The Woods That Healed Me

A Curated Exhibition by Aspen Kowsky

Welcome to my Exhibition!
Here you will find a gallery of artwork and stories centering on the world of Thera and its inhabitants. These include world lore, character profiles, illustrations, and short stories that explore what it means to hurt and to heal.

Thank you so much for viewing my work!
Please send any comments or feedback to [email protected]

Progression Series

See every work from beginning to end!

The Exhibition

Artist Statement

The themes I tend to gravitate toward in my art have always been emotion, introspection, and growth. These are all parts of life that have always fascinated me as a neurodivergent person. The Woods that Healed Me is a direct product of that interest and is an experiment in introspective storytelling. The stories told here revolve around a pantheon of spirits that represent different aspects of life as I have lived them, and all of them embody something that I have felt or personally encountered. These characters and their stories all live in a world of my creation named Thera, where their paths and personalities intertwine with the lore of the world in which they reside. As the title suggests, I am working with the theme of finding peace within the places that seem scary or unknown to you, like within a deep and foreboding forest. Each of these stories, in their own way, represent struggles or emotions I have had to face within my life and overcome, and in sharing these stories my hope is that others will find healing in them too.

The World of Thera

In the very beginning...

Thera lay a lone planet in a dead part of space with no neighboring moons or stars and only faint glimpses from other galaxies could be seen in the far distance. The only hint of life on Thera’s surface was a swirling sea of energy, a force that would later be labeled as magic. Magic existed on Thera as a form of unpredictable energy that resided within all matter on Thera and the celestial bodies that would eventually surround it. It was an unrelenting force that was always looking for a purpose, and after millennia of searching endlessly for a vessel, an unknown spark suddenly created one; life. This spark created the first two beings to ever exist on Thera, two sister spirits who would later be named Lun and Liy. All magic that had been swirling restlessly on Thera’s surface divided itself into these two vessels. It was Lun and Liy, the first nature spirits, that would shape what Thera would become.

Lun first created earth for her and her sister to stand on, and then water to fill the world with expansive oceans. Liy created air, forming an atmosphere around Thera, and then fire to bring heat and light to the cold and dark world. These first sparks allowed for life to begin forming on Thera, and for many thousands of years Lun and Liy watched life grow around them. Eventually their lifespans became so long that they ascended into godhood. Lun and Liy both left Thera and took their places in the sky, Lun becoming the moon and Liy the Sun. They now exist in a state outside of consciousness, orbiting around the planet they helped populate with life.

Thera is a planet existing within a geocentric solar system. The closest celestial bodies are a large moon and a star orbiting the planet at the same speed Thera rotates. This resulted in extreme poles dominated by the light of the moon and sun, and an equator with a mix of both lights known as Middle Thera.

General Notes

Magic

Magic: Magic on Thera comes from the energy emanating from the moon and the sun (Lun and Liy). The points of Thera that are closest to these lights have the most potent magic and the creatures with the strongest connection to it.
Moon-aligned magic: Magic that comes from Lun is mostly associated with healing and change, like illusions, shapeshifting, aura-sensing, mending wounds etc.
Sun-aligned magic: Magic that comes from Liy is associated with vitality and power, like growth spells, animating matter (golems, telekinesis), concussive blasts etc.

Day and Night

Day and night looks different for each part of Thera, and comes when Lun and Liy’s light dims after a 12 hour day, lulling the world into sleep as they too rest for the night.

Moon Pole:
Night at the moon pole is pitch back, day appears like an enhanced full moon’s night on Earth, still quite dark compared to a regular earth day, but brighter than the typical night.

Sun Pole:
Night at the Sun pole appears more like dusk, never quite getting as dark as night on Earth. Day at the Sun pole is incredibly bright and full of sunlight.

Middle Thera:
Night on Middle Thera looks more like late Evening on Earth, and day more appearing like early morning, never getting quite as bright at the Sun pole, or dark as the Moon pole.

Culture

Faith:
Religion is largely absent on Thera, people instead following different schools of philosophy influenced by their culture and personal experience.
What unifies almost all people on Thera is a strong faith in magic and the belief that they are part of nature, not separate from it.
It is widely accepted that everyone’s greater purpose is to maintain harmony on Thera, uplifting those around as a way to help yourself in turn. Whether it be through nature, relationships, or your wider community.

Society:
People for the most part live in tight knit communities that share resources. There is very little concept of borders, so groups of people are defined by culture rather than sectioned pieces of land.
Small communities will often be led by an elected leader or council of respected peers. Larger cities are often led by a matriarch or queen who serves a term anywhere from 10 to 50 years depending on what age they were elected. Leaders being chosen by the previous ruler with permission of the people.

Women are most often chosen for this position as they are seen as being made in the image of Lun and Liy, and therefore more connected to their magic.

The Moon Pole

This part of Thera is the least populated by people and is more known as the home of a plethora of strange creatures. Lun is often referred to as the “Mother of Monsters” as the moon’s light is responsible for creating many beings considered strange and dangerous by the citizens of the Sun pole and Middle Thera.

Environment:
The moon pole stays between 50 - 70 degrees in most areas, extreme cold only existing in a few parts. It consists of wetlands, tundras, and beaches.
People that live on this pole rely heavily on the sea for sustenance as vegetation and animal life are a little sparse on the surface.

Moonlit Desert:
The moonlit desert is a wide expanse of land with almost no vegetation and sparse signs of life. It’s sand is finer than stardust and its soft sparkling dunes lull travelers into a false sense of security. This land is dangerous to those unfamiliar with this strange environment, so be careful to prepare before crossing, and employ a guide if you would like to see the other side.

Lunar Sea:
The sea that surrounds the lands that populate the Moon pole, the depths of which house many large and dangerous creatures. It’s more shallow waters are home to a great many edible fish for the experienced fisherman willing to catch them.

Middle Thera

This part is by far the most populated area of Thera, a melting pot of people from all over. It is the most diverse mix of people, creatures, and magic. It also has the widest temperature range, going from very cold to temperate depending on the area.

Environment:
It is mostly covered by mountains, forests, grasslands, and prairies. Agriculture is the most established here and creates the widest variety of products for export to the poles.

The Sun Pole

This part of Thera is not quite as populated as Middle Thera, but is home to a good variety of citizens that have made the sun pole their home.

Environment:
The sun pole is very warm having extreme dry and wet environments. It mostly consists of humid rainforests, swamps, and savannas.

