gaspingforthedevil · 3 months ago
Metal vibrates under your hand, clutched tight around the railing. Opposite foot planted against the grating of the truck floor to brace against the many sharp turns that threaten to throw you from the back of the open air vehicle and plummet into the abyss below. Your other hand presses a backpack to your chest. A change of clothes, an ID (not yours), a pack of syringes, a single book.
A knee presses into your leg and you shift position, sucking in your breath. Check to your side. The owner: a man with the half-hearted remnants of a graying beard, sleeveless flannel shirt and canvas pants of a cheap synthetic textile. His eyes catch yours briefly before sliding off and staring out at the scenery rushing by. A dozen other people are crammed into the back of the truck. Cover, and yet also a danger. People who might see. People who might remember.
Everything had happened too fast. There had been no time to actually carry out any of the elaborate plans you had put together, no time to take anything else. Hour 33 of winging it and counting.
This far down the Mesopelagic, you can no longer make out the underside of the plate through the haze and cloud cover above you. Only the criss-cross of buildings and walkways built around the support pillars, sharp florescent lamp posts framing the traffic currents. A shock of green behind an extended sequence of large glass windows suggests the possibility of an enclosed park but the truck rushes past too fast for you to be certain.
Behind you the driver holds one hand on the wheel while the other presses a set of headphones to his ears, nodding along to some beat impossible to pick up under the rush of air and motors. He picks his way through the rush of traffic that curls like a current around the glassy towers and colossal support beams with a practiced confidence that does nothing to settle the queasy feeling in your stomach as inertia pulls you sharply in a new and different direction every few seconds.
No one on in the back of the truck attempts to talk over the rush of wind and traffic. That suits you just fine. No law-abiding citizen of Talam takes an off-the-grid truck ride this far down into the city – you shut that line of thinking down hard and pull your thoughts in close to you. Whatever motivates your fellow riders, it’s not your business. The less anyone here knows about the others, the better for everyone.
The truck shifts it’s weight again in a sharp turn around a cargo trailer, its side brightly proclaiming the virtues of rehydrated crawfish in a flashing LED display. ‘Mercury free!’ boasts the boiled-red cartoon crawfish as it waves it’s claws in a frantic bid for attention. Just as quickly, the cargo trailer is gone, left behind upstream.
The pit of your stomach drops out from under you as the car makes a sudden drop, sending your heart racing. Teeth clenched as momentum presses you against the floor of the truck bed as it comes to just as sharp a stop in a new, lower traffic lane. You can feel the shuddering of the motor in the metal under your feet. But the driver betrays no sense of concern over the strain. Complacent and only half-present as muscle memory guides him through the motions. His head nodding to the fast-paced beat of the music from the headphones.
How much longer do you have until they notice you’re missing from your post? How long until your quarters are searched and they run a process on the camera feeds? The manual driver and antique truck will slow them down a little, but it won’t take long to get the visual profile built and fed to a tracing algorithm that can track the trajectory through the columns and down into the depths.
A twinge of guilt pulls at your core. They’ll pick up the driver, take him in for questioning. A telepath rifling through his memory as they prompt him, shaking loose any spare images, any potential leads. What could they arrest him for…?
No license, out-of-standards vehicle, non-emergency manual operation, running a taxi without permits, operation of vehicle while impaired (headphones) – It doesn’t matter. You can’t say anything, can’t give any warning. That’ll make you memorable, make you that much easier to track. Don’t break the spell, and no one here will remember you.
Your heart climbs in your throat as the taxi clears the top of a loading dock and the core of this ward of the Bathypelagic plate drops into view with another sharp descent. After the claustrophobia of metal and glass pressing up against the limits of the traffic lanes, the sudden opening of space hundreds of meters across feels overwhelming. 
Hanging far, far over head shines a glowing orb, too bright to bear looking at for long. The solar lamp is affixed to the underside of a criss-crossed network of support beams that mark the ceiling. A ceiling so high up that a lamp as big as a city block can be covered by your pinky finger.
A network of pathways separate the plate stretching away in front of you into a grid of apartments, office blocks, and shopping districts. To your right towards the horizon, directly under the gaze of the solar lamp, the upper branches of a line of trees poke over the edge of a line of dull grey buildings. The green of their leaves stand out, arresting the eye. The boundary marker for the ward’s agricultural district.
For being on the first and oldest level of Talam, Beleth Ward looks surprisingly modern. A bad sign. You had been banking on the advanced age of the ward to provide an extra level of breathing room. Another casualty of not having had the time to work out every angle for your escape.
Hopefully it won’t matter. Only a little further down and you’ll slip below the limits of the active camera network and into the abyssal. If there’s any place on planet where you can stay out of reach, it will be there.
At the bottom.
Over the side of the truck below you, a throng of people press into every available space between market stalls. An implicit faith in whatever protective netting must be stretched above to catch falling debris. You scrunch your eyes shut and pull back into the bed of the truck.
