Your Own Worst Adversary

I wrote a story that I can relate to personally. So many of us try to make our pain or illness more palatable to others (and ourselves) by resorting to humor. It’s a joke now that millennials suffer from near constant existential crises. Low wages, high costs of living, the crippling weight of student loan debt that so many of us were promised we’d easily pay off. These things are true in many countries around the world, but not all. But for those that do suffer under the weight of the odds stacked against us, I hope this story is cathartic in how you can relate to it. I hope you know you’re not alone.




“I’m both my biggest fan and my biggest enemy,” she said laughing. Her friends all laughed too, agreeing vehemently, comrades in their self-loathing.

Later that night, she sat alone in her bedroom, dirty dishes piled high on her desk, bed linens unwashed these past four months.

“I’m not going to apologize for being me,” she posted on social media as she painted her nails red.

Her worth was exponentially higher than she would ever acknowledge, although her heart yearned to believe it.

Serotonin and dopamine, too low most of the time, spiking only when she gave voice to her pain.

©2019 Heather Stephens


Long time no see, everyone. I’m really sorry about that. After I post this story, I will make a blog post about why I haven’t posted in a while.

But here is a 2300-word short story about a boy in a cave.

Please let me know what you think of it.



“I find it hard to believe this cave hasn’t been discovered already,” Miraeth said, tossing her golden hair over her shoulder. “It’s probably full of bandits.”

She didn’t sound scared. She just didn’t want to go with me.

“You don’t have to come, coward,” I retorted, shouldering my bag. “Bastion can come with me. I don’t need you.” I patted my dog on the head, and he whined, leaning into the palm of my hand.

She had the nerve to look offended. Her peridot eyes widened, eyes that could be soft and inviting if not for the nerve of the woman who possessed them, a simpering rage infiltrating her aloofness and turning it into an insult. An insult I fully intended, as much as I have loved her since I wore nappies.

“You’ll probably die in there, ” she said, and as her words tumbled out of her mouth, they dripped caustic venom on the forest floor. I smiled when I practically smelled the burning of leaves.

“Perhaps I will. Or perhaps I’ll discover hidden treasure and become the wealthiest man in town. And then I’ll make sure to forget all about you, Miraeth Samperson.” My tone is deceptively casual as I say it. I don’t mean it. I couldn’t mean it.

Sometimes before we went in at night after our work was done, she’d kiss me. “Never tell anyone,” she’d say before pressing her lips to me, her hands roving over my body. A small body for an eighteen-year-old boy. Noah Relard was a bigger man, and he’d had an eye on Miraeth almost as long as I had.

But for some reason, she chose to kiss me. To touch me. But she never let it go to my head, treating me so poorly whenever she wasn’t pressing her lips to mine.

Poison lips. So sweet.

Rewarding my boyish insolence would not do, so she gave me a rude gesture with the fingers of one hand and then stormed off. I tried calling after her. After all, I’d much prefer it if she came with me into the cave than storming through the woods alone.

Ah well. It was only noon anyway. There would be as little danger at this hour than there would ever be.

“Come on Bash,” I said, adjusting the weight of the strap of my bag on my shoulder yet again. It was a nervous tick I had.

The cave was dark almost immediately upon entering. Dark, damp. Typical of caves, really. I rolled my eyes at myself as I fumbled in the light from outside for a match to light the lantern I brought with me, the lantern that was clipped to my belt. Should have done this outside before entering the cave, you vacuous moron, I told myself.

But the lantern was lit, and the golden light that illuminated the black stone walls around me revealed no enemies.

Black stone.

The walls were made of black stone, some sort of obsidian.

Hidden treasure indeed. If the stone was soft enough, I could mine it and sell it. The gleaming ebony rock would make me rich enough to move out of my small town.

Even as I reached for the stone to test its hardness, I hesitated. Moving out of the small town would mean leaving Miraeth. Sassy, sweet, venomous Miraeth.

Unless she agreed to come with me.

I don’t know why she would, but I couldn’t think why she wouldn’t either. She kissed me; she must love me too. Yes, I thought to myself, she would come with me.

Joy resonated through my blood, making it heat and simmer within my veins as I felt the rock. I dug in with my nails, yes, yes, it was soft enough to easily mine.

I was as rich man. And I knew, deep down, that my mum’s troubles were over. No longer would she have to sell the most sacred parts of her to men who mistreated her. She could choose her clients more particularly now.

