Sunday, December 03, 2017

With a Bird for a Heart - Chapter XV

(Note: I am changing the title of this story to "With a Bird for a Heart". There are too many stories out there that start with "The Girl")


“Child.” said Kokaibel. “Do you think I am some hound that will follow because you command it?”


“I don’t care what you are.” said Tula, “You can follow or not. But you will not stop me from doing what I choose.”


“And what do you think you are doing?”
Tula scanned the horizon.  A dark wood stood between the edge of the hill and the burning city. Above the trees there was a glow that could have been mistaken for sunset spread into the sky. Billows of smoke drifted upward from the source of the light. A narrow path shrouded in shadows cut through the middle of the forest.


“I’m going there.” she said, pointing along the path.


“It is dark.” he said. “There will be wolves. There may be worse.”


“What could possibly be worse than you?” she asked.


“Oh, my dear. Precious little in this green world is worse than I.” Kokaibel said, “That said, being in my presence is not assurance of your protection.”


“What do you mean?”


“Well,” he said, “for one, I have made no deal with you. I have offered, but thus far you have only requested a sample. I healed The Witch, but if you wish for more from me you must speak the words that unbind me. Release my power fully.”


“I recall what you told me.” Tula said to the demon. “I believe your words were, ‘Unleash me and I will be yours to serve’. Am I not mistaken?”


“That is correct.”


“Demon. I am young. I am weak and I am in desperate fear of what is to come.”


Kokaibel’s ebon form shimmered like the twinkling of stars in the night sky.


“But,” Tula continued, “if I unbind you then you are mine?”


“Yes.”


“TO SERVE?”


“Yes.”


“I’m just a simple girl. I have not travelled the world. Before this began I had never left the outskirts of Skar Lys. I am what they call a fishlass. My grandmother paid coin to a tutor so that I could read and do sums. She had often been cheated by men in the marketplace because she could do neither. She worked hard to ensure I would be as prepared for this world as she could make me.”


If Kokaibel had a nose he would have wrinkled it at her. “Tula Petek. Why are you wasting time with this pointless biography?”


“My point is that I am not as stupid as you think I am.”


She began to walk toward the wood. It stood nearly a hundred yards from the foot of the hill. The demon Kokaibel remained behind.


“How so?” he asked her.


Tula turned to face him and walked backward with her arms outstretched.


“You said you would be mine to serve. You think you are clever, but if I give you what you want I know that you will be the master and I the servant.”


“Would that be so bad?”


She turned back and trudged onward. Tula did not care if Kokaibel followed. She had gotten used to walking alone in the past several days. Her body had stopped feeling the ache of the road long ago. She had dropped her stick at some point in the swamp and only now noticed its absence. The first day on the road she ate nothing. Her grandmother told her the way to the Muck Witch and explained the rules for seeking her counsel. The old woman could not even give her provisions because help from another on the journey was forbidden. The second day she found a vineyard and ate only the fruit that had fallen. On the third day she had run out of fruit but was fortunate to find a lake full of fish. As the child of a fishing village she was able to snare a few even without a line or a net, but it took much of the day. She roasted her catch on the side of the road and slept in the grass before heading out in the morning. She ate the remainder of the fish just before she began walking again. Not long after she came upon the boy who had attempted to help her. That seemed so long ago.


Now the sky would be black if not for the glow of the burning city beyond the wood. Her stomach grumbled but there was no food coming any time soon.


“I sense your hunger.” said Kokaibel, his voice just behind her shoulder. “I could help. You cannot travel forever without sustenance.”


Without looking at him Tula said, “What do you want from me, demon? I have already said I will not grant you power over me.”


“Did you? And do I not already have power over you? I have your name.”


“What does that even mean? If having my name has given you power then what more do you seek? You have told me to unleash you, but you do not seem bound. If it was your plan to harm me you could do so now. I am alone. None could stop you. Yet here I stand in a dark and empty field with a demon following me...like a hound.”


“I see, my dear. Then it is finished. I shall leave you on your way.”


“What do you mean?” she asked.


“Clearly you have discovered my game.” Kokaibel said, “Your name gives me a degree of power over you, yes. Well, not so much power as...influence...but still. For me to truly be unleashed you must ask willingly for my power. You must invite me. But since you have no such desire...”


“I most certainly do not.”


“Well then, madam. Good evening to you. I wish you well on your journey through the forest. Say hello to the wolves for me.”


Tula could see the demon was attempting to manipulate her. After all, is that not what demons do best? But she was smarter than that.


