Monday, September 30, 2013
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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Saturday, January 12, 2013
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Monday, December 31, 2012
Everyone was asleep except Gwydd and her tribe. As the month passed, they had kept to the Greenhouse, working and patrolling. But Gwydd wasn't up keeping watch. She paced. And paced, twisting her dreads in her fingers much like Ion did when the little girl was speaking. Her pulse stampeded through her veins, driven by a pounding heart.
She couldn't go through with it, Lady Joan of Wad, she just couldn't. Her palm connected to her face in a gesture of hopelessness. Tomorrow was the New Moon, and they would leave for the Citadel, bringing Hadron with them. As a human, his lifespan was already so short – she didn’t want to be responsible for making it shorter.
Gywdd scuffed at the concrete floor, wondering if she should say anything to him. Making up her mind suddenly, she turned toward his bunker on tip-toe. Gathering calmness about her so that her words didn’t rush together again, she closed her eye and took a deep breath then rapped.
“Ow! What the—?” Hadron stood in the doorway looking down at her tiny fist beating on his chest.
Gwydd leapt backward like a cat startled, a tiny exclamation muffled behind the hands that flew to her mouth. “Ohmygosh!” She darted forward again brushing at Hadron’s shirt, a rush of words hushing in still air. “Sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“Gwydd,” he rubbed at one sleepy eye with a knuckle as she was now trying to straighten his rumpled tee-shirt. “Gwydd!” Hadron grabbed her hands, forcing her to pause. “What are you doing here at this hour?? We have to leave in the morning.”
“Me? What are you doing answering the door at this time of night?” Had he been expecting someone?
Hadron chuckled lowly so as not to wake Ion. “Ah…the biffy.”
“Oh.” she blushed then, feeling quite sheepish.
“That explains me,” he slowly lowered her hands, then scrubbed his fingers through the hedgehog perched on his scalp, yawning. “So what about you? Do pixies commonly go around beating on men’s chests in the middle of the night?”
“Yeah,” she retorted. “Right before we drag them back to our caves.”
Hadron paused, fingers stuck in his brown hair. “Really?”
“What? No!” Gwydd blushed. “Don’tberidiculous.”
“I just – it’s the snowdust. IknowIaskedyouto,” the words rushed over themselves, despite her best efforts. The human tongue just wasn’t meant for pixie-speak. “It was only because I trusted you. We can find someone else, someone that I don’t – I just can’t put you through it.”
Hadron marveled at how the dread pixie could go from ass-kicking to fretting in a matter of seconds. “Hey.”
She looked at his hands on her shoulders. “Yeah?”
“It will be alright.” the warmth of his touch spread to his smile. “For fae? Probably not so great, but remember, that stuff was made for us humans to keep on doing it. If anything, it is made to be slow death, over a long time.”
There was a traffic jam of words in Gwydd’s mouth, so instead, she threw her arms around his neck. The gardener caught her hug, the resonance of easy laughter in his chest calming her. “Besides,” he smiled. “I’ve got you to protect me.”
Aye, she thought to herself. That you do.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
In his mind’s eye, Vørst imagined his giant, ice-cold hand seizing that black canary at the throat and choking her voice down to a mere croak. The thought alone allowed him to maintain his stoic expression.
He waited, silent.
On the dream-screen at the foot of his bed, the visionary images distorted into a whorl of rings from which the face of the Bleak Queen emerged like a drop of black rain into an oil slick.
“Your majesty.” He reclined against the cool bed board, one bulky arm tucked behind his shoulder as a headrest. “To what do I owe this pleasure.” It was no more a question than it was a pleasure – and he was pretty sure he knew why she was scrying him.
“Montague…” her black lips curled. “I do hope that you’ve been well – it has caused us some worry, this late delivery of Drought.”
He almost let a smirk show itself at that. The Bleak Queen hated his stone-cold demeanor; it robbed her of insight into his thinking, set her off-guard. The fact was that he hadn’t shipped the Drought at all. It didn’t take her long to come inquiring, he noted with satisfaction.
