Jhafnyr

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A sorceress is trapped in a windowless, doorless tower. She must escape.

Submitted: July 30, 2012

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Submitted: July 30, 2012

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Jhafnyr

 

1.

  Jhafnyr of Skofeh looked solemnly down at the round slab of blue-black marble that served as her conjuring table.  A harsh tangerine light flooded down from above,  shimmering on the arrangement of glass figurines spread out before her, and they caught too, the pale green fluorescence of the spectral orb that hovered just above her left shoulder.

  Clearing her throat, she gingerly picked up the nearest of the figurines, and held it between her thumb and forefinger, careful not to scratch the exquisite glass work with her long pinioned fingernails. It stood two hands high, and its finely sculpted head was that of a long eared cattrell, but the body, draped in the deep folds of  a ceremonial gown, was decidedly human, and female.  Jhafnyr placed her lips, painted with bands of green and white, close to the finely wrought ears of the figurine, and in a raspy whisper sang out a few lines from an incantation she had learned long ago, when she served as apprentice to The Perfect Master in his citadel by the Boiling Sea. She then grasped the figurine firmly with her other hand, and bit down sharply on the neck, coming away with the beastly head in her teeth, which she proceeded to spit out onto the obsidian floor. It bounced a few times, then rolled to a stop at the clawed foot of a silk covered divan.

  Fingering her long, black tangled curls, she watched fascinated as an iridescent lavender vapor issued forth from the now gaping neck of the figurine. Jafnyr brought her be-ringed nose down to the aperture, and with a deep, slow inhalation, preceded to breath in the perfumy mist, with eyes tightly closed, and  a languid, dreamy smile upon her face.

  The darkness, absolute at first, was soon intruded on by a pulsation of golden light, which seemed synchronized to the faint dripping of her water clock in the adjoining chamber. She puzzled over this, as she had never noticed this sound when not in close proximity to the clock itself. She wondered too, if she was still standing by her conjuring table, had sat down on the divan, or had perhaps collapsed onto the hard floor?

  "What matters where I am now?", she asked no one in particular. "It is where I am going that is paramount."

  No sooner were those words out of her mouth when her musings were cut short, for like bursting through a screen, she suddenly found herself crouched in a meadow of high bluish grass, a clouded yellow sky above, with a long carved and bejeweled staff grasped in her right hand.  An overwhelming array of sensations flooded over her; sounds of gurgling streams and wind whipped trees; the scent of fur and rotted fruit; the almost painful splash of color in the jungle of monstrous orchids that bordered the meadow.

  But all this was superseded by the sight directly in front of her. For stampeding in her direction, was an unearthly creature of house like proportions, four spiny tusks protruding like tree limbs from its massive low-hung head, blinders covered his eyes. Faster than she thought possible, she dived to her left, rolling in the sticky grass, hearing the thunderous stamping tread of the beast as it pounded by, not a yard from where she had stood but a moment before.

  She breathed deep, lifted her head,  and pivoting around saw that the beast had continued on its chosen path, as if oblivious to the puny figure it had almost trampled. Through eyes now keener than she could have previously imagined,  she saw that the creature carried a distinctly odd burden upon its back, what appeared to be a small pavilion of some sort, hitched on with a mechanism of timbers and rope, swaying violently to and fro yet unaccountably maintaining its position. She wondered not only at the strength of the creature to carry such a burden, but that anyone would be so foolhardy as to perch themselves in such a precarious carriage. Focusing her eyes yet tighter she was able to make out the red and white striping of the material, as well as a small gray and gold pennant on the highest beam,  fluttering in the coarse breeze.

  Jhafnyr rose from the ground, brushed the now soiled gown, and stretched her unfamiliar limbs. Feeling a pleasing sensation of strength in her legs, she momentarily considered giving chase to the creature, now past the fringe of the meadow, and stirring up a explosion of red pollen as it surged through a grove of spiny trees. But her eye was suddenly caught by a blue-green glimmer to her left.  There,  half-concealed in the grass where she had materialized, was her staff, and an ovoid topaz the size of a terthys egg inset near the crown was flickering in a dazzling display.

