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Before Dawn
The fields and woods


Of course I went to him, kneeling before him, and he blessed me with his touch and his essence. He said that I could stay if I wished, but I said no, I would run with his fire, perhaps draw them away, but I also knew that he would want to do this alone. I understand that. He kissed me, then, and told me we would go together, even if he fell, we would go together into the shadow. And I took that knowledge, that comfort, with me as I vanished into the woods.

I knew the moment the battle began, between Sugaar and the cunt from the Carnival, the miserable piece of godspawn their leaders shat out. I knew, and I gnashed my teeth and howled and gnawed at my own legs at Sugaar's pain, but I wouldn't interfere. I understand the need to fight your own battles.

But if he had died, if he had died, you fucking rancid piece of spirit-scum, you would have found me in the shadows, all teeth and rage, oh yes you would

But he didn't die. He didn't win, but he didn't die, and I stayed away when they came to him again, because I knew that he wouldn't want me witnessing his humiliation. I lay and I moaned as the fuckers came to him, and then...

He isn't dead. I would know the very moment he died, because my heart would shatter. But he is...diminished. The feel of him in this world and the next has faded, his star has winked out, leaving nothing but the flickering candleglow that the rest of the meat-beings in this world give off. And I knew. Of course. Under other circumstances I'd admire the fucking sadism.

Your soul stays with you... until the end of things. And then you can come with me into the dark.

But now the end of things had come, and there is no dark to follow my master into...there is only a dimness, a flickering flame that could be snuffed out at any time. And I am still here.

I rage in the last hours of the night. Most of the beasts have already fled, but I find the stupid, the blind, the young and the old that were left behind. I paint the forest in blood as I howl, froth dripping from my jaws, the darkness shuddering around me. Perhaps I should weep, but instead there is fury, and there is blood, and there is the dark.

Dawn is streaking the sky when I come back to myself, my fur matted with blood, strings of meat tangling between my teeth. I should take man again, but for once I see little point. It would be going into that same, crippled, half-existence no matter what form I took, and that makes me gnash my teeth and wish for more small creatures to rend and tear.

But it's then that I think. Sugaar was forced from his bright star-body into this meat form, stripped and reduced and diminished. And I can't change that, no matter how hard I wish, no matter what sacrifice I made. But perhaps there's another sacrifice I can make. A choice. It would be just like sliding into the shadow, shedding this body as a snake sheds its skin...but this time the dark would take more, as it has always wanted. And I would let it.

I remember Aatxe, lying in the mud and his own filth, staring at me with stupid cow's eyes. I remember how I hated him.

Forgive me, old friend. I understand you better now. I think, raising my head to meet the dawn for the last time.

****

And so it is, several hours later, that a great black dog with a tangled, muddy coat found the boy who wept and raged against the earth. The boy, wracked with sobs, and with furrows down his cheeks. And the dog, wagging his tail with dumb, animal hope, pressed his nose against the boy's hand and began to lick the blood from his fingers.

[OPEN to IBLIS]

Tags:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next." Gilda Radner

Mayor's residence, after
Mid afternoon


The house is quiet now, thank god. The last several day have gone by almost in a blur with all the people coming to mayor, of all the things that needed to be attended to, arrangements to be made... and add a God of War showing up and bellowing about why no one invited him to the apocalypse, well, it's been no less than a zoo.

Of course, the quiet that has now settled over the house serves as a reminder that it is bereft of a very vital life that once raced down the halls, laughing and causing mischief. One that we laid to rest at dawn this morning in a far corner of the cemetery at the Abbey. One that, if it is to be believed; will be back with us in some form in nine months. After the small service this morning, Wanda came home to get some much needed rest while I went with Tony... Ares. He said he knew the perfect place for us to relocate to. I told him I did not wish to risk moving my pregnant wife to god knows where without some more information. So, he showed me. It made me dizzy, the way he managed to take us from one place to the next in a manner of moments, but then I was able to see...

I think Wanda and I will be very happy there; in that little house on the edge of dunes.

