Middknight's Cavalry

Submitted into Contest #118 in response to: Set your story during a sudden change of season.... view prompt

51 comments

Fantasy Thriller Historical Fiction

cw: violence

Like lightning, Middknight’s cavalry never needed to strike twice.

Eleanor pulled the reins on her horse and cued him to turn. Hooves pushed into the field’s grass. They picked up speed, wind blowing her hair behind her, and Eleanor raised a stick to the air. Her makeshift sword—she would be the first woman from Middknight to ride a horse into battle.

Someday.

Until then, she found herself like every other woman training for the army. Atop a pegasus. A pure white, flying horse. One that could control the skies. The riders wore bright cyan-coloured jackets, lined with plates, a lion in mid-roar engraved on the right shoulder. The symbol of Middknight.

Eleanor could not find her balance with a pegasus.

The skies froze her hands despite her gloves, and she could hardly swing a sword. Her pegasus wouldn’t cooperate with her, and its wings would get in the way. She couldn’t turn the beasts and spin midair like the other women.

The skies did not belong to her.

Every chance she got, she showed off her skills on horseback. Solid ground. She’d ask the other boys to race, pick the slowest horse, then leave them in the dust. None of them wanted to joust her—she’d knock them to the dirt before they could see it coming.

“Doesn’t make sense to me,” her captain said. Eleanor brushed dirt off her pegasus, who kept bringing its wing down to block the comb. “A woman of your skill should be untouchable in the air. It’s puzzling since you have the aptitude for it. With some coin, we could get you private training-”

“Let me ride armoured cavalry,” Eleanor said. She dropped the comb into a bucket of water. “You’ve seen me. I’m better than all the men here. Don’t fault Middknight’s military for a cultural decree about man and woman. We can do more than art, dancing, and pegasus riding. Give me a chance.”

Her captain considered it—and great tacticians learn that consistency often trumps potential.

Eleanor graduated as the first female horseback knight in Middknight’s history. 

A half-decade later, she stepped into a command tent. Her iron boots broke into melting snow. The weather had changed faces like a flipped coin—freezing cold to a humid warmth in a week. She approached the command table and saluted, a fist to her right shoulder. 

Her captain looked up from the table. Chess pieces, most knocked down, littered a map laid out across it. Lost territory. The people of the desert—Sola—had made quick work of them. While Sola struggled to fight Middknight’s forces in the winter, the sudden change in season had been the luck they needed. They fought in the heat like no other country.

“Eleanor,” her captain said. “Speak.”

“Sir,” she kept her eyes off the table. Too many knocked-over pieces. “My scout team has returned from their expedition west. Solan generals are moving toward the plains of Tian. One sandworm in their control. If they set up camp, they’ll cut off our supply routes and have a flanking position. We’d lose the war in weeks.”

“And?” he said, “what’s your plan?”

“Sir, I need siege equipment-”

He laughed, and Eleanor spoke louder.

“A few ballistae. If we take down their sandworm, it’s easy pickings for my cavalry.”

“El,” he stood from the table and pointed to a few standing chess pieces. Rooks. A warm breeze fluttered the tent’s sidewalls. “We needed the winter to build more siege weapons. Now we’re cut short. The second I move what little we have here,” he pointed to their current position, “they’ll advance right on us. It’s a straight road to the capital from this spot.”

“Sir-”

“Best I can give you is a force of pegasus riders.”

Eleanor clenched her teeth, but agreed. Her captain moved a knight piece to the plains of Tian before dismissing her. She would ride out at first light. Fifty armoured horses and twelve pegasi awaited her command, armed with crossbows, chain rope, and long pikes tipped with venom.

Nothing that had yet to be effective against the sandworms.

At dawn, Eleanor rode west. The pegasi soared through the air as the heavy cavalry clunked behind, the fliers leading them an hour out to the plains of Tian.

Minutes from the Solan army, a rider signalled to her and landed. 

“Ma’am,” she said. Eleanor prompted her to continue. “I’m seeing double. Our scouts were wrong, because there are two sandworms out there. Sola must have brought in another.”

“They know it’s an important spot.” Eleanor exhaled. The rest of her cavalry force shuffled on their saddles. If she squinted, she could make the fifty-foot beasts in the distance. Scaled in beige plates, with a maw of endless teeth. 