  "Were you afraid I'd leave you behind? Afraid your new mistress was a bit scatterbrained? Come my faithful servant!" Jhafnyr spoke these words in half jest, but was not unpleased when the staff righted itself and hovered smoothly into her outstretched hand. As she had known, all the powers and abilities of a Priestess of Cythere were now hers to possess, at least for a while.

 

2.

  She stood upright, scanning left to right, searching the unfamiliar terrain for clues as to which direction would be most profitable to venture.  The meadow, save for the occasional spangle of wildflowers and a spindly tree growing atop a rocky outcropping, was virtually featureless. Beyond,  a tangled mass of plantlike grew so thick it seemed that only creatures the size of houses could forge their way through. And beyond that twisted maze of growth little could be seen, save for some distant hills to the South. It was in that direction that the great beast had torn open a path, so it was in that direction Jhafnyr decided to go.

  Staff in right hand, she resolutely strode from the meadow, still marveling at the strength and agility of this sleek new body, still overwhelmed by the  discordant symphony of sensory impressions flooding her eyes and nose and ears. The stench of the orchid jungle was almost strangling, and she learned quickly not to let her billowing cloak brush any of the orange and red pods that grew everywhere, lest they release their spray of choking pollen. But the body she inhabited was well familiar with the terrain, and Jhafnyr soon learned to let her instincts steer their own course, leaving her mind free to meditate on her situation.

  How often she had used the Versimilitudes to search for the tower, all to no avail. How difficult it was to fashion them; such an exacting process to replicate in glass the minute details of a living being, to fill each with the rare magical vapor that could transport her soul into an unsuspecting living body.

  She recalled with a wince the stultifying pain in her temples that attended her whenever she awoke from her trances; trances necessary to see in the fullness of detail the beings she would model her figurines upon. And at long last, when she had  uttered the well rehearsed incantation and had found her consciousness plunged into a distant host, then she was free to pursue her quest, though never certain where in this vast unfamiliar world she would find herself. But for awhile, a few hours or days, she would have the freedom to continue her search, until the mysterious power of the vapor was sapped, and she was hurled violently  back into her own body. It was then that the screaming pain that tormented her would return with a vengeance, leaving her feeling as hollow as the headless figurine now lying useless on her conjuring table. Only much sleep and meditation could bring her to the point where she would dare to attempt the spell again. And the curatives, the quantity of which was dwindling dangerously.

  But the quest was never fulfilled. She knew that somewhere in the vast reaches of this ancient world there lay a tower built of gray stone; a tower with no doorway and no windows that stood amidst the ruins of a terraced garden. Beyond that she knew nothing, only that in all the lands she has crossed in scores of unfamiliar bodies, there has not been a soul who knew of such a tower, nor a book that mentioned it. But find that tower she must. Her will was indomitable.

  The path born in the wake of the massive creature led her on for leagues through an ever changing forest, straying from its southward course only when an obstacle presented itself that the creature couldn't flatten. In due course, the hazy golden daylight filtering through the canopy of trees took on a purple tinge, and the chill in the air told Jhafnyr that perhaps she was in the northern clime, and had best seek shelter for the night. The darkness descended more swiftly than she had anticipated and caught her still unprepared. It was then that she saw a faint flickering light, emanating from further ahead , roughly in the direction the great beast was traveling.

  Wrapped in her cloak, she crept like a umber shadow, tree by tree; her body moving so subtilely that not even ears as sensitive as hers could detect the faintest crunch of a twig. At last she reached a protected vantage point behind the thick twisted trunk of an ancient Dharrough tree, and was able to peer into the gloom and see the source of the illumination.

  A spindly figured sat huddled over a poorly fed campfire, which sputtered and whistled  and seemed to provide more light than heat. He seemed intent on heating a small tin over the fire, holding it with a stalk like metal device of gears and winches. He deftly manipulated the device so that the tin remained positioned over the hottest part of the fire, though Jhafnyr thought this could have easily be accomplished with a simple tong. He was a beardless man, of late middle age, dressed in a comical peaked hat, and a long fringed coat that seemed to be stitched together from a colorful assortment of  swatches, and thick black boots that reached above the knee. He clearly was no threat to her, in this body she knew she could effortlessly overpower him if the need arose.

