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The River Woman (concept art for The Four Stones) by Nevermore1849 The River Woman (concept art for The Four Stones) :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 7 0
Literature
The Four Stones Chapter 4
By dawn the villagers had fashioned logs together that served as both bier and raft for the late Aman. They sang as they made their way down the rocky coast to the seashore, bearing the body wrapped in white linen. When they reached the ocean’s edge they stopped.
“Your son is many horse stride’s away, Lona. Who will push the raft to sea with you?” Old Father asked her.
She lifted her bloodshot eyes to Jin. “Will you, Jin?”
“Of course,” he said. But deep down he didn’t want to be near the body again. That sadness and utter hopelessness hovering over the cold flesh might engulf him. But it was an honor for her to have chosen him.
As the men waded knee-deep into the sea, Jin took off his tunic and boots. The men laid the raft on the waters and held it while Lona and Jin waded into the sea, each taking an edge of the raft. The ocean was piercing cold. Then the men left them.
Behind them, the villagers sang the song of burial. Lona kisse
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Corporal Hicks fan art by Nevermore1849 Corporal Hicks fan art :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 5 6
Literature
The Four Stones, Chapter 3
The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman
Chapter 3
When Jin and Jae entered their cottage, they were greeted by their mother’s embrace. “I was so worried! Did you find the tiger?”
“No,” Jae said, “but if you want to know why we aren’t eating deer for the next few days, ask Jin.”
She gazed at her youngest son, who avoided eye contact. “Come sit down,” she said. “Lona and I were just having tea.”
And indeed, Lona was sitting at the small table in the center of the room. Jin loaded his plate with the dinner that was now cold—mushrooms with sardine and green onions on a bed of buckwheat groats.
“Others can say what they will, Koya,” she was saying to his mother, “but I know it was the River Woman.”
Jin could not suppress a shudder. Of all the skinstealers said to haunt the woods, that of the River Woman scared him the most as a child. She had as many
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Literature
The Four Stones, Chapter Two
The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman
Chapter 2
“You boys stink of fish,” a wiry man said, sitting amongst baskets of crushed tealeaves.
“Nice to see you too, Peng,” Jae said to the man. Peng’s tea village resided about half of a day’s ride north from their own village, but it was at the town market that they bought tea from him each week.
“Haven’t seen you boys in a while,” Peng said, chewing on his pipe.
Jae said, “Jin’s been ill.”
“Again?” Peng raised his eyebrows at him. “You’re too young for that.”
Jin merely shrugged his shoulders. There was a great commotion at the dock. Townspeople were calling to each other and pointing ahead. The Black Cloud. It was a heavy blanket of gloom in the sky, threatening to smother the land and ocean beneath it. And it seemed to be spreading.
Jin nudged his brother, who looked up. “It’s closer,
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Skull Beanie by Nevermore1849 Skull Beanie :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 2 0
Literature
The Four Stones, Chapter 1
The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman
Chapter 1
Queen Jezebel felt the power coursing through her veins. It was the Lord of the Void’s power. And it was intoxicating. Her toes dug into the soft soil as she climbed the slope from the river. Her royal scarlet gown trailed behind her, frayed at the seams and stained with mud. She pulled the cowl of her emerald cloak over her head as she strode through the Sacred Forest leading to the palace.
The smell of rhododendrons washed over her as she passed through them. She recalled taking strolls with Edwyn and their son along this same path. Her heart ached at the memory. But it was soon replaced by wrath.
Then she came upon it. The palace. It rose high above the surrounding tree canopy, carved expertly in stone. It took over two decades to complete, and Jezebel still remembered the day the cornerstone was laid. Her eyes scanned the outer courtyard before the palace. Columns flanked the entrance, a
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Jin Character Concept for The Four Stones by Nevermore1849 Jin Character Concept for The Four Stones :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 2 0 Sadie the Black Lab by Nevermore1849 Sadie the Black Lab :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 3 0 Isis the Siberian Husky by Nevermore1849 Isis the Siberian Husky :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 6 0 The Esteemed Grizzwald the First by Nevermore1849 The Esteemed Grizzwald the First :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 4 0 Happy Halloween by Nevermore1849 Happy Halloween :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 1 2
Literature
Rendezvous by Moonlight
Rendezvous by Moonlight
By g. n. tom
She met him on a moonlit night,
Alone and sadly pondering.
Her heart was captive at the sight
Of this man’s lovelorn wandering.
Who was this stranger full of gloom,
Roaming under the pale cold moon?
He told her tales of love and woe.
As he spoke her soft eyes glistened
To hear him want true love to know,
And as night waned on she listened.
For he sang a lost lover’s tune
By the light of the pale cold moon.
His letter came by morning sun,
And with it a single red rose.
And thus her tender heart was won
With his vows of sweet lover’s prose.
And he desired to meet soon
By the light of the pale cold moon.
In the gardens she stood an hour,
With no thought ought was amiss.
She clutched tightly the red flower
Anticipating true love’s kiss.
She waited not knowing her doom
By the light of the pale cold moon.
When he arrived his lips held death
And dying she clutched the red rose,
She saw the ruse in her last breath—
So to all wh
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Rendezvous by Moonlight by Nevermore1849 Rendezvous by Moonlight :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 13 6 Thunder Chaser by Nevermore1849 Thunder Chaser :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 8 6 Sailing on Light and Cloud by Nevermore1849 Sailing on Light and Cloud :iconnevermore1849:Nevermore1849 7 4

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7 deviations
By dawn the villagers had fashioned logs together that served as both bier and raft for the late Aman. They sang as they made their way down the rocky coast to the seashore, bearing the body wrapped in white linen. When they reached the ocean’s edge they stopped.

“Your son is many horse stride’s away, Lona. Who will push the raft to sea with you?” Old Father asked her.

She lifted her bloodshot eyes to Jin. “Will you, Jin?”

“Of course,” he said. But deep down he didn’t want to be near the body again. That sadness and utter hopelessness hovering over the cold flesh might engulf him. But it was an honor for her to have chosen him.

As the men waded knee-deep into the sea, Jin took off his tunic and boots. The men laid the raft on the waters and held it while Lona and Jin waded into the sea, each taking an edge of the raft. The ocean was piercing cold. Then the men left them.

Behind them, the villagers sang the song of burial. Lona kissed the linen shroud at Aman’s forehead. By duty, Jin did the same. He tried not to the think of the terror on the man’s face beneath the shroud.

Then they pushed the raft out to sea. The waves came to Jin’s ribs when they let go. The raft bearing the body of Aman bobbed up and down on the current. It felt to be a long time before the foaming waves finally took the body of Aman away.

Lona and Jin traveled back to shore. The widow wiped her eyes and turned to Jin who now stood next to Jae. “Perhaps you boys could bring the news to my son?”

Another trip to see Hung? Jin’s stomach fell, but he agreed. “I wish he was here,” she said, then broke down sobbing again. His mother wrapped her arms around Lona’s shoulders.

Behind them the first flames of the rising sun pierced the edge of the sea. Old Father led them in prayer. Afterwards he said, “may the waves bear Aman swift journey to the haven of the gods.”