I let myself in, and find Wanda lying down. One hand is on her abdomen, and in the other is clutched a very well loved purple bunny. She looks very lost in thought. I cross the room and sit beside her on the bed. I can tell by her eyes she had ben crying, but my wife manages to give me a smile in spite of the sorrow.

"Can you hear her... them? Is it like before?" I ask as I lay my hand over hers.

Closed

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There but by the grace of God...

I hear the Rapture's coming;
They say He'll be here soon.
Right now there's demons crawling all around my room.
[x]

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
(Rev. 2:4-5)

Before dawn

The death of their child draws Management's attention, as I had hoped. For even in their ancient, strange heart they have room for affection, and for rage. In their fury they let their attention fall from the river, and I could see clearly my opponents. Mere humans, most of them!

I sent out what followers I have, in this place. Men, and beasts, and god-things; crawling and walking, they went out with my power in their mouths and hands, so that they breathed blood and flame. I intended them as distraction, mainly, to stop the goddess's work being done. If they were delayed long enough in their magics, the tear in the world would be too far gone to be mended. So the sky rained not just with Nanshe, but with fire and with plague, and I saw men strangle their neighbours on the banks of the Pontarlier. Gaueko came out to me, and I thanked him, and said I would take him with me when I fall for the very last time; but my immediate business could be done by me alone. He would be welcome to wait. I think a part of me is glad that though I may burn myself out of existence alone, he may follow me into the dark.

Meanwhile, Management came for me.

I knew that they would challenge me; but it seems my pride had not let me realise how very much of a challenge they are. We moved between worlds and times as we struggled, and there was a strange fierce pleasure in it, the difficulty of it. Have I ever been so pressed? Not since I wrestled with my brother and he flung me down. It took a century, our struggle, in the places between moments, and in the end I had them by the throat (figuratively, for they have never had throats) and could have cast them beyond this world for always...

And I saw Tezcatlipoca die. My Night Wind. Not dying as a god, but as a boy, as stupid simple Micah, falling crumpled to his knees, and although I know the end is coming for us all I still cried out, a high keening sound that broke the windows of the abbey one by one.

Management had me under them, then, their fist curled into the heart of me, the spark of creation in the palm of their not-hand, ready to be blinked out

My dear, he told you he would betray you, they said, all laughter...and I realised they had deceived me. It was a cheap ruse, a false vision. And so Tez has betrayed me again, though not by his action, no. It is my feelings for him that have betrayed me, and if I have ever been a fool in my thousand thousand years on this earth it is overshadowed by this moment.

"That seems to be stretching a technicality," I say coolly, and their laughter is broken glass and bells. I am thinking of how to free myself, for surely I can; I am al-Shairan, إبليس, Iblis, He who Brings Despair; I have thrown over civilisations. I was most Beloved, and now I am most Feared.

But I feel that the tide of the battle has turned, and the moment has been lost. There will not be another moment aligned like this for centuries, perhaps millennia, and all these weary years I have waited have been for nothing.

"Do it, then," I say, with the weight of my despair behind me. "You have won. Crush me and be done." Part of me is relieved, that I can be done, even if I have failed. For I have always known in my secret heart, have I not, that I would fail? That I am Despair, and I can have no success, not in the end.

Kill you? Blot you out? Our dear friend, whatever makes you think we are merciful?

It takes a long time, what they are doing, and it is very terrible. But I am used to pain, and if they want to torture me before they kill me, I can endure.

And then I realise what it is they have done to me. I feel nothing beyond the boundaries of my own flesh; I can hear nothing but with my ears, and my sight is clear and small. I feel the press of flesh around me like a prison.

We bless you, they say, still laughing, with long life, and a natural death.

I scream, then, until my throat is torn, and I have scratched my face open with my nails. But it is not a scream that breaks glass, and my skin does not heal when I will it. I am just this. Only this. Man.

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In a labyrinth of light...

