Fine As Alabaster

Prompt: Write a story about an empty jar

I wrote this exploring description without killing the forward movement of the story. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

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Telondra wandered through the rows of shelves, dimly lit in the dusty air, amazed by all the strange and bizarre things contained on them. Jars of unlabeled powders. A myriad of shrunken heads and bleached skills. Amuelts, crystals, vials of this and that. All of it crammed on ten rows of shelves, each row being at least 50 feet long, and the top shelf towering just out of arm’s reach.

Tucked in the far corner, on a long stone table, stood a single jar.

She knelt and peered through it. The wall behind it warped as she moved her head. Rounded with a narrow mouth, the jar appeared plain, nothing of consequence.

But, if that was the case, why was the jar all by itself instead of crammed on one of the shelves?

***

Mykal sneered, then laughed.

The girl’s face rippled in his scrying bowl. Enchanting this plain jar had been the perfect tactic. He could watch his storage house. He could watch those who dared enter. He could quickly eliminate those he didn’t want around. He could send Jino to retrieve things when this nosy girl and her father weren’t around.

Her father. The man who recently became the self-appointed Justice Keeper. The man who was training his daughter to do the same.

Mykal huffed.

“Keep your justice,” he murmured. “I’ll keep this one.”

Mykal nodded to the darkness behind him. Alabaster inhaled, the depths of his nostrils glowing red. He slithered out. Moments later, the flapping of leathery wings drifted back until they faded into the distance and silence reigned in the cave once again.

***

Telondra couldn’t figure it out.

She reached her fingers out. Warmth radiated from the jar’s surface. She jerked her hand back.

“It’s been enchanted,” she breathed. “But enchanted to do what?”

She racked her brain, sifting through all her father’s training, trying to think of what use the secretive sorcerer Mykal would enchant a jar. The possibilities were endless.

She backed away in case it was a portal. Though if he’d wanted to use it, she’d already been standing there plenty long to be sucked in or for him to step through.

It was time to go. She’d already spent too long poking around in here trying to figure out where to trace him to. Her father would be furious she went without him. They couldn’t burn it down without just cause, even if it housed all his magical items. The only people he killed were those who trespassed, which justice also couldn’t argue with.

But still.

How to trap him and get rid of him for good?

Stepping out into the brisk night air, she breathed in deeply. Glancing around for the best spot, she slipped into the deepest shadows at the edge of the building.

She bent down for the change. She gritted her teeth as her bones and muscles rearranged themselves. Millions pinpricks stabbed her body as the fur grew in. She twitched her ears, listening through heightened hearing. She sniffed the air.

Nothing.

She dashed off on four paws in the blackness. At least her father didn’t know.

Yet.

***

Mykal moved to the deep pool in a smaller room off the main cavern of his dank cave.

The ground rippled through the water under Alabaster’s watchful and keen eyes. Smells drifted up from the steam vent to his left. His lonely storage barn came into view. The ground sped closer until Alabaster landed with a soft bump.

Alabaster inhaled and the scents wafted up in the steam. Alabaster followed one scent to a corner of the building, where her scent disappeared. Musky pheromones lingered and a pungent canine scent led away.

“A changeling?” Mykal whispered. “The daughter of the Justice Keeper is a changeling? I will most definitely keep her until the opportune time.” A smile spread across his face.

“Follow it,” he hissed.

***

Telondra loped along, devouring the miles along the lonely road.

The sound of wet canvas flapping in the wind drifted toward her from behind, coming closer. She slowed and turned, listening, unable to place the sound.

High in the sky, a tiny glow flickered – appearing for a moment, then disappearing, on and off – growing bigger and brighter.

Then it dawned on her.

Dragon!

She turned and sped as fast as she could away from the beast. Nothing alongside the road provided any cover for her. She was exposed and she knew it, but she frantically tried to outrun it anyway.

***

The darkened speck grew, a dog streaking across the ground.

New pheromones drifted up from the vent.

Hot.

Spicy.

Panicked.

Mykal laughed. “Run, little changeling! You won’t escape and you know it!”

The scents grew more powerful as Alabaster gave chase, breathing harder.

