Two Little Stones

Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Niabh » Mon Jul 06, 2020 6:20 pm

Aye, but still they’ll come, old man. They’ll come to see, and to save who they can, but mostly they’ll come with spades and sacks because they’ll want to turn back the fire and save their city. Every able back will come, and more will come to gawk; they’ll all be looking here, but inside…inside…

She never took her gaze off him, and her posture never altered, but her foot drew casually away just in time for the brass bauble to thunk in the damp mud of her heelprint. She had seen such a thing before—Lady Patience had had one shaped like a fluted tulip—but she had not known then nor did she know now what it was or its purpose.

“Neither my fire, nor my smoke, nor my Woods, sir.” Underneath her glass-smooth face she was, in a vague, musing way, sorry for them all, the way she might feel for a good tale which was now over; she might have liked for it to go on longer. “Nor are they my people. They’re yours.”

Her temples roared. The fire roared, and there seemed to be no boundaries between the two: the fire’s heat seethed under the skin of her back. She fixed her gaze on the old man because she had to, because the edges of the world pulsed black and gray, contracting and expanding until he seemed to merge with the lake’s lapping.

“An you are a soldier, do what a soldier does. Save your people. I am under no obligations to they who came to do me ill.”

She came forward in a rush, the air roaring around her, only a faint metallic tick as the tip of her boot connected. The brass bottle sailed over his shoulder and dropped with a hollow glug into the moss-green water.
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Rance » Wed Jul 08, 2020 7:57 am

"Only your Woods," he said, with a smile he tried to wipe away with a sweaty, sooty hand, "when you find it convenient to claim them. But I think, Fionn, whether or not you claim them, they are your people. As of today, they are yours. From this point forward, whether or not you wish them to be, they must be. You've lost something, and so have they."

They. As if suddenly, he no longer belonged, no longer mattered.

As she rushed forward, he expected her to strike him, and like any intelligent creature, he flinched in anticipation. But her boot never found him. Instead, it clipped up the perfumer, sent it hurtling like a gleaming arrow into the air, and it landed in the water with an unceremonious plop. A few bubbles. Then it sunk, fell to the depths, where he imagined it would stay for ten years, a hundred, a thousand, to be consumed by mud, preserved in a shell of its own rust, forever, forever...

"Today is a very strange day. I don't imagine it will get any less peculiar. Do you want to watch with me? This is the last time we'll speak—" he said, his tongue darting out beneath those silvered teeth before they clapped back closed, "—and we could either pass it in silence, or in each other's good company. A fire's a beautiful thing. Quite a muse," he reasoned. "Quite a muse." On his side of their world: calm water that began reflecting the yellow-orange flames as the evening sky began to crawl toward them from the horizon. On hers: smoking leaves, the heat of a blaze that by each minute grew more ferocious, and its relentless crawl through the black woods. Smoke crowned the darkening canopy, and no doubt the world would react, come running, come shouting.

He lamented the loss of the perfurmer with a miniature frown. What a clever piece.

From his satchel, half-submerged, he withdrew a tiny, corked bottle. The cork floated away. He sipped, sucked through his shining teeth, then offered it to her. Sharp brew. A human's spirits. Too bitter.

"She knows you want her. She feels your eyes on her when you sleep. That's what she told me."
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Niabh » Fri Jul 17, 2020 10:51 am

Shock and the sound of fire merged, the hiss and crackle hypnotizing. It split her in two, like a lightning-scored tree: one half in swollen and in agony, quietly keening for the loss of the trees, and the other half observing the first with a glassy, near-mystical calm. If she could but stay very, very still and constrain her consciousness to the calm half, she might be alright, only the other half kept creeping in, clawing and moaning for her attention. She listened to his words as if they were inevitable, and neither flinched nor glanced around at the crash through the blazing shrubbery behind her. A moment later a hare as big as a hound came shooting wildly through the underbrush, barely ducking around her knee before it leapt with abandon into the lake water, where it crouched shivering amid a clump of cane.