“Infantry numbers?” she asked.

“More than us, ma’am. We couldn’t get too close, but we’re estimating a couple dozen camel riders and thirty or so archers. We need to consider retreating-”

“No. Call your team down.” The rider hesitated, then whistled. Gusts of wind shifted branches as the eleven other pegasi—majestic beasts—landed. Eleanor breathed in, deep, and cleared her throat.

A moment of calm before a battle can end the war.

“I would never lead any of you into a skirmish we could not win. It’s a promise I don’t plan to break, but we will face death on these plains.” She rested a hand on her sheathed blade. “Know that a man’s life is the greatest gift he can give—and thousands of our soldiers have died before us, courageous, anguished, and far from meaningless.”

Her soldiers watched, sitting upright. Horses nickered in the break of silence. Eleanor unsheathed her blade, cutting through air, light glinting off the steel.

“Let the memories of our fallen serve as a lesson to us all!” her voice became a shout. “Their lives have meaning because we, the living, refuse to forget them! As we ride to our deaths, we will trust our successors and comrades to do the very same for us!

“We will not yield to the adversity of this war!” She kicked her horse into motion. Her team followed. “The fate of Middknight depends on us! Ride with pride, strike with fury, die with honour!”

The armoured cavalry cried out and charged. Pegasus riders took to the skies. Hooves battered against the plains, trees shook from the winds, and the Solan army ahead readied their archers. Two sandworms, beasts over fifty feet tall, cast looming shadows over the grass fields. Long trails of sludge dripped down from their petal-shaped jaws. 

A river of melting ice snaked between the two forces.

Eleanor rode at the front—raising her shield to the volley of arrows, a temporary blot to the sunlight. Projectiles clinked against steel. A pegasus rider above fell from her mount. One arrow struck Eleanor where her plate connected to her neck guard and broke into her shoulder.

A second and third arrow pierced her leg, hitting bone. Eleanor stumbled off her horse, collapsing against the dirt, rolling, hooves pounding the ground beside her head. Soldiers stopped, calling her name.

Blood ran down her shoulder blade. Eleanor stood up, balancing on her sword, then swung it forward.

“Charge, damn it!” she shouted. “Victory is right in front of you, do not falter!”

Her cavalry force pressed on. A pegasus swooped down to pick her up, and she obliged—it’d be an easier ride while injured than a horse. The beast would put in more effort than she’d have to.

“Work with me this time,” she said, finding her place on the saddle. Eleanor leaned her weight forward and tapped the pegasus’ faceplate. “I know we’ve had bad history.”

The pegasus beat its wings, rising into the air. 

Ahead, her cavalry unit clashed with the Solan forces. Her soldiers sliced through camels. Horses trampled the leather-armoured infantry from the desert. Steel crashed against steel, drowning out battle cries. The sandworms shook the earth as they crushed soldiers from both sides beneath them, and her cavalry attempted to blind their exposed eyes with crossbow bolts.

Eleanor dug her heel into the pegasus’ side. She didn’t need to—the beast reacted to the incoming arrow on its own, spinning in the air, nearly dropping her from the saddle. She held on tight around its neck, as she had learned in training a half-decade ago. Her mount raised its wings to block a second.

Another pegasus dove, the rider swinging her sword to behead a Solan archer. Her pegasus kicked at a bowman. The iron hooves snapped the man’s head back, breaking his neck. The beast neighed at the kill. Blood coated its white skin.

Eleanor pulled up on the reins, flying towards the sandworm. She reached to the side, above the pegasus’ left wing, and detached a pike coated with venom. The desert leviathan roared. Spittle flew from its maw like rain.

Her soldiers had blinded one, and she’d get the other.

It lunged for her. Its petal-shaped jaw opened, an abyss of jagged teeth, the limbs of her comrades and pieces of armour stuck within. Her pegasus pulled back. Sunlight stretched their shadows out across the field. Eleanor took the pike in her good hand, kicked her ride forward, then stabbed the sandworm’s crevice-shaped eye. Amber blood leaked.

The other riders followed suit and jabbed pikes into the sandworms. The combined venom—the strongest Middknight’s alchemists could create—would paralyze the beast, where her knights could then wrap them in chains.

One sandworm collapsed, horses jumping as the earth shook. The second followed, lashing out and snagging a rider out of the air before cratering the ground.

