfer. I would dearly love to see another sunset someday.


~~~~~~~~####~~~~~~


message 11: by Sammy Goode (new)

Sammy Goode | 5380 comments Darren wrote: "Closing my eyes I can see you again

My whirligig, dancing as if on water

Not watching my fingers play

Bow loosely threaded like your wild hair

Red reflected in the flames behind you

Colouring ..."


Gosh that is lovely, Darren--thank you for sharing it!


message 12: by Sammy Goode (last edited Jul 31, 2016 11:18AM) (new)

Sammy Goode | 5380 comments Kaje wrote: "Lisst blows out a breath. “He's not the sharpest blade in the armory, but eventually it will occur to him that my explanation made no sense, and he still doesn't know who you are. Come on.”

We tur..."


So nice, Kaje! xoxo


message 13: by Darren (last edited Jul 31, 2016 11:19AM) (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments "They run a long-fingered hand through that mop of grey hair. “You're not a prisoner. But how can you leave before you see the beauty of our gardens, taste the food, and the wine? At least a meal.”

This (and how the story develops) very much reminds me of Odysseus and the Sirens...


message 14: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments :) I guess we're all affected by what we read - probably a bit of Tam Lin in there too.


message 15: by Darren (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments oh! I meant it as a compliment really, I liked it :)


message 16: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments Darren wrote: "oh! I meant it as a compliment really, I liked it :)"

No worries - I didn't take it a a criticism. I have no problem with an echo of the classics :D


message 17: by Darren (last edited Sep 09, 2016 12:51AM) (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments I SLOWLY DANCE

I hear your melancholy in the strings.
My mind's eye wanders, and I dance
In my imagination.
Immidiate attraction.
I wheel me closer, you're in trance,
Playing your music, my heart sings.

I see your music in the moonlight,
Soft sounds of longing and of fear.
I catch your eye,
And see you cry.
I wipe away a solitary tear.
I want so much to make you feel right.

I lift my hand and touch your knee, gently.
Your eyes meet mine, you bend slightly down.
I pull you to me,
this feels so free.
Your music forgotten, but also your frown,
You grab the handles of my chair, quickly.

While the music is only a memory now,
You dance with me, slow and exciting.
Our mouths finally meet,
Our eyes lovingly greet.
A smile in your eyes, soft and longing,
Wiping sadness and hurt from your brow.

Darren


message 18: by Jason (new)

Jason (jason_williams) | 732 comments Darren wrote: "I SLOWLY DANCE

I hear your melancholy in the strings.
My mind's eye wanders, and I dance
In my imagination.
Immidiate attraction.
I wheel me closer, you're in trance,
Playing your music, my heart..."


Beautiful Darren. <3


message 19: by Darren (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments Thanks Jason <3


message 20: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments Darren wrote: "I SLOWLY DANCE

..."


That's lovely Darren,.


message 21: by Darren (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments Thanks Kaje :)


message 22: by Mel (new)

Mel (melleach) Darren wrote: "I SLOWLY DANCE

I hear your melancholy in the strings.
My mind's eye wanders, and I dance
In my imagination.
Immidiate attraction.
I wheel me closer, you're in trance,
Playing your music, my heart..."


That's so beautiful, Darren.


message 23: by Darren (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments Thank you Mel <3


message 24: by ella (new)

ella  (theyabookqueen) | 1 comments wow you guys are talented! I feel like I can't write anything other than fanfic. Good job everyone!! <3


message 25: by Sammy Goode (new)

Sammy Goode | 5380 comments Ella (theyabookqueen) wrote: "wow you guys are talented! I feel like I can't write anything other than fanfic. Good job everyone!! <3"

But fanfic is a talent unto itself--and this is a really safe place to stretch your wings if you want too--take a look at the prompts--it doesn't have to be the current onE, it can be any--try your hand at something--we would love it if you did!


message 26: by Kaje (last edited Sep 12, 2016 07:39PM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments Ella (theyabookqueen) wrote: "wow you guys are talented! I feel like I can't write anything other than fanfic. Good job everyone!! <3"

Lots of authors I know got their start in fanfic. Some of my favorite stories to read are fanfic. And you're welcome to write that here too, if a picture fits a fandom you like.

That one could be Firefly, or DS9 maybe...


message 27: by Darren (new)

Darren (dwite) | 359 comments I write fanfic too. For one of the games I play :)


message 28: by Kaje (last edited Sep 12, 2016 07:42PM) (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments I wrote Kirk/Spock slash and Starsky/Hutch, back in the day (like, the 70's LOL) . I've done a bit of others too.


message 29: by Riina (new)

Riina Y.T. (ibxxxriina) | 469 comments I've wanted to write something for this picture the moment I saw it but never got around to it. A piece of a story for it has been in my head ever since but I admit I was too lazy, too distracted, too everything to write it down.


Decided I would today. So here goes nothing.


You Have To Have The Darkness For The Dawn To Come.

Ears twitching and nose itching, I followed the familiar scent and beautiful music down the long, cold corridor. Swift on my paws, I navigated the dark halls in an agile manner, overcome with an impatience that increased with every note from the violin. The sound grew in volume and with every step, my tiny cat heart beat faster and faster, flapping like the wings of a bird I once had.

