Entirely for the record, cleaned up and streamlined my site (again). Hopefully the last time for a while, as it’s practically in stasis at this point. Also, Kevin, if you actually visited this blog, hi and what is wrong with you?
That is to say, last week the parent company of the company I work for announced to the staff in a tiny, sweaty conference room on the second floor that they sold the property to a smaller company out of Wyoming that saw it was profitable and wanted to buy. (Well, okay, what they told us was that they saw our staff and newspaper work were so good they wanted to buy. At the risk of sounding cynical, I doubt that was actually the case.)
On the other hand, this just happened: New reporter, to boss: How do you find time to do all this and read all this? Boss: I have a didactic memory! *turns to me* Is that the right word? (Spoiler: It’s not.) Reporter: Really?? Me: He is full of crap and lies all the time. Boss:Convincingly! Me: Well, that’s true.
In the end, I doubt the day-to-day details are going to change that much.
Name: Jukka (possibly her actual name) Age: older than she looks, and she looks about 25 Occupation: watcher Genre: fantasy Rough description: dark blue hair, but not as dark as Kin’s, pale silver eyes, darker gray skin, 5’3”; willowy and fleet and almost never still
Jukka was young when her people perished in the Ascension, but unlike her companion, she’s lived the years since, watching the world change around her. At first in hiding, she soon began to follow the paths of the gargants, the last and heaviest mark her people had left on the land. Through the stone giants and the ley lines they tracked, she feels she’s gained a greater understanding of the cycles of the world and what happened in the disasters that killed the rest of her race.
Jukka watched the ley line behind them, the slender thread of light that kept the gargants on their path, and frowned slightly. The line hadn’t shifted, though she’d guessed that much already. A shift in the ley line would cause tremors throughout the earth itself.
She folded her arms, swaying easily with the movement of the old stone soldier whose shoulder she was using for a platform, and closed her eyes, opening them again when she heard her younger companion join her.
"I can’t get a sense of it," she said in answer to his unspoken question. "The shift came from outside the ley line, but I don’t know where — or what. It didn’t leave a signature."
He looked over his shoulder, toward the front of the line, where the first gargant had veered off course.
Well, veered. By fractions of a degree. But enough to alter their path entirely, given time.
There was no intelligence in the stone giants anymore. The ley lines were their source of power, simple survival dragging them along the thousand-mile paths, and Jukka watched them. Of all the things her people had left behind, they were the most active, if not necessarily the most dangerous.
She wondered briefly if there were records of aberrant behavior in one of the archives. Maybe it would do to spend some time on solid ground.
Beside her, Kin shifted.
"Not long," she said. "Just enough to check. Will you come?"
He met her gaze and nodded after a slow second.
"We’re coming up on Phan Tor," she said, crouching next to him. "It’s a good place to start."
The city, nestled against the bones of the mountains, had one of the largest historical archives of any she recalled, barring the capital — and nothing was left of the capitol but dust and bones.
Kin nodded, reaching a hand down to pat the gargant’s shoulder. It didn’t react, at least not outwardly, but Jukka felt a faint surge of energy pool under her feet, and she grinned at him.
"They’ll be fine," she said. "And even if they did shift, it’s not enough to push them off the path. Not yet." She frowned again. "But we should look into this sooner than later."
Another nod, and he settled into a sitting position with a low sigh. She smiled faintly and straightend, closing her eyes and casting her attention to the energy of the line.
Phan Tor was still a few days away, and they needed all the information they could get.
Oh damn son nearly done. Today and tomorrow are semi cheating in the same way that Shep and Gilly were semi cheating, as they were characters who already existed in some form, fashioned to a new setting.
The next two are more like .. fleshing out characters who never actually got all that fleshed out in the setting they were deposited in, though that setting isn’t changing all that much.
What ………… ever …………?
Name: Kin (not in actual fact his name) Age: older than he looks, and he looks about ten Occupation: watcher-in-training Genre: fantasy Rough description: dark blue, nearly black hair, dark gray eyes, pale gray-ish skin, 4’7”; scrawny, quick and mute
As far as Kin knows, he’s the last of his people, aside from the older girl who found him when he woke from the long, dreamless sleep that kept him safe from whatever killed the rest of them. He might be able to talk if he tried, but he’s never had the need, able to communicate with his companion without vocalization. They eat what they can forage and travel and tend the nearly-defunct war machines that slog tirelessly across the plains of the lands over which their ancestors fought. He knows very little about them and doesn’t much care, content so far with the strange, simple life they eke out, far from the eyes of the peoples who now populate the world.
The gargant shifted beneath him, stone moving against stone with a slow, deliberate scraping sound, and he opened his eyes to see the sun sinking below the horizon. His companion reached down to touch his forehead, and he shook his head, watching the sun for a moment more before turning carefully to face her.
Balancing on the shoulders of the stone giants had come as easily to him as it had to her, but it would be just as easy to take a long tumble to the ground if he wasn’t respectful of the danger.
"Something’s wrong," she said, not aloud, though her voice was as clear to him as if it rang in his ears. "Something’s pushed them off course."
Doubt crept into his expression, but a quick glance at their path told him it was true. Ley lines gave a remote tremor when they shifted, and he’d felt no such thing. The gartant simply weren’t following their path as truly as they should.
He looked at her again, but her pale eyes were on the path ahead.
"This will take us close to a settlement," she said. "Closer than they’ve ever come to one."
He reached up to catch her hand, and she turned to him with a wan smile.
"Not close enough to do damage, I don’t think."
But probably close enough to frighten them. He looked behind them, where the cluster of gargants tapered out to a broken marching formation.
"Almost certainly." She stood, pushing her wild hair back from her face and twisting it into an unruly ponytail. "I’ll go ahead and warn them when we get closer."
He shook his head, but she smiled at him.
"They won’t hurt me," she said.
They couldn’t hurt her. It didn’t mean they wouldn’t try. He shook his head again.
"I won’t leave you alone," she promised him, bending to ruffle his hair.
He scowled at her.
"I’m going to check the rest of the line," she said, releasing him airily and springing to the nearest gargant with grace and confidence he had yet to match.
He sighed and clambered to his feet, folding his arms and letting his weight shift with the rocking movement of the stone soldier beneath him. The ley lines burned bright against his vision, slender threads that connected the long-vanished strongholds of his people — strongholds he barely remembered — and he wondered why they watched the old roads.
Name: Scinta Age: 23 Occupation: faithful servant Genre: fantasy Rough description: essentially a walking rat, about 4’ tall, jet black fur, long, thick tail; a little scrawny for her kind
Scinta is a druva of the rathim clan, called demihumans or beastmen by people who want to be insulting about it. Her clan, despite their spread to almost every corner of the continent, is known to boast proudly that they are the faithful servants of the drakken clan, even though that clan is said to be basically extinct. Scinta’s parents were among the most faithful, and raised her in the ways of the drakken court, though she works in the kitchen of a noble human household in the capitol.
The slender druva flicked her tail, keeping her eyes on the meat she had cooking, even when the tiny child dove into her skirts and clung there. When she had turned the steak over, she reached down to brush one clawed hand gently against the girl’s hair.
"Good evening, little mistress," she said, finally looking down to find the child’s dark-eyed face turned up toward her. "Do your parents know you’re visiting?"
She made a face, all the answer she needed to give.
"Mm, I think they’ll miss you before too long."
Another face, though this time she glanced over her shoulder. “I want a story,” she said, finally looking back.
"I find that is often why you come to me." She smiled and turned back to the meat, glancing sideways at a pot of stew, mostly vegetables, that was bubbling nearby. The master liked his meat just so, and the mistress didn’t like meat at all. It was a wonder they ate at the same table.
"I want to know about the drakkies."
"Drakken," Scinta corrected her, and her tail twitched quite of its own accord. "Your mother has told me quite firmly I’m not to speak of them to you, little mistress."
"I won’t tell," was the earnest response, but the druva nevertheless was silent for a moment.
"Elitha," she called. "The master’s steak is ready. Will you take it to him?"
"Yes, yes." An older woman, human, as was much of the household, came around the corner, blinking when she saw the daughter of the house with a handful of skirt still clenched in her small fist. "And should I tell him of the little mistress’ disposition?"
Scinta chuckled, transferring the slab of meat to a plate and letting Elitha sweep it from the counter. “No … as long as she’s at the table for the main meal, I think he will be satisfied.”
With that, the woman was gone, and Scinta bent to scoop the girl up in her arms, resting her against her hip as she stirred the stew. “Is that a solemn promise, little mistress? Your mother will hear no word of the drakken?”
Scinta smiled. As little as she felt the drakken were still about somewhere in the world, it was difficult to resist speaking of them. The lore passed down from her parents flowed in her blood.
"Then let me tell you," she began, "of Tarwan Rekketh and the silver pearl."
Name: Shep “Lightfoot” Ahressi Age: 28 Occupation: forager Genre: sci-fantasy Rough description: sandy-haired and lean with gray eyes, 6’1”; cheery and devil-may-care, for the most part
Unlike his brother, Shep’s ambitions lie closer to home and mostly in storehouses of the other domes, not that he tells his family that. He and a small group of like-minded companions sneak out of the dome and sort through other domes’ leavings as they wait for collection. The practice is illegal, and they run a fairly high risk, even setting aside the dangers of the land itself outside the domes.
“We’re not running tonight,” Shep announced, ambling into the basement room they used to coordinate their jobs. Four sets of eyes darted to him, and he gave a liquid shrug. “Unless you’d like to go without me.”
"Why not?" Scil asked, turning a slim knife over and over in his hands.
"It’s my brother’s birthday, that’s why not. Family first."
This elicited a series of skeptical snorts from the assembled, but Shep ignored them, lifting his hands in a placating gesture.
"It’s not like our takes have been fantastic lately — we can wait another day."
Marda nodded, slouching back on the crate she was using for a seat. “Probably best to have a break, anyway … they’ve stepped up patrols outside the north domes.”
"Don’t see why," grunted Marv. "Lot of fuss over their garbage."
"Well, if Central wants it for processing, I suppose it’s not quite garbage, is it?" Shep rubbed his shoulder, sighing. "Either way, I’ll be ducking out on you."
"Your baby brother’s the one wants to sing for his supper, right?" said Marv, a dry grin briefly stretching his lips.
"No accounting for taste," Shep said agreeably, but his voice held an edge that caused his friend to drop his gaze. "But he’s my brother."
Marda smiled, waving him off. “Then go be a good big brother. We’ll be fine.”
Shep returned the smile with an easy grin and bowed dramatically. “Later, ladies.” Then he turned and ambled easily out the door again.