Just the thought of so many people pressed together is enough to give you a headache. One of the other passengers sitting across from you – a woman with a shawl over her hair – gives you a concerned look. You glare back until her eyes glaze over and she looks away. 
The truck circles around the open-air market before veering off to the left and alighting on the roof what must be a shopping complex judging by the array of signage. The driver pulls the headphones down until they rest around his neck and stretches his arms over his head. “You all know the drill.” He doesn’t even look behind him to you or the others. “Five minutes and then we’re taking off again, with or without you.”
Without another word he climbs out of the truck and makes his way towards the massive AC unit rattling away at the center of the roof. The metal sides are defaced with crude graffiti while cigarettes and glass bottles litter the ground.
Hushed whispers break out among your fellow travelers some climbing out of the truck bed to spread out across the roof while a handful remain in the bed. Necessary pit stop or no, the pause makes your heart race. Moving, you stand a chance of being safe. But the moment you have to stop. To rest…
With a groan you shift position and push yourself up, stiff muscles protesting every movement. An unpleasant pang tugs at you. You should go too.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
it’s been awhile but my gf and i finally got around to finishing the next little aura&andromeda fic c:
the past two are here: [first meetings] & [the test] –––
The young woman paces the length of the temple atrium, arms folded over her chest and looking anywhere but towards the copse of trees in the northwestern corner. The droning chants of the service can be heard echoing off the walls from deeper inside the building. It’s been over a week now since the disaster with the whole magic test.
What was Aura supposed to make of that? Andromeda was the special one; a child of angels and priests and yet – nothing? While the pottery girl… Aura balls her hands into fists. Even without looking at it, she knows it’ll still be there: the scorch mark on the tree she hit last week. What even had that been? More magical nonsense?
Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. All beside the point. Nothing ever needed to come of it. The plan today was simple; wait until the service finished, find Andromeda, and apologize. That’s all Aura needed to do – and then they could put this whole sorry mess behind them and go back to being friends.
Right, just friends.
Aura slows to a stop in the middle of the atrium, and turns in a circle, taking in the garden around her. Should she just stand out here in the middle? Or would that be too weird? Off to one side? But then what if they miss each other?
Would Andromeda even want to see her?
Without actively thinking about it, Aura drifts closer to the flowerbed closest to Andromeda’s chambers, the array of multi-colored blooms drawing her eye. A cluster of purple flowers with star-shaped leaves poke out from beneath brighter reds and yellows. Are those new? Aura hunches down, pushing the patch of yellow-whatever-they-ares aside, to get a better look.
“Poking around my flowers?” a familiar voice asks suddenly from behind Aura, startling her.
“Wh– Andromeda?!” Jumping to her feet, Aura turns on her heel, swaying slightly to keep her balance.
The divinely beautiful young woman raises a hand in casual greeting. “Yep, that’s me. Finished with today’s blessings. What’re you doing here, Aura? I… kinda figured you were avoiding me, after, you know,” her gaze strays, “last time.”
“Well – you know… I mean–” Aura glances about the garden, avoiding Andromeda’s eyes. “I was just… delivering some, uh – some pots. You know. As you do. And – and since I was already here I figured I’d see the garden and…” She trails off with a helpless shrug.
“I see.” Andromeda crosses her arms. “So I guess you are avoiding me. No helping it. I should get out of your hair and let you appreciate my flowerbed in peace.”
Aura flinches, wringing her hands. “Wait – No, sorry. That was a lie. There aren’t any pots. Um– I… figured you hate me now so – but then I don’t know.” The red-haired woman deflates, still avoiding direct eye-contact. “Sorry, ‘Meda, I’ll leave you alone.”
“Are you really gonna give up that easily, after coming all the way over here to wait for me?”
“Give up–” Aura shakes her head and takes a breath. “Look, ‘Meda, I’m sorry, okay? About, um – about last week.”
“Why do you keep apologizing?” the shorter woman huffs. “I’m the one who got upset and stormed off just because you- because of something like that. And you think I hate you now? That pisses me off more than you having magic or whatever.”
“I said all that stuff and then – and it’s not like you reached out to me either, what was I supposed to think?”
Andromeda frowns. “I’ve been… busy. And trying to cool down so I wouldn’t freak out and push you away again.”
“Oh.” Aura runs a hand through her hair and rubs at the back of her neck. “Can we go back to being friends again? I miss hanging out.” There’s a small grin on her face as she steals a glance at Andromeda. “Things are a lot more boring without you.”
“Well that goes without saying. I mean, I missed you too. I don’t know how entertaining I’ll get to be, though, now that my dad’s running me ragged with these extra studies - he didn’t exactly give up when I told him I didn’t pass either test. Even tried talking me into getting some weapon training with the temple guard in my spare time, but I still don’t know.”
“So you told him about…?”
A shrug. “I had to sometime. And you already convinced me to take the tests in the first place. And… well, it at least helped a little bit to think of all that bullshit you tried consoling me with, back then.