“Then good evening to you, to, Kokaibel. May our paths never cross again.”


She walked into the wood.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Diary of Wartha Gormley - All About Sam

Dear Diary,

 I’m so glad I have you back. I ducked behind an old door into an Updweller cave when I heard someone coming. The boards that covered it were actually pretty loose so I slipped between a couple and through a large hole at the bottom of the door.

The cave looked abandoned and dusty and filled with old boxes full of Updweller junk. Hue-men sure do leave a lot of stuff lying around when they’re done with it. Mostly I found old clothes, but other things too. I don’t reckon I know enough about the Hue-men to tell you what was what, but some of it looked to be busted up toys or some sort of weapons and tools. They were mostly made of the same material as Miri’s flashlight. It looked smooth like stone, but kind of soft and came in all sorts of colors.

It got pretty bright outside so I figured it was as good a time as any to get cozy in my new hole. The boxes of old garments made for some pretty good bedding and before I knew it I conked out.

When I awoke The Sun still loomed above the city in its frightful brilliance. My throat felt drier than Gurk’s beetle bread so I reached into my pack for the waterskin. That’s when I noticed you were gone, Diary.

 I’m sorry. I must have dropped you when I hid. I didn’t mean to. I flipped out for a while. I mean, I know you’re just a bunch of paper, but you’re kind of like my only friend, too- you know? I lost Dru. I didn’t want to lose you too.

I tossed open my pack and went through its contents over and over, but you weren’t there. I’ll admit it, Diary. I cried. OK? It’s stupid. You’re just a book, but you’re the only thing I have right now.

After crying and searching pointlessly for you among the Updweller crap that litters this musty old cave for what seemed like forever I just fell to the floor, exhausted.

Then I heard a knock at the door.

 An Updweller called my name. They said they had my book. You, Diary. They had YOU!

I got up onto my knees and listened at the door. I didn’t understand why someone was talking at me. The voice confused me at first. It was a person. Well, an Updweller anyway. They talked through the door like they knew me. Like I was a friend of theirs.

I managed to answer. I asked how they knew my name. The stranger looked in through a crack in the boards. All I could see was their eyes. They looked like kind eyes; the eyes of a concerned person, not an angry or hateful one.

“Is it really you?” they said, “And are you ok in there?”

I was a little confused at all the questions the Updweller was asking me. Of course I’m really me. Who else would I be? They acted like they knew me. That was before I learned that they had been reading you, Diary.

“I’m not hurt, if that’s what you mean.” I said back to them.

“Well, that’s good.” they said, “My name is Sam, by the way. Can I come in?”

And that’s how I met Sam. They’re about my age and have darker skin than the other hue-men I have met. Sam has a really soft voice and their hair is in tight little black curls that they wear cropped really close to their head. Between the two of us we were able to knock the boards off the door enough to open it. By then the Sun had started to duck over the edge of the Upworld.

“Oh no.” said Sam, “My mom will be home soon.”

I winced a little at that word, “mom”. Probably because I hadn’t seen mine in so long.

“Wartha,” Sam said, “would you like to come up to my apartment? I have sandwiches and we can hang out a bit. You’ll have to hide in my room so my mom doesn’t know you’re there. You don’t have to stay long, but I just have a lot I want to talk about.”

I started to feel weird. Like there was nothing I’d rather do than grab you and run past Sam. They were nice to me, but I’d been on my own so long. I wasn’t sure I could deal with getting to know another being. What if they turned out to be terrible? Or what if they were great and we became best friends and then something horrible happened and I lost them. I don’t know if I could bear that.

I didn’t really think all of those things at once. I just kind of felt wary for a second. But my curiosity won over in the end.

“Sure. I’ll come up to your...apart-meant. I don’t know if I am strong enough to fight any sand witches, though.”

“You don’t fight sandwiches, Wartha. You eat them.” said Sam. When they saw my face they added, “Oh, no. They’re just a kind of food. Not real witches!” Sam laughed really hard at that part and so I smiled a little.

“Well then.” I said, “Let’s go!”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Girl with a Bird for a Heart - Chapter XIV



Having no other direction the boy followed a hundred or so yards behind Enin. Most of the refugees were headed in roughly the same direction, though none seemed to know why. A few miles in the distance he could see the forest on the horizon. At a gallop they may reach the edge of the woods within the hour. Yet Enin seemed to maintain a trotting pace.


After several minutes he had made his way nearly alongside the sorcerer. Soon after that he saw a few figures ahead on the road. Two older boys stood beside a prone paksi.