I have not the gift of seeing what might be. And for that I am glad; for every seer I have ever known has always has a bit of a haunted look to their eyes, even that generally cheerful girl who Wanda found to help run the tea shoppe after she became mayor. Still, if one can see something coming then one can then prepare for it.

If I had known this storm was coming I would have been better prepared. As it was, this storm caught me and many others by surprise.  The sun was setting, and all was calm and then nothing was. The earth shook and the air screamed. Clouds darkened the sky and so did the rain and I would have sworn that the Wild Hunt was riding somewhere out there. It felt like the endless minutes before two armies come to blows.

Both Fiona and Adonis felt it too, though not nearly so strongly and I had to do some convincing to get  him to stay here at the house with us. I got up afterwards and worked a charm or three to protect us all. None would find their way to this house that did not have the proper counter charm. And I only made three of those. Three little rounds of wood with a complicated knot gently burned on one side. Three keys to my private little realm. Three keys to protect my heart. Briefly I wished that dared make one more. Or that it was not too late to venture out and find my little mage. I am sure that she is out there in the midst of this. And it would have pleased me greatly to able to offer her sanctuary here; even as I know that she would not be able to accept. Still, it would have comforted me to know that if she needed me, Silence could  have used that charm to come here.


We work with what we have, and there was not much time to act. So I did what I could and my heart is as safe as it will ever be. I will open the way back for us all when I think it likely to be safe.  Until then I shall keep us here in the space between the worlds. I can even use this as an opportunity to teach my god daughter how to do the same. She may need it someday.

[closed]

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Some say the world will end in fire

I took Mrs Betton to the Abbey first, of course. They will care for her, for the time that's left. She complained the whole way, as the young man I'd hired carried her. But she should not be here.

I started the fire in the basement. Destroy everything, he said. Make it into nothing. Fall down into nothing, the wheel turning down to the bottom: entropy. What will the phoenix world be like, rising from the ashes?

I am in the Middle Room. I can smell the smoke quite strongly now. I think of the books burning downstairs, and it hurts, a gentle necessary sort of pain. I think of what he said about Westin Sagert, who was a friend and perhaps might have been more: there were books he never saw, that he would have liked very much to see. That is part of the power of this, of course, I think: the destruction of possibilities, as well as what is.

The floors will collapse, I think. Not too soon, I hope. The skulls that have been silent are chattering on the shelves, jaws moving senselessly. Yes, I say to them, father and mother and grandfather and all of them all the way back. Yes, it is Time. Finally, Time.

There is smoke coming under the door. So I pour the lamp oil out in the center of the circle and light it from one of the tallow-fat candles, greasy and yellow. All in this together, a family affair. The flames lick up and the smoke too is greasy, foul-smelling. The floorboards are burning. Bone is charring. I feel my coat catch fire, a low smouldering. I can see them in the smoke, familiar shapes. Oh, I've missed you. The room is a thick haze. I'm burning inwards, and it's a relief, though it is starting to hurt. I won't care about pain.

I feel my skin crackling as it always does under my clothes, this dry dead skin that I was born with, mummified skin, dead thing's skin stretched thin over strange bones: the last of us, born beyond dead, and only my father and mother's death to give face and hands at least a semblance of life. When it is burned, it will look no different from any other man's who died of fire, and I smile.

Her arm is round my shoulders, in the smoke. It damps some of the flames. Don't be foolish, boy, the familiar querulous voice. I'd thought she'd gone too far, but she's here too, my Grandmama. I wonder if the little cat ghost is here somewhere too, twining round her ankles. She's steering me, and I'm in too much pain to know where. "The end, now," I say hoarsely, and she says, Silly boy. The others swirl round, making space in the smoke.

Go, I tell them, go, begone, go and turn the Wheel to the end, lend yourself to Him. They won't. Not our End says an ancient voice, far older than grandmama, and I'm stumbling through a door. How did I get here? Where am I? Is it just a door, or the final Door? Why are they rebelling? I should be on properly on fire by now, I should be dead, and all the weight of all the years leaning behind His Work. But there are more of them than me.