Nature Spirits

Nature spirits are an incredibly important species on Thera and integral to maintaining its natural balance. They are all descended from Lun and Liy, the original nature spirits and are beings made of pure magical energy.
Life cycle: Nature spirits do not reproduce, but are instead reincarnated once they die. Thus nature spirits do not have “family trees”, only lines of previous incarnations. Subsequent incarnations do not inherit anything from the previous spirit, but can recall a small amount of knowledge or a memory that their predecessor chose to pass on.
Once a spirit dies their physical body dissolves and their essence travels across the surface of Thera until they find a space to settle down and incubate.
The essence then takes whatever matter is around them and excretes a spider silk-like substance and binds it together to form a hard shell around themselves, almost like an egg or chrysalis. If they settle in a forest it may be composed of moss, twigs, and leaves, in a desert it may be sand and stone, etc.
It is within this chrysalis that the essence grows a physical body, and will develop anywhere from 6 to 9 months within this state. Although rare, it is also possible for twins to develop at this time and create sibling spirits. Any number higher than two embryos is exceedingly rare. Upon hatching, newborn spirits appear iridescent and amorphous, like a pearl that doesn’t know what shape it wants to be. Nature spirit’s bodies only gain an appearance as they age, and their appearance is heavily influenced by their environment and developing personality, as well as what light they incubated under (Lun, Liys, or both in Middle Thera). This also affects how their magic manifests as well.
There are 3 different kinds of spirits that can develop once they have reached adolescence at about 20 years of age.

Types of Nature Spirits

Territorial

These spirits tie themselves to a specific place and imbue their magic within it. Spirit territories contain powerful magic and can either be places of sanctuary or terrible danger. Animals within these territories can sometimes absorb the spirit’s magic and become loyal to them, becoming what is called a familiar.

Elemental

These spirits connect themselves to a specific element of nature, using their magic to exert some level of control over it. Things like Fire, Light, Storms, Earth, and Fauna are all things that could fall under a spirit’s magical will. They often will make their home wherever they can be surrounded by their element, sometimes traveling wherever they can find it.

Conceptual

These spirits follow a specific idea or philosophy, dedicating their power to a set of ideals. They are the smallest group of spirits and also typically the weakest magically. They are nomadic by nature and will travel across Thera speaking to whoever will listen about what they believe in. Conceptual spirits often have the most contact with people and society and are more likely to be spotted within towns and cities than their more isolated counterparts.

Nature Spirits Lifespans

Nature spirits can live for hundreds or even thousands of years. After they either perish from unnatural causes or their bodies no longer have enough magic to sustain a physical form, they fade away and the cycle begins anew.
Sometimes a nature spirit can live for so long and become so powerful they ascend into godhood, as was the case with Lun and Liy. This phenomenon is incredibly rare and most spirits will pass away without ascending.

The Characters

Ramdula

Ramdula is a territorial nature spirit residing on the edges of Middle Thera, close to Moon Pole territory.
She lives in a castle within a coniferous forest.
She represents loneliness, self isolation, and self sacrifice.
She has a pack of black dogs as her familiars.

Abalone

Abalone is a conceptual nature spirit who travels all over Thera preaching his philosophy of love.
He is a soft soul and has very weak magic.
He represents self-love, growth, introspection, and gender fluidity.
He and Vinphala are siblings.

Vinphala

Vinphala is an elemental nature spirit who can control storms, causing chaos and shielding the vulnerable all in turn.
She represents self destruction and ego.
Her and Abalone are siblings.

Bracken and Briar

Bracken (right) and Briar (left) are twin spirits who represent strong platonic bonds and family.

They are territorial Nature spirits who reside in Middle Thera and watch over a large redwood forest.

Briar has many familiars within the territory in the form of butterflies.

Damascus

Damascus is an elemental nature spirit who can manipulate light to create illusions.
It's advised to be wary of his charms, as he's known to seek power and believes he deserves everything he is willing to take.
He represents toxicity and manipulation.

Ankora

Ankora is a territorial nature spirit representing Karma, retribution, and imperfect victimhood.
She resides in a large lake whose waters can sense a person's intentions when touched. Her lake mysteriously appears where it is needed and is a sanctuary for all victims of cruelty.

Their Stories

Ramdula's Visitor

content warning for themes of self-harm and suicide

A heavy feeling sunk deep into Beau’s bones that evening. She was sitting on the old woven chair outside of her home, wearing only a thin blouse and trousers. The air was warm, broken only so often by a cool breeze blowing across the meadow in which her home sat. What little light there was began to wane, and faint twinkles of stars began to peek their way into the sky as it darkened.

It was a beautiful night, but Beau was aware of none of it. Not the sky, not the breeze, and not the stars.

Her eyes were glassy and seemed to stare at something non-existent. She had come outside to ground herself, to feel something beside the numbness that consumed her mind and body. instead she felt nothing. She sighed as she sat and stared out into the meadow, the only thing she could hear were the thoughts in her head. She was exhausted by her own mind.

Why did something she couldn’t live without have to be so loud?

It’s been so quiet in the house since Mara died, she thought. Mara had been her closest friend who lived in the house with her. Like so many times before, her mind flashed back to her death. They had been in the university lab cleaning up after class, chatting casually as they swept the floor and wiped down tables when a sudden large flash of light and a tremendous crash rang out. Beau fell flat on the ground under the force of the blast, suffering a few cuts and bruises, but when the smoke cleared and Beau came to, she was still alive and relatively unharmed.

Mara was lying completely still, a single pipe running through her stomach. Dead.

Beau clutched her stomach instinctively as she remembered the sight. Apparently a student had failed to store a number of potions properly, and the resulting mix of chemicals and spells had been enough to cause an explosion. Thankfully no one else had been hurt.

No one except Mara.

Since then, Beau had dropped out of university. She didn’t wait to see how the school would bend over backwards to make it all okay, to pretend it never happened. She just wanted to go home. Except home was empty, and full of Mara’s things and memories of their life together. The life they should have had together. She held back tears as the wounds opened themselves anew and she felt rage within her at how unfair it all was. Why Mara? Why did her Mara have to be taken from her?

She had the sudden intense desire for numbness, for peace from her emotions. She couldn’t go back inside, nothing but hurt lay in there.

She stared up at the meadow and her eyes landed on the forest that lay beyond it. She had never ventured into that forest herself, but people said that a reclusive spirit resided there, and Mara had always told her to be wary of it as the spirit could be malevolent. But Mara wasn’t here anymore, and whatever was in that forest might hurt her, hurt her enough that it would take all of the thoughts away, all of the pain. It would be quick, and she wouldn’t have to live in a home without Mara anymore. She wouldn’t have to live at all.

Before she could consider anything else she was running, the air growing colder as she neared the forest, the biting chill barely registering as she ascended the hill toward the trees. As Beau reached the treeline, breathing heavily from the run, she stared up at the massive pines, and before she could bear to give it a second thought, she ran straight into the trees.

Beau ran frantically through the forest making a tremendous amount of noise, breaking twigs and cracking dry leaves. Eventually she found herself making her way down a hill, its steep incline covered in wet moss and slippery stone. The slope caught her by surprise, causing her to fall onto her hands and knees. She yelled out in pain as she hit the forest floor, her skin stinging from the rough ground. She bit back tears as she held up her shaking hands, now covered in small cuts and debris. Before she could try and stand up she heard the footsteps of something large and heavy approaching. She turned to see a huge black dog. It was ginormous, easily meeting her eyes as she kneeled. Its long silky fur and pointed ears almost making it look like a grounded bat. Beau screamed and held up her hands in front of her, her body turning numb as fear washed over her. The dog stood still, and as she let her gaze wander from its piercing stare she noticed a great number of dogs behind it, standing just as still as their leader.