The boy raced ahead on his mount and stopped to greet the travellers.


“Ho there!” he said, “Is your beast injured?”


One of the older lads looked up and the boy recognized him as Darik. Darik had been a cruel and frequent tormentor of the boy for several years on the streets of Kudra Kai, but now he looked weak and frightened.


“We were hoping to get out to the country. Away from this hellstorm. The two of us, Naveed and I.” said Darik, not seeming to recognize the boy. “We...borrowed a paksi and galloped as fast as we could. The stupid thing fell to the ground and now it won’t budge.”


“You’ve probably exhausted the poor thing.” the boy said. “That bird was never meant to carry two riders and certainly not at such a pace.”


A tear streaked down Darik’s soot-stained face.


“Hop on.” said the boy. “Our paksi are larger and much stronger than the one you have. As long as we do not work them too hard they should keep their strength.”


Enin caught up with them. “Are these friends, of yours, boy?”


The boy looked at Darik and Naveed. He knew them both. Naveed was a round-faced boy of perhaps sixteen years. He barely spoke and almost certainly could not read. Darik was taller and broad-shouldered with dark straight hair and tan skin. Many of the girls had called him handsome and he never lacked their affection in spite of his callous nature.


Even though the boy had known him for years Darik’s face showed no sign of recognition.


“They are strangers to me.” the boy lied. He worried that had he told the truth Enin would realize how much the boy hated Darik and Naveed. He suspected the sorcerer would refuse them aid if he knew how atrocious the older lads had been. As it was the boy barely concealed the venom in his voice.


“Then tarry no longer.” Enin said, “We have matters to attend to beyond the forest.”


“But they’re going the same way!” said the boy.


“They would only slow us down needlessly.” said the sorcerer. “Besides, there is no point in them running. Soon there will be nothing to run from. Nothing to run to. The world is ending.”


“If you choose not to help them then I will follow you no longer.” the boy said.


“Follow me.” said Enin. “Do not follow me. It is all the same. I have no need of you boy. I just did not desire to end this life alone. But if you would rather sit with these ruffians on the side of the road or tend to their ailing beast as the world burns I will not stop you.” With that he urged his mount onward and was gone.


“What did he mean?” said Darik. “He said the world is ending. Did he mean that? Is he insane? I half believe him. Never saw no fire fall from the sky like this. My Nan once did, though. During the war she said. The enemy threw burning pitch into the city. It nearly burned the whole town down to the ground it did.”


“We aren’t at war.” the boy said.


“Then what was it then?” Darik said, “You don’t know nothing about no wars. You don’t know if the king were to be at war with another king.”


The boy looked at Darik and said, “We don’t have a king. Kudra Kai has never had a king. Ever. It is a free city and run by a council of merchants.”


“How you know that?” spoke Naveed for the first time.


“I read it in a book.” the boy said. “Reading is good for you.”


“Oh yeah?” said Darik. “You think you’re real smart, eh?”


The boy did not like the look in Darik’s eye. He’d seen it many times before. There was something about the cruel and stupid that made them infinitely crueler when you reminded them of how stupid they were.


Darik grabbed at the boy’s leg.


“You know what?” Darik said, “I’m taking that mount for myself. You don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve shit!”


“Let go.” said the boy.


“Let go!” said Naveed in a mocking tone.


Darik grasped hold of the boy’s leg and tried to pull him off his paksi. The boy gripped the reigns but Darik was strong and nearly had him.


“Give a hand, you donkey!” said Darik to Naveed.


The round faced lad galumphed over and attempted to grab hold of the boy’s arm. He caught only a bit of sleeve and pulled.


“Stop it!” the boy said. “This is my paksi. I’m not letting you take it.”


“I remember you now.” said Darik. “You’re the little shit who used to run with Stik and Paol down on Butcher Street, ain’t you? You were always a bit of trouble. Never listened. Always mouthing off to your betters. Yeah. I know you.”


A flood of memories filled the boy’s head. He hadn’t thought about Stik and Paol in a long time. They were tough lads. Not far off from Darik and Naveed, really. The only difference was that they picked on other kids instead of him. Eventually they ran afoul of a real gang and were found in an alley with their throats slit. That was when Saiku Lin found the boy and took him in.


“Hey ‘Veed,” Darik said to his friend, “remember this waste? I used to box his ears for fun.”


The boy twisted the reigns in an attempt to keep his grip. The massive bird began to twist and shake its heavy head.


Naveed looked up at the boy’s face and a dim light of recognition was struck in his eyes.


