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ethela penna

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  1. The dog-beast has died. This was not an act of probability. Except, perhaps, where the unpredictability of emotions are concerned. Still, all things happen for a reason, however infinitesimal; with the mantras of cause and effect duplicated and duplicated again, her faith is reaffirmed. Emotions are not so unpredictable when they connect with realities, and the dog-beast had a tibia of hers that she needed. She came to this city for a reason, and she is dying in this city for a reason, too. It may take a prodigy to realize the entangled dots within the city and within her, but she has faith that the reasons were there. Like a droplet of water running down the streams towards the ocean, she simply must continue moving forward. In this simplistic course of action all things become clear, and the vast ocean of possibility which lays in the future greets her with open arms. Freedom, in some sense. Rest, in another sense. Memories, in the previous week, had not lingered but for days. She drifted past alien landscapes and the forgotten identifiers of nameful hills. She set her course by the unsetting, unrising sun, which had more of a name than she had. The last she remembers is the same that she repeats to herself now: “For the cause, everything.” The girl is not a prodigy but she does have faith. She has too her tibia. Almost. She is still crawling towards that corner in which a once-whining, wounded heap is now collapsed and from which a stream of ants pours from the perforations in the flesh. The “blood” of demons — she wouldn’t know what blood looks like, so to her it is no more surprising than the cloudy color of the sky. The dog-beast has been murdered, she realizes as she grasps the metallic bone with her teeth. This means she is alone once more. The girl turns over and continues the transmission. It spins out of her like a string, unspooling and unraveling in the dusty, lonesome air in hopes of finding another. So it had been cast to her, and so she casts it outwards, once more. “KZKKZZRRkk —Playback: —zzzz— RESET: begin.” “Salutations from the 10th of August. That is not a date. Telerian City knows, don’t you — we’re the premiere radio station bringing new and news, straight from the ivory towers at the intersection of 55th and 2nd Midtown.” “But Telerian City is gone, aren’t you? Aren’t you, fellas? Raise your hand if you can’t hear me. Or better yet, gimme a call: 1-800-324-8711, toll-free. Your chance to get put on the air live. Right here. Right now. Please.” “…Speaking of news. Ah-ah, Whispernight’s the talk of the town, isn’t it? Tell us, fellas and fellettes, now’s the storm come and gone, how are you feeling? Still hanging on? Grandma crawled outta bed one last time to strangle you near to death? How’s the food looking — if it hasn’t grown limbs, it’s fine, according to 1 out of the 3 remaining doctors.” A pause; murmurs hissed underneath the threshold of hearing as if in consultation. “The other two say that the limbs are just bonus meat.” A laugh. “But we’re running out of limbs fast, here. The kids have stopped crying, that’s nice. Some of them have stopped breathing, too, not so nice. But nobody lives forever. Still, don’t you think that it’d be better to live longer, than so briefly? Discuss with your family while you still can.” “Best regards from the 10th of August, and if you can hear this, you know the number to call. You know the place. You’re already on the way. I hope.” “I wish it was reason that brought you here,” the transmission says suddenly, broken up through the sounds of clacking bone and swarming corpses that have detached from where they’ve been fused to the walls. They converge on the bonfire, as lost souls might in the vast, cold, lonely darkness. Hungry, perhaps, for the presence of another. For safety, and warmth, all the things each living thing must crave for lack of madness. A short burst of static as lightning shoots up the edges of the ivory towers once more. The voice is patient, a pause as if waiting for this to abide, then in a long sigh: “…but wishes are not granted in places like these.”
  2. ethela penna

    Train to Ignatz

    Scientist, she said — pshaw — the learned people really owned the world, didn’t they? Clotho scuffed his shoes on the concrete a little, looked at Carina with the appraising eye. Clothes and hair down to code; with something of eccentricity, something of expectation, Crook hanging jaunty, with low dignity, in a way that gateways to All-Knowledge should not have been. But those were the norm for the learned people. Who’d afford a Crook otherwise, in this day and age? Personal libraries were on the way out in favor of the peculiar machines, but they were all the same otherwise. Badges so typical as to be common, of elevation in social altitude correlated purely with knowledge. As if it made those learned few more able, and in that way gave them authority, made them better, made it so they owned the world. Well, they thought they did. And they thought they could save it, if only they wanted. Fix a train for goddamn fun, huh? Clotho couldn’t say the idea didn’t appeal. Only a select few could be heroes, after all. “You know what, sure. Fire away, missus scientist. No one’s time being wasted except ours,” he said. “Gaia knows mine ain’t valuable enough for this shit. You say road trip, I’ll find you a car. But we sure as hell ain’t going to find one here. Let’s head back to the inn and see if the more fortunate can’t cough up a pair to spare for the shining future of this city.” He offered a few more words for Liir: “If you wanna do something, do it all the way yourself. Governments are useless in times of duress. Ashville has been eaten and Last Chance sieged, see, and that’s just not right. Count your blessing it hasn’t come to Casper, but if it does it’ll be Casper that saves itself. You can only count on people to save themselves.” And sometimes, people couldn’t even do that. He stuck his head out the gate for good measure, scanned the streets for tell-tale signs of sharklike men. “By God, all the good I’d do if I had money…”
  3. ethela penna

    A rose grows in concrete [dali]

