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Ascension

 
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Bailey Raptis
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:34 pm    Post subject: Ascension Reply with quote

I used to have nightmares about Faerie. The Keepers, the Manor, the torturous way They transformed my body. It took years for Fletcher and Lyeorn to banish them, through a combination of magic, medicine, and talk therapy. Even so, they never went away entirely. Rather, it was a matter of degrees. I could go a week, then two weeks, then a month, then three months, then six months, until eventually they became irregularly occurrences. Once a year, perhaps, or once every year and a half.

The frequency decreased, and so did the intensity. I no longer found myself bombarded by the odor of plaster and wet grass, the sight of gray clouds sucking up all the light overhead, the cold blandness of porridge, the itch and prickle of calloused fingertips on my shoulders, or the insistent tick-tick-ticking of hammer and chisel against marble. Eventually, I could feel the volume being turned down, the color fading, my skin thickening against the mental incursions. The dreams became unpleasant, but tolerable, and I no longer woke up with cold sweats and shivers when I dreamt of Arcadia.

I would like to say that Fletcher and Lyeorn deserve all the credit for this, but that would be a lie. Some of it is the simple fact that I am older. I forget who it was, or when I heard it, but I once heard the words "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."* Although I do not subscribe to the overall system of belief that saying comes from, I do find it to hold true. I lost my family, and had to find my own way through the world. Night terrors would have been a liability, and so I found a way to bury the fear. The magic of makeup, and dressing up in a more feminine fashion. Medicine from a bottle, or the back alleys. Pillow talk between lovers, in that space between falling asleep and waking up, between two bodies in bed and waking up alone.

Things improved further when I moved to Sao Amador, and left behind all the reminders of all the tragedies that had beset me in RhyDin. I no long had to walk past or through the Marketplace, or the cemetery, or the old Raptis home. I was free from all the obligations of the Courts, and made my way up from retail associate to owner of my own dress boutique.

But, of course, RhyDin pulled me back in, as she must do for so many other expatriates. I let myself be smooth-talked into coming back into the city by an overly charismatic @#$hole of an elf who cut me loose in the midst of a major personal breakdown. I let myself be convinced that my fetch could not possibly be in Sao Amador anymore. I let money motivate me, more than friendship, even more than personal pride in my work. And I unleashed a new set of (figurative) nightmares into my life.

It has been nearly five years since I decided to come back, and even though I have spent large chunks of that time outside the city proper, both physically and mentally, it does not feel like RhyDin has left me the way it did when I lived in Sao Amador. It haunted me, and still haunts me, in a warped reflection of my dreams of The Lands. It is not that my senses are heightened here, no. It is the fact I suffer similar torments to my past bad dreams. Only now, my tormentors are the ones who should be protecting me, and should have protected the Raptis family. My fellow Stolen Ones hunt me down, night after night, down rain-slicked alleyways and crumbling brick roof tops, from Seaside to the Marketplace to New Haven, and every space in between. I run down the hallway of my apartment building, dimly lit in a way it never is, but I never reach my room, nor do I make it to the fire escape before I am cut down, shot in the heart, struck in the back of the head and beaten to a pulp. "Sic semper proditores,"** they whisper to me as they lower my body to the ground, into the ground, shoveling fistfuls of dirt into my face.

I still fear the Fae, but in a different way now. I fear Them the same way that I fear death. If the Gentry decide that They want me back in Arcadia, well, there is not much I can do to stop Them, so why worry about that? And besides, I have been given little indication that They are planning such an abduction. The threat from my former comrades in arms, though, is more immediate.

A little more than a year ago, I was banished, under pain of death, from RhyDin City. Three months ago, I returned in spite of my sentence. The fact of the matter is simple. Either they kill me, we find a way to peacefully coexist in this city, or they leave. Because despite everything I have suffered through here, one other fact remains. RhyDin is where my friends are, and I will be damned if I abandon them one more time.


*1 Corinthians 13:11
** "Thus always to traitors."
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Bailey Raptis
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

July 22, 2017

I woke up with a quartet of guns pointed in my face.

"The Sandman wants to speak with you," the group's apparent leader said, his words dripping in honey. He dressed and groomed himself like a stereotypical villain from a melodrama. He wore a brown tweed three-piece suit, complete with pocket watch and chain, black top hat and cane. His moustache twirled out into a handlebar, and he wore a monocle over his left eye, the glass of which had been thickened and tinted so the eye behind it could not be seen. I might have spent more time admiring his commitment to his fashion choice, were he and his companions not levelling weapons at me.