“Oh yeah.” he said, “It’s-”


He never finished because the paksi had spun its thick neck around and hit him square in the jaw. In a flash the lad was on the ground.


In shock Darik let go of the boy who was half hanging off  the giant bird.


“Yah!” yelled the boy as he spurred his paksi onward.  The bird took off into the night with the boy nearly falling from his perch.

Darik ran after him but was outpaced by the long legged beast in seconds.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Girl With a Bird for a Heart - Chapter XIII



“Girl,” said The Muck Witch, “I beg you not to listen to this beast.”

Tula glanced back at the two of them, the broken woman on the ground with her hair full of smoke and the demon hovering over her like a person-shaped hole in the fabric of the world.

“I crackle with power, Tula Petek.” spoke Kokabiel in that dire voice of his, a voice that sounded like crying infants, and roaring flames and swarms of insects shaped into words. “Say the word and I will show you what I can do. Unleash me and I will be yours to serve.”

Tula saw the imploring eyes of The Witch and the dagger smile of the demon. She knew that such raw power was dangerous, but she needed it. The world literally burned around her and she was powerless. The end, whatever that meant was coming. If making a deal with this thing that should not be was what she needed to do to make things whole and right again would that not be worth the risk?

“Dear. Please. Understand.” said The Witch. “Kokabiel will never let you free once you accept his aid. He will grant your desires at first, but he will twist your wishes and eventually twist you until you are the servant.”

Tula turned back toward the burning city. The vermillion glow of the flames had lessened, but smoke still rose into the night sky. Tula had never been to Kudra Kai,  but heard of its wonders. Skara Lys was a much smaller city and she had lived near it her entire life. Whenever she had free time after market she would explore the streets and alleys and each time she would uncover some new sight. Kudra Kai was legendary for its splendor and now it was being destroyed. Every moment that passed a home or a shop was burned to the ground, forever gone. She would never see the beauty of this city, nor would anyone ever again unless a stop was put to this annihilation.

What power could this demon actually have? What could he even do? She decided to test him. Give Kokabiel a harmless task and see how it works.
“Kokabiel,” The Girl with a Bird for a Heart said, her voice cracking only a little, “I accept your offer of assistance. As a show of good faith I request that you heal my companion. Use your powers to make The Witch’s leg whole and right once more.”

The Witch, Maegda’s eyes and mouth opened wide in horror. Before she could speak the shadow-being was upon her.

“As you wish.” spoke the demon as he wrapped around The Witch like a cloak. Maegda tried to move but he enveloped her as she struggled. Tula stepped forward not knowing what to say or do. As she approached the shadow lifted.

The Muck Witch sat with her knees up and face down. The splint Tula had applied was nowhere to be seen.

“It is done.” spoke Kokabiel

Tula examined The Witch. The odd swelling was gone. Not even a red mark on her leg.
“Please rise!” said Tula joyously, “You are well!”

Maegda’s face lifted to meet Tula’s gaze. The Witch’s eyes narrowed and her nose drew up in disgust.

Tula stepped back at that look. “I had him heal, you.” she said meekly, “Your leg is mended. What harm can there be in that?”

“You ignorant.” said The Witch.

“You stupid.”

“You spoiled.”

“Self centered.”

“Willful.”

“Child!”

“You have sealed my doom. For years I kept him bottled up. For years I had his power in a bottle. I could have used it. I could have drank him up like wine and used this demon’s might to reshape the world as I saw fit! I could have made my will the law!”

Kokabiel stood silently behind Maegda as she ranted, with that jagged smile somehow apparent on his unseeable face.

Tula felt a hot tear run down her face as The Witch berated her further.

“For years I held that demon in check. I held myself in check. Not once did I allow myself to accept his promises of power because I knew. I knew if I took that power for myself it would be my undoing. And now here I am. Tainted. Touched by his dark influence. His unholy might is flowing in my veins. I can feel it. My pain is gone. My body is healed, but I am as good as dead.”

“It was just a leg...” began Tula.

“It was everything.” said The Witch, “You let him in. No. I let him in. But you opened the door. You do not understand. You don’t feel it! The seal has been broken. Now that I have tasted it there is no way I can resist taking more.”

“The city is burning!” Tula said, “The world is burning. We need to help whomever we can, not stand here. If this demon can help save lives then I don’t care what the cost is. My own life is already forfeit. I have seen what power he has. And down there in Kudra Kai there will be many who require our aid.”