Not our Work, says another voice, more fiercely. My skin is crackling differently now, with heat. No, no, it's not meant to end like this. It's not. I'm sorry, I say voicelessly, I'm sorry. Am I wrong, or are they? I was so sure. I fumble my spectacles off, feel them crunch accidentally underfoot. I still can't see, though. I can't see anything. One way or another, this has to be the end.

Closed

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All Fall Down

I felt her die, the girl. Beginning.

The end of worlds. Part of me knows this. But there's always been another after, and this time there won't be. And I should be glad. But the part of me that's young and saw some of the world with the Carnival and had that day with Brant and loves - too many people - I don't know. But I am tired. So tired, since that day. And this was what Management brought me back for, and what I was meant for from the beginning.

All of the parts of me, thought - the old god, the man who was Tez, and the me that's Micah - know where I belong, though. He always said that I'd betray him. I always thought I'd have a plan. Instead there's just rain, and me wondering whether, if we'd had a child, if would have been that one that'd died to begin this.

I wonder what Management will do. I can feel them in the night, as I can feel the dead goddess in the rain. None of this is very well organised. I wonder where Genny is, and Valmont.

I could make the earth shake again under my feet as I go, if I wanted. I could be the spaces beneath the earth and between the stars. I'm not. I'm just getting wet. But I know where he is. I always know.
We knew it would come.

For four years, ever since the dream of the red city and the blue, we knew it would come. For three months, ever since the dream of Nanshe telling me what we must do.

And yet we always thought we would have more time before we had to be ready.

We very nearly were ready, that night that the earth shook.

I gathered up everything that I had been crafting and collecting, and went to find my family. I hugged Marie and Luc very tightly, and told them that I loved them. And then I told Valmont, and held him for as long as I could. We were both so full of fear and hope and love that we could barely find words, but we did not need to speak to know how the other was feeling. "I love you," I said once more, and kissed all of my family.

I dared not think of what might happen if I did not come back, what might happen if I failed. I could not think of that.

And then I ran.

Down to the river I speed, between the crashes of thunder and tremors of the earth. 'It is already raining,' I think, with a giddy, hysterical gasp of laughter. Do the Adversaries know that they have done some of the work for us? Do they care?

I know that I do not need to send word to Syl or Chester or any of the others who have been working on this great spell. Our magic has been twined so closely together over the last few months that I can sense them all, if I listen hard enough, and I know that they are all coming.

One by one we arrive at the banks of the river, just as we have planned to do for so many months. A little thrill still runs through me when I see everyone gathered. There are so many! So many who have come together for this cause, who never might have even spoken to each other were it not for their love of Excolo, and desire to keep it safe. Even if we are not all friends with each other - for Syl and I still are not, even though our respect for each other has grown as we worked together - we all love Excolo, and that is enough.

I have brought silver and mistletoe for protection - the same things that Chester taught me about in my very first lessons with him! I spread them in a wide circle around us to shield us from as much harm as possible while we work.

Our magic winds together, and we start to draw Nanshe's essence out of the earth, out of the water…

The instant that my magic touches the river, I can tell that there is something different. Not just Nanshe's essence that we have been concentrating in the water - there is something else. More divinity, more power. Something new and fresh, something that feels like spring and growth and fertility. I do not know its source, but I know at once that it is good. The new power flows into our spell, filling it with new life.

I am so deep into the spell that I do not even notice the thunder anymore. I see nothing but our threads of Power; I feel nothing except the growing magic and the rising tide of Nanshe's essence, each of us adding our own strand to the spell. Water and earth and fire and air and divinity, all coming together as one.

Air is mine - as we draw Nanshe's essence into the sky, I send out more and more threads of my own Power. We bind our Power together to make a bridge between the earth and the heavens, between the water and the sky.

The bridge is Nanshe, and the rain is Nanshe, and the earth is Nanshe. And now we are Nanshe too, as her divinity washes over us in the rain. I smile as the rain touches my skin, for now I know that we will succeed.