"He could just call? Or write me a letter?" The leader, and two of his henchmen (who went for mobster chic in oversized pin-striped suits and matching gray fedoras), said nothing. The fourth man clucked his tongue, shaking his head. He had not received the memo that he should dress like a criminal. Balding, he wore a blue polo and khakis that screamed "office worker", if he were not holding a pistol. The index and middle fingers of his other hand had been pressed to his temple the entire time I had seen him, and I quickly put two and two together.

"You ensorcelled them, did you not?" I pointed at Hoodlum 1 and Hoodlum 2. Their guns did not waver, but the enchanter's grip shook. The leader nudged him with the tip of his cane.

"Don't let him distract-"

"You really think I intend you harm? I keep telling y-" Stars burst in my vision as one of the puppets cracked me in the face with the butt of his handgun. I turned my head, spitting blood onto my pillow.

"Sandman tells us you've been quite naughty, Bailey. You don't tell us when you leave the city, you don't tell us when you come back, you don't kill the Empress when we tell you to. Not only that, but then you killed Cy, Vince, and Copper."

"If you wanted to kill me, you would alr-"

"Shut up!" The outburst was punctuated by another pistolwhip. I groaned, tried to press my face against the sheets, but rough hands hoisted me up into a seated position. "And if that wasn't enough, there's this." My chief captor reached into one of his jacket pockets, pulling out a familiar sheet of bright white paper. I watched the glyphs on the flyer shift into Common, revealing the manifesto I had distributed in the city less than a month prior. "Actively fomenting rebellion? Tsk, tsk, tsk."

"That was not rebellion, that was trying to find a third way. Between your Sandman's autocracy and laziness, and the overreacting fear of the rebels in painting all non-humans with the same brush as the Fae."

"Then- Ah, Heinrik, please read this for me?" He held the paper up in front of the sorcerer, who stared at it for a moment or two before he finally, slowly, began to read.

" 'There will be...contingencies for those who try to infiltrate,' " Heinrik said in a quiet, squeaking voice. " 'Be serious, be honest, or be dead.'" He looked down, his fingers still pushed against his head. The boss folded the flyer up and returned it to his pocket.

"Now that doesn't sound very friendly, does it? In fact, it sounds suspiciously like a revolution."

"...Just get it over with," I sighed, right before both guns slammed into my face and drove me into unconsciousness.

***

July 23, 2017

The next time I woke up, I was in some sort of makeshift holding cell. I say makeshift, because the walls did not appear to be made of solid steel or brick, but sheet metal. There was also a window in the center of the wall opposite the bars that had been hastily blacked out with a tarp. It did not matter much how slipshod my prison was. I was cuffed in cold iron, and I did not know where I was.

I spent the next few minutes staring at the naked light bulb flickering, just off-center in the ceiling. I glanced back at my "bed" -- a cot with no sheets, no pillow, no blankets, just a lumpy yellowed mattress on a rickety frame. The toilet was made of some dull metal, and closer examination revealed there was no water within it. The walls and poured concrete floors were totally bare.

I turned towards the cell door, hearing heels clicking somewhere down the hall. Eventually, a woman walked into view. She was a few inches taller than me, but still likely on the average side for RhyDin women's heights. She dressed gun moll chic, with a red-and-white horizontal striped blouse, a gray skirt, and red stiletto heels. She bobbed her blonde hair and accented her dull brown eyes with purple eyeshadow. She stopped, grabbed hold of the bars with both hands, and leaned forward.

"Good day, Bailey. Or is it morning? Or night?" she asked me in a haughty, clipped tone. She rattled the bars a few times, then stepped away as I walked toward her.

"You have me at a loss. Well, you have me at a number of losses." I swung my bound hands in a circle around my body. "Let us start with the obvious question. Who are you, and where am I?"

"Mmm, no. You won't get my name, and I won't tell you where we are."

"Then why exactly are you here? Are you here to gloat? Are you here to torture me? Are you here to kill me? Are you here to bring me to the Sandman?" I rattled off the questions as fast as I could think of them.

"I'll answer in reverse order. No, no, in a manner of speaking, yes."

"...Are you here to gloat about capturing me?"

"No. That was simple."

"Well, it certainly took you long enough to catch me." My gaoler responded by tapping the bridge of her nose twice. A blinding light flashed out of her eyes, and I reflexively stumbled backwards onto my cot. After a few rapid blinks, I could at least see the general shadow of her form, if I held my hand over my eyes.

"What was that?"

"...Nothing."

"Good." I could now see her as smears of colors, and it made me nauseous. I burrowed my face into the mattress, ignoring the faint odor of mold. She did not seem to care that I was not facing her, and continued to speak. "You remember your meeting at Český Domov? I was there."

I lifted my head and glared at her. "Bull#$%."