“It is difficult to find good help these days.” He intoned, ice-blue eyes spiking a glance over at the veiled cage. The silver chain tinkled, as if sensing the discussion.
Hunllef did not rise to his bait this time, her soulless gaze frozen upon his form. “Is there a problem?”
“That’s up to your pet to tell me, now then, isn’t it.” His head rolled back toward the swirling screen.
“Her farsight is second to none.”
Now he sat up, his broad chest dominating the full center of the headboard. “She seems to have missed a robbery.”
“What robbery?” the Bleak Queen narrowed a scrupulous gaze at him.
Vørst shrugged, “Presumably the one in which your Drought disappeared.”
“Are you saying your messengers were beset upon by thieves??”
“No!” He roared flinging the snowy furs from his bed in a blast as he shot up to his full height. “I’m saying YOUR seer has failed to detect this band of rogue thieves who are targeting my demense!” The giant jammed an accusatory finger at the screen, storming up to it.
Although she did not recoil, he could see that he’d startled her. “What do you want?”
“I want them found and brought to me.”
“Send the Drought, and I will find them.”
Vørst’s face filled the Bleak Queen’s field of vision. “Don’t keep me waiting.”
Without another word, her image snapped out of his sight, replaced again with the nightmarish images that were being siphoned out of the heads of visionaries. On one side of the scry, the ice giant couldn’t have been more pleased with his own performance; on the other, an enraged sweep sent an armful of delicate glass bottles and trinkets crashing to the floor.
There was a jingle as the fae on the chain jumped. Maeve was bold where others whimpered in his presence. Whether it was because she hated him or he was growing on her was not known to him, but he found it refreshing and irritating at the same time.
Her words found his ears in her haunted voice, hoarse from years of abuse. "Angered with me or not, Montague, you should have killed her when you had the chance. I am not so great a prize to put up with that Hag for this long."
Montague looked at her and his face changed. He pulled at her chain and brought her up onto the bed, reaching out to touch her face, uncaring of how she cringed from it. "Your words are treasonous, Maeve."
She tried to pull away but the chain was held tight in his other hand. "If so, may my death be swift." His hand pulled her back and she expected a hit. Instead, the warmth of the furred blanket that he kept on his bed wrapped around her as the space between them closed.
"Your sight is precious enough to me that I would willingly deal with a dozen of that insane woman. Tonight, you will sleep in my bed. You will dream, and you will tell me where your kin is.” In contrast to the chilled room, his whispering words felt warm against her ear. “Show your loyalty to me and I will remove this chain, I will treat you so much better than before. Find these wayward fae."
Maeve's fingers reached to touch his face, then up, to the glamour-hidden horns on his head. "If I help you, Montague, I only ask one thing in return.”
He cocked his head, waiting.
“That you give me death, and keep it pure. I would like to die honestly than to be forced upon a hundred humans as a drug.”
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
|Willow helped Ion prune the greenery until it flourished.|
“Help them grow,” Ry’llia advised. “Where their gardens are struggling, make them hale; bring as much abundance as you can.”
Willow helped Ion prune just the right leaves from the greenery. The young girl was eager to follow in the footsteps of her admired older brother. She absorbed everything Willow had to show her. Before long, the Greenhouse was absolutely packed with ropes of vine, bushes of herb and fat roots to be dug up from the dirt.
As the days had passed with the moon waning slowly in the sky, they had set to their assigned task. Though the humans had proven industrious on their own, the Fae still knew a thing or two about growing. When evenings fell, and dinner was complete, Willow would teach whoever wanted to learn how to use their pulp, petals and spare crumbs of leaves to make poultices and tinctures.
For her part, Gwydd discovered how it was that these outliers had managed to sustain themselves and rebuild out here on their own. Nickel wasn’t just handy in a scrape, the pixie discovered. The human girl also organized and managed small groups they called ‘rail-runners’. These teams excavated the darker reaches of old subway and bus tunnels, in order to both map their areas as well as forage for supplies.
|Rail-runners excavated old books and supplies.|
Book and manuals were especially prized, since they provided the humans with enough knowledge to rebuild some basic commodities. Xan, to their surprise, spoke a number of languages. The young blonde hadn’t seemed particularly impressive at first but over time, Willow and Gwydd began to realize that he wasn’t so much aloof as much as simply had developed a habit of keeping his own council. He also wasn’t quite as young as he looked; a lifetime of not ingesting chemicals had kept him well – all of them, compared to the City.