We have helped Nanshe give the gift that she wished to give to the people of Excolo: herself.

Est deus in nobis.

[Open to anyone working to stop the apocalypse]

Time, gentlemen.

In the darkest part of the night

Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
LUKE 17:33

I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
ISAIAH 1:11

The cry is silent, but if we had ears, oh, they would bleed from the sound she makes as she goes like a sacrificial lamb. But she is Abraham too, is she not? Wielding her own knife, the lamb-child of her father, haha. Our old friend uses it to break open the world, for a sacrifice is like a key in a lock; her blood makes the thirsty throat of the earth open, and tremble, and quake.

We were surprised - and we are so rarely surprised, it was quite delicious, a taste like piquant cheese and aged olives - when Nu found a way home for the lamb, bringing her back to the fold. We should expect no less from the father of our own precious darling.

And if the lamb is not dead, then the door she opened can be closed...

We gather ourselves, and go out into the night. There will be much played out in these hours that we would watch.

[Closed]

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Jan. 16th, 2014

"Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned
."

A heartbeat too late

The plate I was drying slips from my hands when I hear Rose in my head.

I'm sorry, Mama. I spin around, for it's so clear that she must be right there. "What are you sorry for bab---"

I double over, gasping, unable to draw air into my lungs. Rose? Rose! ROSE!!! ROSE!!!! My mind is screaming because I cannot form words. Her heartbeat is so fast it's near bursting then it's slowing and then--- OhgodpleasenoRosedontpleasepleasePLEASENONONONOROSEDONTGODONTLEAVEUSNONONONONO

"Wanda, what's---" Kent has run in, hearing the plates shatter, but the sky rumbles and the earth shakes and the lights go out all at once. I hear him say her name, then go running for her room.

"She's---- not-----there---" I try to wheeze out. She's not there, I know she's not. She's gone. Oh God, my baby, no, not her...

"Wanda---!" I hear his panicked voice from down the hall, and finally I can suck air into my lungs. "Rose!" I scream, unable to hear her. I can't hear her thoughts, I can't hear her heartbeat I can't I can't I can't---

Part of my mind registers that the world has gone quite insane as I run blindly into the night. It's raining, and I think hail is pelting me and scratching across my skin as I tear down Main, then Silk. I see lights flashing, and I think Kent is somewhere behind me, and I hear people screaming. I think I am one of them. I can't hear my daughter!

I don't know how I know where to go; I just do. She's knit into me so tightly, I can find her even if I can't hear her. I can't hear her! Just over the bridge---

It's gone. There's no way across the river, but just on the other side I can see the outline of the carnival when the lightning flashes, and just on the other side---

For a moment, I think it can't be her. That girl is too big, but I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is Rose. That pale, lovely, unmoving slip of a young woman is--- my Rose is---

My scream pierces the night. A long, keening wail that can be heard over everything else. Kent finally catches up, and when he see's what I do, he sinks to his knees, weeping. The earth shakes again, and this is what He always planned. This... our daughter's dea--- it was always planned. It is the beginning of the end, and he used His own---

I lean down and kiss my husband; fast and fierce. I murmur a 'I love you' against his ear... then I jump into the river and try to make my way to the other side. I will not be kept from my baby, my own heart I can't hear her!... even if it may very well be the last thing I do.

(Closed)

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We're coming through the rye

The time we have been waiting for. After sunset.

I put on a purple dress, to help me be brave. I grew out of my favourite one - I grow out of everything so fast - but Mama got me a new one. It's meant to be for going to parties, but I won't be going to any more of them. But I don't want to think about that right now. It makes my stomach hurt.

Mama made me go to bed not too long ago. She says that even though I'm a big girl now, I still need lots of sleep. I always argue with Mama about bed time, so I made sure to argue this time too, so she wouldn't think anything was strange. And I made my mind quieten down when I was lying in bed, so she'd think I was falling asleep. Mama's clever. But I know lots of tricks now. I can hide my thoughts, if I want. So I got up, and I got dressed, and I snuck out. Father told me I would know how to, when I needed to, and he was right.