If that was truly where Aman was going, Jin suddenly wished he could follow.


#


Kai sat on the doorstep helping his father, known to the other villagers as Sek, mend fishing nets. They had come back from Aman’s burial at sea not an hour ago. He wanted to go into the woods and play, but work had to be done first.

“Soon you can help me throw the net in,” his father said.

When?”

His father smiled and ruffled his hair. “Maybe next summer. You’ll be bigger then.”

“Four years old!” Kai said. The number sounded so big, so important.

The cottage door opened behind them. A woman came out with a basin of water, tripping over the boy and spilling the water on herself instead. She gave a disgruntled shout and held out her dress. “Curse you stupid boy! Look what you made me do!”

“I’m sorry mother,” he said, careful to use the respectful title ‘mother’ instead of ‘mommy.’ He was wet, too, but knew better than to say so.

“You’re careless,” she said. “No matter how much sense I try to talk into that thick skull of yours, you still—“

“The boy didn’t mean anything, dear,” his father said. She instantly rounded on him. “Don’t you stick up for that boy. You’ve always favored him, ever since you courted me.” Before anyone could say anything else, she retreated back into the house, slamming the wood door behind her.

Kai felt like he might cry. His father sensed this when he put his hand on his.

“Your mother loves you.” His father leaned closer to him. “You know that, don’t you Kai?”
But she wasn’t his mother. Kai’s real mother died a year ago. When he was still a baby. He was big now, but sometimes he didn’t feel like it.

“I miss mommy,” he said. The tears came on their own and then he really felt like a baby.
“I know son. I miss her too. But she’s gone, and you have a new mother now.”

“Then I wish I had a different mommy,” he said, and before his father could rebuke him he added, “I wish the Red Lady was my mommy.”

“Red lady?” his father asked, quizzically.

“She lives in the woods,” Kai said. “She smiles at me, and gives me treats, and does magic tricks. And she says she loves me.”

His father sighed and gave a sad smile. “She’s not real, is she?” When Kai didn’t answer, he said, more to himself, “I suppose that’s your way of grieving and I suppose that’s alright. For now.”

He slapped Kai’s knee playfully. “Come on, son. Help me get some firewood.”

Their cottage sat at the southern end of the hamlet. The land was mildly hilly about them, but behind their home the land sloped steeply into the woods.

As they entered the thick grove, they passed by a red fox eating a rabbit carcass. Blood dripped from its muzzle as it lifted its head at their approach.

“Stay close, son,” Sek said.

They walked deeper into the forest. Kai’s father stopped, and started to rip apart a dead branch cradled in a tree. “I know this can’t have been easy on you. But your mother is a good woman. In her heart, she means well.”

Kai peered into the woods surrounding them. The fox was there. It was following them.

His father wiped his brow. “I love you both. So can you promise me you’ll give her a chance?”

The boy didn’t answer.

“Son?”

Sek turned around. He was alone.

“Kai?”

The boy was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Sek realized, there was no life anywhere in the woods. He glanced behind them where the fox was—but it was gone, too.

“Kai!” he called, trying not to panic.

But there was no sound. It was as if the boy simply vanished.


#


Jin poured tea into his mother’s cup. His hands shook, splashing the hot water onto the table.

“Are you alright, Jin?” his mother said.

“Fine.”

He set the teapot down. As he went to grab his own cup he knocked it to the ground, spilling tea on the floor.

“Sorry,” he murmured, grabbing a rag to wipe the planks of wood.

“Jin.” His mother laid a hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

Jin opened his mouth but hesitated. His eyes rested on the front door.

“He’s out chopping wood,” she said, reading his mind. “Now tell me.”

Jin took a deep breath. “About the skinstealers—“

“Sh!” Her eyes darted around the cottage as if searching for hidden ears. “Do not speak their name!”

“Never mind,” he said. He scrubbed the floor harder.

She caught his hand. “No. Tell me, Jin.”

He hesitated. Jin did not look into her eyes when he said, “how do we know when one of them is near?”

She leaned forward. “You can always tell by the other animals,” she said. “Their eyes see into the Spirit Realm at all times.”

“What do they do?”

“They will react as if to any other predator. Only they will be far more terrified.”

“But how will I know if its an ordinary predator like a tiger or one of… them?” he said, careful not to use the word ‘skinstealer’ again in her presence.

She dipped her head in thought. “The cold,” she finally answered. “No matter how hot it is, you will feel a chill in the air if the evil ones are near.”

Jin nodded. He ran his hands through his thick black hair. His mother suddenly squeezed his hand. “Why these questions, Jin?” Her voice dipped to a whisper, “have you been seeing them again?”

He could not meet her gaze. “I don’t know—I don’t know what is real anymore.” He choked on the words, “am I mad?”

“No, Jin,” she said, “you are special.”

He shook his head. “Cursed is more like it.”

“Do not say such things!” she said. She smoothed her dress to collect herself, gestured for him to sit, then poured his tea.

“Why does no one else see these things?” he asked.

“Some do,” she said, “they are those closest to the Spirit Realm—such as children, for they have just left it, and the elderly because they travel closer to it. It is the same for women with child, because of the life that grows within them.”

“None of those explain me,” Jin said quietly.

His mother nodded and sighed deeply. “How I wish we could take you to see the Oracle. She could tell you.”

The Oracle. Jin longed to see her ever since he was taken ill all those years ago. She was said to reside miles away, deep in a cave beyond the Emerald Mountains. She could solve the riddles of life, love, sickness and death. So it was said.

“Is there no way to protect against the evil ones?” Jin asked.
“Pray to the gods, Jin,” she said. “Never stop praying.”

“I do!” he said, his voice rising more than he expected. “But I don’t know if they hear me. I need to know–is it my fault? Have I done something wrong?”

“No, Jin,” she said.

“But everyone thinks bad fortune is the gods’ punishment for wrongdoing.”

“The gods don’t punish us, Jin. I know a lot of people think they do, but they’re wrong.“

“But the healer said—“

“—forget what the healer said,” she cut in. “Being wicked can make you a target but so can being good.”

Jin scoffed. “How?”

“The evil ones hate the gods, and so they chase those who serve them all the more,” she answered.

“Why?” Jin said, unconvinced.

“Because the good folk in this world are far more dangerous to them than the bad,” she said.
Jin swirled the tea in his cup. Perhaps there was some truth to those words. But it did not reassure him much.

“They don’t leave us all alone, either, Jin,” she said. “They send us protectors in this life to guide us.”

Jin gazed out at the forest through the open shutters. “Our spirit guardians,” he said. She nodded. “They are trying to help us in this world. We just need to learn how to recognize them.”

He sighed deeply. She was so sure of what she knew. Jin wished he had half of her certainty.
“You boys better be going to town soon,” she said.

Jin nodded. Just then the cottage door slammed open. It was Jae. His eyes were wide and he was breathless.

“Jae, what is it?” their mother said, coming to her feet.

“Kai is missing.”