As their ostensible leader, skill in multi-linguistics helped bridge cultural gaps and settle disputes among pocket groups within the underground haven. Xan held regular study sessions to teach others, as well as to read stories brought back by the rail-runners, which Willow made a point of listening in on.
On this particular night, she stayed late as the other humans drifted back to their platforms, heavy-lidded and yawning.
“Xan?” her chin rested on her drawn knees, watching him re-shelve the books. “Why aren’t there any animals down here? I haven’t seen so much as a fly since we arrived.”
Sliding the last book in the pile back into place, he sat on the edge of an adjacent chair, leaning elbows on knees. “We presume it is because they cannot make it across the deadzone.”
“It’s only a couple miles.” Willow uncurled her legs, stretching them out and wiggling her toes causing Xan to smirk, which was about the most variation they ever saw in his serious expression. “If humans can make it, surely animals could.”
“It seems likely that they could traverse the distance, but with no food or water in-between, what would they find once out here that isn’t grown by us?”
Willow twined a long strand around her finger, in casual thought. “Did you ever think that perhaps with your skill at languages, you might learn how to talk to them – the animals, I mean?”
If his face had been a foam toy, it would have been more wrinkly than a grumpy old man. “What??” perplexity was the name of his expression but he didn’t shut the idea down.
“Sure,” Willow’s mind was clearly running with the ball. “How do you think Hadron and Ion are so good with the plants? Everything has a language, Xan.”
It wasn’t something he’d really considered before - the language of animals - but it made sense. He didn’t have much experience with living creatures, none of the Outliers did. What few animals still inhabited the world were either breed to be harvested and slaughtered, or scavengers of the cities.
Entertaining the idea, he queried further. “To what ends would we get them, surely we’d have to care for and feed them?”
|"Did you ever think with your skill in languages you could talk to animals?"|
The gentle Weaver nodded. “Did you know that you can teach rats to follow a trail, or navigate a maze to get to its food and water? They are actually rather smart. What if you used them to deliver messages between yourselves and the other shelters of Outliers? Then you wouldn’t have to risk the city every time you wanted to communicate.”
Xan stared at her with penetrating eyes, the implications of what she was saying sinking slowing in. He hadn’t known you could teach animals anything, not in real life anyway.
“You know,” she continued, oblivious to his gaze. “like carrier pigeons, except underground.”
No, he didn’t know exactly, but he could grasp the concept and his mind was spinning with possibilities, if what she was saying were true. When he realized his mouth had been agape, he shut it promptly.
“Or…even a simple earthworm in your gardens would bring them vast amounts of nutrients compared to what they get now.” Willow’s lavender eyes settled on him and she smiled softly, as if it were the most natural idea in the world.
“And you could teach me this language?” Xan leaned closer, drawn in by possibility. “How would we get them?”
Tossing the strand back over her shoulder with a flick, she nodded, “Oh sure, of course.” Her chin tilted with a natural grace, “I would imagine that you can get some rats out here if you lured them with food, across the deadzone. Earthworms are easy…they are all over the forest floor.”
Slowly, like sunrays breaking through the cover of brooding clouds, a smile spread across Xan’s face. “Now that, Willow, is a purely genius idea.”
Willow couldn’t recall ever witnessing him genuinely smile. Charming!
Monday, November 5, 2012
|Gwydd helped Hadron do the dishes, |
drying as he handed them over to her.
Gwydd helped Hadron do the dishes, drying as he handed them over to her. She stood with her backside against the counter, wiping off the plates. In part she wanted to keep him distracted from watching as Willow spoke with Ry’llia but she also wanted the chance to speak with him in private.