Beau broke the silence “KILL ME THEN!!” she screamed, waiting for it to attack. The dog simply stared back at her and tilted it’s head, as though it was trying to understand her. “DO IT!” she shrieked, almost pleading for the stupid beast to do something. “Go on! KILL ME!”

The dog walked closer to her and opened its mouth, its teeth white and menacing in the evening light. She flinched, waiting for the pain of the bite to come, but instead it grabbed onto her blouse. Beau put her hands down, confused, as the dog gently pulled on her shirt. A moment later she felt the other dogs behind her prodding her back, pushing her forward as the lead dog continued to tug on her shirt. She shakily got herself to her feet and began walking as the dogs continued to pull her, shuffling noisily as they guided her farther into the woods.

Where are they taking me?

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As the sky darkened and the air chilled, Matthias stirred. He raised his head among the sea of black fur of his packmates and pricked his ears up at the sound of his master stirring in the floors above him. He jumped up and yipped at his pack to get up. The dogs all sleepily got to their feet, noisily ascending the stairs from the basement toward the castle throne room. They met her in the hall at the top of the stairs, Matthias running to his master’s side as she walked the boisterous pack down the hall. He kept pace with her as he stared up at her face. She was somber, as usual. Matthias tried to picture with difficulty the last time she looked truly happy. She made a noise and motioned toward the front of the castle. Matthias knew this to mean she wanted him to patrol the grounds. He barked and led his pack out of the castle, across the drawbridge and into the dark forest.

As they reached the edges of the territory Matthias pushed his snout to the ground, forcing a myriad of smells into his nostrils. Images of running deer, rabbits, squirrels, and songbirds all flashed in his mind as he patrolled the outer edges of the grounds. His large black paws produced deep impressions in the soft soil as he padded along, the rest of his pack following close behind. They kept their ears pricked and tails held high, ready to alert their master of any intruders. The forest air was cool and quiet, the crisp air felt good on his thick coat, energizing him as he led his pack around the forest’s perimeter.

The silence suddenly broke as a twig cracked in the distance and the sound of something making its way into the forest shot through Matthias’s ears. Crackling underbrush, heavy breathing, and panicked footsteps tip-toed their way into his mind as he located the figure. He signaled for his pack to remain quiet. Together they walked low to the ground toward the mysterious visitor. As they approached he could see them more clearly. They were a small creature, running on two legs and heading toward the castle. He titled his head, observing them struggle and stumble through the dense underwood of the forest. They didn’t seem to know where they were going, and they certainly didn’t seem dangerous. Suddenly the creature tripped and let out a yelp as they fell forward. Matthias ran to the noise, closely followed by his fellow dogs toward the fallen figure. As he neared them he slowed his pace and approached them carefully, unsure of what to do until they turned suddenly and faced him, letting out another yell. He held still, taking in everything he could see of the figure in front of him. They appeared frightened, eyes wide and fearful as they held their hands in front of their face, ready to defend themselves. This was not a dangerous intruder, he concluded.

The creature suddenly let out a sound, a garbled noise he found hard to understand. They were not speaking an animal language. He stood up straight and tilted his head, trying to at least make out a command or a familiar word. The figure repeated themselves, louder and more desperately this time, and he almost winced at the intensity of their cry. The noises were similar to his master’s, and he wondered if she could possibly understand the visitor.

He walked forward slowly and opened his jaws, the figure flinching as they expected to be bitten. He instead clasped the cloth that decorated them and pulled them forward. His pack realized what he was doing and did the same, some gently pushing on her back encouraging them to move forward while the others began to bark and yip as they walked ahead. The figure stood up shakily, and with the dog’s gentle motivation they made their way to the castle. The creature was slow, and shook as they walked, but with a good bit of gentle pushing and encouragement Matthias was soon able to see the silhouette of the castle peeking over the trees. He ran ahead and let out a deep, haunting howl. As he did, a heavy clanking rang out into the night as a drawbridge lowered itself over a wide moat surrounding the building. He turned and called back to his pack, who excitedly pulled the visitor into the castle, anticipating meeting their master.
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Ramdula walked solemnly through the halls of her castle, tightly gripping the hilt of her sword as her large group of black dogs padded happily behind her. She entered the throne room and sighed deeply. She was barely awake and it was only early evening.

“Matthias,” she called to her lead dog, pointing to the front of the castle. “Begin your nightly patrols. I am heading to the library.” The dogs perked up at the command and headed to the castle gate, barking excitedly as they thundered across the drawbridge into the trees.

Ramdula watched them go and drew the drawbridge up again with a wave of her hand, heading toward the other end of the room and through a large archway. After making her way down a dark spiral staircase she entered the library, a huge, airy, and circular room residing in the underground beneath the castle. The air was cold and dry as she scanned the dark wooden shelves, flickering fireflies illuminating Ramdula’s path down the corridors, flittering soundlessly around her head. The library was like a maze only she knew how to navigate, the endless twisting rows filled to the brim with books, journals, and manuscripts. Sitting in between these shelves were old items of previous residents. Armor of fallen enemies, weapons, garments, and treasures of old all passed her as she looked for something interesting. After 345 years of life, she had just about read everything the library had to offer twice over, and she was immensely bored. With a glazed expression she scanned the shelves she had stared at for centuries, looking for something, anything, that she might have missed, forgotten, or looked over.

Nothing.

Everything was familiar. Everything was uninteresting.

With a heavy sigh she reached for a sizable book with a soft red velvet cover, now faded and worn at the edges. It was a book of local folklore and myths, the stories it told holding a special place in Ramdula’s heart. They were her favorite in her younger years. She flipped through the yellowed pages, recalling every word as they flashed passed her eyes. She tucked the book under her arm, ready to take it somewhere comfortable to read when she heard a howl. It was Matthias wanting to come back in. It didn’t sound like an alarm, perhaps he was looking for something to eat before patrolling. Ramdula rolled her eyes and focused her magic on lowering the drawbridge, walking toward the spiral staircase as she did so in order to climb her way back to the throne room.

As she walked down the hallway and turned the corner around the stone arch, she met a sight she never would have expected, not even if she had lived to be a million years old. A young, teary-eyed, bedraggled looking girl was standing in the middle of her throne room, staring at her like she was on trial for murder. She stood absolutely still for a moment and then looked down at Matthias, who had walked up to her and sat down at her feet, tongue hanging out of his smiling mouth.

“Matthias, dear, what exactly have you dragged into my home?” she sighed, motioning toward the visitor. The black hound simply stared back at her, shifting his feet in excitement. Ramdula sighed again, and peered into his mind to see what happened. Within it she saw him patrolling, the figure running into the forest, their fear, and Matthias desire for understanding.

“Hm.” she said, unamused, and turned to the girl, who went rigid under her gaze.

“Hello…little...person,” she began. “You have mistakenly wandered into my home, I presume, and have been escorted by my familiars who for some reason think,” she glared down at a perfectly unaware Matthias, tongue still lolling from his mouth, “I will have something to say to you besides ‘please leave.’ I am not sure why they have brought you here but you need not stay. Head along home now, no harm done, just…” she waved her hands in a shooing motion at the girl, “get along. Matthias can show you out.”