"Oh, but I was." Her voice turned breathy, quieter, higher-pitched. She dragged each word out as she cooed at me. "You remember me, don't you, Bailey? The shy girl, the-"

"Snow Princess. You are a mirrorskin. But-"

"Your contingencies failed you." Arrogance seeped back into her tone. "They failed you, and they failed your friends."

"What did you do with them?" I did my best to growl out the words, but it was hard to intimidate with your hands fastly secured inside a jail. The faux princess laughed, tapping and scraping her long red-painted fingernails against the metal.

"They have been banished from the city. The same as you will be. And it's all. Your. Fault."

"Do-" The punishment she presented struck me dumb momentarily. "Don't I get a trial?"

"Oh, Bailey. Bailey, Bailey, Bailey." Each repetition of my name dripped with scorn. "You're from RhyDin, and yet you forget. There is no law here, but power. And the Sandman has the power here. Think about that for a while. Think about that, and your impending departure from RhyDin, and your failures, and how it's only the Sandman's mercy that keeps you alive. Think about it." She turned her back to me and walked away, the click-clack of her heels dimming as she disappeared.

***

July 25, 2017

They bought me a one-way ticket to Gruvebyen, in the far northern wastes of RhyDin, and brought along two orc guards (dressed in full leather armor with knife sheaths, naturally) for the ride. We sat in business class, all the way in the back of a a discount airship, so my guardians' elbows were perilously close to my ribs the entire trip. As if the escort was not enough, I had been handcuffed again. I tried to crack a joke I had seen on television ages ago about airline food, but either it was not funny, I told it poorly, or they just had no sense of humor. My suspicions lay with the third theory. Rather than risk further bruising to my face, I shut my mouth.

I assumed the guards would unlock my restraints once we were in the air, but they fell asleep in the middle of our takeoff. Their snores were trumpet blasts, loud and fast and unpredictable, and made even the thought of sleeping seem impossible.

Instead, I looked out the window. The guards had not pulled the shade down, so I could look outside as my city slowly floated out of view. The buildings grew smaller and smaller, like children's toys, until finally, they were fully swallowed up by white clouds. Something broke deep inside of me, brittle and sharp like glass, when I thought of never seeing RhyDin again. I felt a sob rising up but I strangled it - I didn't want to wake the orcs.

A flight attendant made her way back to our seats and offered me a drink. I held up my hands, pinned together at the wrists, and shook my head, watching as she scurried back to the galley. It took me a few tries, but I managed to pull down my tray table and rest my hands on the plastic. A few minutes later, I shut my eyes and bowed my head, resting it on the knuckles of my thumbs. For all the world, it probably looked like I was praying. Maybe I was.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 12:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

October 13, 2018
Black Magic Burger


One of the many skills I have developed over the years has been the ability to live through life-changing events. The Raptis family killing, multiple moves to and from RhyDin, coming out of a coma, being exiled? I have always found a way to live through it. It has not always been pretty, but in the grand scheme of things, I stayed alive. I am still alive. That used to be enough.

It isn't anymore. I know that some people would say that this return has been far less successful than previous ones I have made. I did not escape the Courts and become a model, I did not leave a pleasant beach town for the hustle and bustle and bright lights of RhyDin high fashion, and I did not even emerge from a coma to return to the status quo. No, this time, I came back to the city in pretty terrible shape. I came back without a job, a place to stay, or having said much of anything to my friends in the past year. Even now, I am still barely making ends meet, between a pair of waiting jobs at Delectable Craving Catering and Black Magic Burger. Mason took pity on me and gave me a chance with the former job, and then passed my name along to one of his former workers and proteges when she opened her own restaurant. I even lived with Mason and Eva for a time, and it was good for me. It gave me structure and an incentive not to fall back into the self-destructive habits that plagued me in Gruvebyen.

I also lived with Eden for a spell, and in that time I spent split between those two residences, I managed to rekindle those friendships. Through work, I planted the seeds for more friends. There is Per, another waiter at Black Magic Burger. His arms are covered in tattoos (and I am guessing he has other tattoos in places that are typically covered by our work uniforms) and a big, bushy beard. He took me under his wing when I was starting out at Black Magic Burger, and I appreciated that. I also met Grethe, who works as a hostess there. She is a little less friendly than Per, a little more sarcastic, but I feel like she has been warming up to me. It helps that we have a shared interest in make-up artistry. Finally, there is Max. I could not tell you the precise reason why we hit it off so well on our first night working together, but we did, and they asked me to be their roommate less than a month after I started. I am sure some of that was necessity (their lease ended rather abruptly) and some of it was financial (it is cheaper to rent a two-bedroom apartment than a one-bedroom), but they know plenty of people beside me. Perhaps they saw me as a kindred spirit of some sort, wearing make-up and nail polish with my work t-shirt and jeans. I mean this as no disrespect to Mason or Eva, but it is nice to room with someone closer to me in age, someone who feels more like a peer of mine and less like a cool aunt and uncle. And it is an even give-and-take: no charity, no obligation, just a genuine friendship born of a shared sense of style and mutual introversion.