  What Jhafnyr first took to be a small hillock at the limit of the campfire glow, revealed itself in the action of a great belch, to be the very creature she had seen earlier, now splayed out on the ground gnawing at a tree root. In this position, she thought it unlikely that it could pose her any danger; and thinking a meal and some meager warmth would be welcome, she stepped from her vantage point and slowly strode toward the campfire.

  The traveler was taken aback only briefly by her sudden appearance, and upon seeing that it was a Cythere Priestess standing before him, he relaxed and offered her the tiny stool he had been squatting on near the fire. She joined him in a sparse meal of burnt lentils and marsh sprouts, which was passed in silence He seemed to take no interest in what Jhafnyr thought was her rather exotic and imposing countenance, though his glance strayed often to her staff which she had placed on the ground near her. She had chosen to fashion such a Verisimilitude precisely because she thought that the rather vampiric aspect of the features might prompt some terrified stranger, upon interrogation,  to reveal more than he ordinarily would. Perhaps she had arrived in such a land where priestesses such as herself were commonplace and harmless.

  Finally, upon the meal's completion, the traveler lit up a carved wooden smoking pipe and glared deep into her slitted crimson eyes.  His dour face suddenly broke into a broad snaggle-toothed smile; his weathered face crinkling into deep furrows.  "I take it you are a pilgrim, bound for the feast day gathering at Ulan Boghevi?", his deep baritone queried, belying the apparent fragility of his torso.

  Jhafnyr began to frame an answer, but thought it best to resort to a grunt and a nod of assent, leaving it him to provide her with as much information as possible, before she must betray her total ignorance of this part of the world.

  "So indeed, go I", he continued in a melodic fashion, "more for the purpose of trade than indulgence in any show of ritual fervor."

  He paused to take a deep draw upon his pipe, blowing out the bluish smoke from the side of his mouth. With an expansive gesture of his spindly arms, he stood, bowed and intoned " I am known throughout all parts of the Khojhari Highlands as Vithra, master craftsman and trader in all manner of ingenious devices for the easement of manual exertion! I have trained the untrainable beasts of the  bog lands to take me where no roads go, so that I may share the blessings of my handicraft with all the unfortunate souls who must daily bear the burden of unnecessary labor!"

  For what seemed like an hour he prattled on in such a manner, smoking his pipe while extolling the virtues of his craftsmanship. She listened politely, only because she hoped he might offer her some nugget of information that may prove valuable, but at last, when it seemed his tobacco pouch had been depleted, he fell silent and sunk back into his crouching posture by the fire, and stared silently at the coals.  Jhafnyr thought perhaps it was the tobacco that brought about his transformation of personality, for now he seemed as gruff and aloof as when she first appeared.

  Letting several uncomfortable minutes pass, Jhafnyr thought it best to sound him out as to the propriety of her sharing the campsite with him, and as to the distance to Ulan Boghevi, where she hoped she might find a more commodious lodging.

  "It is several hours further to the city", he sneered. "I take my lodging in my pavilion, and leave at daylight. You may sleep anywhere you wish, as long as you are out of my sight when I arise. I have no patience for the likes of you!"

  He stood up and shuffled towards the grazing behemoth, which took no notice of him whatsoever. She saw that a rope hung from one of the pavilions masts and dangled but an inch or two from the ground. Vithra placed a foot in a stirrup attached to the rope, and jangled a little bell that he took from a pocket in his cloak. The rope ascended, carrying the merchant  up to the heights of the pavilion, where he entered through a slit in the fabric. Jhafnyr, stifling the offense she felt at his suddenly brusque manner, thought it best to let the matter lie. She found a few dry branches to feed the fire, and wrapped herself in her cloak, overcome with a profound weariness.

3.

  The Market Plaza at Ulan Boghevi, baking in the midday heat, was swarming with tradesmen and pilgrims. It was hard to believe that only hours earlier Jhafnyr had woke up shivering , to find that her dream of a great cataclysm was provoked by the ground shaking departure of her host's steed. Indeed, it was only her lightning fast reflexes that saved her, for the beast took no notice of her whatsoever as it crossed the campsite. A massive footprint occupied the site of what moments ago was her resting place. By the time, she had recovered herself Vithra's creature was pounding through the woods, the noise deafening to Jhafnyr's sensitive ears.

  Staff in hand, she angrily strode through the pungent detritus of crushed and broken plant life, and a few hours later found herself emerging from the wilds into a great valley of well-tilled fields, fed by a maze of narrow canals.