“He gave me a speech about how I shouldn’t take this as an excuse to start slacking off, how I still have a lot of potential even if it’s taking time to find where it lies, you know, that sorta stuff. I don’t know if he’s right but I can’t really bring myself to argue over it anymore.”
“I’m glad it helped. Eventually. A little.” Aura risks a smile, “And some weapon training doesn’t sound so bad an idea. We could, uh… practice together?”
“Practicing together doesn’t sound bad,” Andromeda returns the smile, “although I don’t think swinging around a scimitar like the one you’ve got is really my style. No offense.”
“None taken,” Aura laughs, smiling wider now.
“Hey, so, speaking of your style and all… I’ve been thinking. You should talk to someone about how you passed the arcane test.”
Aura’s eyes widen, “Me?” She holds up her hands and shakes her head. “What? N–no, that– that had to have been a mistake or something right? A fluke.”
“Was that scorch mark on Junie’s bark a fluke too?” the aasimar raises an eyebrow.
“You, uh – noticed…?” Aura drops her arms, rubbing the knuckles on one hand.
“Of course I noticed, I help take care of all these fellas,” Andromeda’s arm sweeps out to gesture across the temple gardens, “which is another thing that tends to keep me busy these days. You know how tough it is to find time to sneak out when I have to help with daily blessings, and be present for special services and rituals, and help Uncle Dain take care of the atrium, and keep up with my studies, AND go around trying out all this other shit my dad’s pushing at me?!”
“Wow,” Aura arches an eyebrow, “how are you supposed to find time to get high in the woods with all that on your plate?”
A sigh. “Tell me about it. But, seriously, if you told my dad about the test and what happened to my poor juniper, maybe you’d have a better idea about what’s going on with you than floundering like a fish out of water, insisting it was a fluke when it obviously wasn’t one. Maybe something good would come of it.”
Aura shakes her head wildly, hair flying in front of her face. “I haven’t even told my parents. They’re only okay with me spending so much time over here because they think it’ll get them something later.”
“…Like what? Something better than a spellcasting, scimitar-swingin’ daughter?”
“I wish they saw it that way,.” Aura huffs, crossing her arms. “If I had magic, they’d want me to use it for pottery… somehow.”
“I guess I can relate. If I had anything like that, you know my dad would want me putting it to use the same way he does… Difference is, you do have something going on with you,” Andromeda points out. “Whether it’s an accident or not- no, especially if it was an accident, that just means it’s a potential risk until you’ve got a handle on it, right? I didn’t talk about you to begin with, but it’d be pretty irresponsible of us both to just sweep that under the rug and pretend nothing’s different.”
“But I – Where did this conversation go wrong to make you the voice of reason?” Aura groans.
Confident in the sylph’s acquiescence, Andromeda grins, pulling her along by the arm.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
been running a writing club for my youth services job at the library this summer, i set a prompt and then we all have 30min to an hour to write. i actually kind of like how this one turned out so i’m posting it here sdfsd
Well, it seemed innocuous enough when I first moved into my uncle’s old house.
I’d come home to find the bed already made, or my books more organized when I’d left them. Clothes would be folded, or papers organized. I didn’t think much of it, really. I must have done it myself and forgotten, right? I’ve never been very good at keeping track of things, so if that was finally working in my favor, who was I to complain?
And then about a month after this all started it stopped.
Again, I figured, well, so it goes right? I’m just bad at keeping track.
Well, that's when I got… the bill.
I found it tucked under my pillow one morning, a piece of notepaper with very tidy, professional writing. One hundred twenty six dollars to Edward J. Crane for services rendered. I had to read the recept over a couple of times. Who was Edward Crane? What services had he rendered? One Hundred Twenty Six Dollars!?
I tossed that receipt right where it belonged. The trash.
Someone was playing a prank on me. I don’t know how. I searched the house up and down and couldn’t find any sign of a break in. I made a few calls arranged to have the locks changed just to be safe.
The day after I got the receipt, when I came home to work I found the bed a mess, sheets and pillows on the floor. Wow, I thought to myself, did I really leave such a mess this morning?
The next day when I came home, the clothes were out of my closet and dumped in a pile in the middle of the bedroom. Again, I thought to myself, wow, did I really leave such a mess?
And then the day after that I came home and found all my books had fallen off the bookshelf. I thought maybe the shelf had broken but no, the bookshelf was perfectly fine if lacking books. Was there some sort of… freak earthquake?
The night morning I got another receipt from Edward J. Crane. 126 dollars for services rendered. This time, added in that tidy font underneath was written ‘Pay up! OR ELSE’
By this point I was right spooked out. No one was breaking into the house, I made sure of that. Checked every day, even set a trip wire one night. And still the messiness and the threatening receipts continued.
Finally, at my wit’s end, I called up Betty, my aunt-in-law. She and my uncle had lived in the house for years before me. Surely if anyone could explain what was going on, it was her, right?