A full belly did wonders for demeanor, but the gravity of what played on her mind weighed down her mood. At first, she hadn’t felt terribly bad about what she wanted to ask, but the more Hadron carried on in his relaxed way, genuine to the core, the guiltier Gwydd felt.
“Hey…hellooo…earth to Gwydd…” He poked her shoulder with a sturdy index finger bringing her around. “You were a million miles away – what’s up?”
The muscle in her rounded jaw-line tensed, belying that something was playing on her mind. Gwydd turned and draped the towel over the edge of the sink and glanced at up at him sidelong – or at least what she could see though his neatly disheveled hair.
“I need to ask you to do something.”
He lifted his brow, “Okaaaay….”
“I don’t want to hurt you...” For all her battle composure, she was still a pixie, and the thoughts zipped out of her like the nervous buzz of wings. “I’m notreallysure whoelse to ask, and we can definitelygotolengths to purifyyouafterward, but it mightbedangerous, I promiseI’dprotectyou.”
Hadron looked down where the slender pixie squeezed his arm intently, with more strength than a creature her size ought to have, he thought. “Gwydd.” He steadied his blue eyes on hers. “What *is* it?”
“Snowdust.” There it was, all wrapped up in the avalanche of that one word.
“The pharmaceutical?” The young gardener cocked his head. “You want me to take Snowdust?”
|"...if we don't find the cause, we are all doomed to a|
slow, withering death."
Gywdd only nodded, she was pretty sure if she opened her mouth words would spill out in a rush again.
“Hm.” he turned and rested against the edge of the counter, looking across at Willow who seemed to be whispering into her bowl. “Why?”
Suddenly Gwydd was unsure how much of fae politics she was supposed to share. There had been times that humans had sought to take the fae, kill the fae, enslave the fae. To be fair, this time they were helping. She decided to trust him with at least a little.
“We need to understand what is causing the Withering.”
He turned his attention at her again. “What’s that?”
“It’s what we call the…drying up of…well, magic I guess. First it happened to the land, sapping the life out of everything – and then it began with the people. Both yours and ours. If the Lockdown had never come, we would surely have been extinct but when the cities began to recede we were able to help the forests grow again, outside the walls.”
“And you think that Snowdust has something to do with this…Withering.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. What I do know, is that the shards of the world spirit that are within every living thing, began to shrivel and die when the megatropolises began to rise. And that seems to coincide with certain things – like pharmaceuticals – becoming prevalent in your world.” Gwydd looked up at him with an intensity no mere girl could have mustered. “All I know is that if we don’t find the cause – we are all doomed to a slow, stagnating death.”
Even amidst the gravity of her explanation, Hadron was able to smile reassuringly. “Listen, we’ve all made an alliance here. If you need something, I will do my best to help you and I’ll have to trust that you are going to do the same for us.” He took her hand from his arm, giving it a quick squeeze. “I’ll do it. You make your arrangements.”
Gwydd mirrored his smile, if conservatively. She was relieved that her hunch to trust him had proven right.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
The ùruisg quietly gathered walnuts in his bag. His job, Underwood had taught them, was to plant the seeds, still wrapped in green husks, throughout the forest so they could grow into more walnut trees.
They were taught the ways of gathering what nature had to offer and use that to create more nature. And now, Illaric was doing just that; this was his first season and he was one of the most industrious young ùruisg among them.
A simple job, but one near to his heart. Like most of them, he preferred going his job alone. He tended to get very cranky with too much chatter about him. After the harvest, he was much more amiable, but now, he was a quiet creature.
Illaric took his full bag and went deeper into the forest. It was dark here, the canopy thick, but that didn't mean that what he planted would not grow. Oh no, he pushed that green walnut into the ground and as his hand touched the earth, there was a pulse of that organic magick that helped the process along. He smiled and nodded as he rose and moved toward the next spot.
He stopped and looked at the crow that landed not far from him. There was a pause for a moment as he pondered the bird, but thought nothing of it and moved on. It seemed to follow him. He was okay with it. He would bury the walnuts deep enough that the bird couldn't scavenge them.
