As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Wed Sep 07, 2016 3:05 pm

A trail of mushrooms sprouted out of the warped, weathered wood.

No one could rightly say, later, exactly when they had grown. There seemed to be so many, all at once, that someone should have noticed something—a spore, a swelling. But mushrooms had a talent for sprouting overnight, an unexpected cluster to greet you in the morning. They might last a day if there was rain, but by the following morning, one could be sure that they would collapse in upon themselves, sinking into the ground, leaving not so much as a footprint to show where they had been.

No one could rightly say their color, though most called them white and those with a little more imagination might say cream. They were neither. Up close the cups were ivory overlaid by thin threads of purple, of green, of pale gold, all muted by a fine silver dust. In the dirty dimness of the docks, their gills glowed green like the belly of a firefly—and here there was a little trouble, for sailors are already a superstitious sort, and those who frequented Myrkentown were even more wary of the strange. Anything that came up so sudden, that gave such an eerie glow, could never be a good sign.

No one would be such a fool as to taste one…but of course, someone tried. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe it was a dare. Maybe he was from out of town. He lived. That is as much as needs telling.

And eventually, someone would take the initiative to notice that while they started close to town, growing in small sporadic clusters and singletons, the further one followed, the closer and more numerous they became. Soon the path became prankish, doubling back on itself in drunken loops, running on for a ways in a quick dotted line like a trail of spilled sand. The straight row went out of its own way to make a quick circle around a barrel, then nearly vanished before it reappeared to climb one side of a post, sprout a cluster at the top, then continue down the opposite side and away, deeper and deeper into the docks.

All paths lead to somewhere.

This one led to a bent old woman, tiny and wizened, with a dowager’s hump that weighed her head so that her gaze was forced down to her shuffling feet. Grey scraggly hair hung in limp clumps upon her shoulders and obscured her face. Though she leaned on a small staff, she seemed not to make much progress; she bumbled in aimless circles, muttering “mercy!” as an apology to whatever object, living or not, she brushed against. In her other hand she held a small battered tin lamp whose patterned sides threw stars of light upon the ground before her. When her shoulder banged into a wall, the stars swayed drunkenly. She staggered past taverns, boarding houses, bawdy houses, deeper and deeper into the dockside as she followed the ghostly greenish trail.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Thu Sep 15, 2016 5:25 pm

Two travelers came down a mushroom's path, and the man who currently called himself Irons had the unpleasant feeling, in his gut, that this was one of those dreams. Even if the other fellows at the docks saw them, too, even if the mushrooms didn't linger as crates were hauled off the boats, loaded back on, full of fine things meant for finer places than Myrkentown - even so, the man kept looking over his shoulder, half-afraid of a presence that always lingered, just a little. A breath on his neck, a moment's touch.

"White or cream", they said. The man commiserated with their superstitions, unconsciously mimicked them.

As soon as he was paid for the day, he followed them.

The hunchbacked harridan could not see him coming. He was fairly confident of that. He followed her, remarkably silent in hobnailed boots, cautious in his trailing after her own drunken wanderings. The man didn't know what he was doing, or why. The mushroom's colors, the woman, the mist that clung wetly to anything it could on Myrken's docks - surely, surely one of those dreams, and he dreaded disturbing it in any way.

So he followed, silent, every muscle tense. He did not know how long he followed the mushroom's glow, the woman. But he went cautious, careful. Afraid of many things, but more afraid of what may lie within his mind.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:00 am

One hard sway to the side did it: the old woman wobbled uncertainly on a turned-in foot, whacked her elbow hard against the corner of a wood-framed building. She saved herself from tipping over but the tin lantern fell from her hand. It rolled onto its side. The flame wavered but miraculously righted itself, burning sideways and sending a black charry smoke through the starry pattern in the lantern’s side. The underbellies of the nearby mushrooms briefly flickered, but gradually resumed their quiet steady glow.

“Damn, damn.” Her hunched back did not allow her to bend forward far enough to save the light; her gnarled left hand, with its two stump fingers, crabbed uselessly at the air six inches above the wire handle. She shuffled to reposition herself and tried to lean sidewise from the waist, her other hand still gripping her staff for balance. Her whitish tongue flickered out to dampen her lips as she strained, and a grunt of discomfort escaped her, uncomfortably and perversely laughable; all too easy to imagine this was how she looked in the outhouse. Then the tip of the cane skidded, and she gasped as it briefly skittered out of her hand. The lantern was instantly forgotten as she snatched for the staff, barely rescuing it before it fell, and then her hip banged the ground.