Name: Gillum “Gilly” Ahressi Age: 17 Occupation: bard-in-training Genre: sci-fantasy Rough description: mousy brown hair in a page cut, brown eyes, 5’9”; skinny and a little underfed, also awkward and unsure of himself
Gilly discovered his love of music at a young age, when a wandering minstrel stopped at the agricultural dome where his family worked. He’d heard recordings, but he live performance made such an impression on him, he made it his goal to become a bard himself. One of the other perks being that bards were one of the few professionals with a license to leave their assigned domes and wander the admittedly forbidding world outside.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
The tone of his older brother’s voice made Gilly hesitate, and he peered at him sideways. “Well, um — yes. I mean, I’ve wanted it since I was little.”
"And you can’t just wait until another bard shows up at the dome?"
"We don’t /know/ when another bard’s going to show up, remember?" He frowned a little, adjusting the strap that held the hand-crafted lute on his back. "What’s the harm in sending a request for one?"
"It’s going to be expensive, mostly." His brother cast a moody glance at the fields, tended largely by their family’s crew of mechanical farmhands.
"Relax, Gil. It’s your birthday, right?" He fashioned a smile, and rolled his shoulders in an easy shrug. "I’m sure it can be arranged."
He peered at his brother with a small frown. “Is — is something the matter, Shep? You’re sorta … tense.”
"Oh … nah." Shep grinned, reaching out to ruffle his hair in the most annoying way possible. "Patrols are getting a little tight out there."
Gilly’s frown grew, but he refrained from giving his usual advice, which was to stay and help with the farm instead of taking risks. Given his current request, it would have sounded especially hypocritcal. Though at least his risk was legal.
Shep released him, sighing. “Mom and Dad’ll be back soon. I’ll tell ‘em.” He paused, his grin making a brief return. “You might want to be out of the house when I do.”
A weak laugh escaped him. “They … kind of … already know.”
"Yeah, but they don’t know you’re /serious/." He touched the lute, rubbing his thumb over its wooden surface. "He’s gonna be sorry he got you that."
Gilly sighed. “Yeah …”
Shep gave his shoulder a nudge. “Get moving. Hide the lute so he can’t break it.”
He nodded, adjusting the strap one more time, and slipped quickly out the door, heading for a path of trees south of the field to lie low until he heard the shouting die down.
Name: Nel’toleth Age: 17 Occupation: dreamwalker Genre: hurf Rough description: green, tendril-like hair, pale skin with a blue-ish tint, 5’7”; small and a little pudgy, has a sleepy air about her
Nel has been more at home in her dreams than in the waking world, and it almost came as no surprise — to her at least — that she could visit the dreams of others. She doesn’t have particularly fine control of it, but she’s told it’s a rare ability, and there simply aren’t many people who can train her, so for the moment, she’s trying to teach herself.
She wasn’t sure when she’d drifted off, but she was relatively certain she was still in class, head drooping onto her keyboard. The teachers had stopped trying to wake her, though, and her grades hadn’t suffered /too/ much.
She blinked out at the dark landscape, testing her footing. Sometimes there wasn’t any footing at all, and she fell right through, but this time there was, even if it was a little spongy. And a little slimy, she noted, bending to touch the ground.
She straightened, wiping her fingers on her uniform tunic and launched herself gently into the air. She always preferred to fly in dreams. It was faster — and frequently helped her avoid ground-based hazards. Though it did leave her vulnerable to air-based hazards …
She scanned the horizon, then shrugged and floated forward, only to collide with what felt for all the world like a brick wall.
"Ow!" She recoiled, rubbing her nose, then felt along the barrier, frowning when she reached a corner and found a wall to her left as well. Scowling, she flew higher, hands carefully extended, and felt her fingers scrap an invisible ceiling as well. She cursed, trying the only two directions she hadn’t yet, and found herself well and truly trapped.
A soft chuckle echoed out of the darkness nearby. “Well — let’s have a look at you.”
"Who are you?" she snapped. "Let me out!"
No one came into view, though the voice id sound a little closer when it spoke again. “Hm … you’re not a race that’s ever showed this particular talent before — I wonder how that came to be.”
She looked blank for a moment. “Yes, we have. My people have tales of dreamwalkers. I’m not the first.”
The voice tutted, sounding closer still. “Dreamwalkers yes, but dreamwalkers of your kind?”
"Um … they didn’t really say …"
"Well, perhaps I’m misinformed, but I doubt it." The air in front of her shifted, and a slender figure emerged from it, shaped vaguely like her — two arms, two legs — but with none of the racial markings that her people were born with. "My name is — well, you can call me Lessa. It’s probably simpler that way."
Nel spent a moment staring at her, a frown tugging her lips. “So — who are you, then?” she finally repeated her question.
"I’ve come to teach you the finer points of walking dreams," she said. "I’ve been watching you for some time, and you have a fair amount of talent, but raw talent needs refinement. In the simplest terms, Nel’toleth, I’m your tutor."
Name: Helen Miller Age: 27 Occupation: flower seller Genre: slice of life? Rough description: black hair, cropped short, gray eyes, 5’8”; sturdily built and a little muscular, keeps herself in decent shape
Helen washed out of the army, but she keeps herself in shape out of habit, even after returning to help her parents run their shop. She isn’t much interested in running the shop or catching a man, both things her mother wishes she would show more initiative with, but she helps out with the shop anyway, since she hasn’t really been employed lately, either.
“Helen, can you watch the shop for a few minutes?”
Helen looked up from the arrangements she was arranging, eyes darting reflexively toward the door, which had just jangled to admit a customer.
"Sure, Mom," was out of her mouth just as a tall individual of the male persuasion walked in, looking lost.
She turned a glare on her mother, who smiled angelically and gathered up her purse. “Thank you, dear.”
Muttering grimly to herself, she finished straightening the arrangements before making her way slowly over to the customer, who was standing at the counter and staring blankly at the displays.
"Can I help you?" she asked, probably more briskly than her mother would have liked.
"Oh — uh, yeah." He rubbed the back of his neck, looking somewhat like a lost puppy. "I guess I wanted to get a bouquet …" His inflection swept the last syllable into a question, and she arched an eyebrow.
"You don’t sound too sure of that."
"Oh — well, I’m just not … sure." His expression grew, if possible even more depressed.
"Well," she said. "Who’s it for?"
Embarrassment flashed across his features. “My, uh, my sister.”
Her eyebrows lifted despite her best effort to keep her expression neutral. “What did you do to your sister that you have to buy her flowers?”
She froze for a split second, considering for a moment that his sister might have just — graduated from college? Had a baby? Then she saw his face, bright red and chagrined.
"Um — well — maybe that’s not important. Am I right about about this being an — apology?"
He nodded, head hanging. Sharing his embarrassment, for a split second, all her knowledge of flowers and their meaning, bolstered by her mother’s constant reminders, failed her.
"What — what’s her favorite color?" she blurted.
"Um …" He rubbed his cheek. "Well — she likes pink and yellow."
"All right," she said, hurrying off into their stock before she realized she’d completely forgotten to ask him what his price range was. She kept her gatherings moderate, calculating the price on the fly, and came back with a neatly arranged bouquet.
"Oh," he said blankly. "That looks — good. How much is it?"
She reached for colored paper to wrap it in, double-checking her calculations. “Ten fifty-two,” she said, reaching over to tap the amount into the register.
"Oh — okay, I’ve got that." He fumbled for his wallet. His haste mirrored hers, and she repressed a sigh of relief when he handed over exact change.
She handed him the bouquet with a quickly manufactured smile. “Good luck with your sister.”
"Yeah — thanks." And with that, he was out the door.
Helen groaned faintly, leaning against the counter and hoping any other customers who wandered in before her mother came back were female.
Name: Rista of the Leeward Wood Age: 42 Occupation: hedge witch Genre: fantasy Rough description: pale skin, dark, reddish hair, 5’5”; neat and compact, moves with practiced confidence, particularly in the woods
Rista wasn’t expecting to take in a child on a permanent basis, and she’s done the only things to raise her that she knew how — teach her the craft and attempt to instill basic morals in her. She apprenticed to her predescessor in her teens, fleeing from a life that — looking back — probably wasn’t as bad as she thought, but she’s fairly content now. She knows the woods and the spirits therein almost as well as she knows the people of the surrounding townships.
“What took so long?” She didn’t look up from her work, checking the powdered plant matter for consistency. “For someone who didn’t want to get wet, you certainly took your time.”
The child flounced over to her table and deposited the sweetblossom without saying anything, then moved immediately to change into something dry. It was when she went for a cloth to clean up the mud and water she’d tracked in — without being asked — that Rista fixed her with a frown.
"There was a man out there," she said, bending to scrub at the wood underfoot.
She arched an eyebrow. “A man? Did he do anything?”
"He just watched me."
The girl’s hair had fallen across her face as she worked, but there was a distinct note of unease in her voice. Rista waited.
"He, um. He had antlers."
Rista’s heart skipped. “Is he still there?”
"No … he walked away right before I came back in." The girl brushed her hair back, turning her guardian a wary glance. "Do you know him?"
"In a way. You may have startled him."
Raine snorted. “HE,” she said, “startled ME.”
Rista laughed. “I imagine he did.” She set her tools aside. There were very few reasons he would have come this close to a populated area, and none of them were particularly pleasant. “After you finish cleaning, grind up the sweetblossom and finish the poultice. I may not have time when I get back.”
"Are you going after him?" The girl straightened where she was kneeling, cloth clenched in one hand. "Are you coming back?"
She got to her feet. “Of course I’m coming back.” She strode briskly to the girl, pausing to rest a hand on her head. “He just wants to talk to me.”
Rista smiled. “Have faith. The spirits of the forest have no desire to harm us.”
Her expression became momentarily blank. “/Oh/.”
She chuckled, then hurried into the room they shared for her cloak, heavier boots and a small lantern. He was likely to be waiting a small journey into the wood, if she recalled the clearing he favored. It would have to be during the spring rains, wouldn’t it?
Raine was still scrubbing when she reentered the room. “Don’t forget the poultices,” she said, not waiting for a reply before slipping out the door.
Name: Raine of Leeward Wood Age: 11 Occupation: hedge witch in training Genre: fantasy Rough description: dark skin, tangled black hair, pale brown eyes, 4’6”; skinny and quick
Raine was barely an infant when the hedge witch took her in, a favor to parents who never returned, and she’s lived in the woods since, barring a brief attempt to take her to a more normal family that failed when she showed up on the woman’s doorstep a day later. Her surrogate mother trains her in herblore and takes her on her rounds as one of the few “doctors” in the area.