    Evening. Sunset not quite brilliant, spilling more like paint than light on the underside of the clouds, with rays far and few between scattering through the thick air. One of these, stray and careless, illuminates the Dali estate at the top of the hill. The carriage rumbles along the stilted stone road leading up the hillside. In the short gaps between the rhythmic striking of hooves upon brick and the dissonant striking of wheels upon brick, there is the dead sound of the ocean that echoes through the sparse tree-cover. It is an empty, dry, sandy sound. Deadness, like the notable absence of cicada-chirp in the waning days of autumn. Deadness, like that which makes the air inside the carriage ponderous and still although outside the sea-breeze, blowing counter to their ascent, blows more than gently. Merel is looking out toward the trees that look all the same sifting by, through the distracted hazy gauze of not-really-caring, or put more nicely not-focusing-at-all. She has been like this for a while, Varda notes. It is the first time she has been like this since she was born. Had she hardened, or had she become more brittle? But surely she was more broken apart now, and yet she had this stony, solid hollow airs like a dried-up lion-spout fountain. Charming darling Merel, drained of charm, jarring that she is daring nothing more of being darling. Once all that is drained away what is left? Varda does not know that she would like to know, does not know that she would like to see in what pattern the coins have landed. The quiet stretches long like the road. It seems that each second of silence adds another foot to the path. It was the middle of summer, and the flowers were all long dead dropped off the trees, but their perfumes still hung on, corpse-like, remnants drifting hazily around their lost futures. Finally, Varda sees fit to break the silence. She must fear entrenchment and inertia. That is uncharacteristic of her. Varda thrives in the opposite of tumult. “How do you do it, sister?” Merel sees her sister’s reflection turn to face her. She presses a hand against the window, covering the little shadow beneath the pale moon of her own face. But she can still feel Varda’s expectant, perhaps desperate eyes pawing at her shoulder. She tries not to notice. Her sister takes the silence as a request for clarification. “The idle chatter—the political talk—it’s not exactly my forte.” I know, she feels like snapping. She does know. Varda was never the one who Father favored for celebrations, foreign meetings, balls, wine-and-dinners. It was more important to Father that Merel learn the size of the world and see everything beautiful in it. So it was her who went, always; her who danced with the lovely boys from afar, her who beamed and shone like a star, her who was Father’s joy. She was the one to giggle with the diplomats, hear their stories, feel their warm gaze, receive their gifts. Her, always by Father’s side. While Varda was at home, always at the manor but never within it; always out in the fields, enjoying herself with the plants of the earth. Rooting in the dirt all alone, cut off from the rest, like a peasant, like a pig — Merel feels the tears coming, and bites on her lip, hard. Varda has done nothing wrong, she reminds herself. A sister who has been their mother once their real mother became too sickly to rise to that task. Then, she reminds herself that nobody is beyond suspicion. Least of all the new Lady-Hildebrand. “I know,” Merel whispers. Then, louder but just as softly, “I know.” Quiet, like a thin coat of snow, falls on them again. “Well —” Varda says, again. “Do you have any suggestions for me? What to do, what not to do…” “It’s easy.” It genuinely is; her father made it seem so natural. In his broad shoulders, arms swinging forth like a king who wanted to embrace the whole world, vast warm enveloping arms, he held love in them. Like the great gentle bear in the room, people would make way but look fondly as he passed. If he ever wanted for anything it was enemies. “Just be an ally. Be magnanimous.” Nobody would willingly make enemies with a man who could smile all the way from his mouth to his soul. He had the look of a man who knew exactly the aspect of true love, and saw it in everything and everyone. His favorite place was right up there beside the thrones of others; not looking at the other Lord at all, but looking at the audience, taking all of it in. That glint in his eyes was the reflection of love; eternal, youthful, bountiful. “Be happy. Hearty. Like a great big warm rock of will. Everyone seemed to like that.” And they did. The golden light off goblets and amber wine, spilling together in toast after each speech, each rousing word. Hildebrand was a brand of warm hearths and warm beds. “That’s…easy, isn’t it?” By the end, she is whispering again. This time she does not correct herself. She is busy, looking far off through the window towards better days. Varda decides, at last, not to disturb her. “Thank you, Merel.” At last, they arrive. Foreign lands held by a foreign fist, firm but no less fruitful than any other fist; and Dali, less clenched than it was simply careful. Merel, in going through all her memories, remembers a little of all this. Varda nods. “After you, sister?” Iyalon holds the door open in that perfectly servile way that seems pathological to the Izora blood. Something of pride, nothing of servitude. Varda loves it with her eyes, Merel knows. Iyalon is bowed, but his eyes flick upwards to appraise their every need. If he blinks, she cannot see it. If he falters, she cannot see it. So perfectly at ease and at alert. She wonders if he has ever been in love, and if he has ever had it broken like a bone to his face. But his eyes reveal nothing. Merel averts her gaze, turning it towards the silhouette of the manor, and steps out onto the the dry dirt characteristic of the southern sea-hills which crunches beneath her boots. The breeze rises around her, smelling of ocean. To her that means fish, but faint, fresh, and light. Like the glistening lean cold salmon that Father used to love so much. Varda steps down hurriedly and straightens out her dress. Merel does the same, smoothing the creases in the black of mourning. She knows that appearances must be flawless. She may wear the color of mourning, but she cannot look like it. “Iyalon.” She thrusts her sword, Brynhilde, towards him without turning her head. It was Father’s greatest treasure, which he had given to his greatest treasure. She brought it because she needed it. And because she thought it needed her, too, in the curious way that sentimental gifts attach themselves like limpets to reciprocal emotions. Nostalgia, love, pure, innocent, love. It loved her. She had grown used to the weight of it, and she felt heavier without it. “This is my greatest treasure. You are not to lose it.” She smiles, radiantly, at Varda. It is half the sun she usually is; but still a full half more than she felt. Appearances. Be happy, her father seems to remind her. “Shall we head in, Sis?”
  4. ethela penna