She whimpered and clutched the staff to her chest like a child with a blanket. “Damn, damn!” Her hooked chin quivered, and a low useless keening rose from the rocking pile of rags.

No tears in the clouded eyes. Perhaps she was too dried-up to cry.

Meanwhile the fallen lantern burned serenely, in no danger of sputtering out.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Wed Sep 21, 2016 4:08 am

Maybe he was a monster. He wasn't entirely certain. If he was, he wasn't that sort, no matter all his acting and his bluster. Even if this was a dream. It had to be. He hesitates, only for a moment, lingering far in the shadows to make certain he was alone - he, the old woman, the flickering lantern, and the mushrooms. He felt muddled, and entirely out of his depth. Dangerous things. A whiff of candle-smoke brought back flashes of memories he'd rather forget.

"Here, Granny." Hobnailed boots on the cobbled stones, still unreal, and he'd offer to slip a hand under her elbow, younger and stronger and standing like oak. He didn't bother to put on an accent. Mistakes, mistakes. A slip could mean hell. But if this was a dream - who cares? If this was real, then it was only he and a nutty old harridan.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Wed Sep 21, 2016 12:34 pm

She did not seem aware of anything but her own miserable wallowing until he spoke. She gave a small squawk and flapped like a startled chicken--a strangely aimless, purposeless struggling, though readily enough her hand gripped his forearm to raise herself more easily to her tottering feet. The staff--really only a broken branch, short and silvery and stripped of its bark—spun in an oddly graceful twirl over her knuckles and across the back of her wrist before its tip settled with a firm thump upon the ground.

She peered into his face through her ragged locks of hair, and her cloudy eyes widened. “Why, it’s you.” Her quavering croon seemed a touch too deep for such a bony husk of a chest. “My own dear boy, home from sea after all these years. Come and give your old nan a kiss, Sonny.”

The pale tongue laved her cracked lips again in anticipation. The withered hands crept forward eagerly.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Thu Sep 29, 2016 3:42 am

Give your old nan a kiss, Sonny.

Revulsion gripped him - not because she was old, no, an old a cracked thing dried out from the years. There was something else that turned his stomach. Sonny. Being mistaken for some nebulous, long-lost son nearly turned his lip, and he is sure to keep his face far away from the harridan. His eyes never stop moving; his face turned from shadow to shadow. Still, he holds the old lady steady, at least until she has her cane neatly under her again. He misses entirely her flourish, so involved was he with his own thoughts.

"I'm not your Sonny, gran," he says, quiet-like. He doesn't mention the ugly thoughts that surface and tease to be said. Probably ran as far away as he could as soon as a ship would let him aboard. Probably got himself chucked overboard; a pale and bloated corpse at the bottom of cold, Thessilane seas.

Those weren't his thoughts. He refused to say them.

"You got a home somewhere around here? Place to stay?"
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Thu Sep 29, 2016 8:55 am

It was easier to hide a grin when one currently had no teeth. Most of the smile was on the inside, the high bubbling glee of hiding in plain sight, seen plainly but still unseen. Mayhaps that feeling wore off once you got older, but she was still young enough that it was a surprise and a delight every time.

Until the interference came--the odd resonance. Doubling. Faint it was, but nearly unbearable, like a buzzing gnat in her ear. Instinct made her want to shudder and paw at the side of her head. But no Tuatha past her first seeming would ever break glam for such a niggling irritation. Her face did not even twitch.

Instead she clucked her tongue, shaking her shaggy head. "Mercy, mercy me. I'm a long, long ways from home, Irons." The very name left a bad taste on her tongue, as if she had licked a tarnished spoon.

She shuffled over to scoop up the lantern, still on its side in a small bed of newly bloomed mushrooms. This time she bent neatly, if slowly, and took up the wire handle with only a little huffing. She had to pick a stray mushroom out of one of the star-shaped cut-outs, leaving its spore upon her fingers, which she wiped upon her filthy apron. They left four dusty, faintly glowing streaks like the tail of a comet. Then she straightened, holding the lamp aloft higher than her head. The light fell in a sheet across her face, and the eyes were as black as they had before been milky-white.

"I was not looking for you," she said, her voice both lighter and richer, "but as you are the one I found, I must assume 'tis fated. Well-met by..." Her head tipped upward, turning side to side, but the combination of clouds and close, slanting rooftops obscured the exact position of the moon. With a small shrug, she leveled her eyes back on him. "...lantern-light, I suppose."
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Fri Oct 07, 2016 4:07 pm

Maybe. Maybe he was right, and this was a dream. It seemed like it. The woman slips out of his nerveless fingers, his tongue on the roof of his mouth. The harridan still moved with stiffened bones, but there was a certain vibrancy that had not been there before. He watched her, feeling the unreality of it all, as she bent to retrieve the lantern; his eyes refused to meet hers, but stared at the glowing trails left by spored fingers. In the poor lantern-light, he almost looks like a caught rabbit, with one dark eye and one a paler hazel.