Other healers used their magic to heal the body. Mum used her body to heal the mind.

But it would take time to hire people to work the mine and to get the equipment sorted. I needed something to bring home to assert my claim on the mine, to validate my authority.

So deeper into the cave, I went. Along the way, I’d pick up small pieces of the black rock and shove them into my bag, still unsure what kind of stone it was. Bastion, loyal Bastion, followed me faithfully, braver even than I.

Deeper and deeper I went, enveloped in the cold embrace of the earth. The blackness was like a living entity of its own, pulsing. Breathing. Breathing like a living god, mightier than the mountain which made up its home, more than a sum of its parts.

It weighed upon me. Heavier than anything I’d ever known. But my life was on the line, and I had much to lose, but more to gain, so in I pressed. Even as my steps became strenuous, even as my shoulders slumped, I pressed in.

Never before had I been so determined to see a task done. Even if I had to crawl, I would reach the back of the cave.

I never noticed it when it began, but after three hours in the cave, the noise in my head was a cacophony of swarming bees. Buzzing and furious. Somehow I had the presence of mind to wonder about Miraeth. Surely she’d be home by now.

I could not worry about her for long. The weight was so heavy upon my shoulders, I fell to my knees, and I would swear the stone floor faltered under the combined weight of my small frame and the entity perched upon my shoulders. Sweat poured over my face, despite the cold dampness. I wondered where the water was that was causing such a dank environment. I had not come across any.

But that was my last thought before preternatural sleepiness overcame me and I almost succumbed to the sweetest slumber I would have ever known.

The buzzing of the bees inside my head quieted just a little, and in that blissful relief, my eyes snapped open.

And then I began to crawl. If I’d had any sense, I’d have crawled out, away from the inky darkness, back to the light of early spring that waited for me outside of the cave. Bastion’s whines begged me to do just that, urgent and high, overcoming even the chaos of the bees.

But I had never been an overly intelligent boy, even less so as a man, so I plunged deeper.

My knees ached with a dozen bruises as I crawled, but I was motivated by an urging so primal and necessary that I did not heed them. My hands were scuffed and raw.

With the abruptness of a falling star illuminating the skies to the delight of the mortal children on the surface of the earth, between one painful shuffle and the next, the buzzing in my head ceased, cut off like the head of a criminal on judgment day.

The loss of it made me retch. I missed its clamor like I missed Miraeth’s venom. Contrary to my own well-being. But I did not vomit. I would never violate the black stone of the ground with my own filth.

Another shuffle forward and the weight was lifted. Every movement forward was rewarded by a lessening of my burden, more and more until once again I was able to stand like a man and face what lied ahead.

There was a light ahead. I could see it, filtering from around a corner. An orange light, like the light of sunset.

A heaving ecstasy filled my heart. I had made it through the womb of the earth. I knew not where I would emerge back into the world of light and air, but to know that I would emerge at all was freedom of its own. With every joy in the world making my steps lighter, I surged forward toward that orange light.

The world I found beyond that corner was not the world into which I’d been born, and lived, and loved.

Did I die in the cave? Was I crushed under the enormous weight of that interminable darkness?

It could not be so. The valley before me was small in size but vast in the sheer amount of life that resides within it. No people, no, and no animals either. Naught but birds. But so many of them.

And there, in the center of the valley, I could see from even at a significant distance, a white bird so colossal in size, it could have been a dragon if dragons were feathered and possessed a beak. That bird was the size of the hill on which I made my home with my mum.

Even from where I stood, at least two miles away, I could feel it watching me as if it were expecting me.

Retreat, my mind urged me, some sort of self-preservation freezing my blood. What lies within the cave would be more merciful that.

But my feet were already moving forward. Only forward. Only. Forward.

Bastion was not with me, but I could not look back to see where he had decided to stay. I would not look back.

Only forward.

The way to the dragon-bird was clear, made only of glimmering peridot-colored grass that looked more like an emerald in the dying light. My steps sounded hollow on the earth as I ruffled through the grass.

The closer I drew to the dragon-bird, the more I noticed about it. It was not seated on a nest or burrow of any sort. No, it was standing, its attention indeed focused on me. It was not white as I had thought, but instead a thousand shades of gray, each individual feather a different hue. Its hooded eyes were blue like the ice that covered the river in the winter.

Its beak. As if pulled from my own nightmares, the pale yellow beak was larger than the head of the dragon-bird, blunt but massive. It could eat my entire town in two bites.