    the blood we share [house hildebrand; closed]

    xii. On the day of the feast, Merel loses all balance, all her life’s balance, and is pushed into a chasm darkly. But not yet — no, not yet. It is not this way at first; although besides Esme’s starlike radiance hers pales, Merel has a more even glow that spreads throughout. Her sister attracts eyes with her skill and dominance; Merel slides through attention with grace, fluidity. She takes the young men dancing, sends them twirling into the crowd from their shy corners. She lingers on the edges of conversation, bright ideas on the tongue, bright eyes and opinions aplenty. She brings Father gifts of food, of drink, all the prettiest things that mother cannot bring him now that she is ill, and he is tired. “How do you feel?” she asks on one such trip to refill his wine. He looks at the spectacle — content, but weary. “As if the future of this house is greyer than ever. No longer the bleakness of a tyrant. But mysteries are little better than the devil you know.” Still, for Merel, he always has a smile ready. So it is with seeming optimism that he gives his answer. “Oh you know that’s just not true. Not when the devil was a demon and the mysteries are sent down from the skies.” “It is just a feeling,” he admits. “And how is your back feeling then, Father?” “Intuition grows sharper with age, brat,” he chuckles. “Go back to your dances while your back still holds.” He watches the family be family for a few seconds more. But soon, with hesitance, he leaves suddenly. A great grave sense. “Where’s papa?” Suri asks suddenly, in the midst of hearty laughter as Jasper leans furiously on Iyalon, not entirely able to stand. The young girl is perceptive: “He disappeared.” “It does not befit a lord to miss any party of his,” Merel scolds; Suri nods ferociously, mouthing the words alongside. “Doesn’t befit. Not one bit!” She giggles at her own rhymes. “That’s absolutely right.” And where should a lord be if not with his family? But there are some places that all men must go, eventually; though Merel does not yet know this. Father’s chamber is dark when she arrives. It smells like old wood and the evening flowers of summer brushing through the open windowpane. The air is too light for what lies within. Merel drops to her knees, touches Father’s stomach, feels the cold blood running like time, like dry sand through her fingers. It slips away too easily. It is thinner than water and heavier than ice. At the heart of it she can feel hardness, buried deep within. Father was never a hard or cruel man; he was soft and benevolent and tried to embrace all he knew in a wide nourishing embrace. This hardness is alien. It plunges through everything through the bones and leaves out the back and seems to be buried deep in the heartwood of the seat. This hardness is not part of Father. And yet she cannot seem to remove it. Merel cannot remove this thing. However much she pulls, cuts her fingers, feels her still-warm blood mingle with the rest. It is impossible, Merel. It is permanence, Merel. She screams. Now. Yes, now.
  5. ethela penna

    Train to Ignatz

    “Now hold on here —” He riffles his pockets real quick (they can’t have made it here in one piece, could they?) digs up a coin, flips it into some transient’s bucket, and looks behind him just in case. “ — what’s this about fixing the train?” Bad days in Casper; been a while since the Lightning Rail worked, been a while since the great cities got eaten up in fire and brimstone and hatred. Those vitriolic things which corrode a society from the scum off the ground and eat up towards the high-storied heavens. It couldn’t have happened, an impossibility, those stories flooding into Casper day after day with the refugees: vampires in Tia, androids in Hell’s Gate. Yes, here where everything was steady and life crawled on as usual, here which hardly seemed like the same world and not a single soul cared about the going-ons of the other world. Elsewhere was a place forever in stasis, it had seemed. Then it hadn’t; then the Lightning Rail shut down, its control center elsewhere torched by revolutionaries and maniacs, as if; then Casper was well and truly alone and cut off from the rest of the dark continent. Well, these are the things that happen when reality moves forward at an unchecked pace. Some people get left behind; those people are thankful when the others throw themselves off the cliffs of progress. Clotho had no opinions on the matter, and he did not have family elsewhere. Casper he was born, and Casper he stayed. The Rail was a distant fact, gleaming on the terminal, its cathodes and anodes polished and magnetic in their grace. He whistled at the emptiness. “Claustrophobic a bit when it ain’t crowded, huh? Well, what am I saying, you guys hadn’t been here when it was functional. Real sight to behold, all those people packed in like sausages. Where did they think they were going, anyway?” “So anyway —” he started again. “Fixing the train. Didn’t know I was running around with a couple-a-whatsits, mechanics?”
  6. ethela penna