The next instant the entire bank, as far as the eye could see, was invaded: a vixen and four gangly, long-legged kits fled in a single swift line, vanishing into the high reeds. A burst of birds. A badger, badly scored down its back, stumbled down the bank and flopped over, grunting and wallowing in the mud, and a torrent of red squirrels—as if someone had poured them out of a sack—and what she would have readily sworn was a grey wolf trotted out, calm and placid as though the world were not burning down all around it, and dunked its snout to drink.

One did not light fires for the god of the forests. One imagined this was the reason why.

The rest of his words poured off her like water. They would all come, the ones that could escape, and that was good. That was exactly as it should be.

Then:

She knows you want her. She feels your eyes on her when you sleep. That's what she told me.

Her one good eye flickered.

She? She? Who is she? What she do I want? I want such a lot of things.

The stillness snapped. Suddenly she was brightly, blazingly alive, cheerful even, her movements stiff with pain but natural, flowing with fiendish good cheer. Her hair, bright as any flame, lifted and wavered as a hot blast of wind flattened against her back, and the heel of her hand, pressed tight against the prickly bark, throbbed with a secret pleasure. She squeezed down harder on it, felt the wood crumble and a strangely carnal pang shoot from the little black dot under her thumb up to her elbow. Her tongue rolled against the roof of her suddenly flooded mouth.

“Did she now? I am surprised she spoke of me at all.” Her smile tugged her burned cheek. “Do you know why they came for me? Do you know who sent them? Oh—” and she cast aside the torn sleeve from her mouth, carelessly, and was rewarded with a snort of smoke. Her chest hitched. She squatted down, knee in the mud. “Not that I expect you to answer, mind. I don’t even know who you are. I don’t know who they are, either. Does your arm hurt much? It looks as though it hurts quite a lot.”

The violet lips stretched wider. Her canines were two tiny fox-fangs.

The tang of compelling smoke vanished, or else it reversed itself. His blistered arm would awaken and sing and scream as if the lake water had turned to caustic salt.

“Where did you come from, old soldier?” she asked, then laughed softly at herself. “Ah, that sounds like some song, that.” She hummed a phrase, head cocked in pleasure at the harmony, then crooned, “Old soldier, old soldier, whence did you come?”
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Rance » Sun Jul 19, 2020 6:37 pm

Plop. A speck of red in the water.

"Of course she spoke of you," he said, with incredulity. "Her world is small. Too large, and she would take it upon herself to fill it with herself more than she already does. Such an urge is best left...uncultivated. I am sure you understand." Truly, it did not matter to him if she didn't. Every time he spoke, those silvered teeth seemed to flash, as if they'd been just a little too large for the gaps they'd been shaped to fill.

This moment could have been plucked from the pages of a tale: the fleeing wildlife, the predator-turned-graceful-dancer dipping to lap at ever-cool water, and despite the flames crashing through branches and brush, there was a serenity here to ponder. Underneath the pinkish flesh of his charred arm, a spark of pain awakened. Corm McKinnon's mouth tightened to stone. He clenched his fist, denying the agony. She grinned. He grinned.

Plop.

"It hurts a great deal, though I doubt that matters much to you. I think we can shed the niceties, Fionn — because whether it comes with blood or fire, our time is but a gasp at best, whether we're here—" said Corm, before his glassy eyes lifted up toward a secret in the sky. Ah. There. Glowing dully in the twilight, the misshapen oval of the moon, half-transparent, like a dream unrealized. "Or whether we're there." Against the complaints of old bones, Corm McKinnon began to stand again from the water, though the muck and the foam seemed too interested in him to let him grow. That wounded arm, as she sang her playful little song, reached out to her, sought out the muscular crescendo of her shoulder.

Just to touch her. Just to steady himself, and stare in her eyes.

