((I reorganized my Spotify last night, and I felt the urge to revisit this writing exercise I came up with a few years ago: I put my entire music library on shuffle mode, regardless of genre, and try to tell a coherent oneshot story using each song’s lyrics, mood, and or title to determine what happens next. I never know if it will end up literary or young adult until I get started, nor do I have any plot planned.))
Her father pointed out into the night skies, flushing pink at the horizon and dark violet higher into the heavens. “Look up there, inemi,” he said, and she tried to do so, though her vision was still blurred with tears. “Tell me, can you tell which of those stars are the smallest?”
In her teary vision, she couldn’t make out any stars at all. Sniffling, Ossia wiped her eyes with the heels of her palms and tried again. The sky was a swath, more pinholes of light than when she held up her mother’s treasured lacework up into the sun. She shook her head.
“That’s because from far, far away, even the smallest star shines as brightly as the others,” her father said. “So pay no mind to the neighbor’s boys.” And then he pulled her closer, and she leaned into his side, feeling much lighter of heart, despite her stuffed nose and swollen eyes. “Your star will rise one day, and everyone will see it.”
Ossia never did see her father again. No, they had a few more days together, but none of those memories had kept. Still just a little girl, she wished to remember her father as she knew him, loving and gentle, than the man he was when everything fell apart. Her parents’ relationship had always been a temperamental beast, something to appease with treats and baubles, and if not that, something to tiptoe around so as to not rouse to anger.
She could not begin to say who got it in their head to be rid of the beast first, but her parents succeeded together. Her father sought to chase it away with raised voice and upturned furniture, and her mother sought to kill it with cutting words. Whether the beast was dead or simply ran away, Ossia didn’t know. However, it would never return, so perhaps it was one and the same.
In the private corners of her heart, she thought this re-imagining of her childhood must be what brought her down this path.
Her traveling companion rubbed its cheek along her thigh, a sound like the shake of trees in the wind rattling from its throat. Smiling wistfully, Ossia scratched the creature behind its ears like she might a housecat. It resembled one, in both behavior and temperament, but it was the size of a panther and, though wingless, was feathered like a bird along the line of its nose and spine. The feathers resembled the leaves of the forest canopy, back in the region she had found it. The people there called it a ‘kachten.’
“Inpassir,” she said, crouching down. She took the kachten by its face and rubbed her thumbs along the soft fur at its cheeks. “It’s going to be dangerous now, so I need you to stay right here, paca?”
The creature blinked its understanding, and Ossia smiled. Straightening, she pulled the crossbow from its sling on her back and unfolded it. “Well then, let’s see what fight these smugglers will put up this time.”
In her line of work, this off-brand heroism, her smaller stature was a blessing. It made it easier to move, to hide, the ambush. And even then, people underestimated her. At least until someone inevitably called out, “That’s the Merdoth! She’ll kill us!”
Well, she didn’t understand the language in this region, but it was usually along that line.
Her father hadn’t been wrong. Her star had risen. Her light had shone through the night, and everyone knew her name. It just wasn’t the one her parents had given her, and it wasn’t the life her parents wanted for her. She didn’t care.
There were only three smugglers, which was odd. There were few exotic creatures that could be managed by three humans alone, and if so, it was rare for smugglers to take one at a time. With smaller creatures or younglings, they preferred to work in bulk. Regardless, with just three of them, Ossia made quick work of them.
She kept her crossbow out, just in case there was an ambush waiting, but none seemed to come. The breeze riffled softly through the trees, catching the manes of the smugglers’ horses. Fortunately, they hadn’t bolted, though they did seem uneasy, and one flattened its ears as she approached.
“Shh, shhh, I won’t hurt you,” she murmured and edged sideways to give it space. She cared little for the horses anyway. What she needed to see was whatever it was they were going to drag along behind them, this box wrapped up in a tarp.
Lifting her fingers to her lips, she gave a sharp, lilting whistle. Almost immediately, her companion leapt down from the trees, landing silently on the forest floor. “Oh, you cheeky thing. I told you to wait back there,” Ossia scolded, but it was tempered with her smile. “Now, back away. I’m going to remove the tarp.”
As she cut through the ropes, she wondered what these smugglers had so wanted with their party of three. Perhaps it was one of those bears with moons painted across their breasts, said to bear night magic in their blood. There were also ‘mai-tang’ in this region, birds with three eyes that carried their eggs with them wherever they went. Their chicks imprinted strongly, which made them popular pets in foreign regions. Whatever it was, she’d be ready. And if it was violent, she had the kachten to protect her.
However, when she threw back the tarp, she gasped.
The person inside, tall as a young tree, pale as starlight, stared at her with harrowed eyes. It reached out one gnarled hand towards her and moaned.
Ossia screamed. This startled the kachten, which hissed, hackles rising, each of those feathers along its dorsal line standing up like a tropical bird’s crest. It tried to lunge forward, but Ossia threw her arms around its neck and held fast, trying to drag it back despite its larger body weight.
“No! No, it’s okay. I was just startled.”
That was an understatement. Ossia was more than startled, she was shaken. No, she was terrified. She had no idea what this thing was. There was no one left in the world who knew more about strange and mysterious creatures than she did, but this thing was unlike anything she had ever seen. No matter how intelligent, how magical, beasts were beasts. They did not resemble humans.
Whatever this thing was, it did, even though it was twice the height of any man. It was hunched over in its cage, which was far too small for it. Its skin was the color of a paper birch tree, with eyes like deep well. Its had a birds nest upon its head, though devoid of any birds, and Ossia could not tell if it was a crown or a part of this entity itself.
Its reaching hand was long and slender, but its knuckles were peeling, revealing something dark beneath the skin. And then it opened its mouth.
((Well, that’s all the time I have today, so I guess this is where this stops, ahaha.))