#


Jin and Jae combed the woods on the eastern border of their village.

“Kai!” Jae called.

They listened. But there was no response.

“Kai?”

The other men called for the boy in the woods a few miles away. Everyone had split into pairs to search for the boy.

“Can we be certain Kai is even here?” Jin said. “He could be anywhere by now.”

“This was where Sek last saw him,” Jae said, “and we know Kai likes playing in the woods.”

“I just hope we aren’t too late,” Jin said.

Neither of them wanted to say it. That they could be searching for a body.

Jin shut his eyes and prayed to the gods, he asked for the help of the Steward of the Forest. Please send help to little Kai.

They pressed on. They pushed through ferns and wove through laurel trees, but there was no sign of the child.

Jin and Jae had been walking a while when Jae cleared his throat awkwardly. “Jin…”
He looked up at his brother.

“Um, you know I didn’t mean what I said,” Jae continued.

Jin turned to his brother quizzically. “Said what?”

“Last night. When I said that you were…”

“—Mad?” Jin finished.

“Yeah,” Jae said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Jin said, “because I am.”

Jae let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh stop pouting, Jin,” he said. “Or I’ll hug you.”

“You better not!” Jin said, as Jae went to grapple him. He couldn’t help but laugh a little.

They resumed their search. Jin, Jae, and the other villagers did not stop looking for the boy even when dusk came, and with it the drizzling of rain.

“Now is the time to watch out for any tigers,” Jae said. “Keep your guard up.”

Jin nodded. He had almost forgotten that they could be searching for a tiger. The only threat in his mind had been the skinstealers.

As they ducked beneath more vines, Jin asked his brother, “why don’t you believe in spirit guardians?”

“Because being born under a constellation doesn’t have anything to do with some animal spirit watching over you,” Jae replied.

Jin didn’t know if he agreed, but said nothing. They picked their way over fallen logs, hacking occasionally at the vines too thick to pass under. Suddenly a familiar chill swept over Jin, and with it came a jolt of pain in his abdomen. He stopped, clutching his torso. Jae took no heed, and continued walking. Jin took a deep breath. The pain subsided. He followed his brother, keeping his eyes sharp about him. A grey lutung swung up to a low branch above them. The primate stared at them intently. It fixed its beady black eyes on Jin. There was malice in those eyes. Jin looked away and kept walking behind Jae. Where have I seen that animal before? Jin thought. All the while he felt its hateful gaze upon him and could hear it leaping from branch to branch behind them. Jin stopped, for he suddenly knew where he had seen the animal. It was from his nightmare. A weasel scurried through the brush. But no, it was no weasel at all, but a lean man covered in hair slinking beside him on all fours. His face was pinched and when he stared at Jin he smiled a dark, wicked smile.

The pain hit Jin hard as a crashing wave of fire radiating throughout his body. Jin broke out in a sweat and his vision blurred. He heard a grunt over his head. Instead of the lutung, it was a grey-furred man looming over him in the branches of a tree. His face was wrinkled like a very old man and his black eyes were feral and dangerous. Suddenly he gnashed his sharp teeth at Jin.

Fear flooded through Jin’s body, thick and leaden. He held his machete before him and his limbs quaked. “Get back!” he shouted, hearing his voice waver.

The faces only grinned in response.

“I said get back!” Jin cried.

“Jin? Jin!”

Darkness passed before Jin’s eyes. He found his brother before him, shaking him by the shoulders.

“What’s gotten into you?” Jae said.

Beyond, an ordinary weasel scurried away into the brush and the small lutung swung away in the canopy not far behind.

Jin’s heart beat like a hammer in his chest, and he found he struggled for breath. His abdomen burned like the dying embers of a blaze. “Tell me… you saw that?”

“Saw what?” Jae said.

Jin stared in his brother’s eyes, clouded with concern. He looked at the empty forest around them. He held his head and shut his eyes. Was he going mad, after all?

“Maybe you should get home,” Jae said.

“No, I’m fine.”

“I’ll continue the search for Kai—“

“—I’m fine!” Jin said in more of a shout. “I just…”

He stopped short, for suddenly a loud howling scream reverberated through the wood. It was sharp, high. Inhuman. Jin’s hair stood on end. He heard that sound the night before Aman turned up dead…

“What was that?” Jae said. Jin saw he was scared, too. He stared into the trees where the scream came from and where the animals had fled. “What’s in that direction?” he said, pointing with his machete.

“The river,” Jae said.

“Exactly,” Jin breathed. “The Red River.”

Then he took off running toward the last place he wished to go–to the river, towards the howl.

“Jin! Wait!” Jae called behind him, but he kept running. The river was about a half mile away. Darkness was growing in the wood, and Jin stumbled not a few times. By the time he was a quarter of a mile away, he heard the roar. A tiger. Straight ahead. But he was not afraid.
“Jin, stop!” Jae said behind him, but he did not slow. He kept running, on and on until he reached the bank. As he broke through the tall ferns to the eastern bend of the river, he stopped. The tiger merely sat there, staring at him.

“Jin, why didn’t you—“ Jae stopped at his elbow. He followed Jin’s gaze, and immediately brandished his machete. Jin held him back.

“He won’t harm us.”

“Jin, don’t be stupid—“

Then the tiger nonchalantly rose to standing, and sauntered away into the trees up stream. Both brothers stared dumbly at the animal. But it was Jin who noticed the boy.

“Kai!”

Jin rushed toward him. He stood at the river’s edge. The child stood there, staring at something unseen. He was so still Jin almost wondered if he was alive, even though he was standing.

Jae raced to his side. “Kai? Are you alright?”

Kai did not answer. Jin bent down, it was surely the boy. Dirt smudged his face and his hair was tangled, filled with twigs and leaves. The face was Kai’s. And yet… he looked so different.

“Are you hurt, Kai?” Jae said. When the boy still did not answer, Jae turned to Jin, “is he injured?”

“I don’t know,” Jin said. He looked the child over. “I can’t see anything. Wait.” Jin held Kai’s small arm up to the light of the moon peering through the canopy.

“What is it?” Jae said, craning his neck to see.

“It looks like a bite mark,” Jin said. He studied the wound, oblong and outlined in puncture marks. It had to be a bite. But it was so small, far too small for a tiger or even a fox. And the marks… they looked to be made not by pointed teeth but flat teeth. Jin paused. Human teeth. “What did this to you Kai?” Jin said.

Finally the boy spoke: “Where did she go?”

“Who?” Jin said.

“The Red Lady. She left me. Then those hairy men came. But the tiger scared them away. Why did she leave me? Why would she do that?”

“He's in shock,” Jae whispered. Jin said nothing. Jae scooped the boy up in his arms. Jin thought it looked like Jae was carrying a stiff piece of wood. The child spoke no more as they wound their way back through the forest.

Jin became aware of the pain inside him, rising with each step he took. It burned hotly in his core, and he hoped he could make it to the village before losing strength.
It felt like hours had gone by when Jin finally saw the trees break and glimpsed moonlight on the grass beyond. Jae hollered. Men emerged from the woods and the women waiting at the forest edge ran toward them. In a few moments they were surrounded.