She pushed a wave of tangled hair out of her face, poking her head out the door and making a face before pulling it shut.
"So I gathered," the older woman said dryly, glancing up from her pestle to see the child still frowning in the doorway. "Well?"
"But I don’t want to get wet —"
"Raine, I’ve asked you to gather one sweetblossom from the herb garden, not trek to Dolaran market. You’ll dry."
The woman set the pestle down, but she hadn’t even lifted her head before the door creaked open again.
"Okay, okay," Raine mumbled into the damp air, pushing the door shut and lingering under the shallow overhang of the roof before ducking into the weather.
She splashed as hard as she could through the puddles to make the work look harder, in spite of the fact that it would likely be her who had to wash out the heavy skirt later in the week. She bounded over the low fence around the garden, splashing heavily into the mud next to a row of herbs.
She glanced behind her after unsticking her feet and wondered if Rista would say anything about the deep imprints in dirt.
Rain trickled down her face, and she padded hurriedly to the sweetblossom, whose tiny flowers were wilting under the water. She sighed and snatched up a sprig of it, lifting the flower to her nose and sniffing delicately, even though she could barely smell it in the rain.
When she opened her eyes, she froze.
A tall figure, human-shaped, stood next to the nearest tree, watching her with pale eyes.
"Hello," she called automatically. "We won’t be making rounds today — do you need something?"
It shifted, and it was then she noticed the antlers sprouting from either side of its head.
Her mouth snapped shut, and she clutched the sweetblossom to her chest, but it moved no closer, watching her for a moment more before turning and fading into the rainy woods.
She breathed again, then spun and dashed back to the house as quickly as she could without injuring the garden.
Name: Lim Vao Age: 27 Occupation: shepherd Genre: whatever Rough description: tangled brown hair, brown eyes, mottled brown skin, 5’6”; small and slim, hair braided back to keep it out of her face
Lim Vao has tended the herds of the great beasts since she was young, as did her mother and her mother’s mother. Sacred to the mother goddess, only women tend the animals, following them on their slow migration north. As a result, she rarely sees her father and brother, and sometimes wonders if there was a better vocation she could have taken.
The beast lowered its head, bigger than her entire body, and delicately enveloped her hand in its lips. Lim Vao knew the fistful sugar must seem like very little to a creature so large, but they seemed to like it anyway, as evidenced by the low sound that rumbled from its throat.
Something struck her in the middle of the back, and she staggered forward, nearly into the great beast’s leg.
"I already gave you yours," she said, turning and planting her hands on her hips.
The calf was born twice her height and would only grow from there, until it towered above them like its mother. It bent its head to nose at her more gently this time, and she stroked its soft fur, murmuring nonsense as it whuffled at her.
"Mahn is gathering the last supplies. Are you ready to leave?"
"Yes." She had packed the night before and cleaned her rooms in preparation for the long months of emptiness. "Fal and I teamed up."
Her mother smiled. “That was probably wise.”
Lim gave the calf a final pat and joined her mother, who turned to walk back toward the compound.
"I can help Mahn, if she needs it." She tossed her braid over her shoulder.
"I don’t think so. We should put our belongings where she can find them, though."
"They’re in front of my door."
Her mother nodded, reaching out to tuck her arm around her shoulders. “So responsible.”
Lim made a face. Fal was a year or two older than her and hated moving preparations. “Teaming up” had mostly involved Lim nagging her until she filled her satchel and put away her winter things.
"Do we know when we’re moving?"
"It could be as early as today. The tall one has been restless."
The tall one led the herd on its travels, though it was getting older and had been challenged once or twice by younger males. Lim was glad enough it was still leading, though — it was gentler than the other males and had a great understanding of the mountain trails they would be walking.
"Will father and Ran be seeing us off?"
Her mother’s smile saddened. “They may be working, Lim. But they will try.”
"Oh." She made a face and quickly smoothed it away, and her mother leaned over to kiss her temple.
"We’ll see them again," she said. Even if "again" was in six months, when the herds returned.
Name: R’kash Age: 72 Occupation: seeker Genre: fantasy Rough description: small and slim compared to his kin, about thirty feet tall and 100 feet long; scales pale yellow with an irridescent sheen, blue eyes
R’kash wasn’t even clutched when the queen disappeared in a warp storm 200 years ago, but he knows her scent as well as any other dragon in his clan. Inspired by tales of her and by the shared memories of his people, he joined a search team as soon as he was old enough, and he slips between worlds in the hopes of catching her scent in foreign lands.
The air was cold and thin as high as he was flying, but the reek from below stung his nostrils, and despite his best efforts, he sneezed violently. He circled once, wings quivering with agitation. If she was below, he’d have to fly far closer and somehow sort through the clouds of stench.
It wasn’t any wonder the scouts had given this world more than a single pass, even setting aside physical dangers. Few of the interconnected worlds of the web had advanced to the stage of manmade flight, but this one had. Little magic to speak of, but more than enough technology to make up for it. One of the initiates — Meroth, wasn’t it? — had returned to the aerie with her wing nearly shorn off and hadn’t been able to tell them what had hit her. A shiver worked its way down his spine.
He circled lower, eyes watering as the acrid smell grew stronger.
She probably wasn’t here. He could make the call and go back. No one truly expected him to find her, but everyone did a tour on the deceptively beautiful planet at least once, and it was past his turn. How could she have made a home among a people who would hurt her own, anyway?
The wind picked up, and he shifted to adjust for it.
There were more ways to search for her than scent, but he wasn’t as well-versed in them as his elders. The byways of draconic thought wound differently than other species, and the well-trained could reach out to find familiar pathways. It wasn’t something he’d ever attempted. His nose, he was told, was talented enough on its own.
He wasn’t sure it would serve him particularly well here, though.
He continued in a slow, wide spiral, piercing the canopy of clouds above a rambling mountain range and aiming for the tallest peak. It would be better to have all four feet on the ground. Flying didn’t take much concentration, but it took enough he didn’t want to try unfamiliar mental exercises at the same time.
He landed heavily, feet crunching on snow and stone, and stalked forward, clumsier on the ground, before winding his way to the top of the pinnacle and lifting his nose to the wind.
He debated a moment longer, then closed his eyes and listened.
He almost closed his ears, mental thought they were, immediately. The rattle of thought surged over him, inane and chattering — how could their possibly be so many of them all talking at once? He sucked in a sharp breath of air, warmer now but still cold, and blew it out in a puff of flame, forcing his shoulders to relax.
Search, he reminded himself, for what’s different.
He stretched his thoughts into the planetary conversation once again, this time letting the stream of consciousness flow around him, rather than battering him against the rocks. It was better, if still not terribly pleasant, and he lowered his head to the rocks, sighing softly. This was going to take a while.
He didn’t know how long he’d sat there before he felt a voice tease against his consciousness, familiar and yet wholly alien.
"Who are you?" he heard a voice say in his own tongue, and he sat bolt upright, eyes snapping open.
He cast out for the voice again, lashing his tail. It was fainter now, disappearing, but he had a direction, enough to start moving.
Name: Mil Chevas Age: 237 Occupation: guardian Genre: fantasy Rough description: Chevas is a bustling, harbor city, surprisingly clean and crime-free; Mil Chevas represents herself as a statuesque woman six feet in height with black hair, black eyes and pale skin with a dash of freckles
Mil Chevas was human once, as every city guardian was. Few hear the calling or have the opportunity to answer it, and she was in the right place at the right time when the previous guardian retired. She’s been at her post for nearly 200 years. In all this time, the most she’s had to protect her people from is storms off the sea, and lately she’s been giving thought to retiring, herself.
“I am the sword and the shield of my people. All who would do them harm will fall before my blade and break upon my walls.”
Every guardian knew the words, an oath passed down to each new guardian as they took their place in the heart of their city. Few used them as the passcode they were anymore, but Mil Banre was nothing if not a traditionalist. Chevas had heard more than once that she’d been at her post for eight hundred years more than any of them except Mil Tallun, who was among the first to take on their duties.
"I am the watchful eye on the western shore, securing safe passage to the east," she said dutifully, and the flickering image of the older woman smiled.
"What news, Chevas?"
"Little enough," she answered. "The winter storms were gentle this year, at least along my stretch of coastline."
"News to be glad in," Banre remarked.
"What news from Banre?" she asked.
Mil Banre was not one to make idle converation — or any conversation at all, in most cases. Her general silence had earned her a nickname in “the sleeping city,” though no one had ever mentioned that to her.
"You heard news that Mil Salgren’s city was lost last spring, and that she abandoned her people shamefully?"
"I heard that, yes," she said cautiously. The issue of Salgren’s abandonment had been one hotly debated among the sister cities.
Banre chose not to press the matter. “Paston, too, has fallen under mysterious circumstances. Mil Rutarn bore witness and says it was as if the city itself vanished in a whirlwind.”
"Why have I not heard this before today?" Chevas demanded.
"It happened but last eve. We have been contacting as many of the sister cities as we may."
She felt a hum of tension between her shoulderblades. Something was amiss in the city. She ignored it. “Then shall I assist? My reach along the coast is strong enough —”
"No, I have another task in mind for you. You knew Mil Salgren, did you not?"
"I — yes. We were … friends, if you wish."
The image flickered as she waved a dismissive hand. “Seek her out. When Paston fell, Rutarn said it was as though her connection to her city was snapped, and she fell senseless and was taken in the wind.”
"It is possible, Chevas, that she did not abandon her people as we thought. We must know what happened. Find her and report to us immediately."
"Very well, Mil Banre. I — shall begin my search at once."
The image of the older city vanished, and Chevas turned. The tension had ceased, replaced with a calm perhaps more worrisome. Who, she wondered, would watch her people while she was away?
Name: Brannon Kellman Age: he stopped paying attention around 125 Occupation: vampire Genre: suuuuuuuuuupernatural Rough description: black hair, deathly pale skin, gray-ish eyes, 5’6”; chubby, shabby and frequently hungry
Brannon was turned in a moment of desperation, and the act has been a constant source of embarrassment for his patron. He was so whiny, childish and ridiculously entitled, much of the coven has taken to avoiding him or pretending he doesn’t exist. Most of his victims are the weak and infirm, though he’s quite capable of hunting better food. He’s just too lazy. He’s nevertheless desperate to get back into the coven’s good graces.
“Dear sir or madam,” he wrote, then scribbled it out almost immediately. That wouldn’t do. The head of the coven was a woman. He knew that.