"I sent them, if only with the intent to rid this place of her newest curiosity. I cannot have her interested too greatly in the women floating in her dreams, for fear she might weave a mother out of them."

Plop. A dollop of red wax falling to the ripples around their knees.

His left nostril overpoured, ran down the divot of his upper lip, stained his teeth.

"Where I will not succeed," he said, his breath full of copper, "then Myrken Wood shall."
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Niabh » Fri Jul 24, 2020 2:26 pm

The fire howled. Sparks showered down on them both, leaving black pinpricks in her tunic and pinching her skin before they winked out.

melted away


In the dimming evening, the sparks glowed white.

white as snowflakes


The wind shifted, pushing against her back.

a stiff winter wind full of frost


His hand found her shoulder, and she instantly stiffened, seeming to bristle. Her own throbbing hand strayed to the side of his weathered face, the fingertips warm and surprisingly tender. Humidity radiated from the hollow of her palm. The air filled with hissing as though the fire itself recoiled, and the sweeter, cleaner scent of steam cut through the choking grey smoke. Six-sided flakes caught in her hair.



How long have you been here? Seasons. The ashes have since long grown cold, and the clamor has faded to the perfect silence of winter. Powdery snow covers the black scars. The lake’s edge is laced in frost, the bitter water grows teeth to sink into your flesh, the burns numb to nothing, and even the townsfolk have found other things to talk about. She has sealed you in place, and here you are, and here you will remain, unchanging, deathless, bound eye to eye with this creature until she tires of the game.

Judging by the orange coal in the depths of her black gaze, she will not grow tired for a long, long time.




“You poor thing. You poor, poor…” Her cracked as though she might weep, but nothing touched those eyes. If anything, they were oddly thoughtful, attentive. “You came too late. All this…ruin, all these lives, and you were too late. You have already failed. The bargain is struck. She is ours already. If I live this day, you might still have a chance to win her back. If I should fall, you have no chance at all.”

Her thumb grazed the bristle on his cheek. “Fortunate you are I have no intentions of dying today.”

The spot below her thumb, swollen to the point of agony, burst like a purulent boil. Silver-black filaments oozed from beneath her fingernails, from out of the wound itself, writhing their way toward the corner of his mouth, his eye, into his earholes.
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Rance » Sun Jul 26, 2020 4:35 am

"The bargain is struck," Corm McKinnon ragreed, softer than any soldier had a right to speak. "Your bargain. Our bargain. Her bargain. Gods, the prices we've paid."

Staring at the coal of her eyes, frozen in this moment, in this place, this husk of a man with the seasons of fire and frost at his back, he began to smile. Smiling at her, smiling through her, smiling so widely that his bottom lip split at its center, been here for seasons, for years, for aeons, and yet his legs grow no wearier, and he grows no more tired of the company, but his bones, his bones, they grow brittle and frail and his skin flakes and the sixties become seventies become eighties become, become...

"So this is the one," he gasped after some time, as if seeing great lands spread before him, "in which you live through this day."

Then the boil burst, and like a squid's sucking, slurping, oily tendrils, the Black Oil lashes for him, slithers into him, jabs at the ducts where tears flow freely and the channels of his nostrils and rips at the edges of his mouth. Spills into him, filling him, gagging, old soldier bulging, seizing, and then, and then—

A child born on the back of prices is a thing burdened by limited value. But so be it. Name your desire.

Fionn stands in the tiny chamber, this prison of the mind and all its misshapen wall-stones and the throbbing eye of a wisplight hovering nearby. She's been here before, experienced its simultaneous warmth and dampness, standing right in this very spot still warm from her bare feet. A dark little girl with odd little eyes huddles in corner, stinking and frail, fat like a good child ought to be.

This place again. This chamber of thoughts, where time crumbled away like ashes from the edges of quickly-burning paper.