Ramdula waited for a response, expecting the visitor to appear relieved at her dismissal, but to her unfortunate surprise the girl looked even more upset than before.

“W-what?” she stammered, eyes going wide with shock. “That’s it? you’re not going to kill me?” She began to sniffle, tears began pouring down her face.

“Oh, I feel so stupid, why did I even come here?” The dogs crowded around her and began to whine, licking the tears off of her face as she sunk to her knees.

“I’m s...so sorry I don’t know why I came here,” she cried. “I guess I’ll go now, and go…h-h… ho...” A fresh new flood of tears burst from her eyes as she tried to finish her sentence instead crouching forward and covering her face.

Ramdula stood still, looking especially uncomfortable in the presence of this sobbing creature. She gripped the hilt of her sword in her palm and rubbed it nervously as she pondered how she could rid herself of this small, distressed child without making them even more upset. She had already asked them politely to leave, she was not sure what else she could do about this. She had a sudden intense desire to be back in the library.

“Child, look. Listen please. I am not going to kill you unless you give me a reason to, which you have not done thus far so, um…please don’t cry, you may go back home unharmed,” Ramdula said, stepping a little closer. The girl looked up at her, her eyes swollen and red, she looked quite a mess.

“Well if you’re not going to kill me then I am not sure why I am here. I’m not sure what I’m doing at all,” the girl admitted. Ramdula’s expression went from uncomfortable to confused, her brows furrowing as she tried to understand.

“You came here..to be killed?” she asked the girl, brows furrowed. “By me?”

The girl nodded, and Ramdula tried to think of what in Lun’s name she could be talking about. That was it. She needed this incomprehensible little creature to give her a straight answer this very second.

“Matthias, go fetch the crackers and tea from the basement.” Matthias scampered away as she looked at the rest of the pack. “You, blankets. You, a kettle. And you, cups. We are going to be here a while.” The girl uncovered her face and looked around as the dogs dispersed, scattering down the hallways and descending stairs in search of the items they had been assigned.

“Child, it seems you have a story you need to tell, and you are going to be a right mess until you get it out. So first,” Ramdula said, crossing her long legs as she sat on the floor, “tell me your name.”

The girl wiped her eyes and tried her best to sit up straight. “Beau, Beau Conway” she said quietly.

“Lovely to meet you, Beau Conway. My name is Ramdula, and this is my castle.”

Before long, the dogs all returned with their items (coated in copious amounts of drool), and they had set up quite the cozy atmosphere in the throne room with blankets, hot tea, and crackers. Ramdula conjured a magical fire in between them, and the warmth of the flames breathed new life into the throne room. With a cup of hot tea and several large dogs lying on her lap, Beau explained everything. She told Ramdula about Mara, how she died, and how everything had been tainted by her memory: her home, her school, and even her own mind. She couldn’t escape all of the pain and feelings that surrounded her. She had just wanted it all to stop. The thoughts... the hurt… the memories… she had just wanted to feel numb.

“A-and I saw your forest, and remembered what Mara said, that there might be a malevolent spirit inside, that might hurt me,” she said quietly, “so I ran inside hoping something would end me before I gave it too much thought,” she sobbed, her eyes welling up with tears. “A-and you haven’t hurt me, you’ve been so nice, I’m so sorry I shouldn’t have come here and bothered you so much. I’ve just been stupid, I-I’m sorry” she started crying again, and buried her face in her hands. Ramdula looked at her, having remained quiet the entire time Beau had shared her story, and twirled her tea spoon in her cup as she spoke.

“Sometimes, we cannot control where our lives take us. I do not blame you for coming here,” she said, setting her cup on the ground carefully. “However, if you truly are seeking death, then I am sorry. That is something I cannot grant you,” Ramdula said solemnly. She stood up and stretched her huge wings out to their full length before folding them back into their resting position.

“I cannot claim to know exactly what to tell you, Beau Conway. But I can say if your home is a source of pain for you, you may stay here for the night, and decide if you would like to return in the morning.”

Beau lowered her head, still sniffling.

“Thank you,” she said.

“For everything.”

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Beau was led by Ramdula to a spare room, a journey that took them down a myriad of twisting stone hallways. “The dogs can stay with you while I perform my duties for the night.” She looked down at Matthias, a slight smile on her lips as she looked down at him. “You have the night off, lucky dog.”

She bid them all goodnight and disappeared down the hall, heading somewhere unknown. Beau entered the room and saw that it was a plainly decorated stone study with a large bed at the far wall. She crawled under the covers, still a little dazed from that evening's events. As she got herself comfortable, the dogs climbed onto the bed with her and curled up on every inch of the blankets that she didn’t occupy. She started to doze to the sounds of the dog's heavy breathing. Her thoughts unoccupied by grief as she drifted peacefully into a deep slumber.

Before Beau knew it, morning had come, and she awoke in the same place she had fallen asleep. None of it had been a dream, she realized. She sat up, rousing the dogs that were sleeping on the bed with her and rubbed her eyes as she made her way to the door. The dogs, now fully awake, all crowded around her, waiting patiently for the door to be opened. She turned the knob and was nearly pushed out into the hallway by the rush of excitement of the hounds as they ran down the long hall. Matthias stayed behind, nudging her gently in the right direction, and when they reached the throne room Ramdula was nowhere to be found. Matthias put his nose to the floor and barked at Beau to follow him, leading her past the archway down into a spiral staircase.

The dogs thundered down the stairs into the dark underground, Beau following them closely behind. As she reached the bottom the narrow corridor opened into a huge circular room filled with endless rows of shelves, and she found she had come into a huge library. Right in front of her in a massive armchair sat Ramdula, reading a large red book with worn edges.

“Ah,” she said, closing the book and setting it aside, “you are awake.” She stood up to her full height, and for the first time since meeting her Beau realized how tall the spirit was, towering above her by at least several feet. “How was your sleep?” Ramdula asked, leaning down slightly to meet her eye.

“Good!” Beau replied, she reflected momentarily at how well rested she felt, her mind was the clearest it had been in months. “Really good, actually, best I’ve had in awhile. Thank you again for being so kind,” she said gazing into the spirit’s eyes.

“Do not dwell on it, it was nothing at all,” Ramdula replied. She turned around, picking up the red book again. “Do you like to read?” she asked.

“Very much so,” said Beau, admiring the books as she did. “This library is stunning.”

“Yes, it is quite a sight for someone who is unfamiliar with its contents isn’t it?” Ramdula said, sighing deeply. “Unfortunately, I have read every word contained within these walls, so I cannot say I share the same awe you feel now.” She held out the book she grasped in her hand to Beau, allowing her to admire it. “This one I don’t seem to tire of easily. It is a collection of stories you might find enjoyable. I definitely did as a young pup.”

Beau held out her hands and grasped the book tenderly, almost afraid it would turn to dust in her hands. “Wow, thank you,” she murmured, enchanted by the book's intricate gold leaf cover. As she stared at it, an idea crept into her mind “Would you like more? Books that is. I have some at home.”

