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Several years later
Somewhere in the continent that was North America



And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.



In the thin light before dawn I stand on the open road, looking down it, the endless length of asphalt pitted and cracked. I stand still long enough that there is a whine from my right hand side.

"Shh, Gaueko," I say absently, dropping my hand onto his head. I think that this is the right road. Once I would have known; but it is harder to remember, now, than it once was.

Sometimes now I think that human stupidity is a survival mechanism; that if humans remembered enough, felt more, they could not live. In the first months after I fell again, I was nothing but a screaming void. There are scars on this body - my body - from that time. Some I gave myself; some were given to me. I tried, many times that first year, to die. But always, always, I would find myself blessed with rescue. You're lucky, boy, said the man whose cart came between me and the horse whose hooves I had tried to fall under. I laughed for a long time; they said I was in shock, and gave me brandy.

Luck.

After that I went from place to place in search of magic. Not to turn me back; I knew that I was bound in this body. Not just because of Management's magic, but because the universe, I have learned, is an appreciator of irony, and that al-Shairan should be a man is too great a joke. No, I went in search of death, and found none. Not for me, at least. I have blood on my hands from that time, when my despair turned to fury. I think about those deaths more than I have thought about the ones that came before, though they were so many. Perhaps it is because I know more of pain, now, than I did. I thought I knew it all; but I have found that it is much harder to bear in a body. I was a star, once; a falcon, a desert wind, a great cry. And now I am this.

I have not lost all that I am. I am weak, but I am still brilliant. I know enough that I could make myself a king, in time. There is no need for me to live as a vagrant. I could manipulate and kill and cheat and steal, and I could make men love me. I could. But I think I would not enjoy it, or not for very long, and I...

Since I have been a man, I have been sick several times, fevers and vomiting and common colds, but I think now I have caught the worst sort of disease man has. I find myself thinking of the future, and wondering if I am doomed to stay alive, if I may as well live. It is - hope, or something like it.

Which brings me to this road. It is a very long way south, and there is very little reason to think I should have any reason to find what I am seeking. And yet, and yet... For the first time I can remember, I am not thinking of death.

"Come, Gaueko," I say, shouldering my pack, and with the sun rising I walk out.

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[The space between Faerie and the Iron World]

With Fiona and Adonis gone the sithen seemed very empty.  I waited for days for them to come back, but they didn't... and without them here the house began to seem oppressive to me no matter what glamour I used to make it feel more open and welcoming,  and so eventually I broke the charms and let the house return to the Iron World.

Two knights of Faerie were waiting for me on the porch. One knight of Spring and one of Autumn. They greeted me formally and said that they came from the Lady of Spring and that they were glad to see that I was well. I did not want them in my house but I could not leave them standing there either. They might be seen. And also I wished to know if they had seen my goddaughter. I both hoped they had and hoped they had not.

After we had exchanged all the usual news and pleasantries I asked what had brought them to my door and they said that my Lady had sent them to find me and that they were not the only ones looking. I felt both relieved and concerned. Who else was looking for me? And since they were looking there was a chance that they might find Fiona as well or instead.

I had always known that my people would come looking for me, my Lady especially. I had hoped that Feidelma might. But no the news the knights had brought had mentioned her in passing and it was not good. Perhaps it was just as well that Fiona was not here to listen to it. The knights had not mentioned her but it seemed that  they had been waiting on that porch a while and so they might have seen her and Adonis leave.

Very nearly did I ask if they had seen a girl with red hair, but I did not. Instead I asked who else was looking for me. They answered that knights of both Summer and of Winter, and furthermore, my Lady had instructed that my guests should do their utmost to find me before those others did. They believed that while their orders were to ask me to accompany them back to Faerie; it was quite probable that those others would not ask but instead demand and back it up with force should I refuse.

They did not know why my Lady so wished to bring me back to Faerie. We all could guess why the Summer Court might look for me. I had always known that when the time for the tithe came I would be missed. Feidelma could not cover for me for all time. But I could not have expected them to know aught beyond their own orders. My Lady is not so careless with her secrets, especially not with someone who is sworn to the service of her opposite. If I wished to learn why she was making  an alliance with the Lady of Autumn  such that said Lady would  lend one of her knights to  a search for me, then I must return with them.

I am glad that my god daughter is well clear of this. Her mother sent her away to protect her from these sort of games. So I smile and sip my tea and tell them that yes of course I will go with them. As soon as we finish the tea and I pack a few things to take with me. Keepsakes of my time here. I will miss Fiona and her father. And my little mage. And perhaps the rest of this odd little town, just a little. It has been interesting living here.

But I missed my home as well, and now at last I am going home.

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Eight Years Later

My wife smiles.

She smiles like the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. I never knew she could smile like that, not for years. But now, now that there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing she needs to worry about, no need to look over her shoulder for what may be coming after her or us...

Wanda smiles. Real and beautiful and full of the life I always suspected was right under the surface. She smiles and laughs and sings and dances in the sand along with our beautiful daughters.

Both which are walking home with me right now, their black hair shining in the rays of the setting sun. Rose manages to walk and read at the same time, her green eyes glued to the pages of The Canterville Ghost. Her younger sister River (only by three minutes thank you very much!), skips along beside me, singing to the sky that matches her blue eyes.

"Come on girls, your mother is waiting on this shipment." I nudge them good humoredly as we take the path through the dunes.

"We'd move faster if the bookworm would look up once in a while." River teases Rose in a sing-song voice, then laughs and races up the path ahead of us.

"I can move just fine," Rose murmurs, her eyes darting back and forth across the page a few more times, and then she closes it. "Do you think we got some good ones this time?"

Smile down at Rose and shift the box I am carrying to one shoulder so I can take her hand. "I do not know. I did not read the titles on the cans, I always let your Mother see them first." Give her hand a squeeze. "So let us get them home, so we can see what she thinks." Rose smiles up at me now, and after squeezing my hand back, she races after her sister.

Open to Wanda
Closed

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[Some years later]


There ain't no rest for the wicked,
Money don't grow on trees,
I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed,
There ain't nothing in the world for free,
Oh, I can't slow down, I can't hold back,
Even though I wish I could,
Oh, there ain't no rest for the wicked,
Until we close our eyes for good.


Used t'be onna m'fav'rite songs t'dance to, back'n m'kootch days. Zann gave me a present last Christmas, a music player she'd got workin' anna disc she'd made 'a songs she knew I liked. It's sittin' onna cloth next t'me on th'sand, playin' quiet but still loud 'nough fer me t'hear. Takes me right back, hearin'is duz, annit's funny list'nin' t'it here'n now.

Don't never get tired'a seein' th'ocean, no matter how many times we come up th'coast. Spent th'early years'a m'life seein' nothin' but stone'n steel, smellin' nothin' but smoke, hearin' nothin' but machin'ry 'n breakin' glass...t'stand'ere, lookin' out over th'shinin' water, smellin' th'salt, hearin' th'waves, like a dragon breathin'. Remember Nanshe tellin' me't my element wuz water, an'I think mebbe when'm too old t'travel 'd like t'live somewhere near th'sea, somewhere I c'n always hear't, feel't.

Sadie's doin' a way better job 'n charge'n I thought she ever would. All th'energy she used t'put inta sneerin'n back-bitin's now goin' t'finances, organizin'. Seems like she's found'er niche. Know'ere wuz some't thought I'd take th'reins, back when we first started out, but I knew better. One week'a dealin' wit' th'money an' th'ruddy townies an'd be runnin' fer th'hills. No, 'm happy where I am, doin' what I do. 'm a far better witch'n 'd ever be'n admin'strator.

Genny'n Zann've both grown inta fine young women, strong'n sens'ble. Genny misses'er ma, I know, but she's also provin' a fine ma t'Nu, who's growin' like a ruddy weed. Already readin', pickin' up thin's 'bout'er his'try. Don't think't'll be much longer 'fore she's pretty much 'membered't all.

Find m'self thinkin' ovvit all more'n more 's th'years go by. That night by th'river, callin' th'storm wit' Hermia, that bright, joyful song ringin' m'ears's th'rain poured down. Course, what came after wuzza lot less happy. Don't know how much blood m'knife spilled, how many bellies'n throats't opened, ain't even sure how many ovvem wuz human. Saw th'sheriff go down guns blazin', saw a white horse run by witta bloodstained saddle, remember callin' waves'n foam up from th'river, drownin' summa th'beasts on land, trappin' others'n mud, roots...all b'comes a blur after a while. Woke up'n th'brothel, tucked under a blanket, mornin' sun shinin' through th'windows an' th'tower'n ruins. 't wuz done.

Take a last, slow drag on m'cig, breathin'n smoke'n salt. Yeah, I think lots 'bout 'at last fight...but I think 'bout th'rest too. We ain't been back t'Excolo since'en, annit's funny, after havin' lived'ere fer so long. Funny t'miss't. I miss Nanshe. Miss Simon. Miss Verdi an' m'twins an' Tess an' Glass. Miss a lotta people. And God fuckin' help me, I still miss Tez, even after ev'rythin'e put me through. An'I 'member meetin' "Caldwell" 'n th'tavern. S'funny too, thinkin' ovvit now. Di'n't really consider't then, but I understand now, I think. Y'take comfort where y'c'n find't, an' y'find people who understand whatcha been through 'n weird places.

Scoop wet sand from th'beach 'n bury th'cigarette butt. Th'silver case's still in m'pocket. Song's changed now...norm'lly I don't like songs I can't dance to, but'is one...ain't really gotta tune 'r beat t'it, but if'n I had t'pick one song t'hear't th'end, likely be'is one.

They drive along the pipeline,
They tango till they're sore,
They take apart their nightmares
And they leave them by the door.

Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair,
Deal out jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs,
I'll tell you all my secrets but I lie about my past,
So send me off to bed forever more.


Sigh heavy'n heave m'self up. Got work t'do 'fore sun goes down, lots'a stuff on th'beach y'can't get nowhere else. Shells 'n bones t'dig up, weeds t'gather'n dry. Always more t'do, an' ain't no one gonna do't but me.

Ain't no rest fer th'wicked, after all.

[CLOSED]

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[Some years later]

There is moss and flowers growing on the ruins of the tower now, and birds nesting in the rusted remains of the iron girders. I can see it clearly from where I live now, and the sight holds no fear for me now, not for me, nor for anyone else in the town.

That terrible day of the storm, the day creatures roiled from the mists and healing rain fell from the sky, I was not at the river, nor did I see the battle. But I did see what happened, for I opened Follow Me Boy's doors to the injured and lost. There were so many hurt that day, people stretched on every bed and couch and rug in the house, Sophie and Mrs. Danvers running off their feet bringing bandages and hot water. The front and back doors were propped open, all of the lanterns lit, letting both the rain and the townsfolk in. Most of the folk were well, in the end...but there were those that never returned from the riverbank. Reed. Mab. Others. Many folk were buried, and there was much mourning in the days that followed...but there was a lightness in the air now too, as though a great weight had been lifted from the town, as though a heavy cloud had cleared and allowed the sun to shine through again.

That was years ago. I have retired now, save for a few favourite clients, my savings more than enough for me to live comfortably. I have bought a little one-story house just off of Main Street, close to the cafe, and the bakery, and the library, close enough that I can walk to visit my friends. Since Lucien died there has been no more medicine, but I get by as I always did before, with the help of my cane, and I am so very grateful for the relief that he gave me for those few years. I miss him still, and I light incense for him every day, for him, and for Reed, and for Mab.

I have taught myself to embroider using my one remaining hand, by propping the frame on my arm and working gently. Mrs. Danvers comes by once a day to cook. She has grown older, but she still laughs as loud as ever, and she still insists on looking out for me. I have taken to calling her Wai Po, Grandmother, and she laughs and kisses my cheek.

Hermia and Hope bring their children to visit every week. I have begun teaching them Mandarin, and they are learning very quickly.

It is strange now, remembering how sad I was when Hope and Faith first told me that I would never see Shanghai again, how I wept at the thought that I would never see my home again. But now I tend my little garden, I read my books, and I look out the window as the sun sets over the town.

I am home, and I am content.

[CLOSED]

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In the Moment

It feels like I've been fighting him for hours. And while I know better, it's hard to fight that feeling.
Hard to keep going, but I have to.

Up and down the bank we go- him backing toward the group, and then me pushing him back again. There are others here, giving everything to stand against the blackness that was always clutching the heart of Excolo. So many people here putting every fiber of their being into this one moment.

I don't think that I've ever seen anything more beautiful.

But then something changes- my opponent has been kind enough to put on a person suit for our dance, but his eyes are still fire. They flicker and then the world shifts for half a second and it is not the man anymore. I can't tell if he's rushing at me, or past me but I can't let him get to them. I have to protect them. If I've never done anything before in my whole life, I have to stand between them and-

it's cold

it shouldn't be cold, there's fire in front of me and i can see myself
see my sword fall from nerveless fingers
see, just as i can feel the massive paw in my chest and the teeth at my throat
feel the blood
that's my body, but now i know that i am more than that if only for a few seconds

and i can see the magic my friends have wrought and i can go to it, and i can push just there and
if i've never done anything in my life i can help them and
i can protect them all
i can protect EXCOLO forever
i can-

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place holder for the lord of nightmares

how long till my soul gets it right?

Two years later


Dear Ri,

I'm sorry we won't be coming back your way this year. Looks like we're just gonna stay farther south this winter cause we gotta stay away from Management's carnival. Maybe next year we'll make it? But Sadie says it's probly better to stay away from Excolo for another year or two anyway. Too much magic left over from all them spells that Syl and everybody done, and from what we done to break Management's spell right after.

Sadie's doin real good in charge! You know everyone was surprised when she stepped up but she's doin better than we thought she would. I still think she was real brave to take over like she did.

Anyway, we're goin along the Gulf coast this winter instead, and oh heck is it pretty! I'm sendin some pictures of the palm trees and beaches. I like the colors I got on the sunset. Maybe that one would work on the wall of your salon, cause you said you was lookin for new pictures to hang up. Maybe it'll make someone want their hair dyed in sunset colors!

I sent a picture of Nu too. Aint Nu big and pretty now? Everyone says that all babies grow that fast but it still seems like it's goin real fast. They're talkin now too. Not a lot of words that make sense but still, talkin. And they're runnin around so fast that if we don't keep a real sharp eye on em they'll be down in whatever river we're closest to. Nu loves finger paints, too, and that makes me happy.

Zann and Syl say hey, and they're doin real good. Zann fixed up the flyin swing ride so it's even better than before! The lights flash in time with the music now and the swings go even higher. Everyone loves it.

You asked about Momma, but she ain't written for a while so I can't say how she is. I miss her but I don't blame her for staying with them instead of comin with us. I guess she felt like she needed to stick by Management no matter what. Anyway, she is writing to me so that's better than it was at first.

You also asked if I met any gals. There was a cute one in the last town we was in and she even talked to me some but I was too shy to get her name. But I been writing letters to Sara, that gal I met in Anteros, and we're goin back there next month so I hope we can go round some when I'm there.

I miss you and the twins a heck of a lot. Give em both hugs for me, and Joy too. I hope your new assistant is doin real good. I know you're a real good boss.

Love,

Genny

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The following spring

The abbey gardens

I straighten my back and look over the herb garden. It's a bright spring day and I can smell earth and grass and growing things. It's the sort of day when you can't help but feel hopeful. I've had a lot of days like that, lately.

I started coming to the abbey years ago, not long after I first arrived in Excolo. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a member of the church, but I wanted something practical to do, and helping out in the gardens seemed like a good way to start. And I've done it every year ever since. It's how I met Glass, all those years ago. I'm going to keep volunteering here forever, I think. The abbey's changed; everyone knows, now, that Nanshe's gone. But they also know that she was part of the reason all of us are still alive today. The abbey's a memorial to her; and it's a community in a way that goes beyond worship. It always was, and it always will be. People find peace here, whether they live here or just visit, like I do.

I wipe my hands free of dirt and pack up my gardening tools, and I head back toward town. It's a different place than it was. I think it's...kinder. Not that it's perfect; we have our share of troubles, and the sheriff's office keeps busy. But since the tower burned down we've all breathed easier. Not as many strange things happen in Excolo any more, and maybe that means some magic has been lost, but I'm alright with that. I think most of us are happy to have quieter lives. Because after everything we've been through, the chance to live peacefully is its own kind of magic.

A long time ago, a little girl who thought she was a woman refused to turn her face to the wall and die. She left with the clothes on her back and a travelling bag of her mother's things, and a red lipstick for courage. She thought, then, that she needed to turn her heart to stone to keep going, because if it kept beating it would break.

I don't think there's much in me that's stone any more. And my heart has been broken, and maybe it will be again. But for now: for now I love, and live, and am free.

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Some years after the Apocalypse

Turns out even in these days you can find a single human in this wide world, if you look hard enough.

Took me a long time, though, and when I knocked on the door she didn't look much like I sort-of remembered.  I suppose because she's a grown woman now, not a girl of thirteen.  And nearly fainting at her long-ago husband come back from the dead.

She'd remarried a long time ago, Micah's wife Reba - what else could she do on that farm, with a baby - a burly man that glared at me the whole time I was there.  Micah's baby - my son, I suppose, sort of - was a solid little boy with a lot of curly hair, and there was a girl too, and twins in cribs that had Reba running back and forth looking worn out all the time.  I tried to explain.  I did.  But I don't think it made much sense outside Excolo.  When I talked about Micah's brain being damaged they got this look like they suddenly understood. Crazytalk, was what the husband said, where he thought I couldn't hear. Got his brainpan bashed in.

They were good to me, that little scratch-dirt village: wanted to keep me, look after me, the poor boy who got lost and jumped on the road and all messed up in the head, come back still crazy.  I just kept apologising.  I couldn't think of any way to put things right, but I could apologise.  I just wish they'd believed me.

After that...it was Gaueko who put the idea in my head, a long time ago.  I've got more of Tez's memories back, as the years've gone on, though sometimes it all blanks out and I'm just Micah, with a headache, trying to make sense of things again. At least South America's still there, he said, all that time ago, and though he got the continent wrong the idea was - right, in a way I hadn't understood then.

I got done with running away.  I went home.  Because I did go crazy, right back then, and I did run away, when I was needed.  Like a child, a little boy whose sandcastle got knocked down.  All those people dead and I was a god then, teotl, one of the Mysteries of the world, and I ran away and hid in a drunkard's body for centuries because my world had been spoiled.  I could have helped instead.

So I've gone to help now, slow travel down the continent.  I send letters to Valmont, to Genny and Syl, though I can't get any back while I'm travelling.  I don't want to help as a god, or the things like that I've been.  On the way down I trade the things I can do for more skills than I learned as a roustie.  By the time I get down to where the jaguar-thing that was Tepeyollotl was spawned I know some carpentry, metalwork, how plumbing works.  Parts of me sink down into the ground, root themselves in the earth that I could shake.  I don't know if I leave them behind.  By the time I get up to the higher places where my city was and the newer ruined city is now, winter coming up cold, I can help the people there, the new ones and the old old ones who could've been related to the old Tez body, a long long time ago.  Practical things, building and mending.  Making things new.

I don't stay, though.  It's too many people, too much noise, for Micah-me.  So I go on up into the highlands, where the wind at night makes low sounds that could almost be a flute, find somewhere smaller, wilder.  Smaller than Excolo was, by the end, maybe smaller than it was when we came there.

No water tower, though.  No nothing that's not human, except me, and I look it enough, growing up, changing shape in a different way.  Doing human work, where it's needed, though now and then I trade what I can do, when it's needed.  Only when it's needed.  I go out sometimes as night, but only ever as human.  To...listen.  The night wind brings news sometimes, of a sort.  The demon that was in Lucien as something new, and I think with some of Tez's old nastiness that no one needs to worry about the world ending any time soon.  Tez never did like anyone who was close to Iblis.  Though if he does try any kind of apocalypse, it might be interesting to be on the other side for once.  Keeping the world going, instead of ending.

I can get letters now from people I knew, too, proper news.  I keep them all.  I miss them all, and my letters to them are long.  I don't always know if they get there, until I get a reply, or don't.

I don't think about Iblis.  Only of course I do, all the time.  Nothing ever brings any news he's dead.  Or alive.

I'm settled here, I think.  I work with my hands, since no one could work with Micah's head.  I'm not waiting for anything, or trying to forget, or refusing to.  Sometimes the night sky is like obsidian, shards of stars, and my chest hurts.  Broken up pieces.  But now, for now at least, they don't cut, and they don't shed any blood.  And it's alright.  It really is.

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ever after

[In a fairy mound]

"You'll be safe here," said Dana.

And we were.

The second the fairy mound closed over us, the sound of the thunderstorm stopped. We couldn't even hear the rain pounding on the roof anymore.

I'm glad Dana was here to help, and I'm even more glad that Daddy was inside with us when it happened.

Dana and I had fun decorating the rooms - changing the color of the furniture, making things sparkle, adding new pictures on the walls. Horses and cats. And then horses and cats with wings!

Daddy mostly watched.

We could leave any time we want, Dana said - we had little wooden charms that acted as keys. "And by the time we come out, it will all be over. Long over.".

"Wait, what?"

Of course. Fairy time. Dana's explained it to me over and over - time runs differently in Fae. You spend an evening there and come out ten years later, or you spend ten years there and come out an hour later. There's no telling which way it will go.

So we might come out ten years later. Or a hundred years later.

And maybe it would be better if we did? We'd be safe then, and so what if everyone we knew was gone? We could just go live in Fae instead, and I could learn even more about my powers, and learn magic from even more experts, and meet my mother. Dana keeps saying that she wants to take me there, to learn more about that side of my family, and that side of my nature. And I wanted to, but now that it's here…I don't.

I've loved learning real magic, and maybe I never got the wings that I wanted when I was little, but it's amazing to be able to shape the world and see the true forms of things around me. I want to learn more about that. Dana is amazing and I'm so glad I got to know her.

And I want to meet my mother. I always have. Desperately.

But if I went to Fae I'd never see anyone else I knew, ever again. Not Miao or anyone from the Boy, not anyone from school. Ever.

And what about Daddy? I guess he could still work if we went to Fae, but it would be really different for him.

So I talked to Daddy for a long time. Talked and talked and talked, almost all night, and the morning, we went to Dana and said we were leaving.

We'll wait three days to give the storm a chance to blow over - or end, or…whatever is happening. And then we'll go out.

Dana was scared, and we didn't blame her, and we promised that if things were really bad we'd come back, because here we are safe. But if things are all right outside, then we're going to stay. If there's anything of Excolo left, we want to be there with it.

I want to see what the world is like! I want to see if Daniel will ever ask me to a dance - or if maybe I'll ask him. I want to see if I can ever write for the newspaper - or if there isn't a newspaper anymore, if I can make a new one. I want to see what will happen, and I want to be there to do things in the world. The human world.

Maybe I won't ever fit, but I don't think I'll ever fit in Fae, either. In Excolo, at least I know the rules, and the rules I don't like I can try to change.

So three days later, we say goodbye.

I hug Dana tight, and I tell her she's done a good job watching over me.

We stand where the door would be, if a fairy mound had a door. I feel the magic running through the key as I hold it in my hand. Then I take hold of Daddy's hand, and we turn our keys, and we step out into the world.

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The Carnival lot is quiet, and seems strange to me. Foreign, like it was never home, even for this Micah. I suppose Management don't care if I'm here now. They probably think it's funny.

I can't just leave. I have to - say goodbye. I look at Genny's wagon, and I try not to remember...a lot of things.

Open to Genny and anyone else at the Carnival who would be willing to say goodbye to Micah!Tez

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And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Moments after the apocalypse fails

So many things I meant to do, these past years. Maybe leave Excolo, go find my sister and my baby, who'll have babies of her own now, she survived. Never happened. Seems like I can't leave this land, with my goddess gone into it.

Can feel her in the rain, turn my face up to it. Know this's what I've been kept alive for, all these times. Fightin' I could always do.

All them things come crawlin' up like from nightmares, but the folks're worst, folks who've gave 'emselves over to him like I nearly did back then, by mistake. Killin' folk I've known, it just cuts me up inside, makes me sick. Ain't nothin' I can do, tho, save keep shootin' an then cuttin', with my goddess in the rain soakin' all through everythin', until the tide turns.

Oh m'lady. Deep well, sweet water, like we used t'sing. Always held me up, kept me from sinkin', even after you gone.

Others fightin' on our side, Her side, the blue city dream's side. See a woman in armour go by fast in the smoke an' rain on a pale horse, face like somethin' come apart. Lookin' like she oughta be on the other side, but she's on ours, an ain't we learned in the last years that beauty ain't goodness ain't beauty. Fine lady upon a white horse. Raise a hand to her as she goes.

I ain't gonna last much longer. Bleedin' from my side and shoulder, all red salt into the rain. Ready, though. I am.

Cut takes me to the back of the thighs, hamstringin'. Gut wound after, an they move on, know I ain't a threat now. 'M on my back, an the rain's fillin' up my mouth. Feels like the river risin'. The mountain rising from the water is the city whose powers are apparent, old old words to Her. I done good in the end, I know. I done good.

Closed

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to be continued...

Placeholder, for after the apocalypse
In an empty field, twilight
A fortnight later


I sat there and started at the space that once held a dilapidated water tower for a very long time. It seems almost inconceivable that it's gone...

almost as inconceivable as what befell Iblis.

Oh, I will admit I felt a moment of prideful satisfaction; let us see how you enjoy being trapped in a flesh suit!, but no... what those creatures did to him was much more than that. More fulsome. The did not trap him, they remade him.

And then the horror replaced the amusement.

Not him. Never him. He should not be so reduced; diminished. The brightest, the most beloved...
And I wept.

And then... the world stopped. Time stopped. And I was no longer alone.

لدي اقتراح بالنسبة لك، معالج ....

And I wept at the sound of his voice, for I had not heard it since before recorded time began.

*************************************

It may have been centuries we talked, or a fraction of a second. I could never gauge time within The Presence of Ahura Mazda.

And I have been called upon to serve man once again; but as a necessary evil. To fill a void that Iblis left.

تفهم الحاجة إلى كل من الظلام والضوء، وكنت أفهم أنه أفضل من جميع أولادي.

I pinch the bridge of my nose and take a deep breath.

"Lilith..." I breathe into the air. We have much to discuss.

(Open to Lilith)

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Joy to the world

Two years later
At The Dormouse


Bin a busy day 'ere. Sunshiney sort o'day, so we put out tables an' chairs on the street. Really drew people in, so we'll prob'ly keep doin' it.

"Might need a permit," grumbled Faith, an' I smiled.

"Good thing'm married to the mayor, then," I said.

Still enjoyin' runnin' the tea shop. Feels like ours, now, not Miss Wanda's. Got a letter from 'er a while back. 'Ad a postcard of the new place she's livin'. Card took ages to get 'ere, think she sent it months ago. Ain't like there's a regular system. But it reached us, an' Faith 'eld my 'and so I could see it. The coast. Stroke a picture of the wave with my finger an' smile. Glad she's 'appy an' safe. Wonder what our Genny's up to, an' all the rest. 'Ear from them from time to time, but don't reckon the carnival'll ever be back 'ere, an' I don't blame 'em. 'Ope Nu's growin' up strong. So strange to think she was born jus' six months before my little girl.

Joy's such a good little thing. Toddles about in the shop, but 'ardly ever cries or frets. She is a joy to all of us, an' with me an' Faith's names, seemed good to 'ave another virtue. 'Cept to me she feels more like a blessin'.

Gettin' ready to close up now. Faith clears up, then kisses me goodbye cos she's off on a date. Been on a few dates with the same person. Might even be serious. I'd like that for 'er, though I don't dare bring it up. Use my cane to tap my way over to the door, then feel for the sign an' turn it over t'CLOSED. Sit down at a table to drink a cup o'tea before 'eadin' 'ome. Joy clambers up into my lap an' starts describin' 'er cookie t'me. Learned early that she's got to tell me 'ow things look, an' she's already talkin' a lot. Kiss the top of 'er 'ead an' smile. 'S good to feel at 'ome. Edmund should be leavin' the office soon to walk me back, an' I've got some news for 'im.