"To whom it may concern," he tried again, and scratched that out as well. It didn’t concern anybody. He knew that, too. Might as well not give them an opening.
"Dear Lady Isabel," he decided at last. Even though he was pretty sure her real name wasn’t Isabel. He was pretty sure /most/ of them weren’t using their real names — after all, he’d never met an actual Vladimir in suburban Wisconsin, and there were three in this coven alone.
"I have not yet received my invitation for the weekend’s hunt, and since the rules of the coven specifically state all are to attend, I’m sure this must be an oversight on your part."
He paused, then scratched out the last three words.
"I await your speedy reply."
He signed the note and set down his pen. He expected no reply at all, if he wanted to be perfectly honest about it. He expected them to snicker over the note and tear it up. He’d heard she read his last missive out loud to the assembly.
Well, as long as they weren’t paying attention to it anyway …
"PS. You and your snobby slimeball friends can go for a roast in the afternoon sun for all I care. Have you ever eaten a senior home resident with blood so thin it tastes like cabbage? That I still remember what cabbage tastes like is a crime! I’m just as deserving as any of you of a chance at a real meal."
He stewed for a moment, then tossed the note in a small fire burning for exactly that purpose.
His clock chimed, and he sighed. He was going to be late for his date with Maude. She was a nice old lady, let him feed in exchange for reading a chapter of her latest romance novel. Said she liked how he did the voices.
Well, he was certainly hungry enough to get through an embarrassingly exact sex scene today. Maybe he’d get lucky and it would be all about the plucky heroine’s evil-yet-dashing ex. He sighed again and made for his closet. Maude liked him best when he wore a cape.
A man who initially joined the church for the love of his deity, Olus has watched the clergy, in his region in particular, become consumed by politics. He fell briefly into depression, and that spell was enough for some among them to spread rumors that he was becoming too old or too mad for his position. He’s finding it a little irritating.
He stepped out of his room, bent under the weight of his robes, and paused as the conversation in the hallway ceased. He felt a momentary desire to raise an imaginary conductor’s baton, but he ignored the impulse and shuffled down the hall instead. They already thought he was crazy enough.
He made his way to his office as quickly as his theatrically bent body would allow and reconsidered for perhaps the seventh time that day whether this was all a bit more trouble than it was worth.
Too late now, he supposed, snatching at his office door and slipping inside without so much as a greeting to anyone.
"Good morning, your holiness," said a small, chipper voice from next to the door, and he nearly slammed it in surprise.
"My what?" he said, straightening as he stalked to his desk.
"Oh — well — a little bit of a joke." The young man looked embarrassed, waiting until he’d seated himself to rise and bring him his breakfast tray.
"A joke, indeed." He peered at the food, rubbing his cheek wearily. No amount of sleep seemed to prepare him for his day lately. "You prepared it, I assume."
"They’ve gotten very huffy in the kitchens, but yes."
"Bah." He waved a hand. "Chalk it up to my madness if you must."
"I won’t," he said stoutly, eliciting a faint chuckle from the older man.
He snatched up a piece of fruit and chewed it thoughtfully. “We’re going to have to do something about Brother Candan soon. He has all the initiates dancing to his tune already, and heaven knows how impressionable they are.”
"He is the one in charge of their education."
"Yes … yet another unfortunate decision of mine, in hindsight." He leaned back, rubbing his temple. "Perhaps …"
"Perhaps?" The initiate watched his mentor warily, concern only growing when his scowl broke into a sudden smile.
"That’s got it." He straightened in his seat, wagging a finger in the young man’s direction. "I’ll name you my successor."
"I — I beg your pardon, sir?" He looked at the man’s meal, wondering if someone had slipped something into it while he wasn’t looking. "That isn’t strictly legal, is it?"
"Well, we’re not one of those tribal organizations that has the shaman choose or have visions or what have you — but what if I did?"
"Did, er, what?"
"Had a vision from God, Mishen. Try to keep up."
The initiate stared, but the old man had risen from his chair and was pacing thoughtfully behind his desk.
"Yes, I think that should …" He stopped, pointing at Mishen and smiling grimly. "That’s it, my boy. You’re my successor. I’ll announce it later today."
"Wh — but — sir! I couldn’t possibly —"
He waved his objections away, manic mood fading. “You won’t have to.” He sank into his chair again, smiling and weary again. “I apologize for putting you in this position, Mishen, but it should throw them into enough disarray to keep them from outright assassinating me.”
"I … see." He clearly did not, but Olus was unconcerned. There was plenty of time to explain the length and breadth of the plan before he carried it through.
"If I’m going to be mad, let’s get our money’s worth out of it."
Teenage boys, possibly the demographic I am least in touch with.
Name: Rico Evans Age: 16 Occupation: jock Genre: drama/slice of life Rough description: black hair, dark eyes, 5’10”; muscular, athletic, came equipped with an overactive imagination
Rico knows he has it pretty good. He made the football team with zero effort, and his grades are passable. His parents make plenty of money — enough to keep them fed and clothed and watching TV, anyway — and his younger sister isn’t yet old enough to be a serious annoyance. Still, he frequently finds himself wanting something more, and since he hasn’t found that something more yet, he just makes it up as he goes.
“So, new girl. Hot?”
"New girl?" Rico pulled his history book from his locker and looked at it for a moment, debating how likely it was he’d actually do the homework. There was a Jet Li movie on around eight, and he knew he wasn’t going to pay attention to anything else once it started.
"Yeah, new girl — you haven’t seen her? Blonde, tanned, /legs/."
"Well, I guess /you/ think she’s hot." He put the book back. His history grade could take the hit. Math, though … he made a face. Geometry made him wish he was back in Algebra, but he was hanging by a thread.
"See, that’s her —"
He found himself grabbed by the arm and steered halfway around, nearly dropping the textbook in the process. The girl glanced at him and then at his friend, looking like she got that kind of thing more often than she liked. He did recognize her, though. Blonde, tanned, and her skirt did show off her legs pretty nicely.
But what he remembered was that she was a princess in exile, on the run from the pretender who’d stolen her father’s throne.
He waved, but she just kept walking.
"Hope you weren’t planning to ask her out."
She’d also make a pretty good spy, doing undercover work on the principal, who was actually a mad scientist building a doomsday device. He grinned. Maybe that one was better.
His friend smacked him in the back of the head. “What are you thinking about, asshole?”
"I was thinking about your mom," he responded, tucking the Geometry book into his bag and ducking another swing to zip it up. "Come on, let’s get to practice."
The army of orcs across the football field weren’t going to kill themselves, after all.
The prompt I scribbled down for both today’s post and yesterday’s was “a girl who’s never seen the sun.” I don’t think either one that I came up with was particularly close to the original idea I had, but I don’t remember what that was. So I just decided to take it in two completely different directions and see what I came up with.
Name: Allison Bell Age: 17 Occupation: student Genre: drama/slice of life Rough description: dirty blond hair in pigtails at her mother’s insistence, blue eyes, 4’11”; short, chubby
Blind from birth and sheltered by well-meaning parents, Allison does her best to flout their protective measures. She frequently wanders out on her own to explore, though a minor disaster that left her stranded in an unknown neighborhood for an hour has left her a little more cautious than she used to be. She’s helped in her endeavors by her best friend, Connie, acquired during the aforementioned diaster. These days she knows the layout of her neighborhood and its environs better than her parents.
“Hey, so what are we doing today?”
"Ugh, I don’t know. I just feel like lying here today."
They had found this particular patch of sunlight in an abandoned lot not far from Allison’s house, where a pile of dirt had been relocated and forgotten. It now played host to grass and weeds and a pair of teenage girls, one of whom was plucking up blade after blade and tossing them lazily into the air.
"Fair enough." Connie blew another blade of grass into the air, and it fluttered down to land on her friend’s face.
Allison swatted it away and made a face. “Is it cloudy today?”
Connie squinted at the sky, where the sun was pounding enthusiastically down on them both. “Does it feel cloudy to you?”
"I mean, there are some scraps maybe, but nothing particularly, well, impressive."
"What’s the sun look like?" It was a question she asked fairly regularly, interested by how the description managed to differ from day to day.
Except on the days when Connie was feeling particularly lazy.
"It’s really bright," her friend added after a moment. "The yellow’s uh … bolder than usual, I guess. Ugh, it’s so hot."
Allison mulled that over, tilting her face up to better feel the heat radiating down from the sky. “Okay,” she said after a moment, sitting up and letting her fingers drop to feel the tickling blades of grass.
She’d spent a lot of time on colors, frustrated and fascinated at once, and finally settled for associating each with a sensation. She hadn’t yet decided on one for green, though, and the rough, scratchy grass wasn’t a sensation she particularly liked.
"Hey, I’ll make you a daisy chain," her friend said, and she felt her scramble upright and pound off in search of flowers.
The sun, though, she did. Yellow was warm and comfortable. It meant lazy days with Connie, exploring the neighborhood and messing around. She flopped back in the grass with a sleepy sigh.
"Hurry up, or I’ll fall asleep," she called after her.
Name: Slen Karda 54 Age: 17 Occupation: slave Genre: fantasy Rough description: pale skin, colorless eyes, hair with very little pigment, 5’4” standing up straight; hunched, scrawny and small
Slen Karda 54 was born a slave in underground paradise of New Pallas, named and numbered according to master and location. She works for the smiths, rather than in the mines with her parents, but being as small as she is, her primary function is to gather and sort scraps of metal and other materials the smiths consider worthless. (She keeps a tiny cache of small pieces she thought too pretty to melt.) Her mother was born underground as well, but her father knew the surface and tells her tales from what little he remembers of his time above as a child. Unlike some of the slaves, she still has her tongue, but she’s grown used to pretending she doesn’t as a safeguard against someone removing it for her.
Slenka, her parents called her, but so did everyone in the camp, since “slenka” was little more than shorthand for “slave of Slen Meritus of Karda precinct.” She didn’t think of the name they called her, softly, when no one was listening, lest the masters pluck it from her mind.
She wasn’t certain they could actually do that, but her mother’s fear was reason enough to be cautious.
Her ears perked at the sound of a curse and the metallic rattle of something striking the floor, and she uncoiled from her wary crouch in the darkest corner of the room to skitter across and snatch it up, freezing in place when the old smith’s eye fell on her.
"The bin," he told her shortly. "Purity’s gone."
She bobbed her head, weaving back into the shadows to the pile of discards. She paused, inspecting the twisted bit of metal in her hands.
It was pale silver, nearly white, except for the web of black lines scratched across the surface, and she lifted a finger to trace them with one finger. She had heard the smiths talk about blighted selphor and how it was becoming more common, but she had always found the slender patterns lovely.