Why do I mention these things? I want you know how strongly I feel for these people, and therefore how much it pissed me off when the Courts sent someone to attack me at work.

***

"You can't hide in there forever, Bailey!" Through the wooden closet door, I could hear him shout, his footsteps slamming against the ceramic tile. They grew closer and closer until they culminated in his body crashing against the door. The wood bulged, the lock strained, but my refuge held up. For the moment, anyways.

"I only have to hide until the morning, Royse!" I bluffed. I need an escape plan. Some sort of weapon. My choices, however, looked slim. A large mop and bucket, a plunger, a pantry cabinet filled with cleaning supplies, the weak light bulb barely throwing off enough light for me to see. I squeezed my left hand around the chef's toque currently serving as a makeshift bandage for my slashed palm. Shutting my eyes, I tried to picture the tell-tale drips of blood, from the sink where Royse had sneak-attacked me, to the service area, doubling back deeper into the kitchen towards the refrigerator, freezer, and my current prison, the closet. As soon as I had felt the knife carve into my hand, I had tried firing off a blinding blast of magical energy, only to find the spell fizzling out on my fingertips as I stumbled backwards. Royse had planned this well. He landed himself a job here just a week ago, found a night when we closed up the restaurant together, convinced me to help him with kitchen break-down, wore a magic nullifying necklace or ring of some sort, and nearly stabbed me in the back while I was putting dishes away. It was dumb luck that I turned to face him as he brought the knife down, and even then, I only partially dodged the blow. The blood on my clothes and throughout the kitchen served as proof of that.

"I'll wait until hell freezes over. You're going to pay for what you did!"

"Get in line," I said, trying to sound bored. Instead, my voice squeaked, and I winced. Despite that, I tried out some bravado. "The Sandman did not tell you I killed three of his men before? What chance do you have? You should probably go and get reinforcements. Do not worry, I will be right here when you get back."

"No! You're mine and mine alone!" The door rattled again; that lock was not going to hold up too much longer.

"What did he promise you? Money? Some sort of title? From what little I know about the Courts these days, there is precious little of value left. You can just walk away, like I did. Leave the city, and you can be assured of a peaceful life." Rather than a spoken reply, I heard laughing from outside. "What is funny?"

"You don't remember me, do you?"

"Should I?"

Royse laughed again, higher-pitched and strangled. "You killed my brother, you killed Cooke, you nearly killed me, you burnt down the diner, and you don't remember me?"

"Royse, I did not do those things."

"But your rebels did!" His fist pounded the door, and I scurried deeper into the closet, searching desperately for something, anything, that might form a makeshift weapon. "They knew Cooke was a source of intelligence, and they killed him! Him and Rowan..."

"Royse, I am sorry, but I was not one of those rebels." I pawed over cases of Bar Keepers Friend, Pine Sol, industrial strength bleach, and bug spray. Wait. Aerosol. I can use this. I ripped the plastic off of the top of the case and pulled out a can. "The Sandman lied to you. I did defend myself against the Sandman, I did defend myself against Cooke and his men a couple of years ago, but I swear upon the names of Fletcher, Kaskia, Lyeorn, and Boris that I did not kill Cooke, and I did not kill your brother." Even as I spoke, I tip-toed over to the door, unlocking it as quietly as I could. I took a few steps back, my finger on the spray can trigger, blood dripping down my other hand onto the stone. I steadied my body like a statue and waited.

"Lies!" Royse's shoulder hit the door. As it swung open wildly, one of the hinges popped loose, tripping him up and sending him staggering into the room. I did not allow him a chance to recover. I pressed down on the trigger, shooting the pesticide right into his eyes. He screamed, dropping the knife and clawing at his face. "Kill you!" he gritted out, but I was already hip-checking him into the mop and dashing towards the island. The knife clattered and scraped against the floor as he accidentally kicked it in his fumbling search. While Royse was recovering, I grabbed a wok from the rack, then rushed over towards him and swung my makeshift weapon as hard as I could at his skull. He grunted, dropped the knife he had finally found a grip on, but did not go down. I lined up a second shot, slower, more deliberate. *Crack*! He fell in a heap.

The wok sizzled like a cymbal when I dropped it. I hunched over, heaving and sucking in deep breathes. Eventually, I caught my breath, as my flight-or-flight instincts were replaced by the searing pain in my palm. With the fog of war gone, I saw Royse as he must have actually appeared: a tall man with deer horns just above his eyebrows, his dark brown hair now mottled with blood. My rage bubbled up and boiled over.