“Kai!”

A chorus of voices called the boy’s name. Sek immediately ran and took his son from Jae’s arms. Jin stumbled, clutching his abdomen. Jae came beside him. “Are you alright?” he whispered. “Is it the illness again?” Jin could only nod.

Sek hugged the boy tightly. But Kai did not smile, nor did he embrace his father. His arms hung limp at his sides. “Kai? What’s the matter, son?”

By now Sek’s wife rushed over and wagged a finger threateningly. “You naughty boy! Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused?”

Her husband tried to hush her, and rocked his son in his arms. “Are you alright, Kai?”

The boy said nothing.

“Kai, what’s wrong? Why don’t you speak?”

When the child did not answer one of the older women whispered something they all could hear, “he’s bewitched!”

Sek’s wife clapped a hand over her mouth and gasped. Jin wondered if it was a reaction out of fear for Kai or herself. Regardless, the other women patted her shoulder reassuringly.

“He’s just frightened—“  

“He’ll be fine with rest—“

But their voices lacked conviction.

Suddenly Jin sank to one knee on the ground. His breath came harshly between his clenched teeth.

“Jin!”

He heard Jae’s voice from far away. He couldn’t dam the flood of pain any longer.


#


The fox bowed before the raven’s cage.

Did you find him? the raven asked. The mortal who sees us?

I am not certain,
the fox replied. I must get closer.

Make him yours,
the raven said. Search his mind, his spirit.

The fox parted its mouth in a grin. I’m not finished with my meal. But I will enjoy another.

No, this one you must not eat,
the raven said. This one you leave to my servants.

The fox growled. As you wish.

Where is he now?
the raven said. Show him to me.

He is here—


A loud scratching on the wood door woke Jin up in fear. He sat up, heart racing, pain stabbing his abdomen. He held perfectly still.
Scritch scratch. Scritch scratch.

It sounded like claws, swiping at the cottage door.

The mare snorted and trembled, stamping her feet.

Then it came at the shutters.

Scritch scratch.

Jin’s pulse throbbed in his throat, pain knocked against his ribs. How could Jae and his mother sleep through it?

Then he could hear the crunching of earth underfoot all around him, as if many feet were circling the outside of the cottage. The mare tossed her head fitfully. Please protect me from evil flesh and evil spirit, he prayed silently.

Scritch scratch.

Jin saw a shadow in the gap between the threshold and the door, blocking the moonlight. It paced back and forth. Then came a grating sound, like nails digging into the wood. Or claws.

Scritch scratch. Scritch scratch.

Suddenly there was a roar, deep and guttural. The mare neighed loudly, rearing up on her hind legs.

“What the—?” Jae said.

“What is going on?” his mother said, half-asleep.

Jin was suddenly freed from his paralyzing fear. He leapt up to the shutters and opened them wide. But he saw nothing. He opened the door. But only moonlight spilled down before him. Jae was soon beside him. “There’s nothing out there,” he said.

“I don’t understand—“ Jin said.

“What is it, Jin?” his mother asked.

He looked from Jae to his mother. What could he tell them? Jin shut the door and went back to his hay mattress. “Nothing,” he said. “It was nothing.”

The sharp pain in his torso began to dull, but it still throbbed deep inside him. Hours went by before his eyes grew heavy. But as he finally drifted into sleep, he thought he heard the moaning wail of a woman. Her keen rose from the Red River, reaching out like fingers into the village.


#


Across the valley, in a cottage nestled against the eastern edge of the wood, Kai awoke to the same voice. He knew it at once. It was the Red Lady.

But the sound was not eerie to his ears. It was beautiful. The loveliest voice he ever heard. Like his mother’s. Maybe even better.

Kai pushed his blankets aside and crept toward the door of the cottage. He hesitated, tracing the wound on his left arm with his fingers. She didn’t mean to bite me. It was an accident, he thought. Yes, an accident.

Unlatching the door, Kai crept outside, eager to reunite with the woman behind the voice. Of course it was an accident. After all, she had said she loved him.




(C) Gina Tom 2016
The Four Stones Chapter 4
This is from a novel I wrote and am querying called The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman. It is part ghost story, part epic fantasy. I hope you enjoy :) (Smile)

Summary:

    Jin’s village is plagued by a series of mysterious deaths. After the ravaged body of a man is found in the forest and a child goes missing without a trace, the elders believe that it must be the work of the skinstealers — evil beings who gain supernatural power by consuming the flesh and blood of mortals. Confused about the reality of the skinstealers, Jin increasingly finds himself the victim of bizarre, debilitating visions that leave him racked with pain and fever, and his family unsure of his sanity. But Jin’s nightmares and reality start to blend when Jin is attacked by a skinstealer in the forest.A mysterious stranger comes to his aid, but the stranger’s glowing amber eyes and his peculiar interest in Jin frighten him — especially when this man’s past is far closer to the enemy’s than Jin could ever imagine.

    Jin learns that the only way to stop the evil is to heal the rift between the spirit world and the earthen world. To do this Jin must find the first of the sacred Four Stones, which lies in a fabled forest palace guarded by the most dangerous skinstealer of all — Queen Jezebel. But the palace is hidden in a cursed wood, where even the most seasoned travelers are made to lose their way and deadly hallucinations attempt to lure each to their doom. As Jin becomes more entangled in his visions, a fox and raven masquerade in his dreams and his totem, the tiger, guides him in both worlds. All of them wear a mask, and none are what they seem. If Jin is to find the Stone and save his homeland, companions, and even himself, he must unravel the tangle of lies and deceptions woven about him by those closest to him.

Chapter one: nevermore1849.deviantart.com/a…

My tumblr: gntomblr.tumblr.com/
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Corporal Hicks fan art
After my sister and I watched Aliens for the nth time (and seeing the new concept art for Alien 5) my sister was like "that acid would have eaten right through his skull!" So here yar — this is my version of Hicks after the alien acid melted a third of his cranium. In the future they can do stuff like this. They made synthetic skin for him but the cheap stuff kept peeling off.
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The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman


Chapter 3




When Jin and Jae entered their cottage, they were greeted by their mother’s embrace. “I was so worried! Did you find the tiger?”

“No,” Jae said, “but if you want to know why we aren’t eating deer for the next few days, ask Jin.”

She gazed at her youngest son, who avoided eye contact. “Come sit down,” she said. “Lona and I were just having tea.”

And indeed, Lona was sitting at the small table in the center of the room. Jin loaded his plate with the dinner that was now cold—mushrooms with sardine and green onions on a bed of buckwheat groats.

“Others can say what they will, Koya,” she was saying to his mother, “but I know it was the River Woman.”

Jin could not suppress a shudder. Of all the skinstealers said to haunt the woods, that of the River Woman scared him the most as a child. She had as many names as she did guises, but they all had one thing in common: death came to those who encountered her.

Jae shook his head safely behind them before he took his place at the table next to Jin. But their mother’s face was grave.

“How do you know?” she asked.