Two more crows landed in front of him, the third moving in from behind. Illaric stopped and suddenly got nervous. One of the crows lowered itself to the ground and stared at him while it screamed. And that scream brought a terror that the ùruisg could not explain. Nor did he care to, he simply ran as the howls of the hounds sounded out through the shrouded forest behind him.
Thunderous hooves pounded the ground as it chased the fae down. He ran, as hard as he could, but he could not outrun a nightmare driven by the insanity of the rider. The hounds nipped at his back and his shoulders.
The Bleak Queen gripped the reins and swung to the side, scooping up the ùruisg. The sound of the hooves thundered off, leaving only a spilled bag of green walnuts in place of the fae...
Friday, November 2, 2012
The small band of Outliers and their Fae companions wasted no time navigating an entirely different path back to the Greenhouse. They traveled with a steady, cruising pace, at first following the pipeworks, and then the biohazard and toxin warnings. Some miles later they approached the underground encampment from a disused platform and followed it up the way toward the front car.
Though Gwydd was stalwart at Willow’s side, the sheer pollution of the city was sickening even to her, and she too felt more queasy and tender than normal. Willow’s skin looked strangely dry.
“Let’s find you a mirrorpool of some sort so that you can contact Ry’llia.” She rubbed Willow’s arm in a side-embrace and slid open the train-car door.
The front car was effectively the community kitchen. Food was cleaned here, bunches of herbs were hung to dry and water filtered through a simple filtration system that was impressive in its simplicity. The humans had certainly done well foraging for themselves.
“Hey ladies! Welcome back.” Hadron’s smile faded quickly when he actually saw them and he moved to help Willow to a high cutting-block table central to the kitchen. “What happened up there?”
The warrior-pixie tensed her jaw as she spoke, “Willow’s type are highly empathic. They feel the course of energy, the land, people – it is just dark up there, poison. Do you have any water?”
“What? Oh, yeah, yes – jeez, where are my manners.” Hadron wiped his hands on a cotton rag and drew some clear liquid from the sink into two wooden tumblers. “Sorry. You both look like you could use some food.”
Gwydd accepted the water from him gratefully, their fingers overlapping around the girth of the cup. “I…thanks.” She wanted to take the cup but her hand lingered with a mind of its own.
“I need a bowl.” Willow’s soft voice broke the entrancement and Hadron turned toward a huge kettle suspended over a fireplace that had been built from a co-opted dishwasher.
He reached for a deep-bored pottery bowl, and lifted the lid off the simmering stew. Delicious wafts of carrots, celery, potatoes and basil steamed up, filling the railway car. Both Gywdd and Willow looked at each other, through the sound of grumbling tummies, exchanging a glance of pleasant surprise.
“What’s on the menu, then?” taking one strand of beaded hair, Gwydd tied back the rest of them.
Hadron winked at her over his shoulder. “Stone Soup.” He started ladling in soup from the wrought-iron kettle.
“Seriously?” the lady-soldier copped a dubious brow.
“Actually, yeah.” Reaching for a pot-holder, he brought the soup over to Willow and set her with a salvaged spoon. He caught the hint of question in Gwydd’s eyes and smiled good-naturedly. “We rotate who gets to add the stone, but it reminds us all that everything we do here is a community effort and that each part plays an important role in the whole.”
The petite girl huffed in a half-smile; fairytales – the folklore of her kin - were still subtly helping to keep these humans alive. Still serving a purpose, she was relieved and invigorated somehow by knowing that everything the fae were to this world hadn’t been utterly lost in obscurity.
Hadron gave Willow a big-brotherly up-nod. “I figure if you eat your soup, you’ll have your bowl.”
“So it’s to be held for ransom?” She pulled her white-blonde tresses off to the side, taking up her silver spoon.
He raised his shoulders in a shrug, holding up innocent hands. “What can you do?”Both the girls laughed and answered: “Eat.”
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
|Even spectres dared not trespass the moats|
of Castle Aisling.
Razor-sharp fingertips clicked ominously on the dusty table. Upon the elongated surface, ash veins streaked through cold, pale marble. Metal finger-points drummed again, this time louder, sending dust-moths fluttering up into the stolid air.