"Stupid..#$%!..." I unleashed a stream of curses as I dragged him from the closet to the walk-in refrigerator. The antiseptic smell of the cleaned-up kitchen was now replaced by a medley of ground beef, lettuce, green peppers, and cheddar. I propped Royse up against a rack, and punched him in the face. Again and again and again and again and again.

"Stay. Away. From. My. Friends." The message was likely lost on an unconscious man, but it made me feel a hell of a lot better growling it out. I had my fist cocked to resume the beating when the room started to spin. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of the refrigerator, through the kitchen, and behind the bar, where the house phone was located. Each button press left red smears on the numbers as I dialed our sous chef.

"Indrian...I need you to come in, and I need you to call the guard...Royse attacked me...Why? How the hell should I know? How am I?" I looked at my wound, felt a wave of dizziness wash over me, and squeezed my hand as hard as I could. I yelped as my flesh turned to marble, neatly preserving the gash under layers of rock. "I'm okay. Really. Just...come in, please? The kitchen is a #$@! mess, I'm sorry."

I shoved the phone back into its receiver and, with the assistance of the bar rail, hauled myself to my feet. The beer refrigerator door creaked as I opened it and retrieved two bottles of Silver Mark. I cracked one open, took a long sip and smashed the other one against a stool until the bottom was all jagged edges and dripping beer. Hopefully Indrian would get here before I had to use this.
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Bailey Raptis
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2018 8:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

October 29, 2018
I'Yulna

My brain screamed at me with each footstep that took me closer to Old Market. Do not do this. Don't do this. You @#$! idiot, don't do this. And really, I should have listened to myself. I was about to stick my head into the mouth of a lion. Nothing good could possibly come from marching through the market, into Little Elfhame, and trying to "run into" the Empress at one of the businesses she owns. Still, I did not have her phone number, nor her home address, and I did not think she would be at the one place I had ever met her at in Little Elfhame. The Royal Rabble Club was not quite a going concern these days, to the best of my knowledge, and I was not about to ask around her formal business concerns for an appointment. That left one place.

The neighborhood had changed since my last visit. It was not something one could immediately see, but rather, something sensed out of the corner of one's eye, in the details the average eye missed. Down some of the side streets I could see task mages levitating new bricks onto damaged walls. A little farther in, I noticed more "For Lease" signs than the last time I had been here, including one that brought a smile to my face. The streets did not feel quite as crowded, the passersby a little quieter than usual for the city. I know it is not scientific, but the energy just felt different. Almost the same way the Raptis house felt the first time I went back there alone, with the rest of the family dead or disappeared. The bones were here but the heart had been cut out. Some people were clearly trying to transplant some new energy to Little Elfhame, but there was a long struggle ahead for them.

I'Yulna, however, looked untouched by whatever turmoil had befallen Little Elfhame. The bricks were worn, red almost faded to brown in spots, but everything seemed intact. The wooden door was open, and an elf dressed in a sharp black suit, shiny shoes, and a white dress shirt with a couple of buttons undone leaned against the frame. He wore a purple-banded black fedora that covered most of his face, looking for all the world like he was asleep. I paid it little mind as I walked past him and through the door -

He blocked the door, arms folded across his chest over the hat. "Are you on the list?"

"List?" I took a step back. "I was not aware there was a list. I thought you were open to everybody."

"Yes, and no." He looked me up and down with eyes so dark they might have been black. Then again, it could easily have been a trick of the mage lights hanging overhead. "You look like trouble."

"Me? Did I dress wrong?" Further proof of how little I had thought through this plan lay in my outfit: plain black boots, simple blue jeans, and a blue/black rugby striped sweater. Passable for casual Fridays at an office, perhaps, but not exactly clubbing material.

"No. You-" The additional emphasis made me take another step away. "-Look. Like trouble." He waved a hand in front of his face.

"What-"

"Look. I let you in there, half the people in there are gonna wanna kill you on sight. The other half are probably gonna wanna slip something in your drink, sweet-talk you into the bathroom, club you on the head, and carry you back to The Lands. Neither's good for business."

"Hey." I puffed out my chest some, even though the doorman had at least six inches of height on me. "I am...friends with Jewell Ravenlock." I turned away slightly, hopefully enough that he did not see the way my nose wrinkled at the words.

"Sure you are. You and half the city. And half of them wanna kill her. Go on, get out of here. I'm giving you a chance to leave with your limbs intact. Take it."

I sighed. I hate doing this, but he leaves me no choice. At least he is somewhat handsome. I shifted my posture, loosened my limbs, and let my hips sway more than usual as I sashayed up to him. Three steps, two steps, one step. I leaned in, got up on my tip-toes, opened my mouth to whisper in his ear-

"Nice try." He had slipped to the side and grabbed me by the throat, before I could even react. I pawed at his arm as he held me aloft, my legs also kicking in my attempts to escape. "Consider this a mercy."