The pulsing morsel of light and sound reared back, then rushed for Fionn, burning hot with fury both primal and infantile.


We are whole enough to make our own bargains. What bargain did you strike on our behalf, Second Mother? Out with it. Speak it true — now.
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Niabh » Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:44 pm

Her lovely mouth twisted away from her teeth, poised, serpent-like, to spit venom in the face of a tultharian who dares suggests that she might die on this or any other day, but before the perfect rejoinder comes, the smile reshapes itself into a grimace, her eyes squeeze shut, and her hand…

explodes.

No other word for it. No pain like this in the world. Her blistered scalp was nothing next to it. Her teeth jittered in her jaw and her arm trembled under the force of her pull as she tried to tear her hand away. His skin might peel from his skull or her fingers break off at their joints, but no strength of hers could separate them. His face and her fingertips had fused.

Smoke blotted out the sky. Black oil blotted out her sight.


And then, and then—


She stumbles backwards, with a sob of relief, as she clutches her freed hand to her chest. Every nail is spilt deep past the quick, the fingers swelling fat and turned near-black with bruises. Her hand looks as if it has been run over by a millstone, but the fingers flex when they are bid. They creep up to her throat, curling around the cold solid gold of her torc for comfort as she orients herself to the space.

The shape of the blocks in the walls. Like fat little bodies all squashed together into a solid mass. And the thick, greasy feel of the air. Familiar enough that her mind does not question how she came here, only where she has seen it before.

She steps past the dark child as though those black eyes were blind after all. Her other hand trails through the air. Her face is upraised, searching in wonder for that voice. “Gwynevere?”

How old must she be now? They grow up so fast here, so fast. Surely she is a bairn no longer. A chubby little creature with fat, stumbling legs and dimpled fingers. Or a little older, just starting to grow into her height, that stage where the awkward beauty begins and one catches a faint glimmer of how they will be when they’re full grown. Surely no more than that. Surely.

And perhaps she would see her father somewhere in that child’s face.

The ache of a Tuatha heart for a child is a collapsing star. It sucks all lesser light into its void.

Calmly, she turns toward the furious light. It illuminates nothing but her fearlessness.

“I am your godmother, so named by your own true father. I begged him that boon and he granted it. For love of him, you shall never weep nor want, so long as it is my power. You will grow up safe and beloved in a land where no iron chain will ever hold you. And one day, you shall be Queen.”
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Rance » Tue Jul 28, 2020 6:36 am

Gwynevere? Gwynevere, the voice repeated, first with curiosity, and then with an increasing pace and violence, as if the word became only sound and devoid wholly of meaning. Gwynevere, Gwyn-e-vere, Gwyn-e-vere. Laughing, tittering, as if the sound tickled and prodded.

Then, like a wave slashing up and dragging back with its undertow, the name keeps coming, the light surges, and the disembodied voice spits it with a tumult of rage.

Gwyn-e-vere, Gwyn-e-vere. How awful, how awful—!


The damp eye and its wisp-like form darts left, darts right, in some learned counterfeit of shuddering agitation. Occasioanlly it strikes the stone walls, then spins and sets its unsettled, lidless gaze upon her. Fionn's emotions roll right over this strange, restless presence without meaning — it abandons understanding of such things except its own. In its faceless presence, it reflects nothing: it could have a face, but hasn't one; it denies a form, a body, but glows hot like a Sun over age-old deserts.

Begged, it says. And then it begins to laugh, a titter, a giggle, as if only trying to mimic the mirth of a child, but knew only the final form and not its origin. You begged him. For a boon? A boon, a boon. You speak very cleverly. A boon. A boon! The Queen begs. Miss Queen begs, she repeats, with all the resistant and rebellious humor of an unconcerned child. Miss Queen, she begs! Repeated and repeated, a repetition for every brick in these black walls, the voice jerking and stuttering like some frenetic storm.

A Queen that bargains and begs is not a queen. She is a little bug. She is Second. She will always be Second.