"Slenka!" someone barked, and she threw the piece of metal on the pile as if it had scorched her.
The mastersmith gestured impatiently for her, and she scurried to his side, crouching there and looking up at him inquisitively. Rolling his eyes, he caught her by the arm and pulled her upright. She felt her joints creak as they straightened into the unfamiliar position, and a gasp burst from her when he patted her smartly on the back.
"Inspection coming," he said, straightening her ragged tunic and frowning at its state of disrepair. "Go stand by the pile and pretend to be respectable."
The ghost of a smile flitted across her lips, and he snorted.
"Do your best. If Slen Meritus can’t be bothered to clothe his slaves better, there’s not much you can do about it."
She bobbed her head and did as she was told, doing her best not to instinctively slip back into a crouch. The mastersmith was dismissively kind to her, and despite her parents’ warnings, she found herself warming to him. Her heart quickened, though, as footsteps sounded in the hall. There may not be anything she could do about her tunic and trousers, but that would not stop the inspectors from having her beaten over it.
Or beating her themselves.
Three men strode into the room, each in finer uniform than the last, and the smiths stopped their work to stand beside their stations as they paced through the room. They made casual, muted conversation, one occasionally marking down notes on a piece of parchment, and seemed in large part to pretend the smiths didn’t exist.
She found her gaze darting curiously to them, despite her efforts to keep it straight ahead and as blank as possible, and on one such occasion, she caught the mastersmith’s eye. He scowled at her, and she went blank again, just in time to feel a blow knock the wind out of her and send her to the floor.
Her head cracked the floor, but not hard enough to do damage, and she went boneless just as the inspector caught her by the jaw in one gloved hand and turned her face toward him.
"Simple, is she?" he said, peering into her carefully unfocused gaze. "We can get you something better from the pens, smith."
He released her jaw, glancing over his shoulder at the mastersmith, who grunted, waving a dismissive hand.
"No need. She knows how sort scrap, and that’s all we need her for."
"Mm." The inspector looked back at her, then shook his head and got to his feet. "Then that’ll be all. Carry on."
The mastersmith waved them out, and she waited on the floor for the panic swelling in her chest to subside.
Name: Jeren Ruda Age: 24 Occupation: hunter Genre: fantasy Rough description: brown hair, bearded, brown eyes, 6’2”; lanky, awkward, still finding his place
Jeren wasn’t born into the town near the edge of the wood, but he has spent most of his life there, and even now he’s treated like an outsider. He’s never thought the myths about the forest held much water, and he’s called the townsfolk out on their superstition on multiple occasions. Though the folk of the town don’t much believe the myths either, they still give the forest a respectful berth, and his excursion into the woods was on something of a dare. Since he came back without any prize, he’s unlikely to live it down anytime soon.
“I swear I saw them!” He brought his fist down on the bar, rattling a nearby glass.
"Settle down, Jeren — they’re just teasing." The bartender, Sam or something, retrieved the glass without comment and swiped a dirty cloth over the patch of bar where it had been sitting.
Jeren set his jaw, but he didn’t bother arguing the point, glancing sideways at the still-chortling pack of hunters. At least they were far enough into their mugs he wouldn’t be a topic of conversation for long. He sighed.
"Hell, half of them are probably just surprised you knew how to fire that thing at all."
The bartender chuckled. “Either way, I wouldn’t go around advertising I saw the twins in the woods. They’re some kind of preserve now, I think.”
"Are you shitting me? They sent me off to shoot something in a /preserve?/" He dragged his hand down his face with a faint, low groan.
"Well, you didn’t manage to, so you’re at least clean on that count."
A weak laugh. “Actually, I think I did …”
Jeren hesitated, scratching his fingers through his shaggy hair and shaking his head. “I don’t … it’s sort of hazy. It looked like a deer, but then it wasn’t … and then it started screaming.”
Sam didn’t say anything for a moment, slowly running the cloth over the same section of bar. “And you think it was one of the twins,” he said finally.
"I … maybe? After I shot the deer, it — well, it didn’t look like a deer anymore. It — kind of looked like a woman. And then something knocked me over and the next time I looked there were two of them."
Sam let out a slow, soft whistle. “Jeren, you’re telling me you shot one of the twins?”
Jeren stared down at his hands, dangling limply in his lap. It had only been an hour ago, at most, but already the memory of it was strained by darkness, adrenalin and alcohol. He rubbed at one eye and looked up to see Sam staring at him, expression blank and grim.
The man’s attention snapped back to him. “Jeren, if you shot one of the twins, you’re probably worse off than if you were dealing with the Feds.”
Jeren looked at him blankly, then let out a sigh. “Ah,” he said heavily. “Shit.”
Name: Notch and Nudge Age: they don’t really know Occupation: wild spirits Genre: fantasy, it’s always fantasy with me Rough description: vaguely humanoid, vaguely female, but since they can take any shape they want, it’s hard to know; usually seen as dark shapes in the forest with bright eyes
The twins have occupied a place in area folklore for at least two hundred years, though they aren’t especially aware of their notoriety. They have been accused of carrying away farm animals (possibly true), damaging tools and equipment (also possible), souring milk and spoiling crops in the ground (if true, they’re unaware they’re capable of it), spiriting away children (not really interested), and punishing the wicked (also uninterested). For the most part, they stay in the forest, pulling pranks on travelers or anyone who tries to find them. Notch, the more malicious of the two, would sometimes like to go farther, but Nudge keeps her in check. Local legend has it they used to be human, but they wouldn’t know.
“Nudge, I saw one!” Her sister’s shape bloomed from the tree’s shadow and skittered lithely up its trunk, finally appearing in front of her with mouth gaped in a wide grin.
"On one of the hunting paths. He hasn’t been here before. He’s not trying to sneak."
"Does he have food?" She slipped forward, sniffing delicately at Notch.
Truth, for once. She smelled the distinct tang of human, though the scent was muddled with something she couldn’t identify.
"Maybe he can be food," rumbled Notch, craning her head, presumably in the direction of their mark.
"No." She sprang to the ground. "They won’t come back if we kill them, will they? Besides, they don’t taste good."
There hadn’t been as many humans in their woods in recent years, and the farmsteads nearest the tree line had fallen into disrepair. No one left them milk or baby goats anymore, and the animals in the forest had grown canny to their hunting.
Her sister made a disgruntled noise. “But —”
"Nooooo." She waited until her sister had joined her, then nuzzled up under her chin affectionately. "They’re no fun after they die."
Notch nipped delicately at her ear and sighed. “All right, he won’t be food.”
"Show me where he is."
He was nearer than she’d suggested. Nudge caught his scent after only a few feet of travel, and she felt herself quiver at the prospect of a game after so long.
"Should we try the usual?" Her sister arched into the silhouette of a deer, prancing briefly along the path before sinking back into shadow.
"If he’s really hunting, it might be best …"
"Hunter or prey?"
"You always get to be hunter, Notch."
"Fine." She slithered close and nuzzled into her sister, nipping her again. "You can be hunter this time."
Nudge trilled a laugh, and they broke away, Notch to the fore as a frightened doe and she to the back as whatever shape was most convenient.
She blinked as the human came into view. He wore clothes she’d never seen and didn’t carry a bow. Instead, a contraption that smelled of metal and fire hung loosely in one hand, teasing her nose and almost making her sneeze. She felt a spark of unease, but Notch had already given the signal, ready to spring.
She coiled into a shadow, letting out another soft trill.
The hunter stiffened, turning sharply toward the sound, and that was when Notch leapt into the open, a dash of shadow in the pale moonlight. He spun again and lifted the contraption, and that was Nudge’s cue to spring.
She was in the air when a booming crack tore the air, accompanied by the scent of smoke and followed by her sister’s scream.
"Notch!" She collided with the hunter, sent him crashing to the ground, but she was beyond him in a bound and at her sister’s side.
"He hurt me!" she wailed. "It was too fast —"
The scent of blood burned her nose. She shot a panicked glare over her shoulder, but the hunter was still stumbling to his feet. Rage rattled her frame, but Notch whimpered again, calling her attention back.
She gathered her sister up and fled to the darkest patch of forest she could remember.
Name: Phyllis Luna Age: 35 Occupation: researcher, historian Genre: post-apocalyptic/supernatural lolol Rough description: frizzy brown hair, green eyes, tanned skin, 5’7”; knowledgable and sometimes brisk, stocky and chubby
Before taking up the mantle herself, Phyllis spent her life following her parents from wasteland town to wasteland town, speaking to the oldest residents and recording their stories. More than the plentiful records of the conflict that led the world to its shattered state, they were interested in the small stories of how life was before the disaster. If no people remain, they search for physical records. Phyillis herself found early on that she could see people her parents and the people they spoke to could not, over the years coming to the conclusion that she was seeing the ghosts of those who died in the disaster.
She stopped at the edge of the town, tilting her head and squinting in the weak light of the sun. She’d heard about this town, Midway North, and its somehow-thriving population, but she didn’t see any evidence of it from this far out. The buildings were broken down, but no more so than any other town she’d been to, but nothing moved beyond the borders.
She swung down from her cobbled-together motorbike, patting it familiarly as she caught up her recorder and notepad. She had electronic storage systems, but after a near miss with a thief, she kept them safely back at home. Most people seemed more comfortable watching her write things down, anyway.
A gust of wind tugged at her pants pulled her jacket askew. She paused to straighten it, tucking the notepad under one arm, and strode toward the town, keeping an eye out for any sign of life.
She was perhaps three steps down what looked to be the main drag through town when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned just in time to see a tattered curtain flutter back into place behind a broken window and rubbed her cheek.
Then she shrugged and stepped down the walk to the house, raising her hand to knock at the splintering wood of the door.
When there was no response, she knocked again.
"Go away," said a quavering voice, and she smiled.
"I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but I’d like to have a word —"
"Go away! We don’t need you here."
She looked over her shoulder and froze in place.
Behind her, a crowd had gathered, men and women of all ages, children peeking silently from behind their parents’ legs. The entire gathering, in fact, was eerily silent, and it took her no more than a moment to catch the sunlight filtering through the half-transparent figures.
"That’s unusual," she said, turning slowly back to see a white-haired head peering at her from the window. She smiled. "The ones I’ve seen previously haven’t acknowledged me. They just go about their business."
"You … you’ve seen them before?" The old woman’s voice was barely a whisper.
"I have." She paused. "May I come inside?"
The woman vanished, but after several seconds, Phyllis heard the door slowly creak open.