He flung me through the air, across the street, and into a street vendor's wooden cart. Several apples bounced off of my head, as a goblin yelled at me and smacked me with his pageboy hat. I glanced back over at the bar. The elf leaned against the wall again, a near-mirror of his earlier stance save for the tall cup of RhyDin Grind coffee in his right hand. I hauled myself up onto my feet with a grunt and handed some silver coins to the disgruntled fruit seller. I spared one last peek at the bar and bouncer, then dusted off my shoulders and started walking home. Well, that could have gone better, but at least I am still in one piece.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2018 5:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 3, 2018

There is a checklist I go through each and every time I wake up in an unfamiliar place. The fact that I have such a checklist should say a lot about my propensity for putting myself in these situations. The fact that I was going through the checklist at this moment says something about how intoxicated I got last night at the rave.

  1. Is there someone sleeping next to me? I turned my head to either side, even though it felt like there were weights bouncing around in my brain, and looked. No. Good. All right, next question.

  2. Am I wearing all of my clothes? My run of luck ended here. All I was wearing, underneath a rough gray wool blanket stained with red paint, were my tights. At some point, either I had taken off my boots and dress, or someone removed them off for me. The blue paint daubed on my face, neck, chest, and arms had been joined by a rather primitive looking brown door on an orange backdrop. It did not quite square with my answer for question number one, but it also would not have been the first time someone left me alone after an evening together. I decided not to linger on that thought any further. Massaging my throbbing forehead with my fingers, I moved on to the third question.

  3. Where am I? The lack of support on my back made it clear I was sleeping on the ground. I touched it tentatively. My fingertips found a cool, slightly damp surface. I rolled over, groaning, to get a closer look. Faded green-and-white tiles, coated in a liberal dusting of plaster debris and God knows what else, greeted me. A hint of mildew and must hung in the stale air. I dipped my face into the crook of my elbow and coughed to keep from retching. Then, I lifted my eyes.

    I appeared to be inside of a giant warehouse or factory, far larger than any such structure I had ever seen or been in in the city. This building's best days clearly resided in the distant past. All the drywall and finishing had been ripped from the walls, leaving just the wooden frame and concrete. Where windows once sat, jagged shards discouraged urban explorers from climbing in, allowing sunshine and long thorny branches to penetrate the interior. Dark puddles of water glittered nearby with the remnants of broken glass. Deeper inside, spray paint covered nearly every inch of exposed surface inside. Much of that graffiti consisted of crudely drawn words and figures, but some of it happened to be quite stunning: a green-and-red dragon spitting out what appeared to be acid, a monarch butterfly sitting on a pink bubble, an abstract shape whose tentacles seemed to dart out in all directions in a neon riot. A little ways down, the floor had collapsed in on itself, proof of time and decay's decisive victory. A black pit divided the halves of this story. Unless one could fly or leap great distances, they would not be crossing over to the other side. Sadly for my curiosity, I did not possess those skills.

A rattling noise caught my attention, followed by a hissing sound, like compressed air escaping from a can. I followed it through an archway, down a hallway, and into another abandoned chamber of this building. A humanoid figure stood by a wall filled with elaborately designed nicknames written in spray paint. ARTemiz. Ragnar0kk. WyrdBern. On a patch of empty concrete, this artist put the finishing touches on his tag in purple: B-BO1.

"Welcome." The word came out filtered and muffled, as if spoken through some obstruction. "You like what I've done?" The figure turned to face me, and I saw why that was the case. A respirator mask covered the bottom half of their face, while thick shaded goggles kept their eyes from view. Between that and the formlessness of their gray hooded sweatshirt (hood over their head, of course) and black-and-white striped track pants, it was hard to tell their gender from appearances. Although assuming what they had just painted on the wall, I could probably wager a guess. Still...

"Hello. I do, although I must confess that that is the least of my current concerns. Is that your name?" I pointed at the freshly written signature, the letters and number(s?) splashed and swirling on the wall.

"A name." A throaty chuckle emanated from behind the mask. "You're wondering 'Where am I?', aren't you." The intonation almost approached that of a query even as it zigged up and down in pitch.

"I have an inkling." I cast a glance at the dark branches dripping water on the ground, tasted the ozone in the air. Not ozone, I corrected myself. Glamour. "I am in the Hedge. I must have sent myself here after the rave last night." I paused. "Assuming time is still flowing the same here as it is there."

"Very good." Sarcasm? I shook my head, unable to tell through the clicks and hisses. "And do you know who I am? What I am?"

"Bee-Bee-Oh-One?"