"Elf?" A single, whispered word, more breath than form, half-hopeful. He was entirely unlike the Irons from the tavern, or even the Irons of scant moments ago. He shed self the way a mummer shed costumes.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Fri Oct 07, 2016 5:09 pm

Doubling, again, both between her ears right before her eyes. She frowned in puzzlement, forgetting how it would look on such a face--a weeping, drooping mask of bunched wrinkles--but the expression was, for once, honest. Her own glams were atavistic, barely conscious urges, so deep in her being that she could barely form thoughts about how they were, or how they worked. The thought, when it came, was an alien one: did he just glam inside his head? is that how I look when I do it? is that what it looks like to other people?

The notion sank back into her subconscious, simply because she did not have the mental tools to consider it, and because now was now; the item was before her, and anything else was superfluous. What remained was the worry that she might be mistaken. She squinted into his face again, all peevish old woman for a moment. This was the right person, wasn't it? She did remember him. Tulthárian tended to look very much alike, but few wore that scarred face. But...had he always had two different eyes? She could not recall it.

Bad luck, the whisper said. Bad luck, to have two different eyes. But Catch had two different eyes, and Catch was not...well, alright, perhaps he brought a little bad luck. Perhaps the old rule did not apply Here. Maybe it was just something that happened to them.

She forced herself back on balance, struggling to retain the upper hand. "Aye, you would call me elf." The voice was young and bright, rich with round, broad vowels, all at odds with her appearance. "I will not touch you. Look, I go here now."

And she glided backwards, without a stumble or a bump, to the deep triangle of shadow the corner threw, well beyond arm's reach. Carefully setting her lantern upon the ground, and safe in her shadow, she let the glam flutter, a curious effect like that child's spinning toy with the empty cage drawn on one side of a card, the bird drawn on other: first Old Nan, bent and grey, then the tall, imperious woman with a long red spiral of hair falling over one shoulder. Back and forth the two sides turned, finally slowing to settle on the woman. A woman who, by the look of her, was torn by her sympathies, not certain if she should be gentle or if she was being pranked in turn.

"We have met. At least, I have met you." She frowned, pausing to frame what she meant to say, then starting again, clear and sharp. "Speak again. I would hear you speak again."
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Thu Oct 13, 2016 3:00 pm

Touch. Touch was the last thing he was worried about, and the first thing. He did not mind touching. The various whores and night-lilies around Myrken's dock would have stories. A shame about the body; it was a nice body, hard and honed from slinging bales, hauling barrels -

It was the elf. Only the elf. And this was a dream, wasn't it? His body was tense, ready to spring any which away; his eyes, slightly bulging, sought the shadows further for her friends, conspirators, Handlers. It does not occur to him, until she settles in pale skin and red hair, that his very actions are conspicuous. Like a child caught in a lie, irrational anger and embarrassment causes his skin to flush, banishing the white of terror. She played him, acting like an old woman. His mind slid over the fact that she went from stooped and crooked to straight, young, without makeup. He ignored the way his nose twitched, the glowing fungus and her glamour an itch on his skin.

"Wot th' hell are ye on about!" The accent came again, thick and desperate, as if the broadness of it would hide a more cultured speech spoken mere moments before. He had a knife, of course. Everyone here had a knife. He thought to it; he could use it, if it came to that. If men came from the shadows. "Are ye ravin'? Wot business ye got, scarin' a man 'alf outta 'is wits!"
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Thu Oct 13, 2016 3:40 pm

The tall woman remained calm, oddly satisfied. Roaring at her, he had still done what she asked, and she gave a short polite drop of her head, hand going to her breastbone. "Good neighbor." There it was again. His voice had that buzzing burr, the twang of metal. She sucked in her breath in excitement.

"You see? You did it again. Are you doing it on purpose? How are you doing it?" Poised with her weight on one foot, she gave an air of dancing in place, of wanting to dart nearer as if she could actually see him doing it if only she was a few steps closer...but she was not quite that incautious. Slowly, she settled back into calm stillness.