It watched me approach but did not move. Retreat, my mind urged again, but again I took a step forward. Only forward.

And I met the bird’s fearsome gaze and felt the foundations of my character crumble away underneath me.

A thousand lifetimes I lived in that time I stared at it, even as the sun set and darkness overcame the valley. I could not tear away my gaze from that of the dragon-bird, but I did not want to do so anyway. The secrets of the universe were unveiled to me, revealed to me as if I were watching the origins of the universe unfold as if I were a part of its making. As if I could be a part of its unmaking.

No words were spoken, but the offer was blatantly presented. See and learn the patterns of creation, therein would I forge my destiny.

Only forward. I accepted the offer.

There are no words to describe in my mother tongue what I learned that night.

In the end, the bird blinked once, and I was dismissed. Silently I turned around and made my way back the way I came, my lantern long since gone out. But I did not need it. Back over the emerald grass and back into the darkness of the cave, where Bastion waited for me.

The way back after a long journey always seems shorter than one remembers it, and that was true for that night. Effortlessly I navigated the halls of the cave, the black walls, once so rich with possibility, not forgotten, but dismissed.

Back into the world I knew as my own.

I wanted to see Miraeth. I wanted to see Miraeth and offer her a place by my side. I was not burdened by my great destiny; I was gifted with it. I knew the way to her house like I knew the way to my own. Home is where I decided it would be.

I threw a stone at her window, unwilling to spend the time to explain to her parents why I was their house so late. The little pebble bounced off the glass. She did not come.

I threw another one.

She did not come.

The burden of knowing filled me. I knew, but I wanted to see. To allow this to be a lesson to learn to trust in the gift that had been bestowed upon me. If I did not allow myself this pain, the lesson wouldn’t take.

“Go home, Bash,” I directed my faithful friend. He gave me one peculiar look before running in the direction of my small cottage.

I moved to the Samperson barn.

I heard them before I slipped inside to see. Heard the slapping of bodies coming together and the whimpering Miraeth always made when she got what she wanted.

But still, I pushed inside.

The tangling of their limbs made me queasy, even as Miraeth’s startled shame gave her cheeks a rosy glow. “I thought you were dead,” she said to me.

“No, you didn’t,” I replied.

Noah Relard cursed at me. “Leave before I tear your weak arms off,” he threatened. I looked upon him with benign pity.

I turned to the love of my life one final time. “I found my treasure. I would not have forgotten Miraeth Samperson.”

By the time I made it home, the vestiges of a smile had graced my face. The twinges of young heartbreak still echoed within my chest like a bruise being pressed on by the memory of her lips on my skin, but I knew it would pass.

Soon this little town would be left behind as my mum and I made for greener pastures and richer pockets.

The world was mine for the taking.

©2019 Heather Stephens

Short Story – A Mother’s Love

For this blog challenge post (thanks Amanda McCormick!) we were asked to pick a few elements from a dream we had and then incorporate them into a short story. All writing prompts I’ve received lately, I’ve turned into short stories that take place in the same universe as my upcoming fantasy romance novel.

My dream was about my mother. I won’t go into it, but I have a painful relationship with my mother.

It was the perfect inspiration for this story.

Please enjoy.pexels-photo-458766


“Ardia takes after you because she has no gift for music,” Olivia sil Varstra complains to her husband, Prego. He peers up at her from the book he’s reading, a grimace on his face.

“What does she need music for? She’s my heir. If she wants frivolity, she can hire someone. There’s a reason we support artists in this kingdom.” He’s said his piece, engrossing himself back into his book. After a moment he puts it aside and picks up correspondence from some steward or employee.

“She needs to be well-rounded, or she will not interest Tahm sil Aldrich.” Olivia sits down on a chaise in the center of the room. “We have a chance to merge the economic empires of the two most important estates in the kingdom. Together we’d cover five-hundred square miles of the kingdom.” She shakes her head. “No. I must insist that you write to the University and enroll her in music classes.”

Prego tosses the document he’s trying to read on the desk. “That’s enough. Her lessons in economics, statecraft, and history are well enough. The contract has been signed less than a week, and you’re already getting skittish.”

Olivia’s face sours. “You supported marrying her to sil Aldrich as much as I did. Do. I still think it is for the best. Tahm is a strapping young man. He can protect her from whatever comes.” She looks at her hands; she is not yet old enough for them to show her age, although she knows the day is coming. Still, at not yet forty, she is young enough to still appear pleasing. She decides to try a different tactic. “He won’t want to protect her if she’s boring,” she says, pouting her lips and batting her eyelashes.