So I go out of the house, and I go towards the tower. I have to walk through the field to get there, and the grass is so high. It looks creepy in the dark. But I know nothing will happen to me, because Father is watching. He wouldn't let anything happen, not before I do what he wants me to do. But I'm still scared, all the same.

[Open to Iblis]
[closed]

the morning after

[The morning after the dream of Nanshe]

Dear Ms. Thorn,

I apologize for the suddenness of this letter, and hope that you will understand that I would not write so abruptly if it were not a very urgent matter.

I need your help - or, rather, I know that we need to work together - on something vitally important. It is related to what we did together three years ago, at the water's edge. The need is even greater now than it is then.

Please meet me at your earliest convenience in the garden behind the Whitechapel on Silk Road. I will be there working.

Yours,

Hermia Stephanides


--
The letter was the fourth thing that I did after I awoke, with the taste of seafoam on my lips. The first was to curl myself close to Valmont, embracing him so tightly that he awoke too. I told him everything as I held him close, listening to the steady beat of his heart and feeling his warm presence next to me.

The second was to hug the children. (It is still a marvel, to think 'children' and not 'child.') For once, Luc stayed asleep - he murmured and squirmed in his dreams, his little mind working hard even in slumber, but he did not wake.

The third was to send a message to Chester, a tiny flare of magic sent into the ether. I know he will answer when he can, and I hope that it is soon, for I will need his help. I will need everyone's help.

The fourth was the letter, sent off with Adam as he finished the night's cleaning to head home. He was startled to see me awake, and even more so to see me sending a note to the Carnival, but he agreed to do what I asked.

And the fifth was to get to work.

I stay in the garden all morning, Marie sleeping beside me as the pale-purple stillness of dawn brightens into full day. Sorting herbs and sketching diagrams, plucking at the threads of Power to see what shapes I can weave them into, trying to find the sparks of divinity that Nanshe left behind.

Working and waiting.

[Open to Syl]

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An August Evening; The Tower

My daughter is ready; and so am I. Matters have come into alignment. There have been various points throughout the history of this little lump of rock when stars, skies, oceans, calendars, however one marks time, have read that this is a time of Ending, rather then Beginning. Many have tried to make use of those times to bring about the end of all things, because ever since Man was made, he has longed to kill himself and others. But despite all the rumours to the contrary, I have not put my shoulder to the wheel of Apocalypse before now. Things have been done in one of my many names, but I have not led those attempts. Now is the time for finishing, and I will begin it. With blood, of course. It is always blood. It will be when the moon is darkest. That time comes soon.

For now, I see one of my acolytes cross the field to speak with me. This man thinks he wants an end to all things, but he barely understands what it is he serves. Poor fool. I am not much given to looking human, at present, but I put on something that will serve. A man's body, aristocratic in bearing. Flame lies just beneath the surface of its glassy skin. I will not be contained for long.

[open to Foxton]
CLOSED

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The long late days of summer, creeping toward the fall

COME, REAP, we said, three years ago now. (Our darling smiles with many sets of teeth, and we hold itherhim squirming - against our breasts, if we had them, we would.) There was a great cry in Egypt, and cried, ἐγώ εἰμι and so It is.

It was why we left Excolo, was It not? Because our old friend would not like our darling, and so we hid It from him. But we could feel the winds of change, and so let the road bring us back here: where all roads are intended to end.

Now it has come to that, we find we are not ready for the End. There are so many things we have yet to do. Motherhood has made us soft, haha, like butter, and we would like our precious to live longer, to taste dust in Its mouth of a world fallen silent, silent, silent through time, a tomb of stone and cobwebs. Not in fire and blood.

All the pieces are on the board, but our friend has not explained the rules of the game. Not very sporting, we think. But we plan to play our own game, and serve our own needs. Soon.

Happy birthday, darling.

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A few weeks ago…

Ain't got no idea what he meant.