Lona rubbed her face with her calloused hands. “A week before Aman disappeared he was acting bewitched. His eyes were glazed over, always smiling… he was in love.”

“In love? Are you certain?”

Lona nodded. “He had looked at me that way once,” she said quietly. “When we were first married.”

“And… you think he met the River Woman?”

Jin saw fear in his mother’s eyes.

“I know he did,” Lona said. “I heard her keen in the woods not two hours before dawn.”

A chill ran down Jin’s spine. He had heard the wail, too. Could it have been the River Woman?

“Maybe what I heard last night was when she was—was—” Lona’s voice broke and she held her face in her hands. “If I had gone out sooner maybe I would have been in time to save him.”

Jin gazed sorrowfully at Lona. Her and Aman had been married longer than he was alive. His mother patted Lona’s arm. “There, there. You could have been harmed, too, if you went out in the woods at night.”

The widow sniffed. “I was so jealous, so angry, when I knew he had met someone and that was what drove him off—“

“You can’t blame yourself for his death.”

“He wouldn’t have ran off if I wasn’t—“

“Any wife would have the same reaction.”

A heavy, oppressive silence ensued. The night waxed on, and with it the shroud of fear and sadness grew heavier.

“Why don’t you boys play us some music?” Jin’s mother suggested to him and Jae.

They gladly agreed. Jae picked up a flat drum and mallet leaning against the wall and Jin retrieved his flute from the mantle. They played a light melody with a quick tempo, followed by another. It seemed to lift some of the darkness in the cottage.

“You play beautifully, Jin,” Lona said. “Just like my grandfather did.” She turned to his mother. “Just like Koya.”

“Thank you,” Jin said.

“Play the Song of the Forest, will you?” Lona said.
He obeyed. It was a slow and sweet tune. It spoke of happier days when cares were smaller and the world was enjoyed for its beauty, not feared for its danger. Jin felt a ray of hope enter the cottage with that melody.

“That song was old when the world was young,” Lona said. “Back when we walked with the immortal folk. When their kingdom in the forest reigned over this land… before the skinstealers came…”

Jae cast an eye at Jin, but said nothing.

“Why don’t you get some rest?” their mother said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Lona nodded faintly.

“We can walk you home,” Jin offered.

“No,” she said. “You should stay indoors, or she’ll catch you.” Her voice sounded far away.

Lona walked out the door. Jin followed her and Jae was right behind him. They quickened their step so that they were at Lona’s side. She stared at the moonlit grass at her feet, not even looking ahead as they climbed up and over the low hills toward her cottage. Jin wanted to say something, but he didn’t know what. So he kept silent.

It was Lona who broke the silence, right when they arrived at her cottage. “Our fathers fled from the sea escaping the evil ones of the water, and now we are plagued by those of the forest.”

“Beg your pardon?” Jin said.

Lona looked at him. “Our people used to live on the water. But the skinstealers drowned the fishermen, children, anyone. So we live on this cliff now, and hoped to escape their wrath.” She gazed out toward the ocean and shook her head. “But they followed us here. Changing skins… changing faces…”

Jin and Jae exchanged a worried glance over the woman’s shoulder. “Our mother will visit you first thing tomorrow, auntie,” Jae said. “Try and get some sleep.”

The woman nodded. “Stay away from the Red River,” she said and entered her dark house. They watched her until they saw the flicker of a light in her window. Jin felt the loneliness of that home wash over him, and he pitied Lona.


#


“I still can’t get over you facing off that tiger,” Jae said to Jin. They were back home and Jin had made some more tea. Jae leaned lazily against the wall on a small wooden stool.

Jin only shrugged.

“You really shouldn’t have done that, Jin,” his mother said, looking up from the wooden basin. She was up to her elbows in dishes and sloshing water. “It could have attacked you!”

“What was I supposed to do?” he said. “Let it attack Lona?”

“You could have gone to the village to get some of the men,” she said.

“By then it would have been too late,” he replied.

His mother only shook her head, but Jae chuckled. “You are the most foolish person I know,” he said. “Running right into the tiger’s mouth.”

“Promise me you won’t ever do that again, Jin,” his mother said.

“Mother—“

“Promise.”

“Alright,” he said, not knowing if he meant it.

Satisfied, his mother continued scrubbing the frying pan.

Jae was silent a moment. “Do you think it is the same one you set free all those years ago?” he asked Jin.

“What are you talking about?” his mother said.

“That was a long time ago,” Jin muttered, not wanting to go down this path.

“When was this?” she asked, alarmed.

“The last time a man-eating tiger was in the woods,” Jae said. He added, “you should have left it in its trap, Jin.”

“The villagers were going to kill it if I didn’t,” Jin said. When the snares the village had set for the animal did not work, they bought a metal trap from town. It was a horrible machine, with iron teeth in iron jaws that snapped whatever stepped inside its open maw.

“Of course!” Jae said. “That way it wouldn’t have gotten Aman last night!”

Jin’s stomach dropped. “So it’s my fault he is dead?”

“I didn’t say that,” Jae said quietly.

“You said as much,” Jin said.

“That’s enough, boys,” his mother said as if they were children instead of young men. She turned to Jin. “Now tell me, just when did you set a tiger free?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“You should thank me for never telling the village,” Jae said.

“It would have been rotten of you if you did,” Jin replied.

“You never told me, either,” his mother remarked. Jin was silent. But Jae said, “its all that folklore you fill his head with. He thought it was his spirit guardian.”

“I never said that,” Jin retorted.

“You didn’t have to,” Jae said.

“It’s not folklore, Jae!” Their mother took a deep breath. “How can the gods help you if you have no faith? You don’t even wear your guardian amulet anymore.”

“I lost it, remember?” Jae said.

Jin fingered the amulet at his neck. He traced the outline of the tiger carving in the smooth wood.

“Besides, what about Aman?” Jae said. “He believed in the gods and neither they nor his guardian spirit saved him.”

Jin hesitated. He had often had the same thought. If believing in the gods did not protect them, what could?

“We don’t get to know everything, Jae,” his mother said. She stopped scrubbing and began to rub her hands and wrists.

“Is your arthritis acting up?” Jin said. She hesitated. “Let me take over the dishes.” He set his tea down. Reluctantly she stepped aside.

“I’m not sure I even want you going in those woods alone in the daytime,” his mother said. Jin sighed audibly. “I’m an adult, mother,” he said.

“That’s a fine thing for the young shoot to tell the withered stalk,” she said, taking a seat at the table. “Besides, it’s not just tigers to be wary of. There are the skinstealers, too.”

Jae groaned. “Don’t talk about them to Jin. He already thought he heard the River Woman wail last night.”

“You did?” she said. “That’s right, you were awake last night… I remember seeing you at the shutters.”

“Did you hear it, too?” Jae asked their mother quizzically. She shook her head.

“It was nothing,” Jin said, finding himself scrubbing the pan harder than he needed to. “I probably just dreamed it.”

“So Lona was right,“ his mother said.

“Don’t tell me you believe in that nonsense about the River Woman luring victims to the river and eating them whole,” Jae said.

