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Happenstance - Fantasy - Daniel McCaslin

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                Marian watched the sunset from a grassy hill outside the Steinigen fortress. Free from her father, and free from his warlocks and guards, the moment she carved out of time for herself was one of peace. She was surrounded by Harken Lilies, a rare flower whose seeds were prized elsewhere in the Kingdom of Ephorus. She whispered into the petals, a plea for rescue, and a tear rolled down her freckled cheek. Ancient texts told of pixies who could hear your cries through the delicate system the flower built beneath the earth with its roots, but no one had ever come. As the final ray of sunlight touched her, she snapped her fingers, and a bright spark arose on her fingertips, bobbing up and down in the wind. She smiled and concentrated on the flame, willing it to grow and spread across her hand. She didn’t feel any pain; that had vanished years ago, along with her screams from being beaten by her father’s men.

                The sun was racing over the horizon, a cue for Marian to return to the fortress. She shoved her burning palm into the patch of Harken Lilies, and a puff of smoke and pollen burst forth. The smoke surrounded her as it drifted down to the ground. The first time she had tried to run away from her father, a similar cloud of smoke led his trackers right to her.  

                Marian gazed at the Logi Mountains as the sun dropped toward their jagged peaks. There was a volcanic fire raging inside those mountains, which made them impossible to cross. No one knew what lay beyond them. She had read once that her great-grandfather had sent a team of trackers to find a path off the isthmus, but they did not succeed. Marian felt a connection with the fire and sensed that it beckoned her. It gave her a feeling of warmth and belonging, something she never felt inside the walls of Steinigen.

                Marian had never known a soul to call mother. No one ever mentioned who the woman may have been and Marian could find no images in her mind when she would search. She’d been raised by her father, a power-crazed maniac. The only female in her life had been her Aunt Maven, a wicked creature obsessed with death, who’d wandered the halls at night, shouting about the reign of darkness beyond the Logi Mountains, but she’d been sent away. Marian had never left Steinigen, though she knew her ancestors had destroyed vast swaths of the kingdom, and she doubted she would ever be welcomed alive by anyone south of the Morkere Forest. Perhaps, however, death wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to her.

                The sound of the massive fortress gates creaking open brought Marian’s thoughts back to the present. Her father was heading east to the port of Valga. He always traveled after dark, boasting that he was the terror everyone feared in the night. Soon all Marian could hear was the pounding of horses’ hooves.  As the orange sun plunged behind the mountains, she knew the burning inside her was about to begin.

                The ache began in her toes and crept up her legs. It felt like knives underneath her skin. After her last attempt at running away, her father had cast a spell on her: if she wasn’t inside the fortress walls by sundown, her body would be engulfed in pain. He thought he had ended the possibility of her ever attempting to leave again, but it only made her remember every night why she must. 

                Racing the darkness, Marian climbed up the twenty-foot fortress wall. If she fell, she might die, but she was strong, and she gripped the unforgiving, gray stones with determination. She’d done it so many times that her fingers were calloused and her muscles hard, and she pulled herself up easily. When she reached the top, she lifted herself over and caught a guard by surprise. He quickly unsheathed his sword, but Marian raised her hands and snapped her fingers. Bright flames leapt from her hands, crawling up her arms. The guard looked terrified and backed away, tripping over the stones and tumbling backward as Marian walked past.

                “Well done, Marian,” she whispered to herself. “I know,” she responded with a giggle, “but thank you for saying so.”

                Making her way to her quarters, Marian realized her father’s departure meant she would have time for escape. It had been months since he had left the fortress grounds, but after a messenger arrived early that morning, his warlocks had begun to prepare his caravan of horses for a journey. She almost asked him where he was going, but she didn’t want to hear his voice ever again.

                She reached her door, smiling at its disheveled appearance. It was a heavy slab of oak covered with indentions from the guards who tried to force it open over the years. She leaned close and whispered into its cracks and crevices, her voice releasing the barrier she had created to prevent her father’s guards from entering. Her father had taught her nothing about the world beyond Steinigen, but he did delight in seeing her develop her powers. Though he had no intention of ever dying or ceding his control, he dreamed of using her in his conquests; to what extent, he never said.  Destruction brewed within their family’s blood, and her father feasted on its potential. He’d be more than happy to watch her wither if it meant draining every last ounce of power from her body for his purpose.

                The door responded to her voice and slowly opened to let her enter before slamming shut behind her. The room was dark, but she knew it well enough to find her way without the aid of light. When she got to her desk, she reached for the candle and brought it close to her mouth. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and slowly exhaled on the wick. The scorching heat poured out from deep within her, and a tiny flame appeared on the candle. Her pale skin began to glow in its light. She smiled as the flame fought the drafts that permeated the entire fortress, admiring how it refused to surrender.

                She put down the candle and sat on her bed, closing her eyes and taking slow, deep breaths as she steeled her courage for what would come next.

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Hi Daniel, I love a good fantasy and yours promises to be just that. Marian is an intriguing character and you did a good job of introducing the antagonist early in the book. If I had any suggestions, I would probably substitute "Marian" with "she" a little more often. And I would drop any unnecessary "the" just to tighten up the prose. Example: "Marian closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and slowly exhaled on the wick. Scorching heat poured out from deep within her, and a tiny flame appeared on the candle." If you want to introduce some dialogue early on in the story, you could have Marian remember the conversation she had with Ren when she tried to escape. Just a thought.

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