“Oh.” There was a long silence from her end of the phone line after I explained the situation. “Eddy’s at it again?”
“You know this guy!?” I yelled into the phone.
“Yeah, yeah. Eddy!” More silence. “He’s a good guy. Can’t count for nothin’ tho. Just take a pen and write 126 on a dollar bill. Pin it to the bathroom mirror. That’ll make him happy.”
Short of any better options, I did as Betty instructed. The next morning I woke up to find the dollar bill gone and no more threatening receipts. And when I came home from work? The house was spotless again.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
the hairclip
some people make art of their dnd character – i make a 7.4k word fic from their backstory apparently
“Your dirt-eating da isn’t going to save you this time, Darragh Ó Broin.”
I push back into the crevice as Shay continues to growl threats while prowling the dock just above my hiding spot. A loose strand of hair falls over my face, tickling my nose, and I can pounding in my chest and ears. Nothing for it but to grit my teeth and hold my breath, wishing my heart would slow down. Seconds crawl by, the thudding of boots against wooden boards – back and forth.
“I don’t think he’s here, Shay.” One of Shay’s friends. Which one was it? Caolan? No… Rian?
“Where else would he have gone, genius?”
Twisting my fingers in a circle I mouth the words Da’s been trying to teach me for a month now. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as something starts to build, like the whole world is leaning in, listening. I whisper something into my cupped hand and then gesture up and to my left, towards where I heard Rian. The feeling of the universe listening fades away.
…Did I do it right?
“What the– Eugh, what’s that smell, I’m gonna puke…!”
There’s a flurry of activity above me, someone shouts “Where?” Another yells “Darragh!” I have to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing, this is too great. It worked! It really worked! Shay and his goon squad have no idea what they’re in for.
There’s a splash of water, and then Caolan is staring straight at me, black hair running wild over his shoulders. Guess that ponytail of his came undone in the chase through Market.
“Is he down there?” Shay calls.
I wince and stare Caolan down, daring him to say something. Bunching my hands into fists. Can Shay swim? Maybe I can lose them in the water this time.
Caolan stares back at me. Some unreadable expression on his face and then he turns away, looking back up at the top of the wharf. “There’s nothing, Shay. Come on, let’s give it a rest already.”
Huh. You’re alright, Caolan. I guess.
For a crony.
“It was a FROG, Caolan!”
“I know.”
“In my hair!”
“I know.”
“That’s the fifth time this week!”
“You did give them a black eye after the last one.”
“Yeah, and now the little tick is gonna get a matching pair…”
There’s a moment of silence as Caolan climbs back up onto the wharf, and then Shay stamps his foot down hard enough to make the wood shake and scatter dust and gods know what else onto me. “I know you’re here somewhere Darragh, you little rat! When I find you, you’re dead! You hear me? Dead!”
Rian and Caolan murmur agreement and the three storm off.
Hahaha! Suckers.
I don’t let go of my breath until I’m sure they’re gone. Wading through the water, I step out from under the wharf and squint my eyes against the sunlight. Adrenaline is still pounding in my ears as I pull myself up out of the shallows. It’s all I can do not to whoop. No sense spoiling the narrow escape.
Brushing the dirt and the dust off my tunic, I run a hand through my hair. Give it a good tossle to make sure I shake loose any hidden spiders. My pants and boots are soaked, but it’s a small price to pay to have to take a minute and sit on the edge of the wharf. I pull my boots loose, one at a time and shake out the water.
Looks like the sun hasn’t kissed the ocean yet, still plenty of time left to go take care of the shopping Da asked me to do. Shay probably went sulking home, I won’t need to worry about him again today.
I finish relacing and get to my feet, stretch my arms over my head. Open water spans in front of me to the horizon, blue-green shimmering under the sunlight.
This particular dock doesn’t go very far out, mostly for mooring fishing currachs overnight. The rest of the harbor proper is further west, behind the stick of land jutting into the ocean to my left, where the bay runs deep enough to handle proper sailing ships.
From behind the tired pile of housing I can just make out the masts of a ship that pulled into dock this morning. A barc? Something like it maybe. I’d been planning to go poke around but then when the opportunity to mess with Shay had presented itself... and well, who am I to deny Providence her chance?
Maybe if I hurried, I could still get a good look and do Da’s shopping?
In the books, they talk about towns where everything is built in stone, temples of marble, where buildings stretch into the sky, fantastic combinations of labor and magic united. Places where you could walk for hours and still be surrounded by people.
Oileán is… not that.
Oileán, is the singular town on the island with which it shares its name. The name literally just means ‘Island.’ If you really want to get fancy, call it ‘An Oileán’ for ‘The Island.’
Oileáners are a creative bunch.
Where most buildings are jumbles of wood, held together with iron imported from the mainland if you can afford it. Hemp rope, beeswax, and prayer if you can’t. Some of the big buildings, like the gods temple and the meeting hall get a little help with a blessing from my Da before a big storm hits, but that’s about it.