He didn't hardly say nothin' in the note 'cept he couldn't come back on 'count of havin' problems with Management. What's that mean? If Management wants to make problems with you, they could make all kindsa problems.

So I gotta go to him.

Leastways he said where he was gonna be.

Leastways he sent a note, 'stead of just goin' away.

Don't know whether to be surprised that he sent a note or not. Don't know what's like him or not like him, not even after all this time. He's still Tez, but he still ain't.

It don't feel like it used to when I'm near him. It don't pound in me, and it don't feel like I'm growin' bigger. I can't see the stars or pyramids or nothin', not 'less I try, and I don't think I should try. But there's still somethin' like before.

And it's still Tez. Sorta.

So I gotta go see him.

[Open to Tez]

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Something old, something new

Early July

It's such a bright warm day. I swing myself on the swing in the park. I'm big enough to do that now, I don't need Mama or Kent to push. And sometimes I like to be by myself these days. I've got a lot of things to think about. Sometimes I feel so sad and scared, but I push it down so Mama can't tell. I'm good at hiding things. Father showed me how.

I climb off the swing and dust down my dress. I should get home. Mama will be home from work soon.

[Open to Wanda]

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One week later

Our life has become a happy haze of the sort that I had nearly forgotten.

Sleep comes in small snatches between times when Marie needs to eat - and sometimes even smaller, if Luc has a nightmare or simply decides that he does not wish to sleep when it is bedtime. And during the day, all is exhausting joy, with Luc chattering away and asking if Marie can come play now,

Valmont does what he can, and so does Alice, and Nu and Kate and others come to help as well, and yes, it is easier to handle the second time around! But still, there are moments of deep exhaustion for all of us.

Sometimes I cannot sleep at all, though, not even then, for sometimes I feel that I must look at Marie while she sleeps. I must watch every twitch of her tiny perfect fingers and every scrunch of her little mouth, and embed them all in my mind so that I might always remember them.

But other nights, I fall instantly to sleep. Like now.

[Open to Nanshe]

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Everyone says that it is easier the second time around. And it is, I suppose, for I already know what to expect. And it was briefer, for which I am grateful to all the gods!

And safe and healthy, for Nu was watching over me. Her calm voice, her soothing ripple of words, her kind hands - and, of course, the magical aid that she gave. I knew more certainly than I ever did with Luc, that I would be safe and so would the baby.

But there is no amount of preparation that can make it easier when you are handed a tiny human being, and told that you are responsible for everything. Feeding, cleaning, teaching. Turning them into a good person - that is your job. Making thousands upon thousands of choices that will shape them, choices that will cause joy or grief or fear or reassurance to a person who depends upon you utterly.

That is never easy. But oh, it is sweet.

As Nu steps out, I lie back against the pillows, my arms wrapped around the little bundle of blankets and warmth, and feel the joy seep through me as I hold my daughter.

Our daughter.

[Open to Valmont]

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Evening; late. June 30th
The Mayor's front porch

Can't sleep. Wish I could. I'm tired. Not just 'it's been a long day' tired... no. It's a "my mind won't freakin' shut down" sort of tired. Thought sitting out here in the fresh air would help, but it's not.

Went over to the Carnival to talk to their management. At least, I think I did. I know I went over, I know I was admitted to a very normal looking wagon... and I remember walking away from it. As for the meeting? Fucked if I can recall a single damn thing we talked about. Only that some of the people working here looked... relieved when I came out.

So. I guess that went as well as I could hope?

Rose has been disappearing more and more. I wish I could chalk it up to wanting to be independent and out on her own to explore... but firstly she's three. Most other children her age would be learning to speak in broken sentences, put on their own clothes. My daughter was reading The Canterbury Tales... in middle English. Secondly---

her sire has been like a howl in my head. I have the sinking feeling she has been going to find him. Which is more worrisome than... well, everything.

Tired and worried enough that I can't shut out the music anymore tonight. Song after song filters through, but not enough to cover the howl of the desert from the North of town. With a sigh, I close my eyes and lean my head against the railing.