Ramdula perked her ears up, sporting an unfamiliar expression of child-like excitement.“More books you say? Now that sounds interesting.”

Beau grew more enthusiastic, happy she had piqued the spirit’s interest. ”Yes they are! And I would like to thank you for what you have done for me. I can bring some by tonight, would you want that?”

Ramdula paused, considering the offer. “I would, actually,” she said contemplatively. “I am not very good around regular humans and the like, so I haven't added any new books to the library in centuries. It’s a shame, since it is a tradition of my ancestors to build the knowledge this place holds.” She stared out into rows of shelves before turning back suddenly. “You said you slept exceptionally well last night?” she asked, peering at Beau before continuing. “Let’s say you wanted to sleep here for the foreseeable future. When you did, I wouldn’t mind you bringing me a book in exchange for a night’s rest in the castle...hm?”

Beau’s eyes widened as the proposition sunk in. “You wouldn’t mind?”

Ramdula shook her head. “On the contrary, Beau Conway, you would be doing me a favor in exchange for small effort on my part. I would be delighted if you accepted.”

Beau’s eyes shone with happiness at the idea, a wide smile breaking out across her face. “Yes, YES! I can definitely do that. I will be back tonight with all the books I can carry! Thank you THANK YOU!” she cried. Beau ran back up the stairs, book in hand and ready to head home, this time not dreading what she would see inside.
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Ramdula watched her go chuckling as she disappeared up the stairs. What a peculiar person she was. She had an inkling that the most interesting thing Beau would bring back tonight was herself. She had to admit she didn’t just want the books, though they were quite tempting. She had actually enjoyed talking to someone besides the dogs for once, and to her surprise, looked forward to having company over for dinner.
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Matthias listened to the visitors footsteps slowly fade away up the staircase. He was happy to see they weren’t afraid anymore. He stared up at his master’s face, and for the first time in a long time, he saw content in her eyes.

The Destiny of Damascus

Briar clutched her limp sister’s body against her chest, her vision blurred, tears streaking down her face. She was relieved to hear Bracken’s heart as she held her tightly, the feeble beat the only sound she could hear in the deathly quiet throne room. The battle they had just endured had been so loud, a cacophony of love, survival and rage as they had blended forms and defended themselves from him, but now, only the weak beating of Bracken’s heart could be heard. A soft, echoing epilogue to an audience of one. It was a quiet melody, but Briar had never heard a more beautiful sound. She was alive. They were both still alive, despite everything. They were together, and they were alive.

Miles away, a ragged and bloodied silhouette staggered his way through the edges of the redwood forest. The figure leaned heavily on one of the trunks as he looked fearfully behind him, catching his breath only for a second as he pressed onward. The trees eventually thinned until he reached an open meadow, and for the first time in months, he saw the open sky. Damascus kneeled on the soft grass and looked upward, taking a deep breath as the soft light of dusk washed over him.

He had escaped them. He had not been able to reach the end of the forest unscathed, and his body ached with cuts and bruises. But he had escaped.

Escaped.

The revelation that he was safe quickly turned from relief to blinding rage. It boiled from deep inside him, hot and searing within his bones. He had escaped, run out of the territory like a whipped dog with his tail between his legs. He bore his fangs to the open sky as he threw his head back and screamed, slamming his fists into the dirt and wincing as his wounds ached anew. He had lost everything. All that time wasted on courting and scheming only to be chased back to where he had started.

It had all been for nothing.

Damascus stared down at the pale dirt and soft grass. He had been here before, staring up at the massive redwood trunks lining the edge of the forest. Back at the beginning.

He had peered into the trees, his ears pricked with excitement as he anticipated who he knew he would meet within. This territory belonged to two elusive spirits, twins, who reigned over this massive forest teeming with magical energy. Twin nature spirits were rare enough, but two sharing their magic and residing within the same territory was even rarer still. This meant there was twice as much power surging through the land, and whoever ruled the forest had control of it. He knew everything he deserved was hidden within those trees, and he was willing to do anything to get it.

Damascus took his first steps into the forest, and the further he walked the denser the canopy became, enclosing upon the golden sky like a pair of talons. Soon the path he walked became dim and quiet, and he began to wonder if he could find his way back. He conjured a swirling ball of light in his hand, splashing light onto the dense thicket around him as he turned around slowly, trying to peer through the endless layers of trees. As the light danced across the surface of each trunk, he stopped when his light suddenly illuminated two pairs of eyes staring back at him. Two large deer stepped soundlessly into the sphere of light he had created. The first was slim and incredibly pale, almost shining in the glow of his magic. The second followed close behind, its fur long and a deep russet brown, the two huge black antlers it sported forming a dangerous crown above its head.

Damascus froze, not daring to move. Were these the spirit’s familiars come to greet him?

“I am looking for the spirits who reside in this territory” he addressed them coolly, hiding his fear. “Can you take me to them?”

The creatures stared back at him blankly, showing little reaction.

“I wish to speak with them. Do you understand me?” he demanded, raising his voice slightly. Finally, the larger brown deer stepped forward. It slowly walked closer until Damascus could for the first time see the beast at its full height, its antlers towering over him as its gaze met his. Damascus held his breath, and the deer curled back its lips to reveal a mouth full of pearly white fangs, glistening as the light hit them. Before Damascus could say anything, the deer spoke, its voice deep like the roots of a tree and soft like the moss that clung to it.

“Run.”

The deer lowered its antlers and tensed its muscles, ready to strike him down. His eyes widened, and before he had time to think his light was extinguished and he was dashing through the dense brambles of the forest, desperately searching for a path out of harm’s way.
The trees blurred around him, low hanging branches whipping at his face and brambles tugging on his legs as he ran. Flashes of the deer’s forms appeared all around him as they chased him through the trees, echoes of laughter taunting him from all around as he stumbled and floundered his way through the dense undergrowth. Dread washed over him as he realized that he couldn’t hear where they were, and in his panic he burst through a wall of brambles, the thorns tearing through his suit and his skin barely registering as he tumbled to the ground in a heap. Suddenly his eyes were filled with light, and to his surprise he had broken through the dense forest and entered an open clearing. He covered his face under the force of the bright light, his eyes adjusting as he lowered his arms and saw where he was.

He had run straight into a huge circular room, its high ceiling only barely visible from the ground. Damascus slowly raised himself to his feet as he observed the room in awe, its walls a dense woven thicket of thorns, the floor beneath him soft warm soil, and the air around him glimmering with light streaming in from the canopy ceiling above him. The room teemed with life, small jewel-like beetles adorned the flowers they rested upon as hoards of butterflies obscured entire sections of the tree trunks in which they gathered. Small forest dwelling creatures scattered at his abrupt entrance, rabbits, songbirds, and squirrels all fleeing into the safety of the thicket from his presence. In the center of the room was by far the largest tree Damascus had ever seen, its magnificent girth appearing more like a castle spire than a tree. A spiral staircase wound up along the length of its trunk, its steps disappearing before Damascus could see its destination. At its base sat two thrones, composed of the tree's thick and twisted roots, sitting oddly still and empty compared to the rest of the room. As Damascus took in all that surrounded him he realized there was no clear exit, the hole he had entered through having disappeared. Panic filled him as he remembered he was still being pursued by the deer, and he looked around wildly for somewhere to run.