"B-boy. Or b-boy one."

"Does that mean you prefer he/him pronouns?"

"Sure." I thought I saw his shoulders shrug through the sweatshirt, but it might have been a trick of the morning light. "That's fine. A bit simple, but fine."

"Well, if that is not what you would like to be called-"

Laughter seeped out of the respirator. "Strange. You wake up partially undressed, in a place that's not your home, covered up and painted on, and you're concerned about pronouns." Again, his voice straddled the edge of asking and not asking.

It was my turn to shrug. "Assuming you are Fae, it is always...prudent to be polite and not offend." I narrowed my eyes. "Did I sleep with you?"

"In what way?"

"The, ha, biblical one." He stood there in silence as I waited for an answer. Staring at me, I could only assume. "Sexual intercourse," I added, hoping he knew enough of Common to know those words.

He doubled over, slapping his knee and wheezing. "Please. As if I'd sleep with you. I just made sure your clothes stayed clean - it's hanging up somewhere..." He trailed off as he straightened up, then waved at nothing in particular. "...over there. I gave you a blanket, and a way out." Red mitten-clad fingers pointed at my midsection and the painted door now adorning it. "But I think you're missing an important question."

"Why."

"Yes!" He clapped a hand against the can, causing the contents to clatter around inside. "Why here? 'Why me?' Why me. Some people would say it's random. Chance. A coin-flip. But we know better, don't we." His voice dropped to a whisper as he leaned in closer to me. "It's the Wyrd."

"Fate?"

"If you must be so crass. 'Fate.' He stepped back, making a spitting noise, though no saliva escaped his mouth. "You're here for a reason, I'm here for a reason, and I'm going to tell you why."

I folded my arms across my chest, but nodded for him to continue.

"Because I know what you want, and I know how you can get it."

"What would that be?"

"You want to become Fae."
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

((Trigger warning: Contains a mention of potentially disturbing violence))

November 3, 2018
The Hedge


Situations like this are precisely the reason I hate dealing with anything even remotely connected to the Gentry and Arcadia. I knew there was a 99% chance B-BO1 was lying, both in his claim that he knew how I could become Fae and in his insinuation of being Fae himself. Yet because of that 1%, against all odds chance that he was not lying, I had to treat him seriously. I could not challenge his claim, I could not insult him, and I could not just leave the Hedge without another word. Instead of asking the questions I really wanted to ask, I asked the ones that played into his hands.

"How do I become Fae, then?" I unfolded my arms and held them behind my back.

"It's simple, really," he said, circling me slowly clockwise. "You kill one." He reversed direction, began walking backwards, now in a counter-clockwise wheel. I resisted the urge to fold my arms again.

"Because that worked out so well for me the last time I tried it," I deadpanned.

"You lacked conviction. You were afraid of Them. You were afraid of Her. You're not anymore." He stopped on a dime, spun around on his heels, and strolled back to his tag. "I wonder why that is."

"I am still plenty afraid of Them," I said to his back. He did not bother turning around. "If you think I am going to just try again with Jewell, I cannot. I would not anyways, but even if I wanted to, I swore a Contract to Her. I cannot betray Her in word, thought, or deed." I immediately cringed when I realized how much information I had given him.

He glanced back over his shoulder, just for a moment, and I flattened out my expression as best I could. "Interesting. Go on."

"There is not much more to tell than that." A blatant lie, to be sure, but one I hoped he would not press me on. Fortunately, he did not. He turned around and leaned against the wall, away from the fresh paint.

"Hmm. Well, I doubt it matters anyways. Jewell didn't create you, did She." Now I crossed my arms and glared at him. "That look says everything. She didn't. That's okay. We can work with that."

"Why do you even want me to become Fae?"

"I can't have your best interests at heart?" I watched as he clasped both hands against his chest.

"You will forgive me my impertinence, but you have only your own best interests at heart."

"Forgiven." Silence settled over the warehouse, as neither of us seemed ready to take the next step in the conversation.

"May I leave now? And may I have my clothing back?"

"Ah, yes." He slid a few steps to his left and waved his hands around erratically. The concrete cracked as B-BO1 conjured up a brass closet rod that impaled itself into the wall. The only hanger on the rod held my peach sequined dress. The shoelaces of my boots had been tied together and draped over the bar, while my brass knuckle clutch bag sat impossibly balanced on top. I donned my clothes again, pulled my cigarettes out of my bag, and reached back through the Veil to retrieve my lighter. I lit a smoke, exhaling a lazy gray ring in B-BO1's direction. He did not noticeably react, but there was no way for me to see his facial expressions behind his respirator and goggles.