(Open to Rose, Kent, or anyone familiar enough with the family to drop in late)

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Going on midnight
Outside of town


It was a big sign, bigger than I realized for all the times I must have passed it.

Welcome to Excolo
Population: 4500


est deus in nobis

The town had it re-done in the last two years, new wood and a in-lay of a sun rising over green fields.

Very cheery.
Very welcoming.

What a lie.

Training with a sword helped, but it almost took everything I had to chop it down. By the time I have it reduced to a pile of timbers, the axe nearly slips from my hand, my arms shaking and trembling like jelly. I toss it to the side and perch myself on top of the wreck. I brought a bottle of The Tavern's best fire whiskey with me, and I take a deep pull from it as I sit.

Est deus in nobis.

"God dwells within us." I murmur to no one, finding I am having a very odd craving for a cigarette. I wonder how many gods actually dwelled here, or still do. I wonder who might be gods in hiding, or who has it within them to aspire to godhood.

I wonder what Rose's father plans, and so much more importantly; I wonder if Rose has any idea of father wants her for, if she knows? Oh, my Rose.

I shake my head, and leap off the pile of wood. Something in me died today, or awakened. Not sure which. But once I realized I could not leave, and may never leave...

The whiskey is poured over the sign. What is left of it. I pull out a box of matches from my pocket, and light one. It's bright and vital in the dark, and it makes a lovely picture as it arcs across the sky---

The pyre is bright, it is swift, and it is right. The ground is wet enough, and it burns quick enough that the flames will not spread. Nod my head, as if this could bring some sort of satisfaction. I am ready for whatever comes, even if it is the end. I just want it over with.

I turn to leave when I hear a gasp and a shuffle of feet behind me. I turn back to see a wandering vagabond, looking from me to the sign. "Excolo's closed." I say simply, and smile as I swing the axe over my shoulder. "Try Dry run, it's about 40 miles that way." I offer as I turn and head back to town. My town.

The only town.

Abandon all hope...

Closed

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Saturday the 23rd of June
Afternoon, on the road


Don't care if it's a little too warm for my tastes. Don't care that it's raining on and off and I'll get wet. I have to know.

Tommi let me borrow one of her horses. Now that her grandson has been born and thrived, she rides back and forth to Oakridge more often. The ride is a straightforward one, and I should get there at an easy pace within two hours, maybe three. It's a whole day wasted to just ride out and back...

but it's the riding out that's so damn important.

Rose, Kent and I spent our Saturday morning at the market like we always do, then I changed into jeans and a t-shirt, strapped on my sword, kissed them both and headed over Tommi's with a promise to be careful. Tommi was waiting with Spirit saddled and a hundred questions in her eyes. Thankfully, she did not ask any of them.

I head out, and although I can ride, and I have... it has been quite some time since I have ridden more than the town limits. Once we cross the bride and pass the carnival, I nudge Spirit and we take off into a gallop. It feels wonderful, this freedom as the farms drift by. We're getting towards the edge of town limits and the rain starts coming down softly, but it's fine. Spirit moves easily and even though we've slowed we're still moving at a good clip. Smile and tilt my face up to the sky, letting it get wet even as the sun tries to peak though. The road rolls on and I feel something close to exhilaration, for we must have passed town limits. It's been over a hour now, we must have left Excolo. I've left Excolo...

I make a noise something close to what could only be called a 'whoop' and urge Spirit to a run. I'm out, I'm Out, I'M OUT! Think I may be laughing and crying at the same time as I crouch low over Spirit's back and we race up a rise and crest the hill---

Spirit skitters to a stop and rears up on her hind legs, whinnying sharply. I manage to stay saddled and it takes a moment to figure out what spooked her so.

There, up the road... The Kincaid farm. And past that, on the horizon... the water tower. I am back in Excolo, beyond all rational explanation as to how.

"God damn you." I whisper under my breath as I stare at the rise of white in the distance.

Closed

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