    Dice Rolling Thread

  7. She has no action in her, but of course not. What should one expect from a cripple of this caliber? That dog-beast who’d come near has now four broken legs, whining in the corner, but that was all she could do; and he found a bone for his trouble. Now it was two cripples sharing the same space. She watched him chew on her tibia. She tried to work up some sort of indignity to twist her torn-up smile into a snarl, but found nothing. They were almost alike. Gaunt as it was, the dog’s moans were piteous. Like a wounded dog — oh! How bitter the likeness in her mind, she observes wondrously — she, too, cannot do anything but yelp, unable even to nurse herself, lacking the ability. Piteously she must yelp for the aid of a handler, someone to put her back together and make things right. Nothing else can be done. (Limbs were, some would say, an invention most marvelous). This, she notes as “unfortunate.” She wonders when the answerers will answer, if ever. It is soon, she knows; the city is crackling apart, because there came another entrant who burst through the crust, fractures spreading throughout its false peace. Despite ideals and dreams, peace is achieved only when everything and all have died; not merely half. There is still half left in this city, and theirs was a fragile sleep. When she arrived, she had awoken some. That more have started to march through the streets, means more like her have arrived. For the first time in a long few apocalyptic months, she reckons, the city’s population has increased. Much, one might imagine, to the chagrin of those old few already tenant. “Automated message repeats in three — two — kkt.” The transmission changes tone. “}<}{\]<:]] — zzz ——Playback: —zzzz— begin.” Nothing is said. The listeners, however, hear much; chiefly, the rising of a terrible wind. “…I wish it was reason that brought you here,” the transmission says suddenly, broken up through the dust and suddenly rushing wind. “But wishes are not granted in places like these.” The towers are conductor now to an orchestra of horse-hair lightning and thrumming thunder. The litter off the streets trembles, and is then sucked away. The air, once dry, is filled with a persevering, thick moisture, the same which mists off belching swamps and sun-heat blazing down on open wounds. All this, happens in the precise mode and speed of a storm at sea shambling its dusky, fishy power onto shore. The sun does not, however, move. It is held in place by the press of the ground beneath, and the press of clouds above; shining its sad, smothered rays down the corridor between earth and sky. “Because you are here, you must not fear reason. Please, save our souls.”
  8. ethela penna

    Notice of Excellence v.2

    Thread: the blood we share. Writer: @ourlachesism Why: Most things in this world - art, music, writing - cannot be understood until they are experienced. I am firmly of the belief that this entire thread as it is so far, is worth the minutes it would take one to experience it. The short of it, however, is that - don't take my word for it - this thread is harmonically perfect, and directorially magnificent. Each line of each post comes as another lyric of a poem spun out in prose; each post comes as a stanza, through which the immaculate beginnings of a tragic family are sculpted from the marble of nothing more than an idea and a name. Each character takes form swiftly, smoothly, and in their creation reveal yet more of the backdrop that envelops them and binds their fates together as family. Or, who knows; maybe I'm a sucker for form and structure. But to that end, anyone should be. Especially when it's executed this well. ~*~ On the day the king dies, Nai invents a potion that cures the common cold instantly. ... "Useless." ~*~ On the day the king dies, Varda is planting wheat in the fields. ... It reaches her ears then: the wave of shattered noise...a streak of light above that distant city-speck, sees change in the air. ~*~
  9. ethela penna

    the blood we share [house hildebrand; closed]