Before he could move, the wall behind Damascus shifted, and the thorns parted on either side of him to reveal his tormentors. They came forward calmly, passing him with heads held high as they walked toward the thrones, and as they moved their forms shifted from beast to humanoid, possessing the faces of deer but the bodies of humans. They wore long silken dresses adorned with flowers that dragged along the ground behind them as they walked. The spirits approached the thrones and sat down, reclining in them comfortably before staring him down. The pale spirit spoke first, her voice quiet and stern. “My chosen name is Briar, and this is my other half, Bracken. We heard you wished to speak with us. You may do so now.”

Damascus stared back at them in utter shock. Before him sat the powerful twin spirits he had longed to meet, who he had traveled days to find, and they had just chased him through their forest like a stupid foal into their inner sanctum. He remained silent, struggling to contain his immense feelings of humiliation and anger as they sat quietly in front of him.

He couldn’t ruin his chance, not now. Not when he was so close.

“Y-yes” he began, slowly regaining control over his words. “I was in the nearby town and heard of your beautiful forest, and I wanted to see it for myself.” He stood up straight, returning to his usual tall confident stance as he fixed his jacket and brushed his suit off.

The twins looked him up and down, and this time Bracken spoke, resting her chin on the palm as she did so.

“What a strange thing to say,” she said cheekily, a small echo of laughter in her tone. “Do you usually barge into someone’s home simply because you will think it would look pretty on the inside?”

Damascus smiled and replied, “Sometimes, if I don’t think the residents will hunt me down and eat me.”

Bracken giggled. “You’re funny for someone so stupid,” she laughed, and Damascus tried his best to hide his indignation at the comment, subtly gripping his claws to his side.

”Well, now that you’ve seen the forest,” she spread her arms wide as she stared him down, “What do you think of it?”

Damascus knew he was walking a thin line, and chose his next words carefully. “It’s absolutely brilliant, everything I imagined and more,” he breathed, letting his genuine awe shine through. “Can I see more of it?”

Briar curled her lips back in anger. “I think you have seen enough,” she sneered, her expression full of contempt as her fangs gleamed in the light.

“You are a bold little fool to walk into our woods with so little respect, and now you ask to see more? You might as well be a rabbit crawling down a fox’s throat, excited to see what he may find in it’s stomach.”

She paused and folded her claws in front of her, her face returning to a more thoughtful expression. “But I suppose you knew that when you came here, didn’t you?”

He couldn’t hide the bristle at her words, and her smirk widened. “Tell me, little rabbit, what do you think is hidden in the belly of our woods that the fox’s teeth don’t scare you?”

Damascus shuddered slightly, wishing he was dealing with Bracken’s playful banter instead of Briar’s scrutinizing stare. However, it seemed she was curious to hear his answer, sitting with her ears pricked in anticipation of his reasoning. Panic washed over him as he realized that his original lie wasn’t convincing them, his mind reeled searching for a better answer.

“Fox got your tongue?” Briar asked, her expression unfaltering, and as Bracken giggled to herself, Damascus realized something.

They were young. They had power and the advantage of the home court, but they were young, with all the naivety and arrogance that came with it. His original lie wouldn’t convince them, but a half truth might.

“Power,” he answered, finally breaking the tense silence. “You are the most powerful spirits in this region. I want to learn from you, understand your magic, and know your ways so I may better myself.”

Briar tilted her head, her expression shifting from distrust to interest. He had her attention. Careful to maintain his composure he continued on. “There are not many spirits in this world that have what you have, I want to influence the world and to do that you need power, teach me so I may become what I deserve to be.”

He stopped, eagerly awaiting their response.

The spirits looked at one another and then back at him, and for a moment, Damascus thought he had gotten through to them. His confidence faltered as they raised their hands simultaneously, and the moment they did so brambles sprung from the earth and tangled themselves around Damascus’s body. He gasped in terror as he fell to the ground, his vision becoming obscured by the thick layers of thorns intertwining around his face and body. Bracken stood up and walked over to him, crouching down just as the last few spots of light began to disappear.

“You don’t toe the line between charm and foolishness as well as you think you do,” she whispered. “But just between you and I, come back soon and try to convince me again sometime, hm?”

In his last moments of consciousness, Damascus felt the spark of an idea. A feeling that he would get everything he wanted before everything fell into blackness.

Damascus woke with a gasp, lying on the ground outside of the forest, the brambles constricting him long gone. He sat up and stared into the trees, taking in all that had just happened to him, and he grinned wolfishly.

He planned on returning very, very soon.

Vinphala's Storm

Abalone strolled through the city, the bright sun overhead warming his wool. As usual he had a small gaggle of admirer’s trailing conspicuously behind him as well as a good amount of ogling bystanders. He didn’t mind, he knew nature spirits were a rare sight on this side of the world. Not to mention he enjoyed the attention.

He was heading toward the city center, as he did with every city he traveled to. This time, however, was special, as it was his first time returning to the Sun Pole since his youth. He had hatched near this city with his other half, Vinphala.

Vinphala…

The thought of his sibling made him stop. He had been thinking of her more the closer he had gotten to his old home. A small part of him wished he would see her, but the rest of him shuddered at the thought. The last time he had seen Vinphala she had almost blasted him off the face of Thera. He wasn’t sure he could escape with his life a second time. A sudden tug on his skirt brought him back to reality. He turned and was greeted with the concerned expression of an incredibly small old woman standing behind him. “Excuse me, young man, but I would make your way to a shelter. A storm’s coming.”

Abalone looked up and saw the crowds had all vanished while he had been deep in thought. “Thank you, kind elder, but I will be okay.”

The woman nodded in understanding and made her way hastily into a nearby building. A single drop of rain fell onto Abalone’s nose and he stared up at the sky. The storm was approaching faster than he thought. The sky blackened within seconds, the warm glow of the sun quickly extinguished by the smothering darkness of the oncoming storm. Rain began to fall more heavily as Abalone quickly hastened his pace to find a dry place to rest. He looked around for a place that wouldn’t mind a drenched stranger barging in looking for shelter. He soon reached the town square and spied a small bakery that would suffice. As he opened the door, crouching slightly to fit himself under the doorframe, he got a good look at the inside. Low tables and pillow seats were spread neatly across the floor, the ceiling glittering with enchanted lanterns that gave off an inviting glow. To his right was a huge display, filled to the brim with a variety of sweet and savory baked goods. Before he could admire anything else he realized that he was not the only one who had come into the warm bakery seeking comfort from the rain. A sea of people had turned to look at him upon his entrance, wide eyed and waiting for him to do something. His chance to address them was interrupted by a plump young woman bursting through the kitchen door behind the counter, carrying several trays full of assorted drinks and snacks. She skillfully maneuvered around the many tables and patrons delivering each one their desired treat. Bringing their attention away from Abalone one by one as she did so. As the woman placed the last item on the table she finally looked up and saw Abalone standing in the doorway. “My, you’re a big one aye? Bet you can fit a good bit in that stomach of yours!” She chuckled heartily before making her way behind the counter again. She placed the trays down and looked back up at him “Can I get anything for you? Something warm to perk ya up?” She peered down at the puddle of water that was accruing on the floor, “A towel, perhaps?”