Prego sighs deeply and looks at the ceiling, pleading with the Lord and Lady for the strength to persevere. “Olivia, don’t do that. As much as I value your input, I said no. She has only a year left at University, and if she wants to receive the marks that will earn the respect of her peers, she must focus.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose. “And do not tell me that I supported it. My decision to join with sil Aldrich was born of two desires: to keep her safe and to keep Tavaria safe from whatever darkness rises across the border in Amerilis. If there had been any other way, any at all, I would have preferred it. She is too young.”

Olivia scoffs, abandoning with frustration her pretense of coy persuasion. “I was sixteen when you married me. You did not think I was too young.” Her voice quivers, as if she is hurt by his double standard, but is too proud to address it outright.

Prego groans, tossing his hands in the air, reaching for some sort of divine aid that will not come. “I married too young as well. But you’re right. At least Ardia is older than I was when I did it.”

He rises to his feet and leaves his office, ignoring Olivia’s demand that he stay and discuss their daughter’s future. She stands too but does not leave. Instead, she paces for a time, stopping every once in a while to stare out the window into the front garden, watching the grand reflecting pool ripple with the falling rain. The roses will bloom beautifully this year, she thinks to herself.

Decision made, she makes her way to the desk from which her husband departed. She finds a blank parchment and dips a quill into a bottle of ink.

Lord sil Aldrich,

What’s done is done, and I do not regret my decision to join our two great estates for the benefit of both us and all of Tavaria. With your armies and my husband’s resources, we will defend this great land from the threat in the east.

However, I must ask once again for you to alter the contract. While your brother is a fine young man, I worry that he is not the right fit for my daughter. He is a rumored playboy and a sportsman, and I worry that his attention will wander in the time after she is busy running sil Varstra and before he inherits sil Aldrich. If you will not take her hand in marriage, as I would prefer you to do, will you not at least abdicate your position so that Tahm is already made Duke before he weds Ardia? By doing so, you ensure their matrimonial bliss as they will both be far too busy to pay any attention to their significant differences.

You are a man made wise by loss and experience. I am confident you will see the wisdom in my request.

Warmest regards,

Her Grace Duchess Olivia sil Varstra


She sends the letter that day, sending her least favorite servant into the storm to find a courier in the nearest village.

After that, Olivia is perfectly placid. She smiles at the servants, initiates lovemaking with her husband, and mostly keeps to herself. She possesses the utmost confidence that Perael sil Aldrich will acquiesce. She has never been more confident. Of course, he will agree to my terms, she thinks. I approached him with logic. Men cannot abide illogical arguments, but mine made perfect sense. He really has no choice.

The rest of the spring season passes with no response, but Olivia does not give up hope. But the smile on her face is tighter. Her lovemaking overtures become desperate. The manner in which she communicates with her servants is strained. She loses patience.

A year passes, but the next spring, she finally receives a response.


While I appreciate your concern for the happiness of my brother and your daughter, I must again tell you that I have no intention of marrying again. I made my decision long ago, and as long as Tahm is alive, I have no reason to reconsider it.

As for your other suggestion, I must firmly remind you, with all due respect, that sil Aldrich is my estate. It is not yours to command at will. I assumed the mantle of Duke sil Aldrich over twenty years ago and I am most capable of deciding what is best for my estate, and what is not. Your suggestion that I abdicate in favor of my brother is, at this time, not what is best for my estate.

Again, I thank you for your concern, but it is misplaced. The marriage will take place, as planned. The moment your daughter leaves for Cantrop, I will dispatch my men to assist you in the defense of Tavaria, as agreed.


His Grace Duke Perael sil Aldrich

Without a word, Olivia tears the letter into shreds, letting them fall to the ground of her bedroom. Tears well up in her eyes as white-hot rage courses through her bones. Blinking back the tears, she bites through the tip of her tongue as she fights the urge to scream. She grits her teeth, feeling as if her bone marrow has been replaced with acid.

When the heat of her anger passes, reduced to a persistent simmer, she sits on her bed.

Olivia is forced to consider that she is not in control. Not of sil Aldrich, whom she thought she had successfully manipulated. Not even of her husband, who more and more refuses her requests.

But she will not cry. She will never cry.