Mykal leaned over the pool, heart pounding. Excitement coursed through him, waiting for the final grab. Leaning even further, he stretched out his hand. His fingers curled into a fist just above the surface of the water.

“Go, go,” he urged.

***

Everything inside Telondra burned as she fled. She tried to run faster, but the dragon quickly gained. The sharp dragon musk burned her nose, and her vision blurred through watery eyes.

Soon, it was on top of her.

Massive talons on huge feet wrapped around her mid-stride, lifting her into the air.

Her stomach sank as they climbed, the ground falling away from them rapidly. Terror surged through her. Was this dragon going to take her back to its lair before eating her? Would it roast her first or just eat her alive? Would it feed her to its young?

For a few minutes, she thrashed against the rocky hardness of its feet, then gave up. She rested her head on the talon, not having the energy even to change back t0 her human form.

She closed her eyes, resigned.

At least this way, her father would never need to find out what she really was.

***

Mykal waiting at the mouth the cavern for Alabaster, searching the sky in vain.

His inky black scales blended into the sky. Only the flapping of his wings signaled his approach. Mykal heard him, but didn’t see him until the blinking glow of his nostrils came into view. Alabaster swooped down onto the massive landing area, landing gracefully on three feet. One of his back feet hid the changeling under his belly.

“Come, pet,” Mykal said. “Give me the changeling and I will build for you a magnificent steer to chase and eat.”

Alabaster’s eyes twinkled. Turning his entire body, he offered the foot. Mykal extracted the brownish dog, clipping a collar and chain to its neck.

“My prize,” Mykal said. “And now, for yours.”

Mykal circled his hands around each other, gathering the requisite ether to begin the building process. The spark finally lit and he tossed it to the ground. The ether started as a worm, and wriggled, gathering mass and shape.

Soon, it was a miniature steer. More and more mass combined and it stumbled around the clearing, lowing.

Alabaster stepped back, his nostrils flaring and glowing.

The steer continued to grow in size and coordination until it towered over Mykal.

“Go,” he whispered.

The steer lowed and tore off across the clearing, disappearing down the side of the mountain. Alabaster jumped into the sky, the frenzied flapping of wings snapping against the stillness of the cold night.

Mykal turned his attention to the trembling dog.

“Hello, my dear,” he drawled. He grabbed the chain and dragged her into the cave.

“Jino!” Mykal shouted. “I need you!”

A tiny imp scampered in and stood next to Mykal’s leg, barely coming to his knees.

“Move the jar to the Justice Keeper’s house. Put it in the daughter’s room.”

“Yes, Master.” Jino bowed low.

Mykal dragged the changeling to a cage built into the side of the massive cavern, pulling her behind the bars. The hung the chain onto an enormous hook embedded into the rock just within his arm’s reach. He tugged against it three times, then left, locking the door behind him.

He retired to his small sleeping chamber, a smaller cave just off the cavern. Flicking his fingers, he stoked the fire and slept.

***

Telondra shook, terrified. Not only had she gotten caught by a dragon, but she got caught by Mykal’s dragon. A captive of the secretive sorcerer. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen.

And that jar.

He was going to put it in her room?

How? Why?

She shrank into the back of the cage. The only marking of the passage of time was the dragon slithering back into the cavern.

It laid down.

Right in front of the cage.

She pressed into the wall behind her, curled into a tiny ball, and watched the dragon. Its back expanded and contracted with rhythmic breath. Eventually, it lulled her to sleep, too.

***

Mykal awoke to Jino pulling on him.

“It is done, Master. Come and eat.”

Mykal dragged himself from the bed, exhausted from his scrying earlier. He scratched his head through thinning hair and yawned.

He followed the curve of the wall back into the main cavern.

Alabaster pressed his nose against the bars of the cage.

“Not for you, pet,” Mykal said, gently dragging his fingers along Alabaster’s back. The dragon shuddered. Mykal smiled. He sat at the low, small table on the opposite side of the cavern.

Jena delivered plate after plate of food. Mykal inhaled the delicately cooked portions. Imps may not be much too look at with their ugly face, sharp teeth, and unnaturally long fingers, but he’d never found any kind better with food than them.