    v. On the day the king dies, Merel receives a gift she has never wanted. Her father tells her that Brynhilde was the name of a great queen once upon a long time, who resided over the sea; whose like no one knew of, anywhere; who was beautiful and mighty beyond imagination. And in those days to be queen was no small feat, in the days of heroes and dark hatreds that split the earth. One of those darknesses claimed her eventually: Brynhilde died having nothing but a broken heart. Nothing, for she gave everything to her bastard son borne of love. Her land, her title, her blood, her name. Her father says that it was from this tragic inheritance that the Hildebrands sprung. Her father says, too, that the most precious thing Brynhilde left to the family was her beauty, which young Merel took all for herself, he laughs. Her father knows many stories like that, most of which, she thinks, must be fictions. But it is true that the words on the edge of the blade, traced in a script written by a lovelorn hand, spell For Brynhilde and nothing more. He traces his finger down where the name is written, down along a long strip of silvery metal that has been polished in that rough way by the work of thousands of loving fingers. Do you see the name? She is the queen of our house. It has been a long time since I have had occasion to touch this, he says. But your twentieth year is a rare occasion indeed. She has never wanted this, but she will treasure it. Are you sure, she wants to ask. But the way her father smiles reminds her of things like fate, immortality, prophetic wisdom. To her, he is the greatest, the kindest. She knows that he is sure, in this moment; he has been sure always. For Merel, the love affair begins with the stolen kitchen-jars on the shelf of a girl aged five. In each, soft filmy water supports a sprig of roses, drooping lilacs, plucked peonies and preserved asters. She cannot wait to show Father. But she has made a mistake. Father is — not angry, he is not angry — Father is stern when he discovers them. Flowers are not to be picked, he says to his own darling flower, as he orders the jars taken away. But as he takes, so does he give: here is a flower that will last forever. It is a bronze key in the likeness of a carnation. The love affair begins in the secret garden at the heart of the manor, Father strolling down the aisles of his greatest treasures, clasping the delicate hand of his greatest treasure. She caresses the broad leaves, she kisses the orchids and comes up cheeks dusty with pollen, she sleeps beneath the wide crooning branches of the peach-trees. Never again does she pick a flower. Not so long as she has the only one she has ever wanted. This selfsame charm hangs around the pale skin of her chest, rocking back and forth as she walks through the selfsame garden, turning the sword over and over in her hands. It is heavy, soothingly heavy. Her arms feel right, carrying this burden. Try it, he says. She does. It goes wild, the tip slashing towards a vine. She gasps, almost dropping the blade. Father laughs. With less fear this time, he says. See, it’s dull. The vine has merely been nudged out of the way. She picks up her arm, grimacing. Come, I’ll show you. But he doesn’t. A whisper moves through the plants, rushing into his ears: The wind sweeps the plain. Fickle Change is on the wing. Andelusia has fallen to foreign whirlwinds and strange gales. But inside the secret garden the air is still, tranquil. All is as it has been. It is immortality, of a sort. Her father asks her to stay, in this place where death does not lay; and with all the towering concern that she knows him for, he goes away. She does not mind. She hugs Brynhilde to her chest and watches his back retreat into the living plane. He has another kingdom to tend to. But this one here among the secret poisons and spreading fronds of the jungle trees, this is his first. She knows him that well. And if she waited forever, he’d come eventually. So there is no urgency in her. Merel makes herself comfortable among the trees and opens a book from her bag, one of the thousands in the library, one of the many stories that taught her father how to tell stories. It is an alleged history of the first Lords-Hildebrand. Merel idly plays a finger down a shiny, well-worn strip along the sword’s edge, the same way she imagines all the past Lords-Hildebrand have before, the same way her father had. One day she would never be Lady, and neither did she want things like that. But it did not hurt, every once in a while, to dream of silly things, like a princess would.
  10. Much like those of beached whales, this particular carcass seemed too to grow with the sun as the shadows stretched long. But the city had always been heavy, a swollen black mark on the decaying landscape. Dying cities are ever thus. This one was long dead, but still it had the aspect of a freshly rotting carcass, the same fertility of maggots that shuddered over other diseased cities. Whenever there was light in the sky it was turned away. But it was worst at the threshold between night and day. Only when the sun was on the horizon did the light stream through the narrow streets and rotting timbers, and one could see all the choking smog and wet mist, billowing, gritty particulate shit, clouds of dying flies on the wing in the sunbeams between the tall, concrete block towers. Everything took on a more raw, fresher luster from the reddish light. On foot, one might feel herself to be in the musty ribcage of the complex beast, with the sun lined up down each row of bones. From high and far above it was not so different, except the city was uglier and the sunset was prettier. I could hear the sea-wind whipping the waves into a frenzy beneath, I could smell the rot-fish and bursting, putrefied bodies piled up along the seashore. I tried to keep my eyes up and away from holocaust sights below. I tried to look at the stars — aren’t they pretty, maybe — or about the skies — night blue, night black, like a bruise swelling up with dying blood — there was no helping it. There was no helping it, none at all. That is the power of trainwrecks, after all. Here was the wreck, red with fire from the setting sun. Allegedly, humans cannot tell sunset from sunrise. Ridiculous, I know — we have the all-powerful watch, the astronomies that proceed like clockwork. But strip away the auxiliaries, as humans are naturally without. Alone, without time, without the other objects in space, just us and the fire-maned eye which glares viciously back. And the ruins beneath, henged like an altar. Well, I still see sunset after all. But maybe it is true that perception cannot be trusted. That liberty from delusion is itself a delusion. Maybe it is true, that which they assert concerning prediction and understanding, a woman’s intuition, the still blur of a hummingbird’s wings, echoes repeated, phantom limbs, sweet water, yesterdays that never were, and the shadowy limits of eyeballs in a cave: that relative to the skull, truth and knowledge run in parallel; one within, one without. I cannot say. But I do remember a few things. When we were children, the specters in the imaginary reached out to us with real, true things. Nightmares and phobias that would send maggots scattering through our innards. Dreams, too: mysteries of the vast wide world; ill-conceived illusions of maturity, adulthood, responsibility. Hopes as good as realities. We always dreamt of being astronauts, didn’t we? Yet here we are. Embarrassed a little, chuckling, because there was once a haze on our clear minds but that had been overcome. Clarity is our faith. (Is it so impossible that these glamours still cling to us like specters?). So maybe that faith was never meant to be. Could just be pretentious philosophizing. So allegedly, humans cannot tell sunset from sunrise. But there was endemic here an end of a sort. End. It does a person no good to contemplate things like “end.” Time spent considering the precipice is better used to paddle backwards, to put it off further and further. If only it could stay stationary like the horizon; if everything could simply freeze. Then a bird could rest its wings, and consider the ground beneath with more than a passing glance. Then the dying would have no fear. Then the sharks would suffocate, then and there. Unfrozen, the barb caught me in my chest. I felt the metal twist through, all the way through, wringing out what it touched like a wet towel: my heart, my lung, my bones. I — the girl in the scorched watercolors, a solid fleck amongst hazy towers of ash, the still hummingbird, wings clipped by circumstance — we are one and the same — I fell. Pitched like a waxwing slain, is what she wanted to believe. But above carrion, she was more the naked vulture. Tumbling, tossing, she hurtled into the rotting city. Magnesium is a chemical element with symbol Mg, atomic number 12. It is the ninth most abundant element in the universe, the eighth most abundant in the world’s crust, and the eleventh most abundant in the human body, all by mass. It is most commonly found in conjunction with other elements; having an electron valence of two, it readily combines with a number of other particles to form compounds necessary to sustain life. It can also be isolated: when existing as a free metal, it takes on a silvered appearance. In this state, it is explosively reactive with air, and when lit burns with a light so ghastly and a flame so ascendant that it scorches its surroundings until all that is left is its own brilliance, floating in pale, desaturated void. Lonely, the way stars are born. However, it is not malicious. Left alone, its surface is marred by a series of rapid microreactions that dull the shine and generate an ashy, passive crust of oxide which preserves it and renders it meek. Left alone, it is safe. It should be known, however, that the patina is atomically thin. Any incautious handling is a risk. Any stray motion may break the skin. The girl dared not stir amidst the dust. She could not; her bones jut out of her body like the rusted rebar from the concrete around her. Useless? If she strained, she might rustle enough bone to clack together. She did not do so. Her eyes were wide, watching the procession of ash across the remnants of her left elbow. She tried not to breathe. Breaths would stir the dust, and where the dust stirred the devils came looking. The devils were made of insubstantial things like fear, and venom, and wicked prayer. Even as she watched another drew itself upright in a darkened corner of the room. It wobbled around, as if mystified, never looking down towards prey half-buried. But it was awake, and that was enough for it to know. It sniffed the absent wind like a wolf. Eventually it left to wander the streets, alongside the other twelve that had risen since she had fallen. For the same reason, she did not blink. One of the few things she had the ability to do; and she must not. The girl did not mind. As long as she lived, she could blink another day. But this city was awakening now, having felt a break in its peace. Lightning crawled up and down the lengths of the towers, like the tines of forks sticking up from the burnt-black charcoal city. The air came alive at last, poorly. The buzzing was the same as that of locusts; the same as that of unpleasant, mindless chatter. Pervasive, and infinitely patient — that was how the gates to the underworld opened. No drama accompanied it. It was enough drama on its own. First came the static-electricity dust devils, inspired by her presence, but soon more substantial searchers would come. Seekers with eyes. Wickedly horned seraphs; skeletons of the formerly good. Eventually, she would be found. But in a way, she was hoping for something like that. She could not blink, but the internals still functioned, if barely. “TRANSMISSION; 387.24MHz: TELERIAN CITY <\]:>”\; COOR: 35.86.002, 51.11.873 \,:|:>;.\{:<;’;{} REQUESTING ASSISTANCE }{”><[]{<:?>>> Automated message repeats in 3…” @-Lilium-
  11. ethela penna