Eleanor landed. She would’ve collapsed if not for the pegasus' shifting its weight. Her heavy cavalry executed the remaining Solans and tied down their camels. They then shouted orders, working to chain the sandworms. A woman landed beside her. The leader of the flying team.

“Ma’am,” she said. “We took down two sand beasts! They can be killed! We’re victorious-”

“Send scouts,” Eleanor mumbled, “make sure there are no reinforcements. Send your fastest flier back and bring surgeons for our wounded.” Her pegasus raised its wing to prevent her from sliding off. “Casualty report?”

“Half of our horsemen and four fliers. This is a monumental win. We—I need to get you to a surgeon, ma’am,” she dropped from her pegasus, stepping around a bloodied sword. “I’ll fly you myself. It’ll be less than a half-hour-”

Eleanor raised a hand. 

“No,” she said, “I’m staying here with my cavalry.” She turned her head. Her knights hammered poles into the ground to leash the sandworms. Some tended to the wounded with ripped-apart banners as bandages.

“This is only the beginning of the war,” she continued, “and they need to see me as unbreakable. I’ll lead this cavalry force until Sola surrenders. Until their white flag is raised to the sunlight. Got it?”

The pegasus rider saluted, a fist to her right shoulder, then took off.

Eleanor sheathed her blade. She dismounted, stumbling.

Her knights cheered—and she swore she would lead them to victory, no matter what.

November 01, 2021 09:00

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51 comments

Jon Casper
10:34 Nov 01, 2021

Hi Alex- Once again you rock an epic battle scene! Great action and visuals. Here are my line notes: Her boots, iron, broke into melting snow. -- Are you saying that her boots are iron? If so, would iron boots flow better? Great stake-raising when they discover not one but two sandworms. The rallying speech as they charge into battle is like a movie scene. Well done! Long trails of spit dripped down from their petal-shaped jaws. -- The word spit here feels off somehow. I thought it was great that she finally got in sync with a pegasus...

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Alex Sultan
11:11 Nov 01, 2021

Thank you, Jon. This is great feedback. I plan to work on all changes you've suggested. I'm really glad you liked the rally speech! That was my favourite part. It was fun to draft out and see what sounded good for it. I went through a ton of examples of war speeches from fantasy and real-life just trying to get a feel on how to write it. When I get the chance today, I'll read through your story and leave my notes. I'm looking forward to reading what you've come up with

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Alex Sultan
09:01 Nov 01, 2021

I found the last story I wrote, ‘Soul Reaving’ to be very difficult to put together. This one was the opposite. I had so much fun with it, and it may be my new favourite. All feedback to polish it up would be appreciated. Thanks for reading.

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It's awesome when a story, or any piece of writing, comes together well and you can go back and read it again, and again, and you still enjoy it. If you want brutal, honest, don't-spare-my-feelings feedback, always go to your family. They will tell it like they see it... at least my family does. And it's great.

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Mike North
17:43 Nov 11, 2021

Hi Alex, great story telling, hard to fault. 38 likes tells its own story.

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Mike North
17:01 Nov 11, 2021

Hi Alex, asked by Reedsy to critique, but thirty eight likes, tells it's own story. Thouroughly enjoyed it, I'm new to writing even though I'm getting on a bit. I hope to gain lots of tips by reading all the great work on this site by yourself and others, trouble is, not enough hours in the day to read them all.

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Susan Whitlock
15:42 Nov 11, 2021

Like the woman angle as hero - having to break in even in fantasy! Loved the different kinds of warfare - pegasus and horse and so forth. Herbert fan, so like the sandworms. Hooked enough to need the book.

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Alex Sultan
05:11 Nov 12, 2021

This comment was so kind of you! I like to think I write women well in fantasy, and I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Eleanor's character. I plan one day to write a novel about her and other characters of Middknight, and it is so nice to hear your support. Thank you :)

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Michael Regan
19:47 Nov 10, 2021

I loved the first line. It immediately hooks you into the story. Since others have referenced Frank Herbert's Dune, I'll add a quote from there - "A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct." I think you nailed it.

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Alex Sultan
05:22 Nov 12, 2021

Thanks, Michael. The first line is always my favourite. I've been trying to work on making them as captivating as possible lately, and I do think I nailed it with this one. Also, I've yet to read Dune, but with all these comments on it, I might have to pick it up. Thanks for reading!