"I've seen men scared half out of their wits," she said soberly. "You are not one. You hold your ground and bladder too well for that, brave sir." A teasing grin, a little flattery to soothe jangled nerves. "You were not who I meant to meet, and for that, my apologies. But for all that, I do not object to the meeting. I will leave off my rambling, and you may join me. Or if I've offended, I'll say you good evening, we both go our separate ways, and I'll owe you a drink at the Dagger for the discourtesy. I am still interested in the barter we made, if you are."
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Sun Oct 16, 2016 11:05 am

For a moment, he is silent - a tall, straight shadow picked out by the glowing of mushrooms - the only sign that he is alive being the flare of his nostrils, the movement of his chest, a warm and briefly-visible mist that spoke of the winter to come.

"Wot're ye talkin' about?" No more bellowing, this; the accent was there, a thin thing. Shaken. He knew what she meant, but he did not know what she meant. Knowing, hearing. Desperate to show that he didn't know, but still wanted to know how she did. It was silly, how he struggles to keep it going. He doesn't have much experience keeping it in.

She asked about the Barter, spoke on so much more mundane things. He blinks. His hands go deep into his coat pockets, the very image of a sullen man.

"Remind me 'bout that barter."

Here was better. Here he could run.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Sun Oct 16, 2016 12:21 pm

Here it was, the thing she had stumbled across half a dozen times since she came to this place, far-flung enough that she could forget it between times but often enough that it smacked her across the face wherever she encountered it: people who did not remember. Now, confronting it again, she wondered if it was something that had to be done to one or something that could be caught, like grippe, just from inhaling the air here. The thought made her almost want to hold her breath, just in case.

"You said you would show me how to find whatever it was you were smoking," she said, casually brushing over his first question. Part of it was the mystery--she wanted to figure it out for herself, if there was a trick to be learned. Part of it was simple stubbornness. Be damned if she was going to admit she didn't even speak the language here. The other part of it...the tultharian of Myrken already suspected her of far more than she could actually do, and the gods knew how leery they were of anyone who might be able to meddle around inside their skulls. Borrowing words was exactly in line with their nastiest fears. She'd a feeling they wouldn't take kindly to it, however so innocent the borrowing might be. "At the Dagger. You shared a pipe with me."

A bright arched brow went up, coaxing, playful. She glided forward a step or two, hands tucked behind her back, shoulders swaying. Nearer, she was not quite so tall and imposing as she had seemed before. A soft-cheeked pretty thing no higher than his nose. Her grip tightened on the chunk of birchwood. "That was you, was it not? I am not mistaken?"
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby catch » Fri Oct 21, 2016 4:40 pm

His brain was a calamity, conflicting ideas and thoughts struggling against one another - nature against nature - old ways of thought, fighting against the new. He has forgotten everything except the fact that there had been an old woman, that the mushrooms still glowed in eerie, unnatural colors, that here was the Elf - thing - suddenly here, demanding things it had no business of knowing. Unless she spoke to others, unless she knew.

But she spoke of the deal they had made, and he most focus on that. One thing at a time. Pull everything together, because if he lost it, he would be found out. The man who calls himself Irons expels a heavy blast of air, a hand made coarse by hauling and fishing up the coast little comfort as he scrubs at his face.

"Why wouldn't it'a been me?" he finally asks, grudgingly. "Don' know if I wanna keep me word if ye're gonna scare me 'alf outta me wits every time ye want a smack o' opium." He crosses his arms, making no move to move, watching her with a half-challenging, half-fearful gaze.
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Re: As I walked down the dockside one evening so rare

Postby Niabh » Mon Oct 31, 2016 5:15 pm

But first he had said Why wouldn't it'a been me?, and perhaps it was one of those odd rhetoricals the tultharian had, but if it was, it was too near the timbre of her own thoughts to brush the remark away. Why wouldn't it be he, indeed--there was a thought to conjure with. Her lips pressed briefly into a tight line of frustration. Meg and Brammie had always had a touch of the Sight, but she never had. At the best of times, her intuition was like a shoal of fish in a murky lake, their movement just visible under the surface, but the details indistinguishable. But sometimes the light pierced deeper, and something would glint back in a bright flash of comprehension. He'd admitted something. She knew not what, but he was testing her to see if she would acknowledge it.

Her whole chest seized in excitement. He was...he was playing back. The oldest of games: both of us know a secret but the challenge lay in getting the other person to say it first. It was all she could do to keep from grinning.

"Most folk here look alike to me," she admitted. "Still, you are particularly...distinctive...so it seems unlikely that there'd be two of you. Or if there is another, you could take advantage of my ignorance and steal the barter from under his nose." The woman shrugged a shoulder, gave a cool toss of her head. "The end's the same for me, and the price is the same for either."
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