    the adventure begins

    The intent observer looked on. Standing aside for now — the customers were fed, watered, and cared for — Sharon had no role demanding her except that of being the fly on the wall. The tourists had reunited and parted again, swapping places like the sides of a coin. Chloe, for his part, did not seem to mind talking to either the head or the tail in all his bombast. At some points he verged on the cliff edge of ridiculous, past the bluffs of unbelievable. But they had been friends for a long time, and she’d learned to see through the show around when he’d conned the hundredth gold piece out of her. To anyone else, he was a perfect blithering buffoon, harmless and unwieldy and clumsy. To her… Well. He was still a buffoon, just one of a different sort. She held back her snorts as they carried on. A true upstanding citizen might enjoy himself a great dignity for being upstanding, so straight-backed he’d gotten a few inches of moral high ground on the rest. A few inches were enough for the eyes to angle downwards, and for the chin to dip proudly. These were the things Clotho learned from observing the gentrified. Morals or money gave them the right to be right, and took that same away from all others. The upstanding believed that not that they owned the community, but rather than they were the community, the guardians of its chastity, the sole magnetic force keeping it from sliding into the gaping abyss. When questioned, they would answer that they were not to be questioned. Authority took on such looks in Casper, anyway. You should’ve asked what was going on before accusing the man with the shiny gem of making the girl cry. “You aren’t hardly from around here, miss, are you?” No, of course she wasn’t — innocent tourist that she was. “Otherwise maybe you’d be singing a different tune ‘bout benefit of the doubt.” Who are you, anyway? “Maybe your money’s got you plenty of respect and authority other places, but not here, no. You go around asking everyone who they are?” Clotho sniffed, drank some more coffee. “You wanna hear my life story? Or what, you don’t talk to people who ain’t rich that you ain’t heard of? I just — puzzle me on this one — what kind of answer you want out o’ me, ‘Who are you’? You suddenly curious about my name? I’ll ask you why then — what’s the name of a stranger matter to ya?” Halfway through his spiel, Clotho realized that Clotho, the thief, was interested in the answer, even if Clotho, the “citizen,” was merely raging against the perceived elitism of a who-do-you-think-you-are coming from a gentrified tourist with too much money. What did she mean by it? Was this another tic of the wealthy? “It’s Clotho, Clotho Atropo.” If you’re such an upstanding citizen — “Suppose I am, but I didn’t bust my balls working the streets so tourists could walk in to laugh at my trying to keep things decent.” — then I suppose you won’t mind showing two innocent tourists the quickest way to get to Hell’s Gate? “But shore, I’ll learn you a thing or two about this side of Casper, long as you don’t try to learn me back about the same thing.” He set down his coffee and clapped contentedly. “Well, missus. Let’s go, then. You know the light rail is closed, yeah, because everyone knows. So if you want to get out of town for a little while, well. Might take a little scouting. But I might have friends in the market who might be able to help you out.” Sure, and he’s got a few things he needs to fence on the side. Azar had been keeping a watch on the market for days, but even Azar wouldn’t try anything against tourists in open daylight. Too much tension there. Outsiders were extrajudicial in the poor district of Casper, verboten, taboo. Nobody wants to be known as the town of killers. Even if it was the scum soup, fish-corpse docks where happened everything but; beneath the averted, cloudy eyes of the sun. You can't be too trustworthy of people around here? The halfling, despite her relative newness, had already struck upon the core of the district. The truest word from her addled mouth she'd yet spoken.
  12. Interesting concept. I'll join.
  13. ethela penna