  Beyond the fields rose a great wall, surmounted at irregular intervals with weather-worn towers. And beyond the wall, perched on the slopes of a craggy hillside stood the city itself. Jhafnyr took a red brick path that straddled one of the canals, and through a circuitous route that crossed several dozen bridges found herself entering through the city gates on a main thoroughfare.

  The city was like dozens she had seen in her wanderings, old beyond imagining, with slovenly townspeople living a dozen to a room in hovels not fit for their livestock.And towering above were the now humbled remains of magnificent palaces, now merely unrelenting reminders that the world was once inhabited by a higher manner of being. Why they did not just burn the whole diseased carcass  of the cities and start anew was a source of wonder to her. Somehow, they found these circumstances reassuring, that perhaps the ghosts of these long-dead princes were watching over them.

  It soon became evident why Vithra had showed such scant interest in her appearance; the narrow twisting streets of the city were now home to every manner of man or creature that she had seen in all her wanderings; she appeared no more or less strange than half the people surging through these thoroughfares. And she thought that surely amongst this seething mass of pilgrims, merchants, mendicants, mercenaries and beggars there must be at least one soul who has knowledge of the doorless tower by the garden. But finding that one soul might be an impossible task, considering that the time she would be allowed to inhabit this particular body was dwindling rapidly. In a heartbeat she could find herself thrust back into her own chambers and all this would soon fade like a dream from her memory.

  She stifled that thought, and also the hunger that was gnawing incessantly at her, and began pushing her way towards the large plaza ahead.  The sounds and odors that assaulting her finely tuned senses almost drove her to tears. The natural owner of this body certainly had learned to tune out much of the din that barraged her hyper-human senses. Jhafnyr had no idea how to achieve this end, and soon felt like she was being sucked into a whirlpool of cacophony, so disorienting and painful that she had difficulty thinking. 

  Scores of brightly garbed merchants barked out the virtues of their wares, holy men exhorted the crowd with  shrieking tales of forgiveness and retribution, lost children wailed, caterwauling minstrels banged vigorously on drums and gongs. All this tumultuous dissonance leaped upon her like a pack of voracious hounds. She had intended  to inquire about a sage who might address her questions, but found herself instead pushing, clawing, pummeling her way through the crowd in a frenzy of desperation, to get away from this noise. Hoping to seek some respite, she ran purposelessly up a twisting street, then another; hands capped tightly over her ears. Yet the intolerable dim went unabated; the clanging of pots, the creaking of carts, the bells in the temples ringing endlessly out their Feast Day jubilations. She no longer was cognizant of what she was doing, of who she was. She was reduced to being a hunted animal, desperate for any avenue of escape.

4.

  It was silent here, save for a warm wind which hummed peacefully in her ear. Jhafnyr found herself lying by a shallow pool in a grove of poplar trees.The sky was dimming into twilight, and looking around she saw that she was on a hillside overlooking the city, from which a steep stairway rose to these heights. The air was cool and refreshing, and she immersed her head into the marble lined pool to wash away the terror she had been feeling.

  She remembered now, like it was a distant memory. Through the streets she ran, stumbling,  bruising herself, until a kindly old woman, upon seeing her condition and noticing her distress at the noise and clamor of the Feast Day, directed her through the South Gate of the city, where she would find a path leading to a peaceful garden. She faintly recalled stumbling up the interminable stairway, then barely being able to drag herself to the grove of trees where she collapsed, thinking all the while "It will be quiet up there....quiet."

  Now she allowed the delicious silence to wash over her for a moment and then looked around at her surroundings. Her heart stopped. There, just beyond the pool was an overgrown terraced garden, and just beyond that there rose the sleek gray shaft of a stone tower. It was just as she had seen it in her mind's eye a thousand times.

  As in a trance, she rose and strode purposefully towards the circular stone structure. It was as she knew it would be, windowless and doorless. Reaching the casement, she looked up and running her fingers along the smooth marble facing, embraced the cold stones. She wanted to linger there, tears of relief coursing down her face, but she knew that fate could easily be so cruel as to snatch her away at this sublime moment. She must act, and act swiftly.