Their mother’s face was stern. “I do, and you’d best believe it, too. How can you protect yourself against evil if you don’t think it exists?”

Jae muttered something incoherent under his breath. Their mother sighed deep and brushed back her graying locks. “When I was a girl I remember playing out in the woods on the hill just south of the Red River. Suddenly a flock of deer bolted up the slope past me. Then a chill came over me as bitter as a winter storm, even though it was the middle of summer. And the forest was quiet… so quiet…” The memory haunted her large brown eyes. Jin had never seen his mother look so vulnerable. She shivered, as if still cold from the memory.

“Rather uneventful story,” Jae remarked.

Jin saw his mother stir, coming back to the present moment. “Next day Little Fei was found on the banks of the river. He was… eaten.”

The image of Aman’s body rushed back to Jin. He tried to push it away, but it wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t just the blood and torn up flesh that disturbed him. It was his eyes. Large in silent terror, Jin felt if he stared too long into those milky depths he would see the unimaginable horror of the man’s last vision. When he carried Aman’s body to the open ground, Jin did not look into those eyes.

“Children and men she takes,” his mother said. “And the waters run red with the blood of her victims.”

Jae gave an exasperated sigh. “The river is red because of the soil. We learned that in school.”

“I think your schooling did more damage than good,” she said.

“There was some good in it,” Jin said. “We learned so much.“

“Too much,” his mother said. She mindlessly sipped the tea before her and sputtered. “This isn’t green tea—what is this?”

“It’s mine,” Jin said, biting his lip as she sniffed the liquid. “Is this lily turf?”

He hesitated. “Yes,” Jae cut in. “And he’s drying some more of the tubers out back.”

“Jae!”

“But we already have some,” his mother said.

Jin scratched the back of his head, forgetting his hands were wet. “Well, not exactly. I had to get more.”

His mother turned to face him. “You’ve had all of it?” Her forehead creased in worry. “I thought you said you weren’t feeling sick.”

“I’m not,” Jin said, hearing his own lack of conviction in his voice.

“Then why are you having lily turf?” she said.

Jae glared at him. “Because he’s feeling sick.”

“Come here,” his mother said. Jin sighed audibly as he stood in front of her, bending for her to feel his forehead, then cheeks.

“Your warm,” she said.

“It is a warm day,” he said, returning to the washbasin.

“How do you know it wasn’t a tiger?” Jae said. “Did you see her?” Apparently he was still thinking of the River Woman.

“No,” their mother said. Jae looked triumphant. She continued, “the only life in the forest I saw that day was a small red fox.”

Jin stopped scrubbing. A fox?

“Never trust a fox or a raven,” she said. “Where they are, evil is sure to follow.”

Jae shook his head. “You’re as mad as Jin.”

Jin looked at his brother. Those words struck his heart.


#


Jin slammed the door of the cottage behind him.

“What’s his problem?” he heard Jae say on the other side of the door. He dimly heard his mother’s voice scolding his older brother.

His boots found their way down the grassy slope toward the cliff’s edge. He stopped. The ocean tide crashed against the rocks below.

You are as mad as Jin.

He shut his eyes. Anger quickly turned to pain. Not the kind that burned his core and gave him fever, but the kind that tore his heart in two. The kind that made him ache so badly he just wanted an escape. Jin looked down at the crags slathered in white foam. Any escape.
His eyes stared hypnotically at the tide. The darkness of their depths beckoned to him. He watched the waves slash violently against the cliff, then disappear. Another came, but it was not long before they vanished. Some lasted longer. Others were hardly birthed before they were swallowed by ocean or collided with rock.

Jin crept closer to the edge. Only his heels were on solid ground. Quickly. It was over quickly. Jin closed his eyes when the tears came. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt, he thought. The waves thundered below. No more pain. But he wouldn’t do it. No more sadness. Of course he wouldn’t. No more fear. Suddenly the weight of loneliness was so heavy, so intense, he couldn’t bear it. Slowly, so gently, he began to lean his weight forward. The salty wind rushed up to meet him when he heard a soft deep voice in his ear—

Come with me.

Jin’s eyes snapped open. He stepped back from the edge without even realizing it. He looked around for the speaker but saw no one. He was alone. Then he saw what looked like two flames shining in the darkness. They hovered at the edge of the forest north of his cottage. Then the two flames blinked. Jin realized with alarm that they were eyes. The creature took a step toward him. Jin thought it would be the fox, but a beam of moonlight revealed striped fur along the shoulder.

It was the tiger.

From across that distance Jin locked eyes with the animal, his heart pounding. Then, without warning, a great surge of painful fire radiated from his core. Jin cried out and stumbled to the ground, clutching his abdomen.

His breath came in sharp ragged gasps. Somehow he managed to stumble up the slope and to his cottage. He fell through the door, landing on his hands and knees.

His mother leapt up from the table. “Jin!” Jae ran from her side to his brother.
Another seizure of pain ratcheted Jin’s body. It flooded his torso, convulsing inside him. It was a pain that had nowhere to go, could not be expelled. Jin felt the searing heat would melt the flesh right off his bones. Jin prayed desperately for it to end. His voice was hoarse as he cried out.

“Get the healer!” he heard his mother shout to Jae.

Jin wanted to tell Jae not to, for a tiger was lurking nearby. But he could not form the words. He was dimly aware of his brother leaping across the cottage and out the door. His blood ran hot as it pumped down his limbs, up his neck, head. It felt like it was boiling beneath the surface of his skin. Every breath was turned to a cry.

“Hold on Jin,” his mother said.


#


A rough, gnarled hand lifted Jin’s head and he felt a burning sticky liquid poured down his throat.

“I don’t like him taking so much snakeroot,” his mother’s voice said. “It’ll ruin his kidneys.”

“Something has to break his fever—and knock him out, for mercy’s sake,” Jae’s voice whispered.

Jin tried to open his eyes. Through blurred vision he saw the old wizened face of the healer woman bent over him. He was dimly aware of her chanting monotonously, while shaking a branch of leaves over him. Jin tossed and turned on his mattress of hay. Drenched in sweat, he kicked off the blanket over him.

Smoke—no, incense—was waved over him. Its pungent odor filled his nostrils. His eyes still open, he dreamed.

A raven flapped against the bars of a cage. Jin greatly feared its release without knowing why. It cawed and screeched, tearing at the metal. Then, to his horror, the cage was opened. The raven was free. It rose high in the sky and stretched its wings, covering the land in darkness. Jin fled, but it chased him. Unto the ends of the earth he fled from it, but always its black wings followed him, shadowing his steps.

Jin ran until he found himself in the woods behind his home. He saw the fox with the old woman’s eyes. Its eyes narrowed, glowing red and menacing. Blood was on its maw as it feasted on a carcass. A lutung swung from a low branch, swiping at the kill. The fox snarled, then snapped at the primate.

Master says you must share, it said. We must all grow strong.

A bearcat slinked from the trees. A weasel followed close behind, as did others obscured by the forest shadows. The fox bared its teeth, hovering over the kill.

