This story is inspired by this painting, found on HitRecord here:

Scuffed blue gloves had been cast aside and wrinkled brown fingers held intricate tools, twisting and pulling at the wiring.  It was hot inside the back panel of the machine, but Gloria couldn’t stop now.  She almost had it.  Desperation pressed her forward as she finished capping the wire and slid out, replacing the panel with her drill and standing to stretch; her body had not been young for a long time. As she passed one of the machine’s two, huge windows, Gloria saw a limp body suspended in a yellow liquid by more wires, tubes, and a harness.  The figure was blurry through the thick, syrupy substance that was keeping her alive.  Gloria’s hand brushed against the window softly before she took a deep breath and walked to the main console.  She was ready to try again.  

A red light came on above the main switch after she flicked it upward, and pipes around it hissed furious clouds of white liquid as the machine began to wake up.  The sounds of the inner workings, the grinding of metal and whirring of meters grew until it was cacophonous, and Gloria could do nothing but stand and watch in helpless agony as electricity sparked and the tank of the machine began to rumble and move, the thick liquid inside it sliding around and slapping the glass.  She held her tired, wrinkled, over worked hands against her chest and hoped.  Gloria had no god to pray to.

Inside, she could see the naked, suspended body convulsing and shaking as the hissing, sparking, grinding, and clanking sounds began to crescendo.  Gloria feared the whole thing would explode, but she stood fast in her place before the machine; if Mari died, Gloria had no intention of living.  A final, resounding slam of metal rang in her ears, and she looked up, watching nervously as the yellow liquid began to drain from the center cavity of the machine, the tubes and wires releasing themselves from the naked body within.  She rushed over, waiting to hear the mechanical click of the base door unlocking.  With a metallic clack, the door hissed and opened, and the liquid from within poured out, bringing with it a naked female body covered in the remains of the yellow liquid. 

“Mari,” Gloria said in a harsh, choked voice.  “Oh, Mari, my love.” 

Days later,  the woman blinked open her eyes and coughed.  She had been cleaned, dressed in a hospital gown, and was in a bed in a room she had never seen before.  Someone was touching her hand.

“Mari,” the voice called.  She turned her head slowly, the world blurry and her mind sluggish.  “Gloria,” she wheezed.  “How did you get so old?”  

The other woman laughed softly, her eyes full of tears.  “It took me a long time to make you well, Mari.  But you are.  And not a day older.” 

Mari looked past Gloria to a mirror hanging on the wall.  She was sallow looking and thin, but Gloria was right.  Mari hadn’t aged a day. And she was miraculously alive.  “How is this possible?” Mari asked.

Gloria looked away.  “Your… your father’s machine.  I fixed it.” 

Mari tried to sit up, but her body was frail and she had no muscle strength.  “Gloria,” she whispered, horrified.  “How could you?” 

Gloria looked at Mari.  “I would have fixed a thousand machines to save you, my love.”  She ran a wrinkled finger down Mari’s smooth, perfect cheek.  “Even ones that might collapse reality as we know it.” 

The Bog Keeper

See my original post on HitRecord Here:

Based on this Remix by Bosska:

She was small, for a Bog Keeper.  Always the runt, her family had feared for her when she’d set out to find her own bog to tend at the young age of forty-two.  But Arl was strong and smart, and she’d made it halfway across the continent before she had found a bog to call her own.  That, however, was when the trouble started.  And it was all because of a small, irritating wisp that wouldn’t stop following her.  

Wisps are hard to understand.  They speak softly in old languages that only sometimes translates with their spotty magic.  This wisp was no exception, and it babbled inconsistently while Arl kept walking, swatting at the creature here and there.  It was spry, and wove around her hands with ease.

“If you won’t tell me what you want,” Arl said, exasperated, “would you please leave me be?” 

But the wisp would not.  It followed Arl for five days and six nights before she noticed something odd about the annoying creature- the wisp was fading.  Dying, maybe.  Arl had never heard of a sickness that infected wisps.  She noticed that it was becoming more sluggish and less talkative,  until finally it came to rest in her hand.  

“You need my help,” Arl finally realized.  “I have been a bad Bog Keeper.  I am sorry,” she told the wisp.  She breathed a bit of bog magic into the creature, giving it enough energy to bounce around her once again. 

“Show me,” she told the wisp.  And it did.  Arl followed the wisp through her new bog until they reached a tree that was bigger than any she’d seen in the bog so far.  At the base was a crack in the bark that the wisp flew into, and it was just big enough for Arl to squeeze through after it.  The inside of the old tree was hollow, and the walls were lined with fading, dying wisps.  Arl looked in saddened awe at the number of them.  

“Why is this happening?” she asked them.  None answered; perhaps they did not know.  “What is your source of power?”  

