image of solarflare of the woods
SOLARFLARE OF THE WOODS (#775)

Enough Woe for a Wager

In the deepest depths of a dark wood, a WITCH summons a demon to her altar. A terror waits to be reaped.

Solarflare knelt before her makeshift altar, carefully sewing her offerings into a cohesive whole with threads of iron WILL anchored deep in her gut. 

Two lumps of softly chewed beeswax coaxed to flame, strings of sinew woven with sweetgrass and seeped in WOE, and the mechanical misery of a thousand wasp souls anchored to a parchment thin nest formed the base of her working. 

An agate filched from another under a moonless sky, a bundle of dried thistle brushed by a lost love, a copper bowl containing shreds of mandrake suspended in dark oil, a notebook filled with nightmares. 

She yanked the last knot of her binding to close and with a flick of her wrist and a spark from her nails the lot burst into blinding white and then the deepest blue flames. She waited.

The demon took its time slinking its true engorged form through cracks from a darker and more desperate world. Its black tendrils carved out a void against the star specked sky. It’s many, many, eyes glittered in the flickering light.

Few mortals, unattuned or WITCH are willing to deal with demons. No matter how hungry for power, desperate for salvation, there’s a line too far, too distant from humanity to cross. They are natural disasters, best let pass by. Occultists tend to view such things inverted and sideways. Boundaries interest them, and seem permeable, like hopping back and forth across a harvest flame. 

The demon breathed deep, sucking the last of the essence of her offering.

“WITCH — WHAT MISCHIEF DO YOU SEEK TO SOW WITH ENOUGH WOE FOR A WAGER?”

Solarflare kept her face impassive, brushing the ashes of the now useless artifacts off of the empty embroidered square placed neatly between herself and the demon’s congealing silhouette.

The demon pulled the whorls and tangles of itself into the shape of a young girl, with long, impossibly long arms. A mask of a rabbit with a blank expression marked its head — and every inch of simulacrum flesh was covered with eyes. Soft brown orbs with luxurious lashes, piercing yellow rounds that tracked her smallest movement, small shiny dots clustered in fours. Solarflare could not spot a single matching pair, nor the hint of blue she was hoping for. 

“Whispers have reached me you’ve been haunting my woods, Dodomeki. Challenging all unfortunate enough to cross your path.” The WOODS murmured with stifled screams and sighs as she named the creature. Solarflare’s dead calm was not broken, no hint of emotion for the demon to latch onto. “While I have no power over your movements, nor you over mine, while we both reside here I’d like to pass the time with my own game of WIT and speed.” 

She pulled a velvet pouch from her waist, and spilled its contents on the altar. Shiny tiles, smooth on one side and marked with a single letter on the other. She began to flip them, smooth side up.

The Dodomeki cackled with glee and took its place opposite. 

“FOOL, THERE IS NO ONE IN THE WILDS QUICKER WITH WIT THAN ME. A TEPID CHALLENGE.” it swept its arms through its long tangled hair, it’s mismatched eyes swiveling all at once to train on Solarflare. “I HAVE BESTED THIS ENTIRE FOREST. AND NOW THAT YOU’VE BEEN SO GRACIOUS TO SUMMON ME TO YOU…WHEN I WIN I WILL CLAIM ONE OF YOUR EYES AS MY OWN”. The demon turned its head ninety degrees and extended its neck like an owl, uncomfortably close to Solarflare’s face. 

“SUNSET ALMOND. I’LL PLACE IT ON MY NEW BROW.” It sat, and began to flip the tiles as well. 

Of all trials of wit in the wilds, the one of tiles + words demands the most flexibility from its players. Each opponent must use the letters in front of them in full, forming words connected horizontally and vertically. Every intersection comprehensible, each decision potentially invalidating all past. Once all of a player’s letters have given shape to words, a new tile is pulled from the center, forcing their opponent to do the same. The new letters are incorporated until none remain, the loser drowning in words with no shape. 

