Candlemaiden: The Stranger Shore


In a realm untrod by human feet, somewhere far beyond the clouds and deep within the earth, three women sat around a glass-topped table and determined the fate of nations. Their forms were uncertain, constantly changing such that, in this second, one’s skin seemed bone-white and then it was clay-red, or another’s hair was long and sleek for a moment just to be a dark cloud of coils in the next, or the third’s eyes changed from icy blue to amber-gold in a blink— but though their forms changed, their essence never altered and was as real and as infinite as the star-strewn sky or the tumultuous sea.

By each were piles of gemstones: mossy heaps of small emeralds like water-smoothed pebbles, glittering pools of tear-drop sapphires that ranged from aquamarine to indigo, and heavy blood-red rubies the size of a raven’s egg. Yet somehow the plain dice spread around the table, carved from bone and wood and stone, seemed weightier, more valuable, than the sparkling jewels.

“I believe you announced your intention last round of rolling for a new playing piece,” Love said, leaning forward with a heart-shaped face and warm brown eyes. “Is that still your intention, Sket?”

Death smiled at her sister, showing small white teeth between dark lips. “It is, Ayah.”

Luck sighed when they looked at her, but held out her hands and let them drape coils of gold chains over her wrists, which settled into a fine tracery of ivory and lilac scales beneath their bonds. Just as they touched her skin, the chains began to fade into fog. “Roll quickly then, my dear sister.”

“Of course, Trík.” Only two realms were within this round’s scope, and of the dice waiting at the edge of the table’s glass center, Death chose the carven oak set, cupping them in a skeletal hand and whispering to them to roll true.

They rolled fair, and let her claim her playing piece for two of the five gleaming rubies at her side. She tapped the glass pane with a taloned nail, and an image formed beneath of a tawny child– her hair, skin, and eyes all the same light brown bordering on gold– running breakneck through the rain, leaping over gnarled roots and decaying logs as a bucket clanked behind her. In the picture was the insinuation of thunder, and though it was dark, the girl knew her way by the flickering will-o-wisp ahead of her. The image faded as she reached a well and called out into it, her hand still cupped around her mouth as the slimy head of a huge salamander appeared, and soon the center of the table showed nothing again but milky clouds.

Luck leaned back and laughed. “A priestess of Erinlin? How novel.”

“Oh, but it has surprised me,” Love said, twirling a finger through raven hair. “I had forgotten that cult of yours still existed.”

Death allowed herself one of her small closed-off smiles, and nobody commented that, in the great game of Life, one did not forget.

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