"Thank you." I should have taken that as my cue to leave. Instead, I stood there smoking and watching him. He itched his neck underneath the sweatshirt and pawed at the ground with his paint-splattered hiking boots. I was waiting for something, but what it was I could not articulate in that moment. As I finished my cigarette and flicked it into a puddle, he spoke again.

"Fine." His tongue clicked behind the mask. "I used to be what you are. Lost. I escaped my master and returned years later with my motley to kill Him. I did." He spread his arms out, and all the scene needed was someone to shout out "Tada!" I did not. "What more do you want?"

"How did you kill Him?"

"We brought a cross of cold iron and nailed Him to it." I did not need to see his face to hear his satisfaction. "Listen, the old ways are dead. The Painter, The Printer, The Sculptor." My flesh turned to goose bumps when I heard the last name. "We're burying Them, one by one. And we've got one lined up, just for you. What do you say? Are you in?"
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2018 11:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 26, 2018

The bar was gone.

With the advent of the holiday season, I started feeling nostalgia for some of my past haunts. It did not surprise me to find that many of the clubs I used to dance and drink at were gone -- warehouses and factories rented out on the weekends are not what anyone would call stable, permanent homes for businesses. Sometimes, the name and theme of the club would change -- Purgatory had changed from Hi-NRG dance to hip-hop to gothic industrial in just three years. Sometimes, the neighborhood changed. RhyDin was gentrifying, and once-worthless industrial land butting up against run-down apartments became considerably more valuable when those apartments were merged together into fewer, larger condominiums. Either the building got knocked down in favor of something shinier and glassier and cleaner, or they buffed out the rough edges, replaced the windows, knocked out the walls, exposed the pipes and ducts in ceiling to sell new residents on factory-chic.

Sometimes, though, businesses just disappeared. And not in the ways I previously mentioned, or even the more prosaic "Out of Business" papers plastered in the window, soon to be followed by "For Rent" signs. Sometimes, the buildings just vanished. Literally. An ornately designed brick church, with two tall towers, a portico with four round columns, and a gigantic copper crucifix at the top, could wink out of existence one day, replaced by an ordinary square mixed-use building. Victorian style houses might be replaced with bungalows, and then those bungalows might turn into split-levels.The city is always changing, whether the method be mundane or magical.

Still, it did not make it hurt any less when I went to the address of Český Domov and found a vacant lot. To the left, a four story building sat. The top three floors were dark brown, with tall windows, fire escapes, and a patch of ivy struggling to climb from the top floor to the roof. The first floor had a pair of stores: a barber shop that appeared closed for the day, and a convenience store that promised cold beer and hot coffee. On the other side of the empty lot sat a one-story gray ranch house. A sidewalk snaked from the wrought iron fence at the front of the property, branching off between the front door and towards a wooden barrier beside the house. In lieu of grass, the homeowner laid down artificial turf and plotted out a small rock garden

I knew it was futile, but I looked around the street for somebody, anybody, who might know what happened to my favorite beer hall. It was late, though, and the handful of people I saw walking through had that fast walk and dead-ahead stare that indicated they were not the chatty type. I sighed and ducked into the bodega.

The short ceiling, narrow aisles, and shelves packed to the rafters with all manner of food and beverage combined to make the shop feel both cozy and claustrophobic. Near the front counter, a tortoiseshell cat slept by the cash register, her lazy tail flopping against the drawer in near-regular intervals. A red-skinned tiefling with long straight horns springing from his temples was kneeling and stocking packs of cigarettes. I left them both alone momentarily, stepping over a twenty pound bag of rice on my way to the back of the store, where the refrigerators and freezers were located.

I found the beer cooler and traced my fingers against the glass. Silver Mark. Badsider. Baranduin. As tempting as it was to fall back on the old tried and true brews, my heart needed something to remind me of what I had lost.

I carried a six-pack of green bottles with the world "PILSNER" embossed on silvery foil. My free hand patted the snoozing cat as I set the beer down with a chorus of clinks. The tiefling looked back over his shoulder then and stood.

"Anything else?"

"A pack of Red Cowboys, please?" He nodded and twisted back around, retrieving a pack of cigarettes with a desert background and the crimson silhouette of a man on horseback. I handed over some silvers, hoisting the six-pack up above my head in a makeshift toast/salute, and exited the shop.

I took a few steps toward the empty lot and sat down in front of it. The beer rested besides me, as I took out a cigarette and lit it. After a few drags, I opened two bottles of beer. I took a long swig from the first one, then tipped it so the liquid within splashed onto the asphalt. I let it flow and thought of everyone I knew who had died. My parents. Fletcher. Kass. Lyeorn. Boris. Cooke. My fetch. Lirssa. The names kept coming and coming, until the bottle emptied out. I splashed a little more liquid out from the second bottle, then took a small sip of my own. I wasn't going anywhere for awhile.
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