The prompt for this one was “roof.” If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I try to avoid expressing things explicitly, choosing instead to allude to sensations and emotions. I hope they come afross clearly.

I get overwhelmed when I attend places with too many stimuli, like Disneyland or a carnival. Busy places with large crowds always exhaust me. People with sensory issues are vulnerable in places like that because the stimuli overwhelm them, and they lose cognitive clarity and sometimes are unable to function safely. Look out for one another in this hectic world.




The bright lights overwhelmed her vision, and her eyes were beginning to hurt. She tried to regain control of her breathing—in, then out. Count to three. In, then out.

It wasn’t working.

She tried to smile warmly at the children shrieking with joy at the attractions, but deep down, she resented them. It was one o’clock on a weekday. Why weren’t these kids at school?

She wanted to go on one more ride, or play one more carnival game, but that wouldn’t happen. She hated that she had to leave, that she wasn’t strong enough to stay. Sensory overload.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Ardia and Sophie

A new blog prompt from Amanda McCormick. This is NSFW, so be warned.

This is a story that takes place the evening before the events in the first chapter of my upcoming book. I have no way of knowing when the book will be released, but hopefully I’ll release it within a year or two.  But enjoy this story, as it can stand alone.



“I don’t like it when you look at me,” Ardia said, combing her long black hair. “It makes me feel like I did something wrong.”

Ardia’s handmaiden, Sophie, pouted and leaned back on the bed, watching Ardia in the mirror. “Is that because you feel guilty about something?”

Ardia rolled her eyes and tossed the fine hairbrush onto the vanity, the inlaid pearls on the back clattering against the wood. “I have nothing to feel guilty about,” she said, staring into the mirror at her handmaiden’s reflection. She watched as Sophie stood and prowled to her side like a ginger tomcat.

Her handmaiden bent down wrapping her arms around Ardia’s shoulders, whispering into her ear, “You’re abandoning me.” A playful accusation that Ardia knew belied Sophie’s true feelings. A glance at Sophie’s aura told her she was correct. Blue sorrow bloomed within the cloud above her head.

“You’ll be there with me,” the heiress tried to reply, but her servant stepped away. Ardia rose to follow her, grabbing her wrist. Sophie struggled against her, but could not get away. Ardia knew she wasn’t really trying because her servant had at least four inches of height on her as well as the muscle tone from a lifetime of service. If she’d wanted to get away, she would have.

Ardia murmured, “Please don’t hate me,” before pressing her lips against her servant’s. Sophie whimpered into the kiss, taking a step to the side, making them both fall onto the bed. She fumbled with the strings on Ardia’s nightgown, desperate to pull it apart and reveal the heiress’s curves.

Sophie was but a servant, but she knew Ardia better than anyone, and she doubted the heiress’s future husband would be as intimate with her. Men do not understand the concept of intimacy, only rutting like beasts.

In a way, Ardia would always belong to Sophie. She was her first kiss, her first exploration into the magic that was a woman’s sexuality. No matter how high Ardia’s star rose in the sky, she’d always remember Sophie.

No highborn husband with no doubt bland tastes like hunting would replace her.

Tahm sil Aldrich. Lottie remembered when he and his brother Perael came to sil Varstra while Ardia was still away at University. She’d listened in on their discussion as best she could, but all she gathered was that Olivia sil Aldrich was eager to marry Ardia off. First she’d requested Perael take Ardia’s hand, but he’d refused. Olivia had taken it as an outrage—it would be decades before Tahm inherited sil Aldrich, so why should a direct heiress of the most advantageous estate marry him?—but Perael had murmured something so quietly, Sophie hadn’t heard. But Olivia had given in.

Sophie knew this marriage was coming long before Ardia did.

So why did it hurt so much?

She wondered that as she tugged at the threads of Ardia’s nightgown, as she placed her lips on Ardia’s skin, as she used her nails to tug at Ardia’s hair. She needed Ardia to know, telling her with her urgency, that she only did not want to be forgotten.

Ardia was not in love with her, Sophie knew that. Ardia was too pragmatic to open herself up to love with someone so far below her station. Still, Sophie cherished every little secret they shared, and the time they spent together intertwined in the candlelight.

She moved down between Ardia’s legs, tasting her. Before rewarding the heiress’s bad behavior in refusing to acknowledge Sophie’s pain, she bit down on the inside of her lover’s thigh. Ardia gasped, clenching the blanket her hands. The bite turned an angry shade of red. Satisfied, Sophie gave in and gave Ardia a climax she’d remember all the way until she reached Cantrop.