Jin looked down at the carcass. It was Aman.

There was a rustling of feathers overhead that sounded like laughter. Jin looked up to see the raven on a branch, hovered above them all. Share the meat, little fox, it said, for all of my servants must grow strong with the blood of mortals.

The beasts tugged and tore at Aman’s body, ripping his flesh with their razor claws and dagger teeth.

“Stop!” Jin cried.

The lutung snapped its head to Jin. Someone watches us!

Their voices screeched through the wood: Spy! Spy!

Jin stood helplessly as they began to circle him. His heart raced in panic. In the back of his mind he still heard the healer chanting.

“No, please…,” he said.

His mother spoke, “what is it Jin?”

Jin looked around in the forest. He heard her voice, but where was she? Then the fox snapped at his feet. The bearcat swiped at his leg, he felt its claws rake into his skin.

Jin gave a cry.

“What is it Jin?” his mother said, desperation in her voice.

Get him! Kill him! the raven ordered.

“The raven… he is coming for me…”

“Jin there is no one here but us and the healer,” his mother said.

“It must be the fever speaking,” Jae whispered.

Jin grit his teeth and grunted in pain.

“Foul spirits are preying on him!” the old woman said.

Jin gave only a soft cry, a whine of agony.

“Who is his Guardian in the night sky?” the healer said.

“Tiger,” his mother replied.

She shook the leaves over him. “Come, stalker of the woodland realm. Protect this boy, born under your stars in the heavens. You are his spirit guardian and he needs you now. Call to him, Jin!”

Jin tried to open his mouth to speak. But he could not. Please come, he thought. The fox circled him again, grinning. It snapped at his heels, drawing blood. Then something bounded through the forest and leapt in the air. When it landed it was between Jin and the devilish beasts. It was the tiger! Jin felt both fear and relief inside him.

Then, Jin’s vision shifted. He was in their small cottage and he saw the face of his brother, mother, and the healer woman over him. He felt too weak to move. But the pain had momentarily relented.

His mother smiled in relief, but the old woman’s face was grave. “What have you done, boy, to bring evil spirits upon you?”

“He has done nothing,” he heard his mother say.

Jin held his side as another wave of pain swept through him. The healer turned to her. “Burn incense on your altar and pray to the gods. Now.”

The healer put her gnarled face close to Jin. “Renounce the evil in your spirit. Perhaps the gods will send the dove to save you,” she whispered.

Jin wanted to speak in his defense, but was too weak. He broke out in a sweat. The blankets were off of him but he could not get cool. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.

“What is it, Jin?” he heard his brother say.

“Water,” he whispered. His mother was burning incense at the altar on the east side of the house and the healer was speaking in hushed tones in her ear.

Jae came with a cup of water and put it to his lips. He poured it gently down Jin’s throat. Jin laid his head down on the hay. He felt his mind slipping from consciousness and embraced the pull.


#


Jin woke up with a cool rag wiping his forehead.

“How do you feel?” his mother said beside him.

He tried to sit up but the effort was too much. “Like an empty shell,” he breathed. “But the pain is gone for now.”

His mother wrung out the rag in a wooden bowl beside her. Jin hated himself for making her wait on him. “This is the time in life where I’m supposed to be taking care of you,” he said.
“I’m not that old,” she smiled. “And right now you are the one needing taking care of.”
Jin shut his eyes to hold back the tears. A few years back he had gotten so ill that he was bedridden for six weeks, and it was several more until he could do the smallest of mere household chores. Jae couldn’t fish, as the boat needed to be manned by at least two, and Jin could sell neither trade items or his own labor. And so their family was reduced to eating nothing but plain groats twice a day for several months. Jae and his mother never once complained. Jin had promised he would never do that to his family again. But here he lay, sick and helpless.

“I don’t want to always be a burden,” he said. “I want to live a normal life.”

“You are not a burden, Jin,” she said. “And maybe the gods will heal you of this sickness.”

Jin shook his head bitterly. “I’ve been hoping for that since I was a boy. It hasn’t happened yet and it may never happen.”

“Just be patient—“

“I’ve been patient!” he said. “Eleven years I’ve been patient! Either the gods aren’t real or, if they are, they care nothing for me.”

“Don’t say that, Jin,” she hushed. She sighed in the way Jin knew meant she was collecting herself. “We don’t know why things are the way they are. The gods never promised us that this life would be easy. But they did promise it would be worth it.”

Deep down he knew that was true. But he couldn’t bring himself to openly agree. Life still hurt too much.

“It’s not this life that matters,” she said. “It’s the next. There’ll be no sickness then. No hunger, no sadness. But its how you handle those things in this life that will determine if you go to Paradise with the gods, or…”

“The Void,” Jin finished. His mother nodded. She didn’t even like saying the word, as if refusal of the word could refuse the destination itself.

The Void. It was where those who hated the gods went. It was said to be a place of darkness and unbearable cold. But the real punishment was loneliness.

“We should pray for Aman,” Jin said presently.

“Let us pray together now,” she whispered. She clasped his hands in hers and recited:

“To the Three Gods, maker of the Spirit and Earthen Realms,
“From the Temples at all corners of the earth may your glory shine,
“Grant us a pure and humble heart to serve you in this earthen life and the next,
“And protect us from evil flesh and evil spirit, now and always.”


She added, “and please guide Aman’s spirit to your dwelling, and comfort Lona.” She eyed Jin. “Would you like to say anything?” He merely shook his head.

Once finished, they sat in silence. His mother looked at him carefully. She rose. “There is something I need to teach you.”

“What is it?”

She brought his flute from the mantle that was once her own, before her arthritis prevented her from playing. “There is one more song you need to learn. It is the oldest and most sacred of songs. Are you well enough to play?”

“Yes, but I am hardly in the mood,” he said.

“Humor an old woman,” she said.

With great effort Jin rose to sitting. Slowly she played the notes. Her stiff fingers struggled to close the holes in the wood, but the melody was not lost on her delicate hands. It was a peculiar tune, like nothing Jin had heard before. It spoke to him of mountains and ancient trees, yet deeper and older than even the earth. It was not a sad tune, but Jin felt a melancholy in the beauty of the melody.

His mother passed the flute to Jin. Back and forth he listened to her play, then imitated the notes. This went on until she was satisfied Jin had memorized the song.
“They say the Steward of the Forest, a great white stag, taught our people this song before the kingdom fell,” his mother said.

Jin turned the flute over in his hands. “We saw a white stag when we were hunting the tiger.” He lifted his head to hers and gave a wry smile. “Maybe it was him.”

“Maybe it was,” she said, slapping his knee. She looked over at Jae and her face sobered.
“You are now the only one of your generation to know this song. Remember it well.”

Jin glanced at his brother, snoring on the other side of the cottage. “Shouldn’t this be passed on to the eldest?”

His mother smiled. “If I could make Jae believe in the old ways, I would. But you were the one willing to learn the flute. Not him.”

Jin traced the smooth wood of the flute, his fingers passing through the threads tied at the base. It had been passed down from generation to generation, as had the skill to play it. And now this strange new melody. “What is the meaning of the song?” he asked.