This is kind of cheating … a recast of a character I already had. But oh well.
Name: Aya Lin Fasi Age: 27 Occupation: hunter-for-hire Genre: your face Rough description: dark hair, cropped short and slowly bleaching, sea green eyes (originally dark blue), 5’10”; leanly muscular, fierce, good with swords
Aya and her sister, Elli, fled a raid on their home village and never went back after waiting two weeks at the designated emergency rendezvous only to have no one arrive. They struck out north, to the wastes, concerned they might be followed, and took odd jobs to pay their way. One such job took them to an isolated home asking for temporary security, but their arrival was late enough that they were asked to stay the night and begin their duties in the morning. Aya woke in an unfamiliar room to a searing pain in her back, and went in search of her sister to find her dead, the victim of some kind of implantation experiment. The perpetrator, their employer, was gone, and Aya systematically destroyed the facility, finding another experiment victim in the process, and they’re searching for the man responsible.
“How is it?”
"Do you really want me to tell you?"
Aya sighed, letting her shirt drop back without even attempting to look in the mirror behind her. “So it is spreading.” She had known that — the network of slender lines had been growing ever since Yumil had burned the arcane symbol into her back.
"Slowly, yes." Her companion stretched her legs in front of her and arched her back with a weary sigh. "I’m sure there’s some way to fix it."
"I’m not." Aya offered a crooked smile, reaching up to brush her fingers through her her hair. The short crop startled her for a moment, a recent change and a meager attempt to disguise the fact that her hair, too, was changing. Growing paler. She looked at her companion, and the smile faded. "Though I suppose I have less to complain about than you."
"Oh, didn’t you know I always dreamed of being a dog?" The slender hound laughed, shaking her hanging ears. "It’s just one more thing to take out of the bastard’s hide," she added.
"True enough." Her tone turned momentarily grim.
"We’d better get on this, though. Child missing, and all that."
"Child dead," Aya corrected her. "I don’t think there’s any rush."
"But they don’t know that yet."
"Ruun, they’ve lived here longer than we have … I think they know." She got to her feet, though, brushing off her breeches with no discernible effect, apart from kicking dust into the air.
"There’s knowing and there’s knowing."
"Aren’t you considerate today."
The hound got to her feet, ambling lazily toward the door. “Maybe I’ve had a litter, Aya, you consider that? You wouldn’t know.”
"Not even the most desperate dog would take you." She walked out the door, sliding her weapons, sword and gun, into place at her belt.
"Oh, that’s horrible! How could you say that!"
Aya didn’t answer, nodding a brief acknowledgment to their current employer, a brown, stocky woman who owned the small inn they were staying at.
"Who knows," she said quietly as they walked down the stairs. "Maybe we’ll get some exotics to sell out of this."
"I’d rather just exterminate them," grumbled Ruun. "Those things are an abomination."
"True enough." But so are we.
She felt a tingle trace the lines of the arcane circle and wondered no for the first time, if Yumil knew they were hunting him. And, if he did, what he had prepared for their arrival.
Morris had a surname once, but he’s not sure even he remembers it. When he was a small child, his parents dropped him off at a shrine to a martyr known for her charity toward children and never came back, perhaps thinking they had his best interests at heart. Inertia and a general lack of interest kept him from going anywhere else, but he somehow managed to be come a well-respected cleric of the order. His did work with Harvus Norheim for a brief stint in his youth — assigned to a purification that didn’t go exactly as planned — but he’s been at the shrine ever since.
He was on his second cup of coffee when he felt a chill rattle down his spine, an unfortunately familiar aftershock of released energy. It was with very little surprise he set his cup down a few seconds later at a chime from the one piece of frippery he’d allowed himself, a small hand mirror.
"Well, Norvus, want to tell me what that was?" he said, tapping the glass in a brief tattoo.
"You know exactly what it was, Morris," was the immediate, testy response. "I haven’t the time for clever games today — Liev is on her way, along with a useless freelancer. Perhaps you’ll find a use for him, but all he did for me was unleash a potential disaster."
Morris grinned. “Oh, so it’s Tommy, then? He’s not so bad.”
Norvus made a disgusted noise.
The cleric couldn’t help but chuckle, shaking his head. “What’s our timetable?”
"I’m holding it off as best as I can, but it’s ravenous after two and a half decades. I’d give it a week before it chews through my defenses." He paused. "And I’d really rather it didn’t chew through my defenses."
The last of Morris’ levity faded as he heard the sudden strain in the old wizard’s voice. “That’s serious. Should I ride out to meet them?”
"It shouldn’t be necessary. They’ll be there in half a day taking the road, and the freelancer said he knew a shortcut."
"All right." He drummed his fingers on the desk, frowning . "I’ll get my things together and call for backup."
"Backup? Who precisely do we have for backup?"
"Unlike certain hermits, my station as a cleric of St. Murine lends me a vast array networking opportunities." He tugged open a drawer and started to fish through a pile of notes and papers.
"Didn’t I say I haven’t got time for games?"
"Ah, here it is." He unfolded a paper in a pale shade of pink and scented — he sniffed — with primrose. "The Lady Etteline offered the services of her court wizard in any dispute I felt warranted his assistance — I suppose this isn’t a dispute, exactly, but I imagine it warrants his assistance."
"Etteline? Isn’t — gods above, Morris, are you talking about /Davies?/"
"Oh, you know him?" Morris was fairly certain his innocent smile wasn’t fooling anybody — even if anybody was there to see it.
Harvus swore at him, but there didn’t seem to be much energy in it. “Well, if he’s what we’ve got, so be it. We’ll need all the help we can get.”
"Then I’ll send word immediately."
The old wizard didn’t answer before another chime signaled the end of the conversation.
His smile faded. Things must be worse than he thought if Harvus hadn’t spent at least five minutes arguing with him. He reached for an old coat and set about gathering his supplies.
Name: Tommy Gil Age: 23 Occupation: freelancer Genre: derp Rough description: black hair, unkempt, with scruffy stubble, blue eyes, 5’8”; sneaky, shifty, on the skinny side
Tommy Gil almost always tries to take the easy way out, and it usually ends up making life more difficult for him. Born to wealthy parents with high expectations, it didn’t take him long to settle into a life of sponging off their assets — at least until they cut him off. Now he scrapes for whatever honest — or not-so-honest — work he can find, though he never stopped hunting for a scheme that would lead him back to his life of leisure.
“H-hey, wait,” he said, scrambling for his footing before she could get too far.
The woman half turned to face him, looking entirely as though she’d forgotten he was there.
"I apologize," she said. "I could not retrieve both you and your horse."
"Uh, well, thanks for picking me, I guess," he said, peering past her at the thorny tangle where he’d been moments before. "What — uh, what happened, exactly?"
"The stone you took housed a malevolent energy. It draws on the energy network of the earth to reproduce and devour yet more." She started walking again, setting a brisk enough pace that he had to trot to keep up with her.
"I’m telling you, I didn’t take it."
"It was in your possession."
"Well, I don’t /remember/ taking it."
She looked at him, forehead creasing just the slightest bit. “That is no longer important. I must find Morris in Gilten.”
"Gilten, huh?" He peered at her, mind working furiously.
He wondered if it was the same Morris he knew, a priest — but somehow still an all-around decent guy. He looked at the woman again — a construct, judging from her bizarre skin and hair — and felt his skin crawl at the sight of her missing arm, the stump still dribbling a thick, green fluid.
"Uh, shouldn’t you do something about that?" he said. "I mean — bandage it or something?"
"It will seal in time. My employe will have to repair it upon my return." Her forehead creased again, but she said nothing more.
He gave it only another moment’s consideration before clearing his throat and speaking again. “Hey — why not let me come with you? You’re taking the road, right? I know a shorter route.”
She glanced at him sideways, frowning. “I require no assistance. I can move with much greater speed without you following me.”
"But you still wouldn’t know my faster route," he pointed out. "I mean — time is of the essence, right?"
She frowned at him again, then her expression cleared, and she cocked her head, gaze going distant. “Very well,” she said after a moment, then returned her attention to him. “My employer says that I’m to utilize your shortcut. He also wishes me to inform you that should you attempt to disable or sell me, I am authorized to respond with deadly force.”
"Oh." He blanched, his machinations stuttering to an abrupt halt. "I — of course — I wasn’t even thinking about —"
"We will have to run," she said.
"If you cannot keep pace with me, I will carry you."
She caught hold of his arm, and before he could utter a sound of confusion or objection, she had started to run.
Name: Liev Age: 11 years since construction Occupation: servant Genre: derp Rough description: white hair with a hint of green, pale, grayish skin, dark, faceted eyes, 6’3”; willowy and surprisingly strong, given she was constructed of stone and wood
Harvus Norheim’s favorite construct, also the first he considers a complete success. She has a full emotional spectrum and enough autonomy to make informed decisions without his input, though he did assure her loyalty to him — a simple precaution, you understand how it is. In the eleven years since her creation, she has slowly become more “human,” only recently considering interests of her own, mostly at her creator’s insistence. She does feel a certain amount of pride in being Norheim’s head of security, though she likely doesn’t even realize it.
The freelancer hadn’t gotten far.
Though her capabilities did not extend to tracking specific humans, she was attuned to every magical artifact in her employer’s collection, and the one he had taken was of particular importance. He called it a failed experiment, the less said about it the better, but it was bound with some of his strongest magical protections. She had never had any reason to admit it, even to herself, but the stone had made her uneasy when she’d found herself near it.
She set her feet to the road and lunged forward, drawing on the energy network of the earth beneath her to propel her forward at a speed that was more than a match for any horse, and his horse was not one of the better ones.
Even so, it was at least a minute longer than she calculated before the freelancer — the thief — came into sight, driving his weary animal as fast as he could.
His shoulders hunched under the whipcrack of her voice, but he didn’t stop immediately, instead attempting to push the laboring horse faster. She felt a flash of emotion, taking a moment to identify it as impatience, then drew alongside him.
"Your horse will collapse in two hours at most, and I will still be pursuing you," she informed him.
He looked down at her, forehead wrinkling, then drew his horse up sharply. Her footsteps carried her a few feet beyond him before she halted, turning to face him.
"Look," he said, lifting his hands in a gesture of apparent surrender. "I didn’t mean to break the glass —"
"I am not concerned with the status of the chalice. Return the artifact, and you may go on your way." She extended her hand.
"The — the what?"
"A small, black stone you have in your possession." She concentrated on him for a moment. "In the pouch on your right."