Each morsel of food exploded with flavor in his mouth. He sometimes thought it must be imp magic, but always shook his head at the ridiculous notion.

Imps don’t have magic.

Thirteen courses later, Mykal could not take another bite.

“Feed the dog,” he said. “I need to check on the venerable Justice Keeper.”

Mykal left the cavern for the privacy of his scrying room. He approached the bowl and, with great difficulty, pulled the jar’s image. He struggled against his own fatigue. When he finally pulled a proper image, the Justice Keeper was just leaving the room, his words unclear.

Mykal cursed, frustrated. He needed more rest, more food.

He wandered back through the cavern toward his bed. Alabaster’s back was now pressed against the cage.

“That’s a good pet,” Mykal said. He crawled back into his bed and slept.

***

A tiny creature hauled a bucket. The wood scraped against the stone floor, echoing off the walls and ceiling of the cavern.

Was that a real, live imp?

The smell of food wafted toward Telondra and she jumped to her feet, pulling against the length of the chain. She was ravenous, always hungrier in her changeling form than her human form. Gauging by the bucket size, she would need to eat a full bucket before she’d be able to change back.

Telondra whined as the imp drew closer.

“Come on, dragon, out of the way,” the imp said irritably. It nudged the dragon with its toe. The dragon didn’t move.

“Come on, don’t make me use the side gate. Just move.”

The dragon shifted its massive head. It sucked in a huge breath.

“All right, all right, no need for threats.” The imp produced a tiny tin and inserted it into the bar closest to the wall and furthest away from the cave where Mykal disappeared just moments ago.

A faint click sounded. The imp removed a segment of the bar and ducked in, dragging the bucket behind.

To Telondra’s great disappointment, the bucket was only half full of strange-smelling slop. She could only presume it was the leftovers from cooking.

Her stomach didn’t argue.

As soon as the bucket was in reach, she dove her nose in. Specks of food flew. She felt drops land on her feet, her face, even the top of her head. The slop covered her entire muzzle. She licked the bucket clean.

“Nasty creatures, dogs are,” the imp muttered. It dragged the bucket back out and replaced the bar.

Telondra stared until it was out sight. She was still so hungry. She whined.

Hot breath washed over her.

The dragon’s muzzle pressed against the bars. She shrank to the back just like the last time it did this.

Its eyes never left her and ever so slowly, curiosity replaced her fear. Hour by hour, step by step, Telondra crept closer. When she reached the end of her chain, the dragon’s tongue slipped out of its mouth. Telondra backpedals until the wall of the cave pressed against her back.

The dragon froze. It never brought its tongue back in. It didn’t move at all.

Telondra crept closer again.

She couldn’t decide if it was worse to be eaten by a dragon or kept prisoner by Mykal. She mustered all her bravery and stayed at the end of her chain when it pulled tight.

Slowly, the dragon’s tongue crept forward again. Gently, it washed Telondra, licking all the food and grime off her coat.

When it was done, it cocked its head and turned around, leaning its back against the bars. It shifted again and lay with its feet toward her. It wriggled, swishing its tail around, eyes never once leaving her. Telondra began to copy the dragon’s movements. The wriggled around on their backs and rolled, kicking their feet in the air.

The dragon’s easy movements stinned Telondra. Its body alone was easily the size of of their barn at home. Maybe larger. It’s long neck and tail flicked around with little effort. At one point, the tip of its tail slip through the bars. She sniffed, the horrible scent burning her nose at close range. Tentatively she stuck out her tongue and licked the scales. Despite its horrible smell, the scales tasted sweet, and she was so hungry.

The dragon shuddered.

Telondra continued to lick the dragon’s tail, cleaning as far as she could reach.

Suddenly, startling Telondra, the dragon pulled its tail out and lay with its back to her.

Just a few seconds later, Mykal’s voice rang out.

“I’m ready for food!”

***

It took three days for Mykal to be able to accurately and consistently connect to the empty jar from his scrying bowl. Frustration built up. It grew more as nothing happened inside her room.

“Jino!” he shouted.

“Yes, Master,” Jino said when he arrived.

“Move the jar. I want to see his anguish!”