“There is hidden power in the music, Jin,” she said. “We were taught this song for a reason. Never let it die.”

Jin ran his fingers across the smooth wood of the flute. “What was the kingdom like?” he asked.

“It was a time of peace and prosperity,” she said. “The immortals took care of us and all the animals in their realm. This was their duty given to them by the Three Gods.”

“What happened?” he asked. He was mostly curious. He did not really more than half-believe the tales of a woodland kingdom hidden away from the world, but it captured his imagination nonetheless.

“Over time we strayed from the gods and the immortals alike,” his mother answered. “So they secluded themselves deep in the forest, and our ties with them and with nature severed.”
“What happened to the immortals?” Jin said.

“Our people say the Forest Palace still stands on a high cliff somewhere deep within the Sacred Woods,” she said, “but no mortal has seen it since the ancient days. As for the immortals, they are said to have disappeared.”

“Disappeared? How?” Jin said.

“Legends say something terrible happened within the palace,” his mother answered. “Something so horrible that the Three Gods forsook the king, handing him over to be punished. A spell is said to be on that place. If it is broken, we shall have peace again.”

“Can’t it be broken?” Jin asked. He was more invested in the story than he cared to admit.
His mother shrugged. “Perhaps. There is a great treasure of the gods called the Four Stones. Some believe they could break the spell.”

“Then why hasn’t anyone done it?” Jin said.

“The Four Stones cannot be wielded by just anyone,” his mother said. “They say the wielder must be completely pure of heart.”

She left him to his thoughts as she extinguished the burning candle. As Jin lay back on his mattress of hay, he thought of the story she told him. How could anyone be truly pure of heart? It was hardly surprising that no one had broken the enchantment over the Forest Palace. But that is just a legend, he thought, and rolled over to sleep.


#


Jin saw the raven again in his dreams. It squawked and flapped madly against the bars of its cage. Its eyes glinted with a cruel intelligence. The cage rattled and swayed. The fox stood before it.

Who was it that saw us? the raven said.

How should I know? the fox answered.

Find who it is, the raven said.

And what if I refuse? the fox replied.

You are mine, little fox, the raven said. You serve me now and always.

The fox leapt at the cage. The raven cackled and laughed. The fox attacked the bars futilely. Then it threw back its head and howled.

Jin woke from his nightmare to a sharp, throaty call from the woods. It had sounded like a she-fox. Or was it the wail of a woman? Across the cottage, Jin heard the old mare stamp the hay underfoot. Then he heard it again. A high moaning cry, loud yet distant. It rose, flowing from the woods down to the village. It sounded almost like… singing. Jin’s blood went cold. The horse neighed loudly. Jin’s heart raced in terror. Was it her?

Finally it ended.

“Jae?” he said, hearing his voice shake. “Did you hear that?“

But only his brother’s snores replied. Even his mother didn’t wake. The mare snorted nervously. Jin threw off his blankets and went to her. He stroked her neck with trembling hands. She was covered in sweat.

“You heard it, too, didn’t you?” he whispered. She neighed and stamped her feet. “Shh, it’s alright,” he said, not knowing if his words were true. He brought over his blankets and lay by the mare that night. Even after it was gone, Jin could not dispel the haunting and lonely keen of the River Woman from his mind. It was a long time before he fell asleep.

© Gina Tom 2016
The Four Stones, Chapter 3
This is from a novel I wrote and am querying called The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman. It is part ghost story, part epic fantasy. I hope you enjoy :) (Smile)

Summary:

    Jin’s village is plagued by a series of mysterious deaths. After the ravaged body of a man is found in the forest and a child goes missing without a trace, the elders believe that it must be the work of the skinstealers — evil beings who gain supernatural power by consuming the flesh and blood of mortals. Confused about the reality of the skinstealers, Jin increasingly finds himself the victim of bizarre, debilitating visions that leave him racked with pain and fever, and his family unsure of his sanity. But Jin’s nightmares and reality start to blend when Jin is attacked by a skinstealer in the forest.A mysterious stranger comes to his aid, but the stranger’s glowing amber eyes and his peculiar interest in Jin frighten him — especially when this man’s past is far closer to the enemy’s than Jin could ever imagine.

    Jin learns that the only way to stop the evil is to heal the rift between the spirit world and the earthen world. To do this Jin must find the first of the sacred Four Stones, which lies in a fabled forest palace guarded by the most dangerous skinstealer of all — Queen Jezebel. But the palace is hidden in a cursed wood, where even the most seasoned travelers are made to lose their way and deadly hallucinations attempt to lure each to their doom. As Jin becomes more entangled in his visions, a fox and raven masquerade in his dreams and his totem, the tiger, guides him in both worlds. All of them wear a mask, and none are what they seem. If Jin is to find the Stone and save his homeland, companions, and even himself, he must unravel the tangle of lies and deceptions woven about him by those closest to him.

Chapter one: nevermore1849.deviantart.com/a…

My tumblr: gntomblr.tumblr.com/
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Thanks so much to GingerbreadPunks for creating such awesome concept art for The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman. It is so beautiful and feels like it has been ripped right from the pages.

Olshar character concept art


Olshar character concept art

“People say the Malvai have made a pact with the forces of darkness and aren’t even human. They are said to have the eyes of a wild beast.” — The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman

Strange Dreams


Strange Dreams

Share the meat little fox, the raven said, for all of my servants must grow strong with the blood of mortals.” — The Four Stones: The Curse of the River Woman

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Nevermore1849
Gina Tom
Artist | Hobbyist | Digital Art
United States
Hello!
I am glad to finally be on deviantArt, it's been a goal for a while. My main interests are fiction writing, playing guitar (mostly posthardcore ;)), and digital painting.
I got my Associate's Degree in Film Animation which is where I first learned Photoshop and Corel Painter as well as Illustrator. That was when I really fell in love with digital painting. Prior to that I did mostly pencil sketches and dabbled in oil and acrylic painting, which I still do now and then. It was also at that time that I found a passion for film and screenwriting, which I hope to pursue again sometime in the future.
While pursuing my bachelor's I minored in Anthropology. I love learning about other cultures and religions, which I find very inspiring for both writing and art.

www.gntomblr.tumblr.com
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:iconbyzwa-dher:
Byzwa-Dher Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2017   Digital Artist
Big thanks for the watch and comments ;) :hug: :hug:  :hug:  Your gallery is very nice ;)
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Nevermore1849 Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist

Absolutely, I am a huge fan!!Heart  I posted on your profile (somehow I missed your comment!) but thank you SO much for the faves and watch, you made my day!!! Hug 

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Plutonian-Frostmonky Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2016  Student Writer
:iconthanksforfaving:
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Nevermore1849 Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
You are most welcome!
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Thanks for the :+fav:!
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Sure thing!
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Happy birthday :) :cake::iconbirthdaycakeplz:
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Nevermore1849 Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Aw, thank you so much!! Heart Heart 
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You're very welcome :hug:
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Hi, dear! ;)
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All the best!! :rose:
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