Even though I’ve lived here my whole life, I still have to navigate town by dead reckoning. Every back alley has its own name and asking three people for a street will get you five answers. So it’s something of a personal best that it only takes me ten minutes to find my way back to Market.
The one central fixture to the Market is this crumbling fountain with a statue of a mermaid posing, her bare chest thrust out in the direction of the harbor. Or well, everyone assumes it was a fountain at some point. Not even my Da’s ever seen it work, and he’s like, forever years old.
Maybe half the stalls are empty now, as I stroll through, looking for someone still selling groceries. A few people are selling pots, clothes, odds and ends… But no vegetables. Uh – maybe I shouldn’t have spent the whole day screwing with Shay.
But I mean… just look at the lug. The son of the town guard captain? Thinks he’s king of the hill? Sometimes a face just needs punching – or dropping a frog on where punching isn’t possible.
Old lady Aiofé waves at me from her stall, almost lost in the cascading series of quilted blankets. “Darragh Ó Broin! Gods with you this afternoon!”
I wave back, “And with you, Miss Nualliáin.”
Flashing a few teeth short of a mischievous grin, she beckons me over. “Causing trouble again?”
I grin brightly back at her, putting on my best picture of innocence as I make my way over. “Why I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean, Miss Nualliáin.”
Aiofé purses her lips as she leans back on her chair. “Pull the other one, Darragh, it’s got bells on.”
I laugh at that, covering my mouth. “It’s just Dara, Miss Nualliáin.” I correct her, using the feminine construction for my name.
She raises an eyebrow at me, then tilts her head and shrugs with her hands on her lap before continuing. “I saw you and those boys running up and down here. You already forget what happened last time?”
I brush my hair out of the way and touch the skin just below my left eye. “No, ma’am.”
“What are your fathers going to say?”
I cross my arms, cheating away back towards the fountain. Aiofé can be funny – sometimes – but wasting what’s left of the day with a lecture from the cat lady is the last thing I need right now. “Is anyone still selling groceries, Miss Naulliáin? Broin wanted me to pick up some stuff.”
Aiofé sighs and clicks her tongue, shaking her head at me. “I think Oran hasn’t left yet, but I wouldn’t expect much. Should have–”
“Yeah, yeah,” I hold up a hand to cut her off and start walking hurriedly towards the far corner where Oran keeps his stall, “Thanks Miss Naulliáin!”
“You behave yourself!”
Sure enough, Oran has a few things left, and I pick up a few stalks of celery, some carrots, and a head of cabbage, only slightly wilted. Why do we even need to buy food? Broin could just magic it out of the ground if he really wanted, right?
“Hey, Oran–?” I click my tongue and tap my boot, waiting for the old man to wake up. “How much is this cabbage?”
“Wha–whassat?” Oran gives a start, rocking back in his chair and pulling the hat up from covering his face. As soon as he settles on me his eyes narrow. “Oh… it’s Broin’s kid. Whaddya want?”
“The cabbage?” I heft it up for inspection, pulling the hair out of my face with the other hand. “It’s starting to wilt so I was–”
“Copper off.”
“But it’s–”
“No lower.” He squints at me. Is he still holding that winter solstice fiasco against me? I was 12, give me a break.
Whatever – This should be fine right? Fiach always boils everything to death anyway. I pay Oran his money and load everything into a bag, his eyes boring into me the whole time.
As much as I want to check out the boat, It’s already been hours and I’m on thin ice with my parents as it is. Home then, is on the far side of town from the harbor. Not even ‘in town’ really, if you think about it. My one Da, Broin is the island’s druid. Way he tells it, he used to live in a literal treehouse before marrying Fiach and agreeing to stay closer to town.
Kind of feels like I got cheated.
Living in a treehouse would have been so cool.
I push the door open with one hand while the other holds the canvas bag secure over my shoulder. “Da, other Da! I got the goods.”
Fiach is already stirring something into a stew pot by the fireplace as I walk in. A huge smile on his face as he looks up. “Hiyo kiddo, what took so long? Sail to Anbelas and back for that?” Swear to the gods young and old, if I ever eat stew again once I travel the world, it’ll be too soon.
I make a show of hefting the bag onto the dinner table, as if it’s way heavier than it actually is. “How’d you know? Had to run three blockades and bribe a dragon to look the other way.”
“A dragon huh?” A clipped voice rolls out from around the doorway to Broin’s study. “The bribe wouldn’t have happened to be toads again, would it?” Broin walks into the room, one hand holding his head as if he’s suffering from a migraine. Exhausted blue eyes bore into me from under graying hair.
How old do elves have to get before their hair turns grey? I’ve never actually asked how old Broin is – I’m not sure he’d tell me.
I don’t let myself stop smiling, “A frog, actually.”
“He started it!”
Broin looks towards Fiach, fishing for help. Fiach rests the ladle against the rim of the stew pot before stepping towards me, “Dara, did you get hurt–”
“Nah, I’m fine.” I duck my head down and focus on setting out everything I’d bought on the table. “They gave up before they could do anything this time.”