Her wisp, the one that had brought her there, floated gently in the center of the room.  A few others joined it, and together they began to glow brightly.  It was beautiful.  Their power drew forth a stone from the roots and earth beneath them; it was large and covered in swirling runes, oozing power through a huge crack on the left side.  Arl knew that could not be natural.  She went over to the stone and held her hand over the crack, the hissing power of the wisps burning her skin.  But she steadied herself, and poured bog magic into the stone, working as hard as she could to seal it.  Vines sprouted from the ground around her, covering the stone and creating a protective barrier.  It was enough, for now.  Arl fell to her knees, drained of power and energy.  Her wisp came and laid in her hand.  “Thank you,” it whispered.  She nodded, glad the wisps would not all fade away.  But now she knew that someone or something had targeted them, and this was her bog now.  She had a wrong to right, and a bog to keep safe.  Arl’s journey was only beginning.

Every Lesson

They stood in the courtyard, hands behind their backs with a wide stance, just like the Head Teacher had instructed.  A mix of children with different genders, backgrounds, and educations waited nervously as a tall woman took her place before them.  She stood stoically in tailored leather with a battle-worn look, her black hair in a small puffy circle around her head. Reyka stood, her one and a half arms at her side a she waited before them as the last student rushed forward and joined the line.  That made twelve of them.

“Welcome,” she said.  She scanned their faces, the children’s cheeks red from the heat of the day.  The sun was beating down into the practice yard, but Reyka would show them no mercy.  

“I am Chief Marshal Reyka,” she told them.  “And you are all, effective immediately, Third Class Cadets of Her Lordship Queen Monavych III.”  She looked at them, though they all had the good sense to stare straight ahead. “You are now under my command, in the 426th Regiment.”

One of the boys, heavyset but not tall, slightly turned his face toward his compatriot, a girl slightly younger than him named Petra.  “That’s who’s gonna train us? She only has one good arm!” he whispered. He knew better than to speak; all twelve of the children, between ages eight and ten, had already spent the beginnings of their lives in the monarchy’s Institutions, where they had endured a military-like childhood.  Petra could see he was referring to the Chief Marshal’s right arm, which ended just above the elbow.

Petra hardly opened her mouth as she hissed back, “Shut up, Machakov!”  She hadn’t been this scared since the day two soldiers had escorted her from her childhood home.

Reyka strode toward them, and Petra silently whimpered.  She was terrified of her new training instructor. Reyka had dark skin, even darker than Petra’s mother, and her eyes, which Petra could now see were brown with a golden halo, fixed upon them with a glowing intensity.  Machakov visibly straightened and snapped his head back to facing front.

“Would you like to teach the first training session?” Reyka asked Machakov in a soft tone.  Machakov, who had finally come to his senses, quivered as he stood and said nothing.  She walked past him without another glance.

“I have been informed that you all have rudimentary combat training,” her voice boomed loud this time, echoing off the walls of the circular training courtyard.  She walked in a circle back to her original position, planting her feet six or seven yards from the line of trainees. “Attack me.”

No one moved.  None of the children even breathed.  The confusion read on their faces, and they stared at their new commander in disbelief.

“I gave you an order!” Reyka barked.  “Attack me, now!” Her voice was a boom of thunder, and it jolted the children into action.  They ran at her, though some more hesitantly than others. Petra was at the back of the group, going as slowly as she could.  She had only spent a few months at the Institution before they had been sent to the Wascom Outpost for training, and she was not at all confident in her abilities. She watched as the first girl struck Reyka, a tall blonde girl with long hair.  The girl had good form, but Reyka slapped her away with her good arm and kicked her in the chest. She flew several feet before hitting the ground with a thud.

Never missing a beat, Reyka swung her leg low to sweep one of the boys to the floor before hitting another in the shoulder with an open palmed punch that sent him tumbling to the ground.  Her good elbow connected with another trainee’s chin as the stub of her arm swatted another in the face. Wincing even as she ran toward her, Petra waited until she was busy dealing with two others before she lunged in with a fist, aiming for Reyka’s side.  Faster than Petra had seen anyone move before, Reyka twisted, kicking one trainee in the stomach and grabbing the other, Machakov, by the arm, whipping him around and throwing him into Petra, and the two trainees tumbled violently to the ground. The remaining students were hesitant to charge her, but Reyka growled and lunged at them, forcing them to defend themselves.  It didn’t take long before every single student was on the ground, heaving for breath and rubbing several new bruises.

“Never hesitate,” Reyka barked.  She stood, glaring at Machakov. “And never underestimate your opponent.”

The children were ordered to do two hundred pushups before they would be allowed to enter the dinner hall.  Reyka calmly exited the training arena, passing another officer, Erina, who was leaning against the wall, looking at the trainees now struggling to stand.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Erina said to Reyka as she chuckled.

The Chief Marshal shrugged, a wry smile on her face.  “Every lesson is important.”