Queen Hunllef’s voice resounded through the banquet hall with such an authority as to set the crows nested in the disused chimney to rustle their ebon wings. Beyond the wooden doors with their peeling frames, quickly shuffling movements could be discerned.
The tall entrance creaked open to allow a dilapidated waif of a creature to enter. Tattered robes hung like loose skin over its skeletal frame and though it walked, it never seemed to take and actual footstep so much as float over the ragged carpet.
“DRINK!” The cry of the Bleak Queen caused the waif to recoil in pain, now that it was standing just at the corner of the table. “You spineless imbecile, can’t you see my guests thirst??”
In fact, the hollow-backed servant could not see her Majesty’s imaginary guests. This feasting hall was nothing but cobwebs and ashes. Stale chunks of bread were strangely stacked upon tarnished silver serving caddies as if they were fresh as baked scones. Fruit cups held corpses of shriveled grapes and bowls of cream had moldered over until only a carpet of spores lined their inner curve.
Deathsight was a natural to the Sluagh, but even the specters of those passed on dared not trespass the moats of Castle Aisling. On this evening of Samhain, it would have even been likely that some attended her meal, but there were none. It was echoed through the low-creeping fogs of their burial mounds and yards that to breach her domain was to risk final consumption.
|The feasting hall was nothing but cobwebs and ashes; stale bread was|
strangely stacked on tarnished caddies as if they were fresh scones.
One iron fingertip scraped discordantly along a porcelain plate, chipped around the edges. The Bleak Queen turned her quarry in her finger tips, as if speaking to it through her black gaze. Her bladed wings scissored together, in a self-sharpening flap, shearing the upholstery of the high-backed chair further. Hunllef didn’t notice.
The waif glided silently by her toward the far end of the banquet table. With a vicious sneer, Hunllef hurled the dried carcass at the exposed spine of the Sluagh. From the front it had a ghostly beauty, but from behind it’s back was skinless and the Bleak Queen wanted to see if the fowl-bones would fall through its preternaturally limber frame and hit the floor.
Shaking with the physical pain of both her Majesty’s voice as well as her physical assault, the Sluagh grimaced and clenched its teeth through translucent lips. Urn clattered against goblet as the waif tried to feign pouring steadily into the dry glasses.
As it drew nearer to the head of the table, where the Bleak Queen herself was seated, the fear gnawing at the place where a stomach should be was churning and devouring itself in an endless cycle of tightening pain.
Tipping the funeral-carafe all the way this time, one drop, then two…three. Three drops of dark glamour curdled forward into her vessel, swirling like a rainbow in grey-scale.
|"Then. We. Shall. Find some." Her abyssal gaze turned upon the Sluagh|
and it felt engulfed in darkness as she spoke. "Ready the bey-hounds."
Hardly had the pouring commence when the Bleak Queen screeched and flew up from her seat. Hunllef’s hands pounded down on the table once as she leaned in close to the waif’s pallid face and hissed venomously.
“What is this bile!?” Mere drops!” Reseating herself, she focused again on her spectral banquet and waved a hand regally. “More wine! How can we feast on this night of the thin veil without libation?!”
For a moment she seemed to have forgotten the Sluagh was still standing by the arm of her tattered, claw-foot chair. The Bleak Queen turned a dark eye upon the waif, who finally managed to speak.
“The cask…” it made a dusty, choking sound that seemed to clear its throat, and then whispered simply. “The casket is empty, Your Majesty.”
The Bleak Queen flung her arm in a rage, back-handing her onyx goblet across the room. It shattered against the hearth with a crash, causing the Sluagh waver with pain. The waif’s sunken face seemed to recede even further under protruding cheekbones at the admonition.
“Donors are scarce, Madame.”
“Then. We. Shall. Find some.” That abyssal gaze turned now at the Sluagh, who was no stranger to the otherworld, and seemingly engulfed it in darkness as she spoke. “Ready the bey-hounds and saddle my nightmare.”