  A door. There must be a hidden door somewhere. She circumnavigated the structure, letting those exquisitely keen crimson eyes of hers play over every inch of the tower's base. Not a crack indicated even where the stones were joined. No mortal craftsman could have built a tower such as this, fashioned so, that not even one with her agility could gain a foothold to climb the glass smooth face of the wall.

  Frustrated, she pace back and forth, muttering her imprecations at the one who she knew was architect of this magnificent structure. Then, acting upon a sudden inspiration, she held forth her bejeweled staff and intoned "Do my will, and find me the means to access this tower!" Her arm trembled, the topaz inset in the staff glowed a livid blue, and a cackling arc of lightning sparked from the it. It twisted  into a serpent like coil of energy, which began tracing a path along the walls of the tower, circling and climbing, until it had reached the very top. "Find the way in, find it!", Jhafnir shrieked in desperation, but it was futile. The coil of energy flickered and faded away. The gem ceased its glow.

  With a sob of despair Jhafnyr fell to the ground, the staff dropping from her hands. She knew beyond doubt that the powerful magic she had just unleashed had proven futile,  that there were no doors or windows in this tower, or that they were so artfully concealed that it would take a sorcery beyond her powers to reveal them. What to do? Assault it with her fists? She knew the staff was useless to her now, that the powers of  such a holy staff could not be used for destruction. 

  What could she do now, but memorize the terrain, in the hopes that someday another of her Versimilitudes would materialize near this city, and that she would have the time and the means to assault the tower. But it began to dawn on her that perhaps her quest was always hopeless, that a thousand years could pass, and she would never be able to breach the tower. She felt all the forces of the universe were allayed against her, and with that thought, her resolve broke. She was beaten.

5.

  The inn Jhafnyr found herself in was unspeakably seedy. She had found in her cloak a pouch with but 3 golden dekkeds, and these she used to buy a simple meal of tasteless squab and a bitter ale. The innkeeper look flustered at the sight of a priestess ordering such fare, but kept his silence when he saw her expression of forlorn despair. Or maybe he saw the pent up rage that lurked just behind those slitted crimson eyes.

  She sat alone, in a corner of the crowded meal hall, watching the boisterous crowd with loathing. The noise pained her, but it no longer mattered;  she would sit here for a few hours and then the fading magic of her incantation would whisk her away. She felt that caring about anything at that moment was beyond her.

  And then she saw him, sitting near the entryway. Vithra, that vile merchant who had treated her so callously. She seethed with rage. She decided that such an offense against her ought not to go unpunished, and besides, what harm could possibly come to her, with her time in this body limited to hours?

  Impulsively, she seized the short sharp knife from her plate and strode towards the spindly figure, who was regaling some poor drunkard with tales of his craftsmanship and ingenuity. He no sooner had recognized the cloaked figure lurching towards him, then the knife was plunged into his stomach. It was his fortune that the knife was suited best for  cutting fowl and not for murder, for with a shriek, he knocked Jhafnyr off her feet, pulled the offending blade from his stomach and stumbled out the tavern door.

  Jhafnyr sprang up from the floor,  pushed past the startled patrons who made a half hearted effort to stop her, and stood panting in the street, looking for signs of her intended victim. She saw him, running surprisingly well for one so wounded, and took off after him.

  He must have known these streets well, for he managed a twisting course that nearly eluded her several times, but still she followed in dogged pursuit, realizing that she had no weapons but her bare hands. But she knew her strength was suitable for the task at hand.

  Huffing and panting Vithra at last reached the west gate of the city. Broken centuries ago, it was deserted as always. He turned to see the mad priestess lurching towards him , and broke into a desperate sprint. There, just beyond the gate, he had left his monstrous  beast of burden. Through the arched gateway he stumbled, expecting to feel Jafnyr's breath on him at any moment. How he managed to reach the stirrup at the end of the rope and chime the bell before she reached him he never knew. Her curses ringing in his ear, he felt himself lifted up just beyond her leaping grasp. Upon reaching the heights of the beasts back, he sprang towards the entry flap of his pavilion.

  Once inside, he collapsed onto a cushioned seat surrounded by levers and mirrored devices. By means of pulling various of these levers he could administer shocks to the beast, thereby prodding it to act in accordance with his will. In a moment the creature had started moving forward, away from the city. Another lever pulled and it broke into a run, smashing into splinters a yarrow tree in its path.