    the adventure begins

    Perhaps it paid to say the obvious. At least, Chloe thought it might (and the long arm of money that drives human action continues to turn). The wound had been exposed, one merely had to try for it. He hooked a seat over and spun it around, planting his chin on his fingers. “Sure, fella, I know a little ‘bout hereabouts. For instance, optics like these,” he gestured at the sobbing halfing, “ain’t quite endearing with the fellas with little girls of their own around here. Or anywhere, really — don’t know where you came from, but throwing money to make girls cry in Casper? Bad look. Not t’mention, quite uncommon, too. Takes real skill to do that. Real slight of hand, in places where they don’t belong.” He held out a mug to a passing serving-girl. “Waitress! Coffee.” Chloe took a short sip, grimaced at the temperature. “Christ, that’s hot. As I was saying —” Thump. “You forgot this. What’s going on here?” “— as I was saying. Well, I’m not saying that what I’m saying is real or true — don’t peg for me a misbeliever in due process — but you’ll forgive me for willing suspension of disbelief, guy.” He took another quick sip, another grimace, jerked his chin up towards the looming eagle. “Girly-friend of yours? Ought to tell your man maybe keep his hands to himself. Maybe keep a better eye on him so’s he don’t go around sticking his jewels places it’s not wanted.” “E-e-excuse me, but can you say excuse me next time?” Clotho nearly choked. “—Excuse me?!” “I was having an important conversation with my friend here —” “You’re tellin’ me you cried and shouted over your friend giving you money?” “— the only unsavory solicitation is that touching you’re doing to someone you don’t even know —” “I was thinking that I might be a good citizen and stop what looks to bystanders like some serious harassment, but I guess if you say that you’re friends —” “—I’m being harassed by strange men I don’t even know, and I’m only seventeen.” “DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY HE WAS YOUR FRIEND?” Well, Clotho was already sitting down, and the die was cast. But he began to sense that all was not right, in the sense that there was a great void of sense common amongst the occupants of the table. “Well, no good deed goes unpunished,” he sighed. He was surrounded by the mad. “Ah, what slander a concerned, upright citizen receives in Casper these days. While the loan sharks and thieves are feasting freely on the lifeblood, like festering sores. That, my friends, is the core of why this city has gone to shit.” But to whom was he preaching but the mad themselves?
  14. ethela penna

    the adventure begins

    “Thank you for the God’s food. She certainly endorses it.” The man was all smiles, and if he could have sunbeams shining out of his pockets he would. He had that beneficiary air; he seemed the type to want pockets full of stars just to gift for fun. His own fun. She matched his dazzle facet for facet, and giggled with all her predatory hopes. “Do enjoy a little yourself, handsome.” Tourists — no other explanation. The procurement of the gem only sang more loudly to that chorus. She cleaned her hands on a towel and pushed her way back into the kitchen. But there were always transients like these, drifting in and out of Casper. People with starry eyes full of alien skies and romantic tongues tasting adventure on every bud, come to some unremarkable port town to run away from the remarkable places they’d been too long. The Stately Hero depended on their vast pockets — and so could a few other leeches that sucked at the city’s gaunt belly. She wondered when Chloe would notice them. Although this was not true with all people — creditors most of all — with Sharon, at least, Chloe had more credit to his wits than she would give him. Did he not have eyes, which he swept over the brim of his coffee? Did he not have ears, catlike in their grace sifting through the conversations? A trill rang up his spine. Did the appearance of a precious gem not emit through his whole being a sound like a crystal bell? Ting, as surely as the movies would portray them. He may have imagined the sound; he could not possibly imagine the unmistakable luster. No, gemstones had special provenance, rooted firmly out of the imagination in beautiful, valuable earth. They had the power of love in them, the power to move hearts and landmasses. Yet here the man was offering it like a candy to a halfling trader Chloe squinted at and thought he might’ve seen once or twice round the block — no matter — candy was meant to be taken. And from sobbing babies the task was much easier. He picked up his mug, downed the rest of his coffee, and cleared his throat on the way to the war. “Well it doth seems that there is some…unsavoury solicitation going on here, is there?” His hand came down on the gem-man’s shoulder, a firm, chastising grip that had as much accusation in it as his words did. Chloe was not at all a large man, but who fisticuffs these days, anyhow?
  15. ethela penna

