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|Ada, the messenger of the God King, is escaping a city being ravaged by the Wild One horde. Intended to illustrate fairy magic a bit. Occurs years after the other stories in the quartet. A thousand-word stand-alone from something in the works, bits titled 'Houndmoon' share similarities. Summer 2007.||
Ada peered around the corner. The walls were no longer simply black with soot: the passing horde had sluiced them in rainbow colours, curious patterns reminiscent of paintings. Occasionally the stone was melted like warm butter – here and there a citizen hung slaughtered from a fence or garden wall. Up and down the blocks the hoots and cries still bounced, back and forth.
“It's impossible to tell whether it's safe or not,” she breathed desperately, leaning back against the safety of the alcove. The gargoyles crouching above had lost their heads, now lying shattered on the cobblestones: yet another testament to the fickle violence of the fairy assault.
Never, the ashy-black man of silver tattoos, said something in half a whisper; he had put on a heavy coat but underneath his chest was still bare. The leaf-shaped sword on his hip felt more like a tool than a weapon, yet nevertheless, a certain kind of viciousness surrounded the man. As if he wouldn't hesitate a moment to cut down a pestering weed. Ada didn't know why she thought about weeds. Something about how Never behaved. Like an artisan... a gardener.
“I think if we skirt the main square through north, we can avoid the main horde,” she decided, and immediately obeyed her own order. Never checked her. His hand, though it looked light, felt heavy as a mattock.
“Don't be hasty,” he murmured as she glared at him, trying to look irritated though all she felt was embarrassment. “Think about how the fairy thinks.” How did the fairy think? All Ada knew, racking her brain, was that the fairies charged through their wars with wild abandon and great confusion, charming a village here, cutting the tongues off a defeated army there. The way she saw it, the fairies lacked all logic in their warfare. Never, as if guessing her helplessness, continued.
“They're not mortals, dear Ada.” Using such endearments, though they had known for scarce an hour! She pinched her lips. “They fight to experience passion, not with any desire to obliterate an enemy. They won't bother securing tactically important positions, or incapacitating militia. They will race after the most intriguing thing they can find – and that fifty-foot jade and crystal statue of the Embraced Lovers standing on the main square is a pretty safe bet.”
He spoke with a certain sleepiness, as if he had not properly woken up to the world that was unravelling around him. Still, what he said made sense.
“So, we'd better take a route that's as uninteresting as possible. Down the Merchant's Route and through the South Gate. So straight and bland as to scare off a good twenty troops of Wild Ones. Come.”
He spun, coat-tails swinging, and padded down the street in the other way. He was bare-foot, having tossed out his wooden sandals which, in light of his disclosure concerning fairies, made sense: the clacking noise was a sure way to attract attention. Ada glanced at her own riding boots – they were good enough to remain on her – and hurried after Never.
They navigated through three blocks of previously white and pristine housing. Ada saw more of the damage the passing Wild Ones caused. The walls were stunted, were wavy like stormy sea, and reeled over the alleys. Something odd grew through the rock, tiny worm-like plants with ruby eyes and bleeding green pores; the cobblestones were sometimes replaced with grass. The colour and the change were everywhere, but the buildings were for the most part intact: strange music played within, and wasps streamed through windows, but the city was not razed to the ground.
Ada saw, as they sneaked on the wide Merchant's Route, that Never was right. The fairies had not been here much. A few leering faces were imprinted on the glass, and fleshy organs hung from eaves. It was strangely calm, as though Imbeon had never been invaded.
When the peaceful yellow arc of the South Gate came in view, Ada was ready to cry out in relief. It was then, of course, that Never's heavy hand drew her aside and forced her in the shade of an awning. As they crouched behind baskets of dried fruit, Ada tried to see where the danger was.
“Look,” Never said. “Over there on the commons. That sorcerer is putting up a fight.”
Ada saw it. Not fifty yards away a naked man, in full-body green paint, had drawn two concentric circles of salt and blood around him. The fairies rode around him. Ada swallowed. On blind, black war-steeds, without saddles but brandishing their leaf-light axes and long pointed fire-guns, the troop was frightening to behold. Horned heads threw back and whooped. Curved mandibles and iridescent wings buzzed. They aimed their fairy guns and fired. Clouds of sickly orange erupted.
The sorcerer expelled a feverish litany of profanities at them; he punched the air, and whip-like emerald snakes flew at the fairies. They laughed, a sound like bells going berserks, or skulls clattering down stairs. The snakes turned to flower-garlands; the Wild Ones draped them on their feathered necks. In the same fashion, all the green man's sorceries fizzled. The war-steeds ran and ran, and their riders laughed.
Suddenly, leaving their game, the fairies worked magic at the sorcerer – Ada couldn't see how, it was as if the magic simply came into existence at their whim. The circles of salt and blood wavered and seeped into thin, flickering air. The sorcerer's protections gone, the fairy-steeds leapt in. War-axes rose and fell. Blood misted in the air, there was a long, flute-like cry.
“Come,” Never said. His voice was sharper now. Focusing.
Never led her down the small alleys, behind the buildings, toward the South Gate. Ada was numb, hardly knew where she was. All she could think was, how could they win this war against an enemy who fought without sense and without logic?
|The Prince of Frailty||Dymodean Princess|
Gods of the Wind, Gods of the Mould
|Houndmoon: Never||The Hunter and the Overworld|