  Vithra allowed himself a sigh of relief, and took a moment to tend his wound, which he felt was superficial. He hardly heard the swish of the pavilion flap opening, and was suitably shocked when he felt the slim but powerful hands close around his neck.

 

6.

  Jhafnyr's legs were as powerful as she had hoped. That last desperate running leap took her halfway up the flanks of the beast, where she seized a dangling rope and hauled herself up. She knew that gaining retribution on Vithra would do her no good whatsoever, but it felt good to act. She would channel her rage at the world at whoever was at hand, and Vithra was serving as a worthy target.

  With difficulty she stood astride the heaving beast, feeling like she was on the deck of a storm tossed vessel. She managed to crawl towards the pavilion, and opening the door flap a fingers width, peered inside. She saw Vithra at his console of levers, and quickly assessed the situation. How easy to assault him from behind. Her hands were more than adequate to the task.

  Her entry was silent, her victim was there at her mercy, a simple snap of the neck and....

  And?

  Then she knew what she must do.

 

7.

  Vithra knew another way up to the hillside garden. It was a much more circuitous road, unused for centuries, and it taxed  the strength of the great beast to its limits. But upon attaining the heights, and seeing the tower there in the garden, Vithra begged Jhafnyr to take mercy on him and let him go.

  "That tower is cursed, and all are forbidden to go near it!', he pleaded. "I do not want my soul swallowed by the demon that dwells within. Let me go! Take all I own, just let me go in peace."

  Jhafnyr considered the matter and then, her rage mollified by this sudden turn of good fortune, decided that she would accede to his request, provided that he give her a simple lesson in the art of maneuvering the great beast. A short while later Vithra was racing down the steps, thankful to be alive, and wanting nothing more than to put leagues between him and that crazed priestess on the hill.

  In the pavilion, Jhafnyr sat before the strange mechanisms and rehearsed in her mind what she must do. It was a combination of lever pulls, and then to arrange the pulleys  that manipulated the blinders. She positioned the beast so it was facing the tower some fifty yards away.  She would have prayed if she had a god. Taking a deep breath , she maneuvered the levers as Vithra had instructed her. The seat began to quake.

  How a beast of that size could achieve such a speed in so short a distance was unfathomable to her . But the blinders were lowered, and with the levers positioned for it to charge full out with head down, it came at the tower with the force of a demigod's thunderbolt. It struck with a cataclysmic shock, and Jhafnyr was thrown head over heals as the pavilion collapsed around her. The beast tumbled to the ground and lay still, the pavilion collapsed into a formless heap of cloth, wood and rope.  All was then quiet.

  Jhafnyr emerged, crawling from the carnage, a great bleeding rent in her forehead, one arm twisted incongruously. She untangled herself from the ropes and painfully got to her feet. What she saw filled her with unspeakable joy. There lay the lifeless beast, it's skull crushed and half its body buried in  rubble.

  And there still stood the tower, but now it had a door, though one of rather crude workmanship.  Jhafnyr limped towards it, clambered over the bloody head of the beast, and entered.

 

8.

  The moonlight shining through the rent barely illuminated the circular entry room. It was bereft of all ornament, and offered nothing of interest save for the asymmetrical sygil inscribed on the marble floor, and the narrow winding stairwell that ascended towards a half- open door. Jhafnyr, carefully avoiding the sygil, painfully pulled her broken body up the steps, leaving a trail of blood. At the top of the stairs she paused to catch her breath, and then pushed open the door. She entered a small furnished bed chamber, and was most careful about not bleeding on any of the elegant furnishings.  She continued on, past the dripping water clock on a tall bronze pedestal.

  She parted the curtains and entered  her familiar conjuring room, illuminated by an orange sphere that glowed near the ceiling. There it all was, just as it was yesterday ; just as it's been since she was imprisoned by her master centuries ago.  He thought she was too ambitious. Didn't he know she was just determined?

  She walked over to the body crumbled  at the foot of the marble table. It was so painful to do so, but she stooped down and gently picked up the beautiful young sorceress, cradling her in her arms. She loved how her long black tangle of hair fell across her face. She leaned over to kiss the green and white stripped lips. The eyes fluttered and slowly opened.

  And then she was gone.

  And then she was back.


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