    the adventure begins

    The Stately Hero employed as its waitress a most stately woman — ah, what poetry, yes — a certain delicate Sharon Rose, every bit as delicate as the flower, and as beautiful. She enjoyed her coffee black, her mornings fresh with the mist of the seaside, and her men dark and passionate. For yes, though Sharon did not have many heartaches in her life, she was greatly enamored with a certain Clotho Atropo, a dashing rogue and handsome thief who swept the nights of Casper; and so beloved was he to her that she was willing to give anything for him; her life, her body, a little bit of extra money off the top of that obscenely large tip she had just fortuitously gained from — “No,” she said flatly, and shut the door in his face. Another feeble, patient knock. “I see your face again, there’s gonna be a few guys you won’t like knocking on your door real soon.” “Like who?” “The coroner.” “Ah, but little could Clotho forget: doesn’t a rose have thorns?” “Chloe, I’ll kill you.” A sound like a choking chicken came muffled from the other side of the kitchen door. Clotho emerged from the street, looking around with a red scowl. “Don’t call me that.” “Don’t ask me for money.” “It bites into my mystique.” “Don’t ask me for money.” Her voice hardened. The ringing of a bell let her know that another order was waiting for her. “Sit down and don’t touch anything.” Fixing a smile on her face, she picked up a plate of eggs and sausage and glided through the door to the restaurant proper. Clotho brushed his hands on his pants and closed the door behind him, looking around at the familiar interior of the kitchen. He could live here, if he really needed to. It felt more like a home every day. That was why he could not tell you how much the knives dangling on the wall cost, no matter how well-honed, no matter how antique they appeared, and why he did not know who was in the market for fencing such things, anyway. They would, however, have fetched a sizable sum; this much, he reckoned purely hypothetically. He couldn’t help his gaze from lingering. When Sharon came back, Clotho had already slunk into a seat near the back of the kitchen. She rang the bell: “I’m taking my break, Jones,” and stripped off her apron, slowly, pretending to fumble with the straps at first, then taking her time to hang it on the highest peg. She busied herself grabbing breakfast, two plates of hash, and poured out two mugs of milk from the refridgerator on the other side of the room. It was too much for one journey, so she took two, weaving back and forth through the chaos of metal tables, fryers, and unwashed pans. She set one mug down in front of Clotho, then the plate; then both for herself, and sat with a sigh. Sharon regarded him a little while, leaning back in her seat. The quiet between them stretched out like a rubber band. “Forks?” His voice cracked on just the one word. She picked a fry off the plate with her slim fingers and popped it into her mouth. “What is wrong with you?” “I just need a little —” “You always need a little bit,” she said quietly, “but what you don’t remember is that lots of little bits make a lot.” “Just this once, just enough to cover this week.” “I didn’t know you’d caught up your rent payments to the present.” When had “this week” become a turn of phrase to refer to past debts? Clotho shifted in his seat and looked at the knives dangling on the wall, avoiding her gaze. Maybe he had pushed his one friend too far. Sharon put the mug of milk down, wiping her lips. Her eyes never left him, and the hardness never left her eyes. “Why don’t you get a real job, Clo?” The statement was rhetorical. “It’s bad this time. Braun says that he’s gonna kick my ass to the curb if I can’t put something up soon.” “Steal something then, like you always do.” She seemed to enjoy watching him wince. “Surely Braun takes gold watches and wedding rings as collateral.” He eyes were in his plate, but his thoughts not at all there. He hadn’t touched his food. “I’ve hit my credit with Azar. I think he’s probably going to start collecting soon.” “Oh?” Sharon did not say anything more, chewing on the new information. Finally: “Well. That’s not good.” “Yeah.” “Can’t say I’m even appalled.” She set her plate aside. Clotho’s status as debtor had nothing to do with his sticky hands, but Sharon always thought they were related at their foundation in a man’s heart. “There ain’t no rest for the wicked, is there?” “Sharon, it’s Azar.” He blinked hard, weakness suddenly overtaking him in the empty spaces that bravado had left behind. He wanted to cry, suddenly, in anger, or shame. “This isn’t funny. You have to help.” “Maybe one day you’ll learn a little bit about how crime and crime go in hand. Things like assault and battery, or grand and larceny.” She cracked a hollow laugh. “Maybe you’re more familiar with the second but Azar might prefer the first.” Clotho gaped, a chill filling his blood. He didn’t know this person. He couldn’t. They must be strangers. “A little bit of karma for stealing. Call it hustle if you like, it ain’t honest. And honest work is what makes this world go around. I’d like to help, but you know how things are.” “Sharon…” “No, Chloe. If conning is the path to success then you should be able to con this problem into a solution.” She got up, smiling unpleasantly. “But if you want to try your luck with real work, you’re standing in the middle of it right here.” He stared at his full plate. He had stopped feeling hungry, suddenly, although he hadn’t had breakfast for days. Maybe he wouldn’t have breakfast ever again. A key fell into the middle of the hash. Sharon eyed him carefully. “I’ll give you a few days to think. The inn’s got an empty room, and rates are low in the off season.” She slipped into her apron, and hit the bell again. She smiled radiantly, her practiced tip-attracting persona shining through. “But I hope you’ll pay us back, sir.” Chloe couldn’t tell whether an angel wore a devil’s skin, or vice versa. But he clutched the key and nodded, nearly overcome again; words wouldn’t come out. But given his silver tongue, he doubted they would help very much. Sharon picked up another plate, this one destined for a halfling as down on her luck as a certain man she knew was, and floated into the tavern once more. A few moments after she left, Clotho, too, pushed through dazedly into the place. A raft was cast down to him, one with a hole punched in its side and sinking slowly — — still, it was better than being eaten by sharks. He sat down to the side and looked around for anything of opportunity to cast itself out to him.