Broin mutters something under his breath in a jumble of Elvish and Druidic that I can’t make out but I’m pretty sure is some sort of curse. “You need to stop antagonizing that Shay boy. I have a hard enough time dealing with his mother as it is.”
I huff, blowing the hair out of my face and crossing my arms as I finish laying everything out. “He’s a bully! He deserves it. Someone needed to take him down a peg.”
“And did the frogs deserve it?”
“Uh–” I hesitate, withering under Broin’s stare. The disappointment is plain on his face.
“You can’t just scoop some innocent amphibian out of their home and induct them into your campaign of terror, Dara. I know you know better than that.”
“They’re frogs!” I stammer, “Who doesn’t love frogs? How was I supposed to–”
“This is the fourth day in the row, did you really think you could spin that web in my ear?”
I don’t have a response for that one. I look at Fiach, hoping he’ll take my side here, but he just shakes his head.
“If you are going to be a druid,” Broin presses, “it’s about time you start treating life with respect. That means all of it. From the frogs to the toads.”
“If I’m–?” I bristle, balling my fists and stepping back. “I didn’t ask to be your apprentice! You just decided one day!”
“Darragh,” Broin narrows his eyes as he stares up at me. When did I get to be taller than him? “Don’t change the subject–”
“Don’t you change the subject!” I throw back at him. “You think just because you took me in, you get to decide everything for me?”
“Dara–” Fiach tries to get a word in edgewise, but I don’t give him the chance to continue.
“I don’t need you, and I don’t need your dumb lessons.” I almost want to say something like ‘you aren’t my real parents anyway’ but I don’t. Neither one of them stops me when I make for the door.
Back outside I take off down the path inland and into the forest. Can’t risk running into Shay and his goons again, not after all that. Besides, I know somewhere better then any cruddy place in town anyway.
It’s getting dark, but despite what people like Shay or his mother think, there’s nothing on this island to be scared of – even deep in the wood. Fiach says in the old days a pack of dire wolves used to live out of the series caves on the far side of the forest, but they’re all dead now.
Broin insists there’s worse things than wolves to run into out in the wood, but then Broin says a lot of things.
I’ve never so much as felt anything strange.
It’s not quite dark enough to warrant a torch but I scoop a good-sized tree branch from the ground to use as one later. It’s an hour’s hike from our house to my destination, and I’ll want it sooner or later. If I can get the spell Da taught me to make it smell like rotten eggs, a little fire once I need it should be easy, right?
By the time I get to my destination the shadows are stretching from the trees full across the clearing. It was a little unsettling the first time I came here, but now it feels comfortable. Almost like coming home, but better.
I’m sure it had a proper name at one point, but all anyone calls it now is ‘The Spring,’ and it’s the one place on the whole island you are absolutely under no circumstances allowed to go. The trees give away to this clearing where the land dips into a small pond with no visible source. Unlike some of the other ponds and lakes on the island, the water never gets coated with algae or other plants. The north bank at the far end dips into a stream that winds its way through the wood until it meets the sea opposite from town.
Everyone has a story about ‘The Spring:’ Someone’s cousin’s brother dove in to find the bottom and never came back up; an aunt’s grandmother’s brother once found a full picnic laid out by the shoreline, helped themselves to a pear, and started aging in reverse.
Fiach likes to tell a story about how he got lost in the woods one day, found the Spring, and was whisked away to another land by a dashing elven man. (Broin always rolls his eyes at that one.)
Broin says there’s a reason everyone has stories about the Spring. That it’s some kind of weak point in the material plane. According to him, the reason there’s no source for the Spring is because the water is leaking in from the Feywilds, the supposed ‘realm of the Fey.’ And under no circumstances am I to ever – ever set foot near it.
So of course, I’ve made it my official home base away from home.
In the dusk light, the water has a deep blue hue, reeds gently swaying in the push and pull of the water at the banks. The buzz of insects is broken by the occasional ‘plop’ of a hungry fish breaking the surface to snatch an incautious dinner.
A jumble of boulders sticks out from the shoreline, perfect seating for me to scoop some pebbles from the lakebed and go stone skipping as the sun finishes setting.
With a flick of my wrist, I send a pebble skipping across the surface of the water, once, twice, three times before it sinks.
I tried to catch something here once – make my own dinner and all, but uh, the fish having an extra pair of eyes gave me pause. I let it go and I haven’t tried again since. A lot of the plants in the water seem different too, but I’m not sure. I’d have to ask Broin and that’d mean admitting I’d been hanging out here.
I don’t need Broin, or his lessons. Wasting weeks listening to him drone on and on and about the ‘deep meaning’ behind random objects or weird hand gestures. Or learning the basics of Druidic – it was already hard enough to keep Elvish straight in my head. I’d rather be practicing my Common, like what the traders who sail in sometimes speak, or learning some kind of skill that could get me on a boat out of here. And who ever heard of a sailing Druid?