“Yes, Master. Where should I move it?”

“To his room. I want to watch him suffer.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Jino, conceal it. Don’t get caught.”

Jino hesitated. “Yes, Master.”

***

Telondra lost track of the days, or even what was day or night. Mykal never once came to speak to her. Sometimes he’d stare from across the cavern. She was fed half a bucket twice a day and suffered in hunger all the time.

When Mykal was away, she continued to play with evidently bored dragon. He licked her clean after meals once the imp disappeared, and she licked his tail after playing. To her disgust, the dragon also licked her cage clean as far as its tongue could reach. She began to relieve herself far to one wall as close to the bars as her chain would allow. The dragon always licked it clean. So gross.

She desperately wanted to change back into her human form to slip out of the collar and escape, but she never had quite enough energy for it. She also didn’t have a plan for once she changed, so she stayed in her changeling form.

Mykal also grew increasingly frustrated, screaming about nothing happening, but she didn’t know what he was talking about. He frequently called to Jino to move the jar here and there. He sent the dragon out for hours at a time. His shouts echoed across the cavern from whatever other room he was in.

After those sessions, he’d disappear for six or even eight feedings, just sleeping or eating. Telondra could do nothing but wait.

Wait to play.

Wait to eat.

Wait to be bored again.

Mykal took his frustrations out on the dragon and the imps, abusing them with words or sticks or whatever else he may have in his hand at the time.

She heard the oaths that the imps grumbled under their breaths, out of his earshot. The dragon even began rumbling.

Slowly, a plan formed in her mind.

***

Mykal cursed again, slapping the water. The ground pitched in the shimmering pool before Alabaster righted himself.

“I’m sorry, Alabaster,” Mykal said, trying to feign tenderness. “I need you to find me something. Anything. Where is this Justice Keeper? Why doesn’t he search for the changeling?”

It brought him little satisfaction that the changeling’s mother had been bedridden since the disappearance nearly two months ago now.

The heartless Justice Keeper just worked harder. A quick pound of his wife in the morning, work all day, come home, eat something, another quick pound of his wife, then sleep.

Day after day.

Even when Mykal had the jar moved to his office, the man didn’t grieve. He just worked. And worked.

“Unless,” Mykal said, the revelation suddenly coming to him. “The grief is the work. How did I not see that before?”

He laughed. “Come, let’s make the work harder.

Mykal strolled past the changeling’s cage. Truthfully, the girl didn’t interest him. Changelings were common enough, and even though it was amusing that the Justice Keeper’s daughter happened to also be a changeling, it wasn’t relevant to his current goal of breaking the man. He wanted to break the Justice Keeper. The girl would be useful for that, but not in a more intensive role yet. He didn’t want to kill her too hastily. She may prove more valuable alive at some point.

“Jino!” Mykal yelled, sitting at his desk and writing out a list.

“Yes, Master,” Jino said upon arrival.

“Take the pet and retrieve these things. Take Jena if you need.”

“Yes, Master.” Jino folded the paper and tucked it into the pocket of his vest and disappeared. Mykal stared at the sleeping changeling, mulling over his plan.

“It has to be the right people,” he muttered. “The right people to die. The right people to implicate.” He scratched an itchy spot on his head and then rubbed his rough chin. “Just the right people.”

***

Mykal’s stare made Telondra uncomfortable. She laid perfectly still at the back of her cage, listening to his mumbling, only barely cracking an eye open. He wasn’t the only one forming a plan.

Several days ago, she discovered that her collar was now loose enough to slip over her head. She couldn’t fathom how much weight she lost for that to happen. Of course, it might be obvious to him if he were to look, so she was sure to lay perfectly still whenever Mykal came around.

If Mykal was planning to kill people who hadn’t been trespassing, killing people for sport, to make her father angry, she had to get out. She had to warn him. But how?

Jino and Jena would certainly stop her. And the dragon? It seemed more sullen lately. Perhaps it was growing tired of the bad treatment. Perhaps that could work to her favor. Or it would eat her. But what else could she do? She had to try, and risking death was worth saving the lives of those around.