She climbed up on the bed, pulling Ardia’s languid body with her until they were both nestled on the pillows. Ardia’s forehead was beaded with the sweat of intimacy. Sleepily, the future Duchess muttered, “I’m only doing as I’m told,” begging again for absolution.

Sophie did not grant it. Instead, she whispered, “I know. One day you won’t be beholden to anyone.”

“As long as you’re with me,” Ardia whispered back.

©2018 Heather Stephens


The prompt for this week from Thin Spiral Notebook was villein, which means “a feudal servant entirely subject to a lord.”

This story is open for your interpretation. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the subtext, who these characters are, what they want.





She blinked up at him demurely, batted her eyelashes.

The blond man smiled at her. What a pretty thing, he thought. What a pretty, little, stupid thing.

He pulled her closer, sliding his hand from the small of her back to rest on her behind. She tittered sweetly.

“My lord, we mustn’t. I heard your brother, he said you’re not allowed—”

He captured her mouth with his, silencing her.

She melted into his arms, like he knew she would.

He could always tell when a woman needed his help. A night with the heir grants commoners a little status.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Body Image

For school, I’m reading a lot of literature about body image in both men and women, boys and girls. It got me thinking, so I wrote this.




She prepares her breakfast at ten in the morning. A little late, but she’d foregone the alarm today on purpose.

Self-care is allowing yourself the freedom to exist as is.

Months ago, she skipped breakfast most days. And lunch. She’d have lean protein and vegetables for dinner.

But today she is having a breakfast burrito. She had the same thing yesterday. She will likely have the same thing tomorrow.

She loves the way her hair now gleams in the sunlight. She loves the way her thighs now touch. She loves herself. Genuinely.

Self-care is living life on your own terms.

©2018 Heather Stephens


We’re not afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of whatever it is that is lurking, able to see us, but we can’t see it. How can you fight something you don’t see coming? How can you flee if you don’t know what chases you? Or if it’s chasing you?

A fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown.





For the most part, she liked living alone.

Top floor, three padlocks on the door. She put wooden dowels in every window. No one would be opening them. Not even her; she kept forgetting about the dowels whenever she tried to air out a room after deep-cleaning.

But she worked swing shift, stepping off the bus at eleven and walking through her door at eleven thirty. She always asked the doorman if everything was fine, and he never reported any problems.


Every creak, every noisy neighbor, every shattered bottle in the alley made her skin crawl.

Haunted by shadows.

©2018 Heather Stephens

The Duke and the Thief

I’m doing a blog challenge put on by Amanda McCormick. She gave this prompt: a stolen ring, fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger. I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I thought this blog challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to write a short story from the universe in which my upcoming novel takes place. I offer it to you here, for free. Sort of to give a taste of the kind of writer I am when I’m not cramming ideas into a hundred words.





All she could determine about the shrouded figure in the corner was that he was a man. She considered her options. The ring she’d pilfered from her lady’s coffer was in a pouch tied to her garter—the garter she’d taken off so she could sleep comfortably.

Stupid. On the run from the duke’s guards and she thought of comfort? She shouldn’t have dreamed of being comfortable until she was over the border into Amerilis. What kind of thief was she anyway, to have fled only two town over before stopping to rest?

A piss-poor excuse of a thief, even if she’d only even taken the job out of desperation.

The ring, rumored to be magic and protective against liches, was the only target of her caper. First, she’d been instructed to take a job working for Duke sil Varstra’s daughter, his heir. The sil Varstra child had the ring, although to Molly’s reckoning she’d had no idea of its power. She’d be off to university soon, and Molly hadn’t had time to grow attached.

She was an odd child anyway. Fourteen and colder than ice, and she always peered at you so strangely, glancing above your head before she’d answer any questions.  It gave Molly chills just thinking about it.

So she’d taken the ring. She made it two villages over, with barely ten miles to the border of Amerilis, and she’d stopped. She’d stopped! What kind of fool was she to think she could steal from sil Varstra and get away with it? An uneducated girl like Molly could have married a farmer boy and lived life in blissful peace, but no.

No, for the sake of her piece of shit brother, she’d taken this gamble. Her once-in-a-lifetime gamble to square all his misbegotten bets. And based on the way the stranger in the corner was watching her as she pretended to be asleep, she’d lost.