I toss another rock into the lake and it sinks immediately, no skips.
Well, okay, Da is literally the only Druid I’ve ever met, but that’s not the point here. When he said he was going to teach me about being a druid I didn’t think it’d be so boring.
I reach back to grab the branch I’d set aside earlier – it’s certainly getting dark enough now. As I twist the air with my fingers and mutter the words again, it feels like the buzz of everything around me muffles itself, that sensation again of the world being called to pay attention – listening in.
I flick my finger against the tip of the branch and a red spark jumps the gap, coaxing a flame to life. Weak, maybe a little unsure of itself, but persisting. The buzz of insects fades back in, the world gives me space again.
I have to admit.
It is pretty cool to be able to do that.
“–friendly, aren’t they?”
I shake my head and try to refocus on the woman standing next to me on the harbor dock. She’s tall, or maybe it just feels like she’s tall? Long tresses in unnaturally bright orange and yellow streaks. Tainted glasses obscure her eyes, giving her a serious look. Hard to read. Whenever she speaks there’s a hint of something off. We’re watching porters unload boxes from the ship in the water. The ship is larger than any I’ve ever seen in port, and yet looking at it now – it doesn’t seem all there.
I look back to the woman standing next to me. “Sorry, céard a dúirt tú?” I stutter, slipping back into Oileán as I try to get the words out.
“Still, it doesn’t matter where you are, I suppose,” The woman continues on in Common, as if she hadn’t heard me. “Money talks.” She turns her head to smile at me, pointed teeth exposed. “Money, and a little local support.”
“It’s a good goal,” I mumble and look away. I feel guilty somehow, like I’ve done something wrong but I can’t remember what. In the water someone like me but different stares back up. Wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. The same white hair, but shabbier and shorter. Unkempt clothes, covered by a traveling cloak patched up several times over.
She frowns at me from the water and then it’s my own reflection, hair running over my shoulders, a clean tunic and breeches. I take a step back, “Did you see that–” I turn to look at my companion but I’m standing alone at the edge of the cliffs along the southwest end of the island.
No one is with me and just as it settles into my bones that no one will be ever again, the tip of a sail pokes over the horizon. I curse under my breath, I need to warn them.
I stutter awake, knocking the makeshift torch loose from where I’d jammed it upright.
The branch falls into the water and I’m swallowed by total darkness. Gods, had I fallen asleep? I swing my hand out blindly into the dark, groping the air, then the rock I’d sprawled out on. Should count myself lucky I didn’t fall in.
If my Das had been pissed at me running out before, they were going to be livid at me staying out like this.
Carefully, I shuffle my way back to shore and lay back to watch the night sky as I wait for my eyes to fully adjust to the dark. Nothing but stars framed by a ring of trees in shadow, the chirp of insects. In the distance a frog croaks, a few seconds later I can hear an owl hoot further off. Under it all is the trickle of water out of the Spring and down the stream.
How can anyone be afraid of a place like this? It feels so peaceful.
Realer than real.
What had been with that dream? I’ve napped here all the time before, but something about that dream… Most of it was already slipping away from me, even as I tried to focus on it. A jumble of images; a boat, a woman’s reflection in the water, sails on the horizon.
I push myself up and start feeling out with my feet for a replacement torch.
Whatever, it’s just dreams, they don’t mean anything.
I am, like any proper seventeen-year-old, an expert at sneaking back into their own home.
But of course it helps to have a man on the inside. Fiach always leaves the backdoor open a smidge whenever I’m out. Sliding back in and sneaking into my room unnoticed is simple enough from there.
Yeah, there’s going to be hell to pay tomorrow, but that’s going to have to be future Dara’s problem. Better them than me.
Whispering from my parent’s bedroom stops me in my tracks as I try to slide past. Did they hear me? There’s a pause in the conversation, like they’re listening for me too. I hold my breath, press against the wall. Finally the whispering continues and I think I hear my name.
Talking about me?
What are the odds I can listen in without being caught?
“Are all human children like this?”
“Well, not all, but yeah, pretty much.”
“I just didn’t expect it to go so fast.”
“I think everyone says that.”
“That doesn’t exactly make me feel better, Fiach. Did we – did I mess up somewhere? Why did I think I could–”
“Hey, hey–” Silence. Almost long enough for me to start thinking and then; “We always knew this was going to be difficult. And... they’re right, you know, you didn’t exactly give Dara a choice.”
“We talked it over, didn’t we? You agreed it made sense.”
“I’m just saying, try to look at it from their perspective. They’re still figuring out who they even are.”
“They’re human, they don’t have time to–”
“I know honey, I’m human too, remember? Trust me on this one, okay? Not everything needs to be rushed.”
What are they talking about? I’m ‘difficult’? Why? Because I won’t let them walk all over me? But then – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Broin sound that… uncertain? Vulnerable? I didn’t think the old man had it in him.
I decide not to push my luck any further tonight.