Mykal eventually wandered off somewhere, but Telondra still laid still. She’d been conserving as much energy as possible since the discovery of her collar. After a very long time, Jino, Jena, and the dragon came back. Everyone looked exhausted.

Mykal met them immediately, relieving Jino of the overstuffed bag.

“Jino,” he said. “It will take time to prepare these. Time and focus. Do not interrupt me. Bring food precisely at 6 and 12, day and night. Silently leave it inside the door. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Master.”

“For now, you and Jena may rest. I should not need you until morning.”

“No food at 12?”

“Not tonight, Jino. Start tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Oh, and Jino?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Feed the dog.”

“Yes, Master.”

The dragon lay on the opposite side of the cavern, its head lolled onto the floor. Telondra had never seen it so spent. Jino brought the pail of food through the main door of the cage. He set the bucket down. Telonda slowly pushed herself up.

“Jino!” Mykal called.

“Cripes,” Jino grumbled. “What now?” He huffed and left, closing the gate, but not locking it.

This was her chance. She couldn’t even believe it. She gazed longingly at the bucket as she crept forward. Not knowing how much time she would have, she slipped her head from the collar.

The dragon ambled across the cavern and pressed its muzzle against the cage. The door swung open. Telondra pushed the bucket to the door. The dragon’s tongue flicked in and out of the bucket.

She slipped under its jaw and crept along the wall as fast as she could toward the entrance. The smell of fresh air guided her to freedom. In the evening light, she, for the first time, saw how high she was, up in the mountains near her home, but still at least 50 miles away. A huge clearing at the mouth of the cave must be how the dragon came and went, a massive landing pad.

She slipped into the undergrowth by the entrance. She had to leave fast. Over the last days, she’d spent many hours resting and knew now that she had one change in her, back to her human form. But did she dare do it now or wait until later? She would move faster in her changeling form, but then she wouldn’t be able to change back.

The dragon came out of the cavern. It lifted its snout, sniffing, then made a beeline directly for her. It stopped a few paces away and stared. She crept forward out of the undergrowth.

She looked into the distance, then back at the dragon.

It followed her gaze then turned back to her. Stepping forward, it reached out a paw and gently grasped her.

Then it jumped.

Her stomach sank and nausea swept over her. She was glad she didn’t eat. To her surprise, the dragon flew directly to her house. When it landed and let her go, she took a few steps, blinking, trying to figure out how the dragon knew.

A cry drew her attention to the front door of her home. Her mother and father rushed out, but stopped short, staring at the dragon, then toward Telondra.

“No,” her father whispered, backing away.

Telondra, for the first time in more days than she could count, changed back into her human form. Pain shot through every bone as it shifted, aches in every muscle. Every fur follicle burned as it pinched, shearing the hair.

“No,” her father said again, louder.

Telondra straighted, standing tall and completely naked, in front of her parents.

“Father,” she said, taking a step forward.

“No!” he shouted, the veins in his face and neck bulging. “I am not your father. You are not my daughter. Get away from here!”

“Telondra,” her mother cried, jerking as her father grabbed her, pulling her back.

“That creature is not our daughter!” he shouted.

Telondra’s heart broke. Even after being gone for so long, he couldn’t see past the changeling. She knew. She knew he would never accept her.

“My daughter,” her mother breathed.

“Call me Alabaster and I am yours,” the dragon said.

Telondra turned. “You–you can talk?” she choked out.

“Only to humans,” Alabaster said. “Only to those… worthy.”

“Alabaster,” she breathed, and took a step toward him.

Alabaster shuddered. Midnight black scales cracked and flaked off, disintegrating on the ground. Brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows glistened in the evening sun.

Telondra turned, registering the frantic wails of her mother.

Her father had gone completely silent, all color drained from his face.

“There is a jar in your office,” Telondra said to her father. “Smash it.”

She turned and climbed onto the neck of her great Alabaster. Two bone-like growths appeared beneath her feet and two more grew under her hands. Alabaster jumped and she braced against the growths. Her stomach shot to her feet. She would have to get used to that.

“Where to, love?” Alabaster asked.

“Anywhere,” Telondra said. “As long as it’s away from here.”

The End

 


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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay