SDO

Things and Stuff.

The First Meal

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I never meant to kill my first one. It was passion first, an accident second. After that, though, all intentional.

I lived as a wanderer, always. To succeed in my detached lifestyle, I needed to acquire certain skills. I could have, like many other women in my position, fucked my way to safety every night. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of whoring, it works. But these girls who did it exclusively were being taken advantage of. I don’t like being the weaker party.

I was a robber, mostly. I’d sneak in, or I’d worm my way in through pity or smarm, whatever it took. If I got nothing more than food and supplies from the people, I was happy. I never took more than I could use or sell quickly. I wasn’t looking for riches, I just wanted to be in charge of my own life. If things got too hot to handle, I’d bolt. Someone woke up, or confronted me, I’d drop it all and cut my losses. I’d never fight; I didn’t count fighting to be part of my skillset. I was a coward, truly. A mouse stealing bread crumbs from the pantry. My skin was worth more to me than whatever I was taking.

I was at the docks one day, doing as the dock ladies do. The regulars were giving me dirty looks because I didn’t dress or call out like them. I wasn’t a professional, I didn’t care what they thought clients wanted. So I stood apart. A little out of their range. Let them snigger, let them complain. Guys who know what they want can go to them. I’ll be here for the timid ones who don’t want to want to dive into the dark alley of gaping holes.

On the outer edge is where I met her, though. My first one. She was dressed head to toe in white lace and jewels. Far overdressed for even the nearby market. She walked directly to me and said, “Come with me. You look cleaner than the rest.” She continued walking, but not back the way she came.

“I don’t do housework,” I called after her, thinking she’s making a mistake.

“I know what you do,” she said without turning.

I shrugged and followed. She did not turn to acknowledge me, but she knew I was there. She made a point to only walk where there would be enough room for me to trail behind without having to look for her.

We left the docks, and followed a well worn dirt path to the rocky shore. There, she entered a split in the rocks. I stood back. The hairs on my neck prickled in apprehension at the thought that this could be a trap.

“It’s not a trap,” she called out.

“Yeah, real comforting coming from the trapper,” I called back. She laughed.

I entered.

She wore a glowing pendant that lit the way in the narrow cave. I held her hand so I’d not get lost. It was soft, as if she’d never done anything but put cream on them all day.

I tried to remember which directions we were turning; just in case I needed to get out in a hurry. It was hard, I never even felt the walls to know if there were any breaks to get lost in. She moved like she’d memorized this path.

Soon, she reached a wooden door. She tapped it with a finger and the door opened.

I panicked. I knew I shouldn’t have followed her. Glowing gems, magic doors, she’s a witch! She’s going to cut out my eyeballs and use them in potions!

Her grip was unnaturally tight. I didn’t move an inch. “Get inside,” she said, her voice soft and strong. I stilled and obeyed; I’d certainly lost my advantage. She released my hand and I looked around, trying to study my surroundings. I needed to know a way out.

This certainly wasn’t a witch’s cave—the room was tall and white, with ornate sconces dotting the walls. One wall was entirely glass panels. I saw the sea and sunset clearly.

My panic subsided and I pieced together where I was. From the docks, I had seen a tall white mansion where they said shipmaster lived. “Are you the dock warden?” I asked.

“I am the Sea,” she replied.

“So his wife,” I said.

She smiled. “You are a clever one,” she said. She explained that her husband was out to sea often, and rarely home to please her. She couldn’t bring in lovers through the front door, so she found a cave and connected it the house.

That’s what she wanted me for. Fine, I thought, I can do that, and then rob the shit out of this place. I didn’t normally steal for wealth, but this was too good to pass up. The docks would be easy enough to get to, and then get away from.

Yet, I stayed for days. I lived like a queen with her. I was her little secret to keep from the servants, she said. I never saw any, though. She brought the food and drink. So the servants either knew enough to stay away, or there were no servants. I refused to believe that her word alone kept them from her bedroom without suspecting a guest.

There was something else keeping me there, though. I could taste it every time I kissed her; she was the Sea. Her lips tasted of the salty ocean; her touch was soft like the waves lapping the shore. Every breath I took near her felt like I was inhaling her strength. She was intoxicating.

My vision changed at each encounter and all was a dream around her. Colors left, and the void was filled by thoughts of her. Of the Sea. I saw only her power—the ocean and the stars and the sky. She controlled me with them, just as I suppose she controlled her husband. I think perhaps it was his fear of her that kept him away. If he even existed.

She washed over me constantly—I no longer had an advantage, but at this point did not care. I had only a desire of drowning in her; soft and salty and strong. It was impossible to tell if I was dead or alive; to know if I was rolling in bed sheets or in waves. I don’t even know if what we did constituted sexual pleasure anymore. She both filled me and exhausted me.

I awoke one morning to find myself hungrier for her power than ever. The world looked dark and colorless, but I could tell it was already well into the morning. I looked at her, lying next to me, and she was sleeping.

I stared at her face, and, for a moment, saw a shimmer of color. It intrigued me. I held her face, positioning it to see the shimmer again. She awoke and smiled; I suppose expecting a kiss. At the time I had no interest. Her face, her lips, were darkness. I needed that shimmer. But her lips were the way to get it. I kissed her passionately, and the shimmer moved into me. I could feel it. It washed over me, filled me with the warmth of the surface of the sea. I closed my eyes and felt it seep in.

I breathed deep, and opened my eyes.

The world was still darkness.

Her eyes were closed.

I had swallowed the Sea.

Husk

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I haven’t updated in forever. Here’s some writing.

Husk bore no grudges against the living. Her pursuit was of knowledge, not vengeance. She remembered few of the things he learned, however. This, in part, is what kept her from seeking any retribution for what the living had done to her. Why seek revenge, she reasoned, when I don’t even know if I was wronged?
The living allowed her to walk among them, but not unmolested. Children would throw rocks or rotten food at her; the grown would give her dirty looks or turn away. A few of the young would confront her, she was told, and beat her into submission. She never remembered these encounters.
Husk was not what they considered a “person.” All she knew of her life was relayed to her by those that hated her. She had no idea of her own history, and so she could not deny any of their accusations. They told her that she was born dead and should have stayed that way. They said her mother used unnatural magic to bring breath into her lungs. They told her that if she was meant to live in this world, she would be able to remember it. They told her she should leave this world as soon as possible.
“You are dead yet you walk the roads,” they would say to Husk. She believed them. She could see well enough that her skin was dry and clinging to her meager frame. Her gait was a shamble, slower even than the elderly matrons who tended the gardens.
“You are dead yet to speak to us,” they would say. Husk knew the sound of her own voice and how it rasped against her peeling throat as she exhaled. She knew it was not a pleasing sound to the living, and so she kept it to herself a much as she could.
“You are dead yet you read,” the meddyg would say to her. “Reading is not a skill many possess here.” The meddyg is living, Husk noted, and does not hate me.
Meddyg Yu-Isu provided Husk with much reading material. He showed much patience compared to the none-at-all the other living showed her. He had no problems at all providing her a book he had already read three time over; he understood her mind was fragile. He knew she was prone to forgetting things, especially when she is damaged.

“Yu,” Husk whispered, looking up from her book. The skin on her neck crackled as she moved.
Yu-Isu turned from his stitching to face his patient. “Pardon me a moment,” he said to the horrified man.
“I didn’t even know that thing was here,” the man said, a look of utter disgust on his face.
“That thing forgets more in a day than you will ever know,” Yu-Isu hissed in response. He jabbed the needle into his patient’s leg more roughly than required for the last few stitches before moving to the table at which Husk was seated. “How can I help you, friend?”
“I read thi—” she started, but shut her crackling lips on the word. She shook her head softly, indicating to Yu-Isu yet again that she’d forgotten what she was going to say.
He patted her lightly on the back and said, “Some day, don’t worry.”
Yu-Isu stood and collected a few herbs and vials from a cabinet before returning to his patient. “The vials,” he said to him, “You are to add to your drinks. The herbs you add to your food. They will heal you from the inside. Do not touch the stitches. Bathe in the spring in seven days and then return. Now get out, you are distracting Husk.”

Ibis’s Flight 3

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Though I walked ahead of Cefin and could not see him struggling, I heard increasing instances of dirt and gravel slipping under his feet. He needed to rest again, but would not admit it. He had walked for hours before coming to my home, and now I have made him walk several more.

“Let’s rest,” I said, and I heard him sit on the cave’s floor before I’d even turned around. When I did so, he looked tired, shaken, and cold.

I traded a packet of pumpkin seeds for a warm cauldron of stew. The seeds were an abundance afforded me by living near Dref Pumpen, the village Cefin presided over peaceably for a dozen years. The stew was a specialty made by a fire mage living in Tan from his abundance of rattlesnakes.

Years of knowing me and what I do apparently didn’t prepare Cefin for the sight of me removing a steaming black iron pot of food from a satchel that could easily hold no more than a couple books. I admired the look of shock on his face for a few brief seconds before I handed him a spoon and said, “Eat up. I didn’t get any bowls.” Thankfully he was hungry enough to not ask what the meat was.

I was not safe from the “Where’d you get it?” question that followed. I tried to dodge the query with a shrug and “magic.”

“Oh come off it,” Cefin replied. “You don’t have to tell me everything, can’t you just describe it a little?

“I suppose,” I replied, “That I could tell you about the craftsmanship of the box that contains the Meddyg magic without directly telling you what it is. But if I bore you to sleep I’m not waking you up.”

“I assure you that you’ll have every ounce of my remaining attention.”

“A couple thousand years ago, an Ofyddar, I won’t bore you with his full name, but we’ll call him Gallai, looked sideways at life and found an extra way to see things. He found that it allowed him to see other people looking at life sideways. They eventually worked together to hone their vision so that they could look and talk and trade sideways without doing it accidentally. Like now, I found someone who wants this empty cauldron, and she gave me some bedding.”

I didn’t hide the transfer from Cefin this time, but there wasn’t much to see. Where the cauldron once was, there were now two bed rolls. I continued, “Unlike a magician’s tricks, trading through the Leuni doesn’t need to be flashy. It just happens, everything is immediate. There’s no bang, there’s no light, there’s no smell of spent explosives.”

Cefin grabbed a bedroll. As he prepped it for sleep he said, “You could add some blast-caps to make it more exciting.”

“Some do,” I replied and prepped my bed. “The ones who want to locally swap entertainment for supplies. It’s a good thing if you’ve got nothing worth trading.”

“So this ‘loony’,” Cefin asked, “Can it handle some walls? We’re in a tunnel here and I feel exposed.”

“No, it probably can’t handle walls,” I answered, “But it can handle us. How do you feel about sleeping in a barn tonight?”

Going Back to Yntraw (updated)

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Outside the shop, a man nervously approached the door. He would take a few determined steps forward before losing all courage, at which time he’d stop, turn, and go back the way he came. This repeated several times as Darina watched. He made a small amount of progress with each attempt, small enough that she grew impatient watching him. She stood beside her bicycle and waited. He would enter soon, she was certain of it, his time was near. She was there to guide him, but she couldn’t do it until he went inside.

Darina screwed her face in annoyance and squeezed the handlebars on her bike. As they warped in her fingers, she heard a short gasp from beside her. There, on the bus stop bench, sat a young mother and her infant. “I’m not after you,” Darina said, irritated. The woman clutched the child closer to her breast. “Nor your brat, so don’t suffocate it.”

The door to the shop across the street had bells tied to the handle that jingled as the man finally went inside. Darina quickly collected her bicycle in her hands, warping and bending the metal effortlessly out of existence. She made haste for the shop front, pausing in front of the door to make sure the man was not looking out the glass. Currently, he was engaged in looking like a nonchalant shopper, though he still showed signs of anxiety.

Darina sighed and opened the door as quietly as possible, distorting the metal of the bells enough to prevent their announcement of her entry. It should not be this way, she thought. He has the blood of a great house in him, but houses were no longer powers in this land. Here was this man, distant ancestor of a great lord that once ruled half the State with his cunning and valor, reduced to robbing a shop just to afford a place to rest.

Desperation does funny things to people’s minds. She’d seen it before, in others she was sent to guide. It’s manifested itself to her has begging, bribery, and brutality. Most men knew, however, that when a Guide came to them, it was their time, and they were to accept it.

She made her way to a corner of the shop, stooping slightly to be out of the man’s sight. A few moments later, all other patrons had left, and only Darina, the man, and the woman behind the counter remained. The woman saw her, recognized what she was, and grew visibly tense. Darina shook her head slightly, hoping to indicate to the unlucky woman that it wasn’t her time today.

The man turned toward the counter and drew a firearm in one swift motion. The clerk seemed to have taken the hint from the Guide and ducked below the counter. The potential robber leaned over the counter to point his gun at her, but the weapon was quickly swatted out of his hand by the clerk.

Darina advanced as the clerk rose from behind the counter with an aluminum bat. The man dodged her swing by hopping back, but in his haste knocked over a product display. As the clerk retreated into the office to contact the authorities, Darina positioned herself in sight of the man. He looked at her, then looked around at the floor, the ceiling, trying to spy anything that could help him. He looked toward the counter, finding that clerk had come out of the office again. She was aiming his gun at him. Their eyes locked only briefly, and the woman fired.

The man turn as the bullet impacted with his shoulder. Darina caught him before he could fall to the ground. He looked up at her, and she graced him with a smile. She hoped that it would comfort him in his final moments. His death was imminent, predicted in the tapestries of time and life to be this day, this hour, this place. She awaited his final words…

I hear you things bleed black,” he said as he smiled back at Darina. Her smile quickly faded, however, as she felt something sharp punch into her belly. Again, and again, she felt it. The pain was more than she’d ever felt before; it distracted her so much she barely heard the clerk fire the gun several times more. Eventually the man’s efforts to slay death ended as he succumbed to his new wounds.

The man and Darina fell to the floor in each other’s arms at that point, shock still dominating her facial features. The clerk grabbed the man by the back of the shirt and dragged his body aside. “Who guides you?” the woman asked, her voice faltering in confusion as she attempted to staunch the blood flow with her hands. “Who guides you, who guides you?”

You,” Darina managed to say in a labored breath, “you . . . are Mi—“

Yeah, I’m Mirna,” the clerk cut her off, hoping to save the dying Guide the effort of speaking. She removed the sweatshirt she was wearing at that time and placed it over Darina’s midsection, pressing it firmly. “You do bleed black,” she said as the blood quickly soaked through, and then, more to herself than to the dying, “Who’s going to take care of you?”

Darina struggled to speak, but managed in halting breaths, “I will never die.” She placed her hands on Mirna’s wrists and pushed feebly upon them. Mirna took the hint and released the pressure upon the wound. Darina took the blood-soak clothing off her stomach and tossed it aside before passing out completely upon the floor.

#

When the police and paramedics arrived, none knew what to do with Darina. Mirna listened as they discussed, but was involved in her own conversation with the police.

While explaining what happened, she caught some snippets. An officer insisted that the Guide be patched up. A medic said that they couldn’t treat the guide, citing her complete lack of internal organs as proof that nothing could be done. Another officer said that she should just be carted to the morgue along with the failed robber. The medic responded that he couldn’t do that because the “thing” wasn’t dead.

Calling Darina a “thing” didn’t sit well with Mirna. She called out to the group, “That ‘thing’ saved my life!”

It also caused you to take another man’s life,” responded the officer interviewing her.

Mirna’s face went blank. She hadn’t yet thought of that. She was the one that shot the man to death. It was so easy to forget that the Guides did not kill, they were merely there when a killing occurred. But this time, this time the Guide was hurt. This time, Death was dying. Mirna had shot the man once in self defense. She killed him because he hurt Darina.

#

The authorities had finally decided that Darina should go to the hospital; they didn’t know much about Guides, but they knew that there were other Guides wherever death occurred. They were sure that one of them would know what to do with this one.

Mirna watched and waited as the Guide of the hospital came in to evaluate Darina. He stared at the open wound that was no longer bleeding like a tipped inkwell.

In a motion that made Mirna feel ill, he placed a finger inside the inert patient’s cavity, then to his mouth. He tasted it, and looked thoughtful about it. Mirna squirmed, and he smiled. “She should return to Yntraw,” he said.

I can’t take her,” Mirna responded nervously. She lifted her hands so that the Guide could see they were bound to each other and then to her ankles. She was a murderer, but the peacekeepers felt she would not cause harm locked in a room with Death.

He smiled a mischievous grin that made Mirna even more squeamish. “She needs death to survive,” he said as he leaned toward her.

Mirna recoiled as if he’d advanced on her. His presence was overwhelming. She suddenly realized how horrible a plea it was when she asked to be alone in the room. She was now surrounded by two agents of death, one needing her to die to save herself. A darkness washed over her vision and she cowered.

The man (if he could be called such a thing) laughed. “I am Aras,” he said, “And I am not here to guide you.”

Mirna remained in a tight, fetal ball until she heard his footsteps retreat and the door shut. She crawled to the bed on which Darina was laid out. The hospital did not want to waste quality equipment on someone who would not benefit from their services, and so had given her a broken bed and some stained sheets. “Why is this happening?” Mirna asked aloud, expecting and receiving no response. She rose to her knees next to the bed and placed and elbow as best she could upon the mattress.

She looked up and found herself staring directly into the gaping wound. Before she could verbally express her disgust, she involuntarily touched the blood pooled in Darina’s open gut. It coated her finger like tar, far thicker than what had covered her hands and arms back at the shop.

Out of some warped desire to know what Aras had found so interesting about the flavor of this pitch-black liquid, she too placed her finger into her mouth. Her world rolled around her, her vision twisted and blurred. Everything in her body told her that she needed to vomit and to do it quickly. She was unsure if she ever did, because she soon blacked out.

#

Mirna awoke to find herself in a bed next to Darina, with Aras sitting between them. “Oh good, you are awake,” Aras said as he heard Mirna shift under her bedsheets while she looked around. “Your friend was awake.” Mirna looked to the other bed and saw part of it was melted and twisted near Darina’s hands. “She sleeps now, but soon we will take her to Yntraw.”

We?” Mirna coughed. She could taste the stagnant stomach acid in her mouth. “I’m pretty certain I can’t go anywhere,” she said and lifted her hands. The cuffs and chains clanked.

Darina will help,” Aras replied, pointing to a warped portion of the bed. “It will be wonderful. You will be a ravishing fugitive, I will be mysterious protector, and she will be our beautiful, haunted princess. It will be like a grand adventure that you only hear about in stories.” He smiled and turned to Darina. He placed a hand on her belly, caressing it.

Mirna shuddered. Everything about Aras made her uneasy. He was tall and unbearably thin. His skin was as pale as bleached paper. She could forgive appearances, though, if he’d just stop behaving in an inhuman way. And now he was telling her that he’d be kidnapping her away to the homeland of the Guides. His plan sounded terribly wrong in her head, but she had to consider her alternative: rotting a jail cell for however long they put murderers away for.

That’s pure nonsense,” she said, “and I’m certain you already know I can’t refuse.”

Of course.”

How are you getting me out of here?”

In a word, magic.”

(I’m done for tonight.)

Brayden’s Catalyst 1

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Brayden very much wished to attend the great college of wizards. He was not, however, invited to do so. He resolved to gain entry through illicit means and become a self-taught magician.

His first attempted approach to the grounds was under the cover of night. He meant to scale the walls at what he scouted to be an unwatched edge. He soon found that the statues standing sentinel over over the walls were in actuality very patient golems. His second and fifth attempts involved unsuccessful bribery, while everything in between involved digging. One may begin to surmise why he was not invited.

Brayden continued to monitor the entrance to the college, hoping that inspiration would hit him at some point. It did one fine spring day when he saw a young woman exiting the college grounds riding in a carriage. Though he saw her for only a brief moment, the image of her blonde, curly locks and soft, pouty lips stuck in his head. She looked to be everything he’d ever wanted in a woman and just looking at her filled him with a sense of desire. He immediately set off to follow  the carriage.

As he stepped off, a hand grabbed Brayden’s shoulder. “You don’t want to do that,” a woman’s voice said.

“Andy why not?” Brayden asked as he turned. His eyes first focused on her body, she was dressed in student’s robes that looks a size too small for her bust. He raised his eyes to her face and found himself looking at something quite the opposite of the vision of beauty he’d just witnessed. Her head was hairless and tiny horns protruded from her forehead.

“Because that was a man,” she said. “Catalyst,” she said, and offered an open hand.

“What?” Brayden instinctively shook it.

“It’s my name,” she said, breaking the handshake.

“Ri–ight. And what kind of name is Catalyst?”

“An Ofyddar name.”

“It’s stupid,”

“It’s better than Brayden.”

He looked shocked. “How did you know my name?”

“You’re stupid,” she replied, and let out a short laugh. Brayden frowned. “Let me explain, and I’m only doing this because I feel sorry for you. If I didn’t like you, I would have let you go after Princess George.”

Catalyst led Brayden toward the entrance gates of the college as she said, “You haven’t been unnoticed in what you do and you’re a bit of a joke around here. You think that because no one’s called you out when you’re hiding that you’re hiding well. And you think that because the walls are so well fortified that the people inside won’t look out. What’s going on is that we’re so well fortified we don’t feel the need to call you out when you’re stalking about. Do you follow?”

Brayden stuttered a bit, then finally let out an affirmative sigh and a nod. He looked away, ashamed, and glanced at his surroundings. He was inside the walls, for the first time in his life. Catalyst continued, “Now, I know your heart’s in the right mode, but your head’s not. What I figure is you need to be told what you’re doing wrong, and then maybe you’ll learn to do things right. Do you know what else you did wrong tonight?”

“Besides briefly lust after a cross-dressing man?” Brayden asked. Catalyst had walked them to some stone benches in the shade of the wall. The sun was getting low and soon the whole front courtyard would be covered in shadow. “Go on, tell me,” he said as he sat down.

Catalyst laughed. “You touched my hand.” She sat down next to him. “I took your name from that contact, and in exchange I gave you something I know.”

Brayden was confused by this at first, but he soon felt a piece of information bring itself to the front of his mind. It was like trying to remember a dream. He had everything there except the words to complete the thought. “You aren’t supposed to do that,” he said.

Catalyst looked immediately ecstatic. “You’re right, I’m not. How did you know?”

“I just d—” he paused, how did he know? It dawned on him quickly. “You told me when you took my name.” Brayden laughed as he rested his forehead in his hands and placed his elbows on his knees. “What do you want with me?” he said after a moment.

“You’re going to help me,” Catalyst replied. “You’re going to help me perfect this information transfer. In exchange, I’m going to let you have access to the library. I’ll check out books that interest you and bring them to my quarters, where you will be staying.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“You will want to.”

Brayden thought for a moment about his alternatives. Finding that he didn’t have any, he said. “I want to.”

“Excellent,” Catalyst said and stood. “Come with me, it has been a long day and I need to relax in a long, hot bath.” She leaned toward Brayden and gave an exaggerated sniff of the air about him. “You will want to join me.”

Brayden, feeling the same airy desire as when he saw the she-he leaving the grounds earlier, replied, “I certainly do.”

Esben’s Tales part 2

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The next morning young Esben found his throat aching from all the talking he’d done the day before. He ate and drank in silence for the day until the Meddyg’s promised visit came. She brought with her this time another ofyddian dressed in armor and armed with a sword. He stood a foot higher than the Meddyg, but his horns were smaller and his eyes more sunken. Esben realized he was staring and turned his eyes to the more visually pleasing Meddyg (who, Esben considered, should she actually have hair, would make a wonderful wife).

Esben started to speak, and it came out first as a squeak. He cleared his throat and asked, “What have I done? To those crackpot cultists, that is.”

Meddyg Ibis sat herself next to Esben on the bed of his borrowed room. Her bulky ofyddian companion shifted to block the door. A sudden wave of dread washed over Esben as the supposition that the Meddyg and her mate were a couple of the crackpots. Seeing the discomfort in his face, Ibis (as usual) laughed. Esben smiled nervously and wondered if he would survive the jump from the second story window at this time.

The Meddyg spoke. “We sank that ship a thousand years ago in the deepest part of the ocean in hopes that history would be preserved until such time when the old gods and demons were no longer … desirable. It’s a terrible thing to destroy a story, so even I can’t forgive you for burning their books.”

Esben cowered slightly more than he’d already been cowering. “You—” he squeaked again, “You don’t look that old.”  Ibis gave him a pat on the back and laughed loudly. Esben flinched.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she continued, “I like you. You’ve done much. You’ve done what the Meddygon could never do. You’ve destroyed history, and prevented a future. A future no one would like, I’m certain of it, but that’s no matter now. Those were the only books and that order of idiots was never much concerned with sharing rituals verbally.” She gave him a motherly kiss on the forehead. “For that, I thank you.”

Esben, still quite nervous, blubbered. “I meant to p–properly dry those books,” he admitted.

“It’s no matter now, young man, there is only a story of it, and if you don’t tell anyone that your deed was all a mistake, no one will know. Now as for your dream of never lifting a finger for yourself again—” she turned to the door guard, “Dafyd, take Esben to the college, then protect him.”

The man spoke for the first time, his voice gruff like a man who’s smoked cigars since he was a teenager, “How long?”

“Until I need you again,” Ibis replied. The two men promptly vanished from the room, leaving the woman alone. She frowned.

Old Man Esben to this day tells of his heroic deeds for the order of the Meddygon and how he destroyed the order of Thedalavey (which he didn’t learn the name of until much later, but he’ll never admit that), ending a long and arduous battle of the cults.

Esben’s Tales Part 1

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Esben regarded his past as a series of trials to achieve his ultimate goal of never having to lift a finger for himself again. Having finally succeeded at this goal, he found he had far too little to do and spent most of his time regarding his past adventures. He found it much more fun now that he was old and grey to talk of these adventures rather than go on the adventures, and so Old Man Esben became his name around town and if you gave him a meal, he gave you a story.

The young ones of the village oft thought his stories false, because who on Earth could have done as much as he did?

Who could have possibly slain a dragon three-thousand times their own size, when there are so few dragon in the world? Old Man Esben did when he visited the Isla de los Dragones and defeated their great God-King Godofredo. Ask him, and he’d tell you how he went there looking for a piece of their wealth and found the dragons to be dirt-poor serfs  to a tyrannical despot. He relieved the King of his post (and his head) and left the island after a full year of celebration. With nothing to show for it, of course, but the memories as Godofredo’s body was completely destroyed in retribution and it turns out that the dragons didn’t hoard anything but sea-shells.

Who would possibly want to swim to the bottom of the ocean so search for riches? Old Man Esben did when he heard throwing coal into the deepest part of the ocean made pure diamonds appear. He swam after his coal after an hour and figured it was taking far too long for his liking, but came up a richer man anyway after raiding a sunken ship. It was too bad that the goods taken from the ship were nothing more than soggy old books, but he was sure someone would want them. And someone did, which is all the better for Esben because wet books are heavy and boring to him.

And who could possibly defeat an ancient and dark order of eldritch demon worshippers, or even get involved in that? Why Old Man Esben of course, after he offered his services to dry their water logged books and promptly burnt them to a crisp when they refused to pay him for his troubles of rescuing them.

Ask Old Man Esben what he did after that and he’ll tell you the next few years were terrible for his nerves. He did a lot of hiding, fleeing, and panicking, up until he made his way to an unspoilt village of happy people. These blissful people, seeing him in his weakened, disheveled state gave him food and a bed. They even had their Meddyg give him a visit and patch him up. Esben asked what could he give them in return for this much needed respite, and the Meddyg asked for a story.

Esben told her everything, just as he would tell anyone who asked in his current home town, because from that moment on he felt perfectly safe. He even admitted to her that his goal was to never have to lift a finger again for himself (she laughed) and it looked like he’d gotten to that point finally (she laughed again). Esben always though the ofyddians had a strange sense of humor, but he found himself laughing with her now.

She left him then, and promised to let him rest until tomorrow evening. “Then,” she said, “I shall ask more of your recent encounters. This dark order is larger than you may have realized, and you have done them a far greater injury than you can possibly imagine.” Esben swallowed air and half-choked upon it. She laughed again, more of a pleased grunt than anything, and left.

Ibis’s Flight, part 2

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We’d walked for some time in silence through the cave below my home. The only light was from the two small gems Magistrate Cefin and I wore around our necks. They were each smaller that a little finger nail, but they emit enough light to show us a ten foot radius of our surroundings.

Cefin had packed a bag of his personal belongings before he came to my home, and I now carried it for him along with my own. He’d brought objects of sentimental value to himself, and it confused him when he’d watched me pack. “Do you really expect to need a jar of pickled spiders on this trip?” he had asked, “Or a half-dozen ivory spice shakers?” He stopped asking questions about my odd choices when I placed a box of fishing hooks into my bag and pulled out the light gems.

The silence of our walk was broken by Cefin first as he requested that we sit for a bit. As he drank from his canteen I removed a jar from my bag. It contained a balm for rejuvenating tired, aching muscles. I grabbed one of his legs and began to rub the balm on it without his consent. He didn’t object, but did ask where I got it. “From my satchel,” was my answer.

He’d learned long ago that I perform tricks beyond his understanding and had decided to stop asking about them. I often frustrated him by truthfully answering the questions he asked, but reminding him that he’s not asking the right questions to get the answers he wants. All the years of this annoyance must have finally sunk in. He leaned forward and asked a better question: “How did you get it from your satchel when you did not put it there in the first place?”

“I traded a collection of dried butterflies for it,” I replied. His eyes narrowed; I laughed. I moved to applying balm to his other leg and continued, “There was a Meddyg, rather a Shaman, in a far away land in need of butterflies for his potions. I asked for a muscle-soothing salve in exchange and he agreed.”

“I’ll never understand it, I suppose,” Cefin said. I gave a short chuckle and continued masaging his legs. No matter how close he desired to be to me in his youth, I always pushed him away by confusing him. It was easy to do, as it seemed no human was capable of understanding instantaneous trade, or communication, over long distances.

“Oh, you just don’t want to,” I said and stood. I wiped the excess balm off my hands on the bottom of my cloak. It would collect more dirt from the cave, but cleanliness didn’t much interest me at this time. “It’s like an ethereal market in the back of every Meddyg’s mind; one offers up a number of items for trade and asks for a specific need in return for whatever they take.”

“I get that much,” Cefin said, “State’s tried to replicate it and force the villages into joining their setup. I don’t get, and I’m sure they don’t get, how you move physical objects such great distances in no time at all. They instead use objects made to specific standards and place them in every city, town, and village, so that anyone who wanted a tool for a task has what they need available.”

“It’s a horrible substitute,” I said, “You can’t make a standard wolf to trade for a standard wife.” The look on his face amused me, as did any expression of realization from a human.

“So you, with the she-wolf,” he stuttered. “How did you get a wolf’s brain into a woman’s body?”

“Magic,” I replied. An overly simplified answer, one which he was again not pleased with. Magic was just a word to describe things unexplained or not understood and he knew this; he also knew that everything occurred for a reason and that if something seemed magic, it was because they just hadn’t figured it out yet.

“I can’t tell you how to do it without you taking years of training as a Meddyg, Cefin.” This was the first time I’d used his name since he was in his twenties, long before he was the Magistrate of the village. Hearing his name spoken resonated with him and brought him back to the reality of the situation. He was no longer a Magister, and as such I did not call him by that title.

“I’m not happy with that answer, but I suppose I’ll have to accept it. You have rules to follow just like anyone else.” He stood and stretched his legs. We continued on in silence again.

Ibis’s Flight part 1

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Consider this a rough draft. Feel free to let me know if I did anything stupid.

The woman tapped her forehead with two fingers on her right hand. The man furled his brow as he thought about what that might mean. Meanwhile, I watched.

“Why do you keep asking me these questions?” the woman asked, “Why is there a hearing? How can you not look at her and know she is sinister? She stole my mind,my body, my life! She turned me into this!” Now she rose to show the audience of one herself in full: a thoroughly average woman of medium stature and weight. His brow remained furled.

She then banged on the desk before him, “YOU! ANSWER! She has you now, doesn’t she? She’s warping you! She-”

“He’s not my type,” I interrupted. Her face twisted into an impudent snarl; her nose curled as if something rotten were thrust below it. She aimed a perfectly normal, human finger at my face.

“She has no respect! See how she interferes with the proceedings!”

“Which you were just arguing again-”

“It’s not your turn!”

I put my hands up in resignation and remained seated as she breathed heavily through her average-sized nasal passage. By now the judge in this case had attempted to unfurl his brow by applying great pressure from his fingertips.

“Now as I was saying,” the woman continued, feigning calm but still maintaining a tone of indignation in her voice, “She has stolen everything from me and turned me into something I cannot stand to be. She did not give me what I asked for, and she has ruined my life. I cannot go back home! I cannot move on!”

“Madam,” the man finally spoke. “This is something I see quite often. Ibis is someone I see quite often.” The woman’s face piqued. She looked almost thrilled to hear that I see this magistrate regularly. “People come to her for miracles and she gives them reality. What did you come to her as? A she-wolf. What are you now? A human. You wanted to be a wife to your master, and now you are. I don’t at all see how the Meddyg failed in your fantasy.”

The woman’s excitement quickly waned. “But he does not want me, and it is because she did not make me beautiful!” I laughed, but the judge put up a finger to silence me.

“Your master does not want you because he wanted a dog, not a wife,” he said, “I suppose Ibis intended you to realize that sooner.” He looked to me and I nodded. “She’d have turned you back in an instant if you’d just have asked. It’s a shame she had to waste my time like this.”

The woman bore a look of confusion now, her eyes twitching slightly at the thought of betrayal. “I don’t … understand.”

“No, I don’t think you would. Meddyg Ibis, if you please.” He gestured to me, then to the woman. “I would like you to undo whatever it is you have done to this beast.”

“Oh come now, Magister, I didn’t make her that hideous,” I said, though he frowned disapprovingly at me. I laughed and pulled a collar and leash from my satchel. “From bitch, to bitch, to bitch,” I said as I latched the collar around her throat. The words were unnecessary, but it gave me some mild amusement as she tried to feign reluctance at receiving the leather strap.

In an instant a large black half-wolf sat upon the magistrate’s chair. Whatever other half her dog self was, I never bothered to ask. Perhaps I did inquire when I returned her to her master a short time later, but as it is unimportant to me, I retained no thought of it. I’m sure the mystery will allow any number of story-tellers to fill in the blanks as they see fit based upon their audience. The man thanked me for return of his dog, and made no mention of the woman who followed him home from hunting the day he lost her.

The magistrate called upon me at my home later that week. It was no small feat as I lived an hour’s walk from the village and he was far past his prime. “I do make housecalls,” I said as he opened my door. He never knocked, in all the years he’s visited me he has never knocked. I remained facing the pot of tea I had prepared as the leaves steeped. I heard him seat himself at my small table.

“One of these days,” he said as he stretched his legs under the table, “It will not be me and you will be forced to admit that you can’t see into the future and that you’ve been making tea for two every night for twenty-odd years, whether I show up or not.” I brought a cup of tea to him bearing the same mirthful smile I always do when he says that.

“What brings you here this time?” I asked. “Is it the puppies?” He gave me a quizzical look that quickly turned to realization. He chuckled, not because he was amused by the comment, but because he was nervous.

“City affairs,” He said and sipped, eying me over the edge of his cup. He was trying to gauge my response, but it was always hard for him. Familiar facial tics and twitches were not something I had. My eyes did not shine when I was filled with glee, nor did my nostrils flare when I was angered. To his, and many others’, irritation and discontent, I was eternally bemused by the daily lives of humans.

He continued to sip, and to stare. This had to be big news. I retrieved a bottle of liquor from my cupboard before returning to the table and filled my teacup with it. I held it out to the magistrate and he set his own cup down in favor of the alcohol. This is really big news. I stared into his eyes as he sipped his new drink.

“Well, your wish is coming true,” I said to him after he finished the shot of liquor. He started, unprepared for my statement. “If you’re wondering how much I know about what you’re going to say, you can be delighted or dissatisfied in knowing I have no idea what you’re here for.”

“State has taken the village,” he said, “They will come for you in the morning. They will not find me in my office tomorrow, and they will come for me, too.”

For the first time in three decades, I frowned.

An Old Short

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Originally posted on TCB Mon, 15 Dec 2003 01:27:59 GMT

Sandra sat at the terminal, leaning on her crossed arms in front of the keyboard. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Shock, worry, fear, and all the emotions she was told never to feel were washing over her face all at once, which resulted in her stone-cold visage squeezing out a few salty tears. These feelings, as she knew, were simple replacements, something to soothe her most prominent feeling of complete emptiness.

There was something missing in Sandra now, and she knew what it was. The connection had been severed. She was the most alone she had ever been in her life, though she was currently in a room with at least a dozen others, all in as much shock as her from the disturbing occurrences.

The air echoed with questions of Amanda’s well-being, doubts of her survival, and premature praise of the agent’s past life. The video feed was down. Audio was gone, too. Sandra, along with two others, waited at their terminals for any sign of Amanda.

But Sandra knew that there was no hope. Amanda was dead.

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