The man wanted the ring. Molly was sure of it. If it came down to it, if she could just get to the window across from the ring, she could throw herself out of it. She’d break a bone or two on the way down, but she’d come away with her life. More than she could say if the man had his way.

Dressed in only a pale pink shift, Molly quietly took a deep breath and rolled out of bed, landing on her feet in a crouch on the left side of the poorly stuffed mattress. She lunged headfirst toward the window open to the summer night.

The wind was knocked out of her as someone grabbed her shift from behind, pulling the collar tight against her throat. She reached for the window in desperation, her eyes watering.

Now she’d face her doom.

Instead of a knife to the throat, the hooded stranger tossed her back onto the bed. “Where is it?” a smooth, deep voice asked.

This wasn’t Molly’s fight. She knew not why the yellow priest from Amerilis wanted the ring, and she wasn’t about to die for his chance to have it. She gestured to the foot of the bed. “On the floor there. In a pouch. You can’t miss it.”

The man moved so smoothly he seemed to shimmer as he took two long steps to the foot of the bed and bent down. He held up her garter with one black-gloved finger. She blushed. “Just take it,” she said urgently. “I’d rather not die for it. I won’t say anything, I swear.”

The man deftly untied the pouch from the garter and pulled out the ring. Content that it was the same ring as the one she’d stolen, he looked back at her. He watched her for a long moment, as if he were deciding whether or not to kill her.

“Please,” Molly begged. Her fists tightened, clenching the threadbare quilt covering the mattress.

The man reached one hand up and pulled his hood off his head, exposing a familiar face above a glowing pendant shaped like a tarantula.

Molly’s jaw dropped and she frantically scooted back on the bed against the headboard.

“Why did you take it?” Duke sil Varstra asked. His salt-and-pepper hair gleamed in the moonlight.

“Someone paid me to do it. They said they’d get my brother out of jail and pay his debts. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and I don’t want to die. I just wanted to give my brother a chance to see his family again, though I curse him for his sins,” Molly said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The duke would kill her now that she’d seen him. There was no doubt about it.

“Is your brother so good to you, that you would risk your life for his?” the duke asked, having dropped the garter and was tying the pouch to his own belt.

“It doesn’t matter. His family needs to eat and without him, they’ll starve,” Molly weeped. “Please, I can find another way, but they’ll die if I can’t find a way to feed them, either by getting him out or by sending them my wages.”

“You’ll never get any wages from my House,” sil Varstra said plainly. Molly’s face fell. A thousand crowns for two months work—gone.

The duke turned squarely to face her, taking one step toward the bed. Molly flinched.

“Who was it who hired you?” he asked. Molly couldn’t find a reason to lie.

“Some priest in yellow and blue robes. He was Amerilian. He didn’t offer his name,” she spat desperately.

Duke sil Varstra nodded and untied a pouch from the other side of his belt, opposite to where he’d tied the ring. He tossed it onto the bed, where it clinked. It was practically overflowing with crowns. “Feed your brother’s family. Find work. Don’t step foot in my duchy again,” he said, his baritone voice dripping with disdain.

With that, he left.

Molly let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and began to weep anew. She’d escaped with her life, but at what cost? She didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to find out. She dressed quickly, tying the new pouch to her garter.

She had a second chance. She wouldn’t waste it.


©2018 Heather Stephens

I am a Writer.



I think it always sounds so pretentious when people call themselves a writer. I don’t know why, but whenever I do it, I feel like a fraud. Yes, I write 100-word stories semi-regularly. Yes, for several years I made my living content writing on a freelance basis. But I know in my heart that what I really mean by “I am a writer” is I am a novelist.

I have not yet completed a novel, so I don’t think I really am one.

But I want to be one, and They™ always say “Fake it ’til you make it.”

So that’s what I do. I write because life is too hard for me, and I want to create worlds in which good wins. I write because I have regrets and I want to create characters that find redemption, even when I, myself, don’t know if I’ll ever find my own. I write to be heard. Doesn’t everybody just want to be heard?

I’m taking part of a blog challenge run by Amanda McCormick. I have trouble keeping up with this blog (in so small part because I want to update it and expand it but I can’t afford someone to design a good website for me. Even if I purchase a premium theme I’d need help actually using it and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it) and I think it would help me connect more with readers and, honestly, myself if I updated my blog more often.

Don’t worry. Everything I post here will be relevant to writing or reading or me. It won’t be a spam dump just to attract views. I promise. PINKY promise.

Stay tuned!