Abalone looked down and saw the puddle “Oh right, sorry!” He quickly opened the door and with a swift hand motion drew the water into the air and plopped it outside. A soft excited murmur was heard from the patrons as they admired the small flourish of magic he had just performed. He turned back to the woman sheepishly, trying not to draw attention to himself. “I apologize for my intrusion, good shop owner. I would like to take shelter from the rain here.”

The woman laughed warmly. “No need to be so formal about it! Just sit yerself down and buy yerself something nice, eh?” Abalone smiled and nodded, and with a few coins acquired himself a cream bun, a few hot pepper rosettes, and a cup of tea. He sat down at a nearby table and gratefully began to eat his meal. He was only a few bites into the cream bun when a voice piped up from the table next to him. “Excuse me! Are you a nature spirit?”

Abalone turned to see a small boy looking up at him with wonder in his eyes. He smiled and placed his food back down on the table. “I just might be, who is asking?”

“Me! I mean my name is Heffra!” the child squeaked, his confidence seeming to drain after his first greeting.

“Heffra you’re not bothering the poor creature are you?” a tall woman sitting beside him said.

“Quite the opposite!” Abalone said smiling, “and to answer your question, dear Heffra, yes I am. I actually hatched somewhere near here a very long time ago.”

“Wooow!” exclaimed the boy, his eyes sparkling. “Then you must be really powerful then! I bet you could a bunch of stuff with your magic huh? like...like...” the boy seemed to grow more excited thinking of all of the things he imagined Abalone could do, “like lift a boulder or, or fly across a whole forest or even…” he paused and stared out the large glass window of the bakery. “Or maybe even stop the storm!”

Abalone heart sunk slightly at the boy’s excitement. He could do none of those things. He had already shown the extent of his magical ability at the door of the shop. No, when it came to magic, Vinphala was the powerful one. “I am deeply sorry young Heffra, but I am no powerful spirit,” he stared out the window, “and as for stopping storms, only my other half Vinphala could do that.”

“Hrmph, then I wish they were here,” grumbled the boy’s mother. “We’ve been under siege by the rain for almost a month now. Each time it gets worse and worse. If it doesn’t stop soon the whole town is going to be waterlogged! Could use someone to give us a break.”

“That sounds awful,” Abalone said, his smile disappearing. “Does the city have no protective enchantments to help ease the issue?”

“We do,” the woman said with a sigh, “except they must not be very good because the storms keep on coming anyway. It has the local academy in a frenzy trying to figure out why.”

Before Abalone could reply a resounding crack of thunder rang out. It’s rumbling cacophony shaking the building and causing the lanterns to flicker momentarily. The boy yelped and clung to his mother.

“It’s alright,” she soothed, running her fingers through his hair. “It’s only a noise. We are safe inside.” The boy seemed calmed by this and was just lifting his head from his mother’s shirt when a brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the entire room, followed by another deafening round of thunder falling from the sky.

Abalone was shaken to his core by the sound of it. The relentless downpour, the crashing of lightning, and the raucous anger of the thunder... it all seemed so familiar to him.

Vinphala.

Vinphala was causing the storm, he knew it. He could feel the relentless fury in every raindrop. If his sibling wasn’t the cause of this something else just as powerful was, and he needed to stop it. He stood up and headed to the front of the shop, halfway out the door before he heard a call of protest. “Wait! You’ll get hurt!” He turned to see Heffra standing by the table,looking teary eyed and anxious. His mother looked irritated at his sudden outburst, and motioned for him to sit down.

“I may not be powerful, but I have a strong heart.” Abalone said as calmly as he could. “Not even a storm can take that from me.” Abalone pushed down his swelling fear to smile at the boy. “I will be okay, and so will you,” he soothed. Heffra nodded and sat down like he understood.

With that Abalone disappeared out the door and was immediately pounded by the sheer force of the rain coming down. He looked up and was able to make out a swirling black cloud in the distance. It appeared to be the center of the storm, and most certainly where he would find Vinphala. Abalone took a deep breath, attempting to calm his building fear, and ran straight for the mass of seething black clouds. The path toward his sibling led him to an expansive beach, and without a second thought, he rushed straight into the shallow water.

“Vinphala!” he shouted, his weak voice barely audible above the thunder. “Vinphala, I know it’s you! Please talk to me!” Abalone struggled to remain upright in the turbulent water, turning around wildly for any sign of his other half. “P-please!” Abalone yelled before he felt himself slip off the sandbar beneath him, the dark water swallowing him up in its angry depths. In a panic he clawed at the foaming waves, trying to manipulate them to free him from the churning deep, but it was to no avail. Suddenly, something gripped the wool on the back of his neck, pulling him out of the water’s deadly current with amazing strength. Abalone gasped for breath, and before he could tell what was happening he was dragged toward the shore, barely keeping his head above water as he was pulled forward. With surprising force he was thrown against the flat rocks of the shoreline. Abalone gripped the wet rocks with all of his strength as he coughed up the ocean water that had made its way into his throat.

“I can’t believe you,” a sharp, seething voice rang out amongst the storm. Abalone’s vision slowly cleared as he blinked away raindrops, regaining some composure as he turned his head toward the familiar voice. He froze as recognition of his rescuer’s identity shot through him like lightning, and immediately wished he had been left to fend for his life in the ocean’s raging waves.

“20 years it’s been,” Vinphala hissed, “20 YEARS since you’ve last shown your face, and the first thing you have me do is pull your soft sniveling hide from drowning in shallow water?” She almost screeched as a blinding bolt of lightning exploded down into the waves behind her, causing Abalone to flinch.

“V-Vinphala...” Abalone stammered out, caught between pure terror and astonishment, “...you saved me.”

Vinphala sneered at him, baring her long sharp fangs “As it seems to be my birthright to do so.”

The comment ripped into Abalone’s chest and forced him to turn away from her piercing gaze. “I never asked you to take care of me,” Abalone said shakily. He gathered his strength and lifted his head again, thankful the rain hid his tears. “That choice was yours Vinphala, not mine.” He lifted himself into a kneeling position, looking up to face her. “I know you’re hurting. Why don’t you just say it? Please, Vinphala, tell me what you're feeling. Calm the storm before people get hurt.”

Vinphala’s eyes widened as rage crept into the crinkles of her brow. “Oh? Is that all I need to do? Let little Abalone know my every vice and everything will be okay is that it?” The storm surged again, the wind whipped his ears around his face and a deafening crack of thunder drowned out all other noise.

“Vinphala, I said you need to stop!” Abalone cried out to her, shielding himself from the power of the pouring rain.

“Why should I?” She screamed over the roaring thunder “Why shouldn’t everyone know exactly how I feel?”

“The storm is too strong, you’re going to hurt someone!” he shouted. “Please!”

“Good!” Vinphala cried, showing no signs of remorse “Maybe then someone can understand me!”