Rue smiled when he spotted me drawing closer. The song changed to a slow, familiar one and I sat down beside him, purring along with the melody. I licked my white-spotted paw in between stolen glances and the occasional bump with my head. His clothes were so soft and smelled like lavender and something that tickled my nose pleasantly. My purring increased.

“You're late,” Rue said when the song ended. Putting down the instrument, he quickly pulled me in his lap. There was a smile in his voice and I glowed from the inside, pleased at the excitement I felt coming off of him and happy to be finally reunited. That one day had felt like a piece of eternity.

His hand brushed my head, then gloved fingers combed through my fur and I couldn't stop the ever increasing purr if I wanted. He rubbed my chin with his thumb, tilting my head back so I would look at him. Good thing I was all fur instead of pale skin or I'd be embarrassed by the heat currently setting my body on fire.

“Are you ready?” he asked, a grin softening his serious and often wary expression.

A meow escaped me and Rue laughed, his brown eyes sparkling in the dim light of the gas-fired lamp. My tongue came out to lick my paw one last time, then I changed.

Darkness swallowed my sight. Buzzing filled my ears like we were surrounded by a bee hive. Something made me sneeze. Then I heard a quiet gasp, the fog in my brain clearing fast. When I opened my eyes—my human eyes— I found myself draped awkwardly across my best friend's lap, my hands held tightly in his.

The scent of fresh lavender was unmistakable and stronger—or easier to make out— than it should be in this form. The fond smile he gave me, the perfection that was his small nose and silver hair framing his face— I wasn't surprised to find myself flushing harder than ever in this position. I loved being able to be with him, just looking at Rue in my human form, face to face.

Maybe sometimes a little too much.

Rue must have noticed but said nothing. Instead, he threw his arms around my neck and pulled me close. His breath tickled my long, black hair, which fell down my naked back and pooled around my waist. I smiled to myself and enjoyed being held for a moment longer.

“There's clothes in my bag,” Rue said after a while. I thought it might be a hint for us to get going and reluctantly untangled myself from him.

I found said bag and dug around for the green tunic he'd brought along. While I dressed myself, Rue wrapped his violin in plain cloths and put it in another leather bag.

“I've got everything we need for the potion.” Rue handed me a velvet pouch and I peeked inside. "I found even the Zrys flower, like you said," he told me proudly. I wrinkled my nose.

“Wow, smells like dead things.” I shuddered. ”All the dead things.”

I caught Rue laugh and rolled my eyes at him. “Tell me it does,” I said and handed it back to him. For some reason my human senses didn't appreciate dead things and awful smells like my animal's.

“Yeah. It's some nasty stuff, all right.”

With the tunic in place I pulled my hair over my shoulder and braided the mess of curls I couldn't seem to get rid of. A smile still lit his face and I felt myself grow hotter under his curious gaze.

“Do you think, like, really believe we'll find her?” I asked in an attempt to direct his attention to something else, away from me. While I couldn't get enough of the fondness in his smiles and touches when I was a cat, it made me insanely nervous when I was a boy. I felt awkward as hell.

“Absolutely. We've got the list, the hoover-board and your magic crystal thing.” Rue shouldered his violin and I the other bag.

I huffed. “It's not a magic crystal thing, it's my great grandmother's psychic amulet.”

“That, then.” Rue took my hand and tugged me along. “It has some kind of scry-mode, right?”

I nodded and fell in step with him. “It's brought me here. To you. All those years ago.”

Rue gripped me tightly. “Then we're golden. We'll find the witch, get back my shifting abilities and find Turroz City.”

“Uh-huh.” I tried to be positive, I really did. But it was difficult to stay focused on what was important and forget about the bombs and war that lay on the other side of these cold, dark walls.

Rue pulled my hand to him. “We'll be fine,” he said and kissed the side of my wrist. I looked at him then. “Okay,” I whispered and leaned against his side, closing my eyes for a moment.

I could breathe easier, walk lighter, and poured everything I had into believing we really would be fine.

We made our way down the halls of the refugee home. The darkness increased the further we went. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

I was glad to move away as fast as we could. Away from a place that Rue once called home, and I never did. Away from the people that didn't get it, didn't understand us.

Headed for a land where we could be free and ourselves. A city where we would be welcome.

A place we could hopefully call home.

Where we could live, shift and love as we pleased.


THE END.


message 30: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments That's really fun - shifters and magic and music and hope.


message 31: by Riina (new)

Riina Y.T. (ibxxxriina) | 469 comments Kaje wrote: "That's really fun - shifters and magic and music and hope."

Let's imagine they'll make it and get their HEA :)
I'd love to read their story, but too lazy to write it all, heh. #fail.
Thank you for reading :)


message 32: by Kaje (new)

Kaje Harper | 16763 comments You can't do a novel for every prompt. Sadly... <3


message 33: by Riina (new)

Riina Y.T. (ibxxxriina) | 469 comments Kaje wrote: "You can't do a novel for every prompt. Sadly... <3"

Novellas could be possible, within one month. Don't think I have enough creative juices and time for that though :p Sadly...


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