Expression growing bewildered, he fumbled with the pouch in question, blinking when his hand emerged with the stone in its grip. “I don’t even — did I take this?”
"Yes," she said.
He rubbed his forehead. “Oh. Well — yeah, you can have it back. I’m just gonna drop it here, okay — and then I’ll back off, and you can take it. And then we’ll all just go, right?” The hand holding the stone was already extended, prepared to release it.
"Adequate," she said, and her master’s voice crackled suddenly in her ear.
/Liev! Don’t let that stone touch the earth. We don’t need another damn disaster today./
"Wait," she said aloud, but it was already falling.
The thief looked at her blankly as she lunged forward, fingers a half second late in closing around the stone. She gripped dirt, and for a moment understood her employer’s compulsion to swear. Then something wriggled against her palm, and the ground rocked beneath her before tearing suddenly upward.
She didn’t remember releasing the stone, nor did she recall snatching the freelancer from his horse, but she had him firmly in one arm. She released him, and he grunted as he landed on the road.
"Oh, come on," he gritted. "What was that for — sweet Chresa, your /arm/ —"
She glanced at where her left arm should have been and found it missing, fluid dripping from the stump, but most of her concern was on the wall of thorns and other plant life that had sprung up from the ground where the stone had fallen. It was as tall as a city’s walls already and spreading rapidly — toward her employer’s tower.
She was halfway into a leap when she heard his voice again.
/Liev, stay where you are. I’m enacting the emergency defenses. Get to Gilten and find Morris. You’ve met him before./
"Yes, sir," she said, chest fluttering with what she realized belatedly were the beginnings of panic.
/I’ll stay in contact as long as I can./
She didn’t answer this time, instead turning toward the south and Gilten in the hopes she could amend her failure.
Name: Harvus Norheim Age: 81 Occupation: wizard Genre: derp Rough description: long white hair, ponytailed, neatly trimmed beard, glass-green eyes, 6’1” if he manages to stand up straight; bent, crotchety, and probably smarter than you
Harvus Norheim of the Banry Shore Norheims spent his lifetime dedicated to the study of magical energies and their practical applications, but after having several of his theories and designs stolen by his “competitors,” he closeted himself away in a remote tower and continued his work there. His constructs keep him company, along with the occasional freelancer he contracts to find and deliver artifacts and papers.
“That’s — that’s not the price we agreed on!”
"Then perhaps you should have packed it a little more carefully." The old man raised his finger and flicked his nail against the pale-blue crystal. A shimmering tone filled the room, clear and strong — apart from an underlying harmonic quiver. "The tonal quality is almost completely ruined."
"It was like that when I got it! They’re called ruins for a reason, you know —"
"Then perhaps you should have delved a little deeper. The agreed-upon price was for a pure crystal of perfect tonal quality, and you have not delivered." He waved a hand, dismissing the matter entirely.
The freelancer stared at him, looking much as if he was about to choke on his tongue. His finger stabbed the air, and the old man lifted an eyebrow expectantly, but he only turned on his heel and stalked from the room. He heard swearwords rumble softly from the hallway.
"Well, let’s not hire him again, hmm?"
The slender construct on his left shifted, the wave of her dark hair spilling over her shoulder.
"I’ve amended the roster."
The sound of the door slamming below the spire was accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, and the old man sighed, slouching back in his chair.
"What in heaven’s name did he break?"
She paused, tilting her head, and her shallow eyes went momentarily distant.
"A crystal chalice."
He lurched upright. “Not my —”
"A gift from Lady Claran of Windward following your alleviation of her condition."
"Oh. Well, if it wasn’t the tonal chalice, it’s no great loss." He sighed again, lifting a thin hand to his forehead. "I’m beginning to think I’m far too old for this. Did he steal anything this time?"
"A stone. Round, black. Its resonance is shifting."
He cursed. “How could he have even found that?” He waved his hand. “Go retrieve it, Liev. We can’t afford to have it jostling about in that idiot’s pocket. I should have destroyed it years ago.”
She didn’t answer, gone from the room before he’d lifted his hand from his forehead. What kind of days were these, when the only good help you had was the help you built yourself?
He stared vacantly over the cliff and into the ocean, holding his helmet loosely between his knees. The waters had stilled, swallowing up the last signs of the battle as if it had never existed. Behind him, he heard his friend shift, probably folding his arms.
"I very much doubt it’s what your creator wanted."
"He wanted peace," he said with a humorless laugh.
"But he expected war."
He looked sharply over his shoulder, a frown tugging at his lips. “‘Expected’ might be a little strong …”
"Consider the combat capabilities built into your systems," he said with a rolling shrug. "They wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t expected they might be necessary."
"… Maybe not." His eyes dropped to the dirt.
"You shouldn’t worry about it so much." His friend smiled, reaching out to take his shoulder in a brief, rough grip. "You’ve gotten stronger."
"Have I?" He shook his head. "I sure don’t feel like it."
"Well, we can’t all be badass."
Justin and I had a conversation I subsequently forgot, but apparently enough of it lodged subconsciously in my brain that X and Zero started having a conversation about the topic while I was trying to get to sleep and well there you go.
Sorry, canon Zero, you’ll always be a smug, devil-may-care assface to me.
Name: Tolem Earthspoken Age: 194 Occupation: caravan guard Genre: fantasy Rough description: ruddy hair, dark eyes, 4’1”; short, thick, stocky
Tolem left the deep kingdoms as a lad of 90, the son of exiles who’d chosen the wrong side of a brief but furious conflict between two noble clans over the disposition of two precious mineral veins near the south of his home city. His parents died not long after, leaving him to make his way on his own. He quickly found there was a great deal of work leading caravans through the shallow network of tunnels that criss-crossed the earth above the deep kingdoms, though he rarely finds his clientele to his liking. It’s his hope he’ll eventually earn enough coin to buy his way back into the deep cities he once called home.
“Check on them.”
He looked up from his weary contemplation of the horse’s dusty flank and frowned, the expression safely lost in his thick beard. His employer waved a spidery hand in the direction of the nearest wagon.
"Too many fighters in that bunch — make sure they’re docile."
He grunted his assent and stumped to the wagon, pulling himself up the first too-high step and working the latch. The first time he’d stepped into a slave wagon, he’d held his breath against the stench of fear and excrement, but now he made his down the line of captives unblinking.
It was not technically his job to see to the man’s wares, but he’d discovered that any show of defiance was an easy way to find himself out of work. And word traveled.
They were barely conscious from a combination of heat and drugging, but one at the back stirred at his approach and snarled.
"I’ll bite my tongue out if you touch me, I swear it!" She spat, but there was little energy in it.
He met her gaze, hands unhurried as they checked her bindings. “Can you do that?” he asked, finding them secure and leaning back on his ankles. “If you feel you can, you may find it preferable to the fate that awaits you.”
She stared at him, wide eyes filling suddenly with tears. Then she spat again, and this time he felt something wet strike his cheek and trickle into his beard.
"Monster," she snarled, and he spared her a bare smile.
He waited until he was out in the sun again to wipe the spittle from his cheek and scrub what he could from his beard. His employer chuckled.
"One of them," he said. "She threatened to bite out her tongue."
"Does she need sedation?"
"I doubt it. Are we ready to move?"
"Shortly. Did you say anything to her?" his employer asked, sudden suspicion in his tone.
"I told her to try, if she thought she could." He reached up to pat the horse’s flank and nearly stumbled into it when the man cuffed him sharply in the side of the head.
"You don’t bait them, half-bit," he snarled. "If she does it, I’ll take the loss of her out of your pay."
"She won’t," Tolem said. She’d probably be in the same half-daze as the others before another hour was out.
The man straightened his vest, dusting his hands carefully off. “For your sake, you’d best make sure she doesn’t.”
He waited until his employer was well away, eyes half closed as he considered the route he’d planned. It would take only one missed turn to mire them in the tunnels for weeks — forever, if he chose to take his leave of them. He rolled his shoulders and walked toward the head of the caravan, dropping his hand to brush his fingers against the satchel at his side. Coin clinked faintly as he shifted it away.
But word traveled, and every day brought him a step closer to home.
I said I was done with depressing, not that I was done with grim. Bonus: “Earthspoken” is the surname I used for my dwarf hunter in LOTRO, hurr dee durr.
Name: Melanie Jesko Age: 34 Occupation: sales clerk Genre: drama Rough description: blonde hair, blue eyes, 5’8”; barely overweight, looks almost constantly weary
Melanie Jesko does her best, but it never seems to quite be enough. It’s possible her “best” is limited by her habits and her low opinion of herself, but she’s never taken that into consideration. She married her husband, a high school crush, shortly after getting pregnant with Annie, and when her husband left her after thirteen years, she fell into a spiral of confusion, depression and desperate dating that she hasn’t yet managed to climb out of. She recently drained the last drop of good will from her employer.
The sound of the door clicking shut took the last of the wind from her already-flagging sails, and she slumped onto a stool, staring vacantly at the classifieds for another moment before reaching for her cereal.
It wasn’t as if she’d actually expected anything out of Roger. Of all the men she’d dated, he was probably the least reliable — and possibly the most charming, initially.
She chewed silently for a moment, the last of the crunch gone from the soggy flakes, and glanced at the rest of the meal Annie had put out for her. She must have slept in a little, herself. The bacon was conspicuously absent.
A low sigh slipped from her throat, and she turned to rest her forehead against the heel of her hand. It had been two weeks, but at least Annie hadn’t figured it out yet. Or if she had, she was being especially polite about it.
She definitely didn’t know.
Her gaze drifted to the paper again.
File clerk. Well, she was sure she knew how to alphabetize, but the pay was a little less than she was accustomed to … not that she could afford to be choosy. She pushed away from the counter to retrieve a red grease pencil from the fridge. They used it to mark important days on the calendar.
She tapped it against the newsprint for a moment, then circled the clerk job. Maybe if she stretched things, they could still afford payment on the house.
Secretary. Another circle. She’d actually done that for a while — even if it had been several years. Live-in nurse. No. Nurse practitioner. She didn’t have the qualifications for that. Contractor. Did they actually hire women for that kind of work?
She closed her eyes.
There were grocery stores in the area. Restaurants. Even a department store or two. There had to be something.
Her gaze fell across her breakfast as she opened her eyes again. They might lose the house. Her hand started to shake, but she only gripped the pencil a little harder and forced her eyes back to the newspaper. There were worse things.
She sucked in a deep, angry breath and reached for the phone.