WITCH and demon selected seven each from the pile, standing them up in a neat row, letters facing their opponent. Solarflare held up three fingers, her other hand hovering over her tiles. 

“Three…Two…” — the demon knocked over its tiles with a rush, spontaneously growing two extra arms to furiously rearrange them.

“…One.” Solarflare rolled her eyes and clattered her own tiles, letters up.

“FOE, OWN, NOT … TILE!”

“wound, dyes … TILE!”

Each shout their hands reached for the pile in the center, snatching a new letter. Forming and reforming their boards.

“FOOL, FAWN, NOTE …. TILE!”

“wither, want, don … TILE!”

Solarflare blazed with concentration, her puzzle blurring and reforming faster than the Dodomeki’s eyes could track. Small towers and minarets of words were raised and destroyed from her board as each new letter was consumed into an intricate whole. 

The center pile dwindled. Extra letters scattered around the edges of their boards, Ns and Es jealously guarded, Sses hopefully moved at the beginning here, the end there.

“Done!!!!”

Solarflare stood triumphant

“wither, when, rodent, toil, cozy, coin, yeti, loe, easy, sake” 

The demon hissed and its flesh boiled, eyes roiling over its form. “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO” It knocked its own board aside to inspect hers. “LOE?!” it screeched “LOE IS NOT A WORD!”. 

Solarflare shrugged. “It’s like ….loe and behold”, she looked quickly around “an alternative … ancient….three letter spelling” 

As the demon poured over the rest of her tiles, pulling up the edge of a wild tile arrogantly forming the last e in sake, “IS THIS BLANK ACTUALLY.......ANOTHER K????”, Solarflare swept a calculating gaze over its long glittering arms. She spotted what she was looking for.

Solarflare’s nails were filed into five perfect points. They were lacquered with a thin layer of cobra venom, a purple coat of basilisk bile, a tincture of twisted rage from the unsatisfying ending of a terrible rom com encased in resin, and sealed with a veneer of crushed flint + pearl.

With a movement like a scorpion’s tail, her arm whipped forward and her nails met the soft edges of a clear blue eye rimmed in white and sunk deep. 

the demon HOWLED.

It jerked backwards dark ichor dissipating from the wound and before it could lunge forward Solarflare popped the eye whole into her mouth. 

She grinned, the eye poised between her teeth. As the demon surged towards her she pressed gently on the eye with her sharp canines. It recoiled in horror, the blank rabbit mask shaking as she took a big step back towards the gloom of the WOODS. 

the demon scrabbled as its form began to dissolve. Tendrils of darkness even blacker than the night smoked off of its flesh. Eyes of forest creatures slowly disappeared from its arms, as the Dodomeki’s hold on this world waned. 

“one step closer and I’ll swallow. That cute rabbit face of yours, how long will it last with it’s tether to this world damaged, or …” she pressed down on the eye further, “completely destroyed? Do you think you can flee back to your realm in time?”

As the demon quivered, torn between lashing out in fury towards her and rending a tear between worlds to preserve its own self, Solarflare turned and booked it. 

She raced through the woods, laughter escaping as she breathlessly leaped over logs and churned the earth in her wake. The blue eye tucked safely in the softness of her cheek. 

Nursing a stitch her side, she knelt by the entrance to a small warren. She whistled softly, and when a miserable mass of white fur emerged, she lifted it into her arms and kissed its smooth featureless face, gently pushing the eye back into place with her tongue.

“Consider the debt from our wager repaid, little one”.

The rabbit, enchantment broken, shook itself fiercely. “You are trash at Scrabble Solarflare, consider this a small dent in our books still deeply tilted in my favor. However did you best the beast?”

Solarflare held her arms wide and laughed, the sound tinged withe acidity of lime juice that formed the base of her magic. “The terrors of these woods are mine to reap! However convoluted the path.”

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