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Corey Melin
18:33 Nov 10, 2021

Superb read. My favorite genre for countless years and I much enjoyed it. Sounds like a book in the making

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Alex Sultan
05:21 Nov 12, 2021

Thank you, Corey! This is my favourite genre too. Once I study novel writing more, Middknight will definitely be the subject of my first book. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.

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Tommie Michele
05:10 Nov 10, 2021

Hey Alex! I just came out with a story for this week—would love some feedback, if you have time. Contrary to last week, I had a ton of inspiration—too much, if you ask me (you’ll understand if you read it). There are a lot of emotions surrounding this one, and even if I don’t enter it in the contest it’s one of those things that I HAD to write, just for myself. I hope to read more from you this week, too!

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Alex Sultan
12:18 Nov 10, 2021

I'm excited to read it. I'll have time tonight to look over it and leave my notes. I did write a thriller story for this week, but it is a mess. I'm going to save it for another prompt - it needs a whole rewrite to work.

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Tommie Michele
12:57 Nov 10, 2021

Ooh, I can’t wait to read it!

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Graham Kinross
12:11 Nov 09, 2021

"Ride with pride, strike with fury, die with honour." That is a line worthy of any great book. Really cool. Have you read Dune or watched it in the cinema, I presume the sand worms were inspired by that. The Mandalorian had sand worms as well though. Are you going to write more in this world? I'd like to read what happens after.

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Alex Sultan
12:20 Nov 09, 2021

Thanks, Graham. I've yet to read or watch Dune - these sandworms are original to me. I've had this idea for so long, I can't really trace back the origin of it. I do have more planned for Middknight! A lot of characters. I'm just waiting for the right prompt to inspire me. Thank you for reading. This story is my favourite on my profile, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Graham Kinross
14:28 Nov 09, 2021

You should read Dune, it's an incredible book. The film is pretty good as well. I look forward to reading the next instalment.

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Mariah Cheng
00:54 Nov 09, 2021

Amazing descriptions! The imagery is great! Nice work Alex.

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Shannon Ethel
14:14 Nov 07, 2021

Wow! That was one epic battle scene and very well written! I liked the world building too and the pay off at the end for your main character. Excellent work!

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Alex Sultan
21:42 Nov 07, 2021

Thank you Shannon :) This is my favourite story I've written, and your kind words are appreciated. I'm looking forward to writing more like this one.

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00:38 Nov 06, 2021

Hi Alex, I don't have time for line by line feedback but I just wanted to say that I really like this. Again you show how good you are at action and battle sequences. I love the idea of a big fight between a load of flying horses and a couple of giant worms! You do fantasy really well. Best of luck in the contest!

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Alex Sultan
13:41 Nov 06, 2021

Thank you for the kind words, Katharine. Fantasy + thriller is my favourite to write. I'm happy to have written something I like more than mistweaver - here's to hoping it makes the shortlist :)

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Suma Jayachandar
03:53 Nov 05, 2021

Loved your world building. Action of course flows smoothly as ever. 'Sunlight stretched their shadows out across the field'- Cool!

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Alex Sultan
11:53 Nov 05, 2021

Thank you, Suma. I like this story a lot. I had so much fun writing out the action scenes and the imagery. Your kind words are always appreciated :)

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Suma Jayachandar
03:53 Nov 05, 2021

Loved your world building. Action of course flows smoothly as ever. 'Sunlight stretched their shadows out across the field'- Cool!

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Jahson Clarke
21:54 Nov 04, 2021

Amazing story, I was engaged the whole time with a clear image in my head of the setting and battle that took place. I like how your able to craft a character in a few dialogue bits. I've read some of your other work and I am a fan. I am also a young writer myself and still growing, can't wait to see what you write next.

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Alex Sultan
11:52 Nov 05, 2021

Cheers Jahson. I'm glad you enjoy reading my work 😁 I have a lot more ideas in mind - I'm only warming up with these stories. I plan to write on here for a long while, and it's nice to know I have your support.