Maegda stood gracefully. She turned away from Kokabiel and simply said, “No.”

“No?” spat Tula. “What do you mean? On second thought. I don’t care what you mean. I don’t need you.”

Tula trudged down the hill.

“I’m going home.” said Maegda as she walked back toward the swamp. “Perhaps with distance and time I can resist the seeds this demon has planted. Believe me, Tula Patek. No good will come of trusting Kokabiel.”

The witch returned to the remains of her hut.

Tula got to the bottom of the hill and turned to look back up the slope.

“Demon,” she said, “are you coming or not?”


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Girl With a Bird for a Heart - Chapter XII




“Did you not expect me to return?” Asked the towering man.


The boy opened his mouth but nothing came out. He spun around at the ebbing chaos. His notion of taking for himself a small portion of Enin’s wealth had literally gone up in smoke. He had nothing. For all the boy knew all of his contacts and acquaintances could be dead in the destruction delivered by the firestorm. Even the paksi had fled.


Enin surveyed the scene before him. “It is not easy for me.” He said with a face of stone. “Watching my home fade into dust. This sight does fill me with sorrow. But it is inevitable. All things must end.”


The boy croaked dryly, “You said that this was just the beginning. There is more to come?”


Enin smiled the smile of a man with a thousand secrets. “Yes, boy. Much more is coming. More than this world can handle.”


The boy stood and wiped soot away from his eyes.


“Come, boy.” Enin said to him. “I have need of you.”


“Come where? If the world is ending where can we go? And why should we bother? Won’t it end all the same?”


Enin whistled and from out of the shadows loped two familiar shapes. The paksi stepped forward.


“Be silent and ride with me for a while, boy.” The sorcerer said, “Neither of us should want for a companion in the times that are to come.”


He climbed upon the larger of the two birds and steadied himself by grasping the ruff of feathers around its neck. He nodded at the boy to do the same.


“Use the bridle only for guiding your mount, boy. If you need to right yourself while riding take hold of the plumage as I have.” Said Enin.


“Won’t that hurt her?”


“Do so gently. Grasping the bridle will send confusing signals to the paksi and cause it to take the wrong course, perhaps even throw you.”


The boy was clumsy at first and had clearly never ridden bareback, but he managed and soon kept pace with Enin as they loped out of the city.


 The main road out of Kudra Kai was flooded with people trying to escape the destruction caused by the short storm, but the birds were swift and maneuvered around the throng.


“The storm brought so much pain and ruin to the city.” Said the boy. “It only lasted a few minutes, but it destroyed homes and lives.”


Enin said nothing.


“What worse thing could be coming?” The boy continued. “Where can these people run to? Where can we go? The forest and the marsh lands beyond? I can see black billows of smoke everywhere. Was there no part of the land untouched by this tempest?”


“I bid you to be silent boy. I am in no mood to answer pointless questions.” Said Enin.


“And I am in no mood to be told what to do.” Snapped the boy. “My whole life I’ve been wary of men and boys like you. Older, bigger, stronger. I’ve stayed out of the way. Tried to make myself small and not incur your wrath. I’ve been the servant, the victim. I’ve mostly hidden myself away from the likes of you who think they can command me and anyone who is younger or smaller than them. When I couldn’t hide I did as I was told just to keep myself safe. But now things are changing.”


Enin looked forward as the boy continued to unleash on him.


“No one is safe now. Not me, not you. Not the town guard, not the gangs. Not even Saiku Lin is safe. Not when the sky itself brings death to all. So I don’t need to heed you or anyone else. You cannot possibly be more of a threat than a sky full of fire.”


Enin glanced sideways at the boy but remained silent.


“So tell me, great sorcerer, if there is nowhere to run, then why run? Where are you going? Why should I follow? What kind of destruction is coming and what are we to do about it?”


Enin pulled his mount to a stop. The boy did the same. The sorcerer looked at him and said, “Past that forest, in the swamps there is a force more destructive than the firestorm. There is a power so great it will plunge my whole world into darkness forever. It waits for me. If you choose to run away from the end of the world then run, but you won’t go far. The end is coming sooner than you can imagine and when it happens it won’t matter if you are standing right here or a thousand leagues away. I am going to face that force head on.”


“Face it head on?” Asked the boy, “Then what? If this force is all you say what do you hope to achieve? How can you stop it from ending the world?”


The sorcerer’s head fell back and he let loose a barrage of laughter. “Boy,” he said, “I don’t intend to stop it.”


 Enin shook the reign and his bird trotted on.


“I intend to greet it!”