“I understand you!” Abalone pleaded, desperation seeping into the crevices of his voice. “Why don’t you talk to me? I can help you!” Vinphala shook her head in rage and cast another bolt of lightning into the sea.

“Of COURSE you would say that!” She wailed, her voice cracking slightly. “You always think you can read my mind, that you know what's best for me!” she screamed. Her body seethed with anger as electricity coursed around her. “You think you can fix me, is that it? Make sure I’m not such a problem? Not such a burden on the shoulders of the world? Well guess what Abalone!” she yelled, streaks of lightning crashing into the shallow sea, causing the foaming waves to explode violently around them “YOU. CAN’T. I will ALWAYS be like this, I will NEVER change and YOU can’t say ANYTHING about it!”

“Vinphala, wait!” Abalone called out, but it was too late. With a brilliant flash of light, she was gone, leaving only destruction in her wake.

The storm dissipated almost as quickly as it came, the last few drops of rain falling morosely into the calming sea. Abalone sat on the rocky shore, soaked to his bones, staring out into the horizon. He saw nothing, only wisps of clouds running with their tails tucked from the rays of light now making their way to the ground as the sky cleared. She was gone. A mixture of rain and drops of tears fell down Abalone’s face and onto the wet rocks below him. He had failed once again to make Vinphala see reason. The realization seeped into him like a chilling wind, the sudden cold forcing him to wrap his arms around himself as he shivered in sorrow.

His mind faded into the years of his youth, when he and Vinphala were inseparable. He ached to return to those days. He had been born weak, his fragile body almost fading away with how little magic coursed through his veins. If it weren’t for Vinphala’s fierce protection, he may never have lived past his first weeks of life. He never meant for them to fade away in the years that followed, he had no clue back then that there would come a time when they weren’t always together.

He was torn from his thoughts by the sounds of people calling from the beach. The patrons from the bakery had followed him out after the storm ended and were waving him down. He tried to stand but fell back down onto the rocks, his body weak and shaking from the encounter.

Heffra’s mother rushed out into the shallow water, her dress ballooning up as she came to help him. “By Liy’s light, what are you doing all the way out here? Are you trying to get yourself killed?” she said, with a sternness only a parent could muster. She grabbed his arm and hoisted him up with the help of the bakery owner, and with their combined effort he made it out of the water and onto the beach, where another patron took a thick cloak off their shoulders and wrapped it around him.

“T-thank you, all of you,” Abalone stammered out, scanning the crowd, “Are any of you hurt?”

“Us? what about you?” the baker replied incredulously. “Just what were ya thinkin’, comin’ out all the way to the beach during a storm like that?”

Abalone got to his feet and steadied himself, careful to get up slowly this time. “I saw her,” he said quietly. “My other half...” he looked down, ashamed. “...she was the cause of the storms.”

“A spirit then?” the baker said, surprised. “That explains the power of ‘em, I ‘spose.”

Before anyone else could say anything a small boy pushed his way to the front of the crowd

“Heffra!” the mother gasped. “I told you to stay inside the bakery!” The boy ignored her and ran up to Abalone’s feet, peering up at him with wide eyes.

“Did you really see her?” the boy asked excitedly, bouncing up and down. “You saw another spirit?”

Abalone looked down at him and sighed trying his best to conceal his sadness, letting a small smile spread across his face at the boy's innocent wonder. “Yes I did, young Heffra, though I am sad to say not for very long. She is gone now, and she has taken the storm with her.”

“So you really did do it! You stopped the storm! I knew you were powerful! I knew it!” Heffra shouted, flapping his arms with joy at his revelation. Abalone looked down and chuckled.

“I am sorry little one, but it was not anything within my power that ended the storm.” Abalone turned and stared back out into the endless sea, almost no trace of the storm’s anger left in it’s peaceful waters. “For that, I will have to wait for another chance...a day I will make sure comes very, very soon.”

Ankora's Anger

The lake lay still, its pristine blue waters sparkling brilliantly in the midday sun. Far below the surface of the lake, deep below the farthest reaches of light, sat Ankora, an enormous spirit who called the lake her home. She felt the soft swaying water weave around her body as she sat, she and the lake were one body and one mind, as it was her territory her magic was deeply imbued into its calm waters. Ankora could feel every splash, ripple, and wave that disturbed it, peering across its massive girth through her mind’s eye.

As Ankora sat she reminisced on how long it had been since she had someone to share her home with. Many creatures find their way to the lake as it calls upon all those seeking safety from harm. She took great care in providing these souls sanctuary for as long as they required, and providing commuppence to those who would cause them harm in the first place.
She heaved an enormous sigh and lifted herself off of the lake floor, using the force of her large tail to propel herself forward. The dense kelp forest parted around her as she swam soundlessly through the stygian depths of the lake bottom. She was scanning for something interesting when a sudden wave of foreboding washed over her. As this feeling permeated her very being she felt the body of the lake shift, the strong sunlight poking in from the surface waning slightly as the landscape above the water changed.

The lake had moved once again.

She perked up at the sudden development, the lake moving meant she was needed here by someone or something. With a new air of excitement she swam up toward the light, stopping just before she broke the surface of the water. She waited, legs twitching in anticipation. In that moment she sensed someone at the edge of her lake, She felt them wash her water over their wounds and smelled their blood as it mixed with the body of the lake. As the figure cleaned themselves her vision projected into their mind and she saw who they were.

She was disgusted.

Entrenched deep within Damascus she saw anger, and an intense thirst for power over others. The blood on his hands was much more than his own and her body ached with the pain of those unfortunate enough to cross his path. He had believed he deserved everything, and would do anything to get it. Within his eyes she saw the countless faces of creatures he had scarred in his wake, and finally those who had been able to fight back. Ankora stared into the face that had given him the wounds he now washed. Siblings, united after a long battle apart, baring the last of their strength to cast out the manipulator that now stood in front of her.
She grinned, baring rows of shark- like teeth, she now knew her purpose here.

Ankora swam quietly to the shore, making no sound as she maneuvered through the calm waters. She grasped the rocky slope with her long legs and perched herself just below her prey, and readied herself to pounce.

No warning was given and no niceties were exchanged when Ankora thrust her body out of the water and devoured Damascus. It was sudden, and bloodless. Some might say Damascus had time to scream, or even comprehend his fate before it was dealt. But it would have just been their imagination.

Ankora fell to the ground and let her body slink back into the dark waters of the lake. A contented smile spreading across her face.
“He had finally gotten everything he deserved” She thought to herself as she disappeared into the shadowy waters of the lake.

Quiet overtook the water’s surface, Damascus was gone.

About Me

Hello!
My name is Aspen Kowsky. I am a digital illustrator currently living in the Cincinnati area. I will be 23 as of spring and freshly graduated with honors from Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor in Fine Arts. As a professional artist I hope to find a career bringing people's stories to life with my drawings as well as publish some of my own work in the process. I want to keep growing and learning as an illustrator so I can positively affect the lives of others as much as possible with my work, to do so is my ultimate goal as an artist.

Contact Me!

For all general inquiries reach me at my work email

[email protected]