Name: Roger Aiken Age: 39 Occupation: former rancher, now rambler Genre: drama Rough description: brown hair, brown eyes, 5’10”; fit enough, doesn’t keep up with it, lazy about life in general
Burned more than once in the realms of home, work, and love, Roger has taken to a live of casual acquaintance. He has no difficulty finding work, though retaining it is more problematic, largely due to his determined lack of attachment to anything. He’s currently putting in hours at a convenience store and hitting the bars on his day off, where he cultivates casual dalliances with similarly-minded ladies. In meeting Melanie Jesko and her daughter, he feels it’s possible he’s gotten in over his head on this one.
He watched the girl retreat up the walk, tugging the brim of his hat farther down over his eyes. When she was out of sight, he sighed and got to his feet, dusting off the seat of his pants before pushing back into the house. He ought to at least say good-bye.
Mel was up and dressed — well, half dressed in an oversized t-shirt — in the kitchen, leaning over a newspaper and munching half-heartedly on a bowl of cereal. A piece of toast and an apple also sat nearby, the former liberally smeared with jam.
"Did Annie already leave?" she asked, looking up at him as he sank onto a stool next to her.
"Just headed to the bus stop," he said with a wry smile.
"Oh, I’m so sorry, Roj — was she rude to you?" The cringe in her features almost worked its way into her frame.
"Naw, Mel, she’s fine. Can’t hardly blame her for being a little upset, can I?"
"I suppose not."
Her gaze drifted back to the newspaper, and his followed it. The classifieds. He didn’t comment on it, instead reaching over to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Seems worried about you," he said instead.
"Well — it hasn’t been easy, you know, since her father left."
He ignored the shame that crawled across her face. “That kinda thing ain’t easy, no,” he agreed, mentally ticking over whether now would be a good time to beat a retreat. It had been a while since he’d hung around in a woman’s kitchen. “You seem to be holding up all right.”
She just laughed, a weak sound, made him sorry he’d said it. The dry stare she leveled at him made him sorrier.
But she didn’t follow up on it, instead snagging her toast and biting off a corner of it. “My baby girl takes better care of me than I do her,” she said.
He shifted, wondering why he hadn’t left yet.
"You going to be around Jay’s this week?" she asked.
"I may. Work’s liable to keep me busy, though," he lied. "Don’t wait up too late for me."
Her shoulders sagged, just slightly. “I won’t.”
"You should get home, take care of your baby girl," he put in, and she laughed again.
"Yeah. I know." She met his gaze again with one of those curiously level stares. "It’s all right, Roj."
"You can go" was the part she didn’t say aloud, and he was grateful for it, sliding from the stool with a creak of plastic and metal.
"See you around, Mel."
She lifted a hand in a silent wave, focused on the classifieds again, and he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to keep the hurry out of his step as he made for the door.
Name: Annalise Jesko Age: 15 Occupation: student Genre: drama Rough description: blonde hair, blue eyes, 5’7”; skinny, angular, still hasn’t grown into her body yet
Annalise is goal-oriented, ambitious and high-strung, most of her concentration spent on acing her classes in an attempt to become more than her perception of what her mother is. She hasn’t got much use for extra-curricular activities, though, as she spends her free time — she thinks — babysitting said mother and trying to make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid — like date every loser she meets. She’s preoccupied enough with this task that she’s not sure what her own interests are, but she’s pretty sure dating is at the bottom of the list.
“Mom! Up! Now!”
She reached for the moaning lump under the covers and gave it a sharp shake, eliciting another sound of protest.
"Come /on/," she snapped. "If you’re late again, you’re going to get fired."
"Annie, sweetie —"
"Get. Up." She shook her again.
The covers shifted with a sigh, and her mother’s tousled head appeared, a wry smile on her lips. “It’s time for you to go to school already?”
Annalise tossed her hair, adjusting the straps on her backpack. “Um, yeah. It’s seven thirty.”
"All right, I’m getting up."
Her mother swung her legs over the edge of the bed just in time for the door of the master bath to swing open, admitting a tall, fit man wearing nothing but a towel.
"Oh — Roger, this is Annie, I told you about her last night —"
He cleared his throat, edging away from the teenager’s furious expression and at the same time putting on what he likely hoped was a winning smile. “So I see … nice to meet you, Annie.”
"That’s Annalise to you," she snapped, then whirled to face her mother. "Just — whatever!"
Then she pounded out of the room and into the kitchen, where she leaned heavily against the counter for several minutes, struggling to level her breathing. It was some kind of calming technique, she’d heard. Maybe. She was having trouble getting it to work.
She could hear voices in the bedroom. Her mother’s, apologetic, and the man’s, relaxed, unoffended. She felt her insides start to clench up again, and returned her concentration to her breathing, at least until she heard quiet footsteps walk past the kitchen entrance and the door open and shut.
She straightened, sucked in a last deep breath. She wasn’t going to cry, not right before school.
He was sitting on the front step in the process of lighting a cigarette when she opened the door, fully dressed and topped off with — to her sudden annoyance — a cowboy hat. Of course he was a cowboy. Of /course/. He glanced over her shoulder, arching an eyebrow when he saw her glare.
"I do something to offend you just now?"
She tossed her hair. “You were in my mother’s bedroom.”
"Seems to me that’s your mother’s business, not yours." He lit the cigarette and took a long drag on it, shaking his head. "I take it you’ve seen that sort of thing more than once?"
"Only every couple of weeks since Dad walked out on us." She tried without success to keep a ringing note of contempt out of her voice.
"Well, Annie — Annalise," he corrected himself with an apologetic smile. "Bad things happen sometimes, and folks got different ways of handling it." He paused, taking another drag. "Some turn to their faith to get them through it — some turn to their friends or their work. And some … turn to less healthy things."
Her eyes narrowed. “And what about you?”
"Me?" He chuckled, dropping the cigarette, half-smoked, onto the sidewalk and mashing it out with his heel. "I always turned to the open road."
"So — you run away."
He laughed again, less humor in the sound this time. “That’s a little harsh, but …” He lifted the brim of his hat and looked at her full on, a weary smile on his face. “I guess maybe I do.”
She jerked her gaze away.
"Well, if you’re gonna run away from Mom, you better do it now, before she gets too attached to you."
He didn’t answer, and she stalked quickly down the steps to get to the bus stop before he could.
I wanted to try this challenge, but since I don’t really draw, I’ll be doing it a little differently. I also put it off for two months so my sister and I could do it jointly. So maybe it’ll be 31 one characters in 31 days? Maybe.
I apologize in advance for spamming your dash.
Name: Arem Age: 14 Occupation: goatherd Genre: post-apocalyptic Rough description: Dark skin, black hair, 5’5”; thin, wiry and tough
Born during a meteor shower, Arem has always been considered by his village a child of omen — good or bad nobody knows yet. Despite nothing of portent occurring since, several people have made up their minds about him and chosen to make his life just that little bit more difficult. He and his family (middle child of 10 siblings, both parents living) raise goats in the barren, rocky region they call home, and they make a decent living at it. Between goat-wrangling and escaping his tormentors, he’s gotten fairly agile and quick on his feet, and he can maneuver the steep slopes of the hill country as well as anyone in his family. What they don’t know is how well he can maneuver the badlands, where lie the broken ruins of ancient cities and relics.
Sand stung his skin as the wind whipped past him, and the structure he was scaling swayed lazily. He clung to it, eyes squeezing shut, until it felt stable enough to move on. It wasn’t, of course, and this was the highest he’d ever managed to climb, barring the steep slope back to his village.
The earth and rock of the hill were a far cry from this spindly tower, however, and there was less to catch should he happen to slip and fall.
He stopped again and glanced toward the earth, feeling a wash of giddiness at how far away it was. Small shapes milled around at the base of the structure — the goats, looking for food and not likely to find it. He grinned and kept climbing. Tasha would throw a fit, mostly because he hadn’t brought her along again, and that was most of why he was going to tell her.
The tower bent into a platform maybe fifteen feet above him — his goal for this expedition — and there looked to be only one tricky part in getting on top of it. Most of the structure was formed of criss-crossed bars of metal, some in better shape than others, creating an elongated pyramid as they narrowed upward.
The trick was the few snapped supports that barred his way to it, and his grip tightened again as the wind gusted. When it had calmed, he stretched for the next solid bar of metal, managing to wrap the tips of his fingers around it before slipping off again.
He chewed his lip, glancing over his shoulder, then focused on the bar above and lunged for it.
His fingers wrapped firmly around it just as a wall of air struck him, and for a wild moment, he felt his feet kick the sky. The wind wasn’t long in slamming him back against the tower, one of the broken supports digging into his ribs, and he managed to wrap his other hand around the bar with its partner while his feet found purchase somewhere below.
He laughed, sagging weakly against the tower, and once he was sure his legs weren’t shaking, he pulled himself over the top.
His legs wrapped tightly around the narrow platform, and he pumped an arm in silent victory. He never shouted in the badlands — father said there were ghosts in the old city. They had never bothered him, but it didn’t hurt to be polite.
He sucked in a deep breath brisk air and waved at his village, adding a rude gesture at the end for the benefit of Palsam and his friends. He might be cursed, but at least he could take a seat in the sky.
Looking up again, he tilted his head with a small frown. A small, dark shape had materialized in the thin clouds, hurtling across the atmosphere faster than any bird he’d seen. Another joined it, and then another, the next larger and — from what he could tell — moving faster.
There was a shriek and a sound like thunder, and the world rocked around him. He flattened himself against the platform, eyes closing as wind — was it wind? — battered his precarious support, but moments later he forced himself to open at least one.
Streaks of fire tore through the clouds, some in the distance and some perilously near his village, but none near enough to shake his perch. He shimmied backward until he felt his feet touch the tower, then started the long climb down.
Whatever had just happened, he was likely to be blamed for it.
Hey did you know that once upon a time I (well, LW and I) wrote a quest for a private RO server? The server got shut down and it never got used and it was really freaking long and took forever to code. But I liked it, and now it’s up on the Internets publicly forever.
Or at least it will be up publicly whenever that part of my web page is done.
Dumb fantasy story news: 37,859 words and I haven’t quit yet! (You may not believe me, but that’s progress.)
Incomplete mockup here. Not everything works, etc. etc. etc. It’ll go up officially when some of the ridiculous projects I started get finished.
Hopefully this change will be a little more permanent than some others?? I hammered it out over the course of eight or so hours yesterday. I even drew and vectored the cat specifically for that purpose. Time flew. I didn’t notice. I love doing that kind of thing. … When it’s going well, anyway.
Justin helped me tweak it, because he is my live-in editor.
Now you can imagine a neon purple cat sign flickering above your head in the dark backstreets of the city.