Then light then dared to float forward, the wholeness of its gruesome, wet eye almost challenging, pressing nearer and nearer to Fionn's black-gazed visage.

Do not give a name like it is a bowl of porridge. We did not have one, and we shall not have one. We are Nameless, and we think we are already a better Queen than you.
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Niabh » Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:44 pm

The taunting ricochets around the chamber. Every echo makes her flinch, and every flinch scrapes her already-raw skin. The lovely name she had chosen grows shabbier with every repetition, the battering exposing all its faults. Gwynevere, Gwynevere. The white shadow. That ancient and unfortunate changeling queen. What a name to choose. What a name to curse upon a child—what had she been thinking?

“A child deserves a name,” she says softly, more to remind herself than to protest. “A child deserves a mother.”

Her finger throb like a steady rain in time with her heartbeat. Blood wells, pools, and droplets big as silver coins drip from their tips. Every patter on the floor is a thunderclap, vibrating in her legs. Blood splatters on her feet.

Despair creeps up her throat. Lugh’us Dannan, the dream, the nightmare, is back. Once it starts, it never ends. She always wakes up exhausted and she is already so, so tired. The mocking voice spins all around her, the light blurred and dizzying, and she stuck dully in the middle of the room with the terrible sense that there was something she could say to make it stop, if she could but remember it.

“A child deserves a name. Names have power. She needs a name to keep her safe.” It is all wrong, all the wrong words. If she keeps talking, she might stumble by pure chance upon the right ones. “She needs a name to make her mine. I promised,” she insists, as though that makes all the difference. “I promised him.”

As the orb looms kissing-close to her face, she blinks. Twice. The blackness itself flicks a second set of lids, deep within. Her eyelids follow. She is, for a moment, two creatures, one inside the other, the second wearing the first for a shell. The outer woman, herself, refuses to step out of reach; she refuses fear. Refuses the relief of sinking to her knees.

“A queen…” Her voice is rusty, raspy. The words drag on her tongue. “Does what she must. If the cause be worthy.”
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Re: Two Little Stones

Postby Rance » Thu Jul 30, 2020 3:09 am

When it responds to Fionn's words, the wisp throbs with a wild array of processes: light, sound, breadth, ever-changing, ever-moving, as if experimenting with its own morsels of the concepts. When hesitation creeps into the Queen's voice, it shrinks, fading to a dull indigo, and when excitement overcomes her, or passion (passion for names, for promises) it bleeds to purple, to a swollen red. What if we should not want a name? What if we are happiest without a name?

If we did not know a stone was a stone, we'd think it a mystery!

If a leaf was not a leaf, wouldn't it be alien, and wonderful!

The topography of its voice shifts from each moment to the next: at times, it cuts through the air with a child's relentless energy, all impulse and urge and cruelty; at other times, it reduces to a wise hum, well beyond the constraint of words. Ageless and infantile. Fionn could have fallen apart, and the being would mourn not her, but the moment in which she existed, and then in the next, forget her in all the folds of its excitement...

You make promises on our behalf, and you own without owning. Mine, mine, mine! Such simple things. We hate simple things, like little books and dead flowers. The most interesting thing in little books, to us, is not the life of a Queen, but how the Queen dies. We skip to such pages, it proclaims, pulsing white. If we do not like how the deed is done, we step between the ticks on the Sundial, where moments turn into lifetimes, and make the Queen perish the way we want it: perhaps with bad poisons, or angry riots, or they might lop off her head or tug her apart like a beetle until all her strings come out...

And then the little books change, right in front of our gaze.


At all times, the eye watches her. And at all times, the eye is blind. It retreats, splashing its radiance across the stony walls.

Why should you want us so badly to be yours? Is that a worthy-enough cause, Miss Queen? Here, the fire is stopped; here, that man is just one heartbeat before the next. We have forever, just the way we like it.
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