Title: The Girl With Red Hair
Author: Michael J. Sanford
The circumstances are odd, that much is true. But she's just a child. She needs protecting. She needs guardians.
Before long, strange magic manifests from the small girl, equally awe inspiring as it is terrifying.
Does she control the fire and light?
Or do they control her?
Shadows are rising from Alfuria, the very world beneath their feet. Sometimes they call, wishing for an unending embrace.
Dragons have risen as well, from myth and legend, stalking land and sky. The roar of such beasts shakes even the most resolute warrior.
Shadows, gods, dragons, and the girl with red hair. What is real and what is merely illusion?
Adelaide is undoubtedly important.
That may be the only certainty.
Excerpt #1 from Prologue:
She wanted more than anything to save the world. More than any other before it. The best parts of it existed because she had dreamed them up, and she couldn’t bear the thought of watching it all crumble. Or watching her die. But the desire hadn’t been without consequence, and now action would need to be taken to prevent that inevitable fate. A fate that always found a way of growing, festering, and fulfilling its own prophecy. There were innumerable ways to that end, but only one away from it. Or so she hoped.
She had made the first move. The bark of her arms and the leaves that sprouted from her scalp were proof enough of that. Not that she minded. It made her look like… She shook her head, dispelling the image that had brought her to that moment. To every moment. It was reckless and blind, though it had seemed so right at the moment. She still didn’t fully understand how she had gotten to that place. And she couldn’t stop shaking.
She had to take two steps for every one of his. No matter how quickly she moved, the tall elven man stayed a full stride ahead of her. She was breathing heavily and her heart thundered against her ribs, but it wasn’t a result of the pace.
“Are you sure this is necessary?” she asked.
He turned his head, golden hair floating about it in a haze of brilliance. “Yes,” he said. “You began this. Would you rather die with the world? And the rest at your side?”
She shook her head. No, she didn’t want to die, though it wasn’t that threat that drove her. She didn’t care so much whether she died, as long as she lived. Her perfection. Otherwise, what was the point?
“The world deserves a chance,” she said as they rounded a corner and took to the winding set of stone steps. “But there must be some other way.” That sick feeling of regret crept into her stomach and sat menacing. It was a feeling she didn’t think she’d ever get used to. It made things real. Made them matter.
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Excerpt #2 from Chapter Four:
Upon reforming, Maira collapsed onto the obsidian floor and heaved, spewing the entire contents of her stomach onto the black glass. Dying wasn’t the trouble; she had gotten used to that. It was the momentary lucidity that the transition brought. For just a few breaths she was cognizant of all that had been and all that was. She looked at the torn flesh, hair, and bile, and heaved again, this time expelling only air. She coughed violently. She had to be sure to be rid of all of the foulness.
Wiping her mouth, she stood, found the silk-covered bed, and fell atop it, letting her arms fly freely over her head. She lay still for a long time, just staring at the many imperfections of the ceiling above, waiting for her mind to stitch itself back together. Slowly, the repulsion and sick desperation faded, but Maira still felt empty. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of her mind, she knew why, but to bring it to the forefront, or to verbalize it… well, that was forbidden.
A stale breeze blew in from the open balcony, gently moving strands of black hair across her face. She didn’t bother brushing them back. There was no one to see her here. He knew not to call on her when she first returned; her mind was still fractured, the pieces slowly sliding back into place. Each time, the process took longer than before, and she wondered if this was the time she’d be trapped in between, knowing what she had been and what she was now. The body was such a simple thing to tear down and build up, but the mind… It was far more fragile.
She allowed herself to close her eyes, daring to drift into the dark corners of her shifting memories. It was dangerous to be certain, but the temptation was often too great. In a few more moments she would forget the journey anyway. She needed to see… to feel the life she had so long ago left behind. I’ll return again, she said to herself. When all of this is done, I will return. And for what was done, I will watch the world wither and die. She smiled at the thought, even more so than from the memory of a life left behind. He had promised her, promised that if she followed, that she would be there for the end. It was all she wanted now. It was all she could want. She opened her eyes and sat up, turning to look toward the balcony and the ever-present night beyond. The air was stale and rich with death, but perhaps it would do her some good, serving as a reminder of what she was.
He lives in upstate New York with his loving wife and two cats. If he's not writing, he's likely reading, weightlifting, or forcing his players into difficult situations from behind his Dungeon Master's screen. He is a storyteller first and a writer second.
Excerpt #3 from Chapter Thirteen:
“And my eyes?” Adelaide asked. There were plenty of polished mirrors about, and she often caught herself staring at her own reflection for long parts of the day. Wishing she were different. Wishing she were normal.
“That’s not so strange, dear. I once knew a dwarf with one blue eye and the other bright red. He used to say that he used one for love and the other hate. Said it kept him in balance.”
Adelaide frowned at that, unsure if it made her feel better or worse. “Well, I love you,” she said at last. “And I hate Gwyn and Stephen and Veira and—”
Miss Hasting forced a laugh to stop her from continuing. “Hate is a strong and dangerous emotion, Addy. Difficult to control and nearly impossible to master.”
She decided it didn’t make her feel any better. “And love?”
Miss Hastings smiled and shifted closer to her on the large canopied bed. She wrapped an arm around Adelaide’s shoulder and pulled her tight. Even in the dead of winter, Miss Hastings was warm. Always warm. And safe.
“Love, my dear, can be even more dangerous, and is more wild than anything known to the world.”
Addy giggled and burrowed into Miss Hastings’s chest. She pressed her human ear against the elf until she could hear the slow, rhythmic beat of her heart. “You’re silly,” she said.
“That may be. Could be something I caught from you. But in this I am the most serious.”
Adelaide twisted until her opposite ear was at her chest and she could look up at Miss Hastings without leaving her warm embrace. “Then we should never love anyone.”
Miss Hastings put a hand to Adelaide’s face, lightly tracing her jaw line. Her eyes were bright gold and shone brilliantly in the dim lantern light. “The opposite, my dear. Love is the most dangerous because it can take hold of a person and make them do things no other emotion can. It can be blinding and terrifying. It consumes entire lives and brings desperation just as often as it brings hope. Many cities have come to ruin because of love. And many more have been built.”
“I don’t ever want to love, then,” Adelaide said sternly. “Sounds scary.”
“Oh, but you do. You see, Addy, love is most certainly all of those things I said. And more. I wouldn’t ever lie to you. But there is no more beautiful and wholly wonderful thing than love. To freely give of such a gift, and to receive it from another when you did nothing to earn it…” Miss Hastings paused, a faraway look in her eyes.
Adelaide understood little of the words that Miss Hastings said, as was oft the case, but she knew their meaning. No, that wasn’t right. She felt their meaning. She burrowed even deeper into her caretaker’s body, feeling entirely secure.
“I love you, Miss Hastings,” she said.
“I love you too, Addy, my dear. Always.”