[Open to Edmund]

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The darkness drops again

After the end, time unknown

And the wire snaps.

I scream, thin human sound, and start to run, barefoot and right now entirely mortal.  I'd know if he was gone.  I'd know it.  He must be here somewhere.  He must.

I look for him and look for him.  There is dust, smoke, blood, things and people fighting.  I go through it all blindly, again and again, like running my hands through loose grain over and over, everything slipping through my fingers.  I can't find him.  I can't find him.  I search until my feet start bleeding again, from grit and broken glass in the once-clean streets.

In the dawn there is an explosion, and I go out to the tower on bloody feet and it's a dead and broken shell, hollow, only the smell of cordite and a fading illusion-magic still trying to make me see what it thinks I want to see.  There's nothing in it.  He's not there.

He's not here.

Things are dying down.  Dying.

I go to Management in the end.  I'm not afraid.  I'm too tired to be afraid.  I know they fought.  I know he was - protective of me, in the way someone else would have been scared of me going near them.  I don't care any more.

It should be different in there with them.  But everything's the same, except even the hairs on my arms are too tired to rise.  I don't think they're very interested in me any more.  I know the smell of triumph, can hear it in their dry, haha, yes and, run along, dear boy, run along and play.  As they tell me what they did.

I look harder.  He'll be in danger now.  He's human, as I've been when I've been human and stupid and he's - loved me anyway.  The town is trying to put itself back together as it shook itself apart, Nanshe-saturated, people helping one another through the ruin.  Kindness to kindness.  I'll find him, I will.  I will.

I don't.

Closed

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After the dust has settled.
Outside the water tower


Yesterday

I came out, as the sun started to set. He's not here. I hadn't realized how much He had permeated this town until He no longer did. All I could compare it to was... breathing freely after some great weight had been lifted from your chest. I could suddenly breathe again. But still, I had to be sure. I had to see for myself.

I ascended the stairs without fear. After what I had endured, survived, what had I to fear of heights? I pushed open the door with my sword blade, not knowing what to expect---

but somehow, I did not expect this. And yet, I should have, for it was all a grand production, wasn't it? I wandered amongst the discarded furniture, a stack of little girl's dresses I will not weep! and a rack of dresses that might have resembled a red wedding gown I wore in a former life. Books and bottles, tea cups and trinkets; a space filled with things that meant something to someone, I suppose. Things to tempt, things to tease, things best forgotten. A oaken cabinet I recognized, a bed of twisted vines, a tea table I saw in a book of Miao's once... And in the middle, a throne. A throne a prince might have sat on, now forgotten and worn. I sank down in it, and sat there alone in the gathering gloom for a very long time, feeling very much like the cat that cared not that she gazed upon a king; slouched to one side, leg thrown casually over a arm rest. Sat and thought and replayed everything in my mind...

And then I rose. I placed a necklace with a stone as dark as a starless night and a ring with a black heart on the threadbare cushioned seat, and I left with them a thousand memories, and then I turned away. Went back down the stairs, and told the two I trusted with this task they could start whenever they were ready. But not to take anything out. Leave it all there.

Today

I stand alone on a bluff overlooking the tower. There are only about two dozen people here to witness what is to be done. I doubt it is really necessary, but I think this is important. Symbolic. It is also my last official act as Mayor. Edmund White will be sworn in tomorrow. I can think of no one better to lead Excolo into the future as I shut the door on the past.

I watch as Kent and Ares make a sweep of the area one last time, to make sure everyone is back far enough. The all clear is given, and they look back to me, waiting on my signal. Ares' looks like this is the world's best party and Kent looks... determined. I take a breath, raise my arm....

then drop it. The fuse is lit, and I watch it snake and flare through the tall grass as my husband and my friend run----

The explosion is loud, and the force of it knocks a few people off their feet.

But not I.

I stand my ground, and watch the past go up in flames.

closed

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