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Keya Jadav
16:25 Nov 02, 2021

Hats off Seriously, you made my jaw drop (yeah I know not a new thing). But, I have read a few of your combat stories before, like '7 knights' and I have always loved them but this one just won my heart over. It's superb! The starting is quite hooking, well-described, and beautifully written, I just couldn't take my eyes off it. All way through the story, it evoked a confounding vibe, building walls fashioned by riding pegasus, swords and warriors. Overall, I really enjoyed it.

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Alex Sultan
15:52 Nov 03, 2021

Thank you, Keya. I don't think this story beats 'Arc' for my favourite action scene, but I do think character and worldbuilding wise, this might be my favourite on my profile now. I'm really glad you liked it. I'll try to read through your story and leave my notes when I get the chance this week :)

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Keya Jadav
05:29 Nov 04, 2021

Yes, 'Arc' still stands on the top battle scene but I am sure the upcoming masterpieces of yours would definitely beat it 😉

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Annalisa D.
02:48 Nov 02, 2021

This story was easy and cool to visualize. I enjoyed the experience of reading this and seeing it play out in my mind. Nice job!

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Alex Sultan
15:57 Nov 03, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad you liked it - I've been trying to work on keeping my stories easier to visualize/read and it's nice to hear it worked out. I'm looking forward to reading your newest story and any you plan to post for these prompts :)

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Tommie Michele
22:35 Nov 01, 2021

Hi Alex! Back with some line-edits for you :) Let me know when you do an edit! Her makeshift sword—she would be the first woman from Middknight to ride a horse into battle. Someday. – I could see this final “Someday” as its own paragraph, if you want to add more emphasis - The skies did not belong to her. She much preferred solid ground. – Maybe combine this sentence with the last, in the same paragraph. Or take it out altogether—the previous sentence gives this implication on its own, and it would give the previous more emphasis. (I lov...

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Tommie Michele
04:42 Nov 02, 2021

I did end up getting a story out for this week--I would be super grateful if you could pop over and take a look, whenever you get the chance! Your feedback is extremely valuable :)

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Alex Sultan
17:14 Nov 03, 2021

Thank you, Tommie. It's great to trade feedback with you - you catch things I do not. I made some very small changes based on your suggestions. A lot of it is clarity, which I'm glad you pointed out. I'm sort of worried I'm overusing short sentences, and I plan to do a very slow read-through either tomorrow or Friday to see if they work.

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Tommie Michele
21:21 Nov 03, 2021

I don't think you're overusing short sentences at all! But maybe that's because I definitely overuse them...

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Tommie Michele
12:23 Nov 01, 2021

I just had a first read through of this story and I loved it! First line sounds just like you—always quick to the action and intriguing. I should have line notes done by today or tomorrow :) I’ve written a story for this week, but I’m not very fond of it and I might go back and try a different prompt—I don’t know, I just haven’t been very inspired this week. I’ll try to get something out, though.

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Hi Alex! I really liked your story; I thought that your world building was very well done, and I liked the brief yet detailed mention of the pegasus rider uniforms in the third paragraph. And I like the name you gave your kingdom. I also liked that Eleanor was brave enough to admit that this pegasi riding wasn't working for her, and that she asked for something new. And I thought that it was great that she ended up riding a pegasus in the end anyways. The pegasus was so willing to 'work with her', as she put it! I loved that it kept shif...

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Alex Sultan
04:48 Nov 08, 2021

Thank you for the feedback! I have a ton of stories planned for Middknight - I'm just waiting on the prompts. I'm really glad you liked the story and took the time to comment. This one will be my favourite on my profile for a long while. I do think the iron hooves part slipped past me. Good catch. As for the word 'damn', I'd say I disagree with your take, I do think it is necessary and called for with her character/situation, but to each their own. Thanks again for reading. I had so much fun writing Eleanor's character(A lot more than I th...

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Alright, to each his own. Sorry if I sounded aggressive. I just don't agree with swearing, and never do it myself. Can't wait for more stories! If you check out my stories, please tell me where you think that I could do better.

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Alex Sultan
15:41 Nov 08, 2021

All good. When I get the chance sometime this week, I'll check out a story of yours.

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Thank you. I would greatly appreciate that.

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Wow, I just realized that I previously read one of your stories, Azure Rainforest! That one was very interesting.

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Alex Sultan
21:33 Nov 16, 2021

Yes, thank you! Azure Rainforest has two of my favourite characters. I plan on writing another story for them. Maybe even for this week's prompts.

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