“And where were you last night, Darragh?”
I slump into the chair, avoiding Fiach’s eyes. “Out.” He never uses my given name unless he’s mad. He knows how much I hate it.
“Out where?”
Broin sniffs, frowning as he puts a plate of scrambled eggs in front of me. “Out in the woods.”
“Safer than town!” I shoot back.
Broin doesn’t let up, “And who’s fault is that?”
Fiach takes the seat across from me, a sad expression on his face. I seem to be getting that one a lot lately. “Broin and I talked it over, and we think you should apologize to Shay. Bury this whole squabble already.”
I choke on the egg in my mouth, “W–what!? I’m not apologizing to– Shay said he’ll kill me!” I point at the bruise still heavy on my left eye. “Remember this!?”
“I’ll talk to his mom after the town meeting this afternoon.” Broin stares me down. “Stay away from him until then.”
I stare at my plate. I can’t believe this. Apologize? To that pig’s backside of a lugnut?
Fiach clears his throat, “There’s something else we talked about too,” He looks meaningfully at Broin.
The two of them exchange looks, Fiach raising his eyebrows higher while Broin scowls back. Finally, defeated, he sighs and turns back to me, crossing his arms. “I owe you an apology, Dara.”
I blink. “What?”
“Not many people have an aptitude for druidcraft.” Broin looks about the room, wherever he can avoid looking at me. Wow, he’s worse at apologies then I am. “When you showed interest, I…” He gestures with a hand, “I got excited. I guess. Ahead of myself. It’s been too long since–” He cuts himself off with a shake of his head. “Look, if you really don’t want to be my apprentice, I’m not going to make you, Dara. Magic won’t live in an unwilling heart.”
Fiach clears his throat again.
Broin frowns, finally looks at me. “I’m sorry for pushing you into it, Dara.”
I look between the two of them, discomfort creeping up in the back of my head. This is new. “Oh. Um.” I avoid meeting Broin’s furrowed gaze. “...thanks? I’ll, uh, I’ll think about it.”
Broin sits down between Fiach and I, “That’s all I ask.”
They don’t give me any chores after breakfast, and when Broin leaves to talk to some farmers up the north end of the island, he doesn’t tell me to come with him. Neither does Fiach when he leaves for his carpentry shop in town.
Feels weird – I’m free to do whatever I want, so why does it feel like I’m being punished? They didn’t even try to tell me to ‘stay in the house’ or anything.
I mill about the house for a while doing chores anyway; clean up the kitchen, wash out the stew pot – maybe I could get a job as a ship’s cook. Travel the world that way.
Sometimes travellers that pass through town talk about where they’ve been if you get them drunk enough. Places where wheat is like the sea, stretching from one horizon to the other, rustling in the wind like waves. Or mountains that make Maeve’s Cap look like a hill– sheer rock thrusting into the sky higher than you could ever climb.
I’ve been everywhere you can be on Oileán; just once it’d be cool to see somewhere new.
Somewhere where no one’s ever met me before.
Oh – right! I lean the broom back against the wall, glancing towards the door. That ship that came in yesterday. Would it still be there? I never had the chance to get a good look at it. Why was I wasting time here?
I swing my legs, hitting the back of my heels against the wooden box as I stare at the ship in harbor.
It’s big.
Bigger than any barc I've seen – didn’t think ships got better than that.
Surprising that they were able to maneuver into port – it even seems to be sitting higher in the water than it has any right to, which is weird. Shouldn’t it tip over, out at sea? A prickling feeling runs up my back, like I’ve seen it somewhere before but I push the thought out of my head. How could I have ever seen a magic boat before?
What kind of person with a magic boat bothers visiting an out-of-the-way nowhere-ville like Oileán?
I can barely make out a few deckhands milling around onboard. They all look bored. Waiting for something? Broin did say he had a meeting this morning. Maybe the town council was meeting with whomever owned this thing.
I bet if I kept quiet I could–
A hand grabs the back of my tunic and the world tilts upwards as I’m sharply dragged backwards off my box and I hit the ground. A burst of stars in my vision as my head hits stone.
“No frogs for me today, Darragh?”
Shay’s ugly mug swims into vision above me.
I grin up at him and blow the hair out of my face. “Sorry Shay, Da said giving you frogs was cruelty to animals.”
Shay scowls and a sharp pain blossoms in my ribs. I roll away before he can kick me again, holding one hand to my side and gritting my teeth. Shay cracks his knuckles as he lets me get my feet. “You done, dirt eater?”
“Where’s the goon squad, Shay? They finally ditch you?”
“I don’t need them just to teach you a lesson, Darragh, so man up. You’ve had this coming for a long time.”
“I’ve ‘had this coming?’” I laugh, “It was some frogs, Shay, lighten up.” No Rian or Caolon today? Not that Shay needs them – the only ways out of this alley are past him or past the boxes and into the water.
“Don’t play dumb with me!”
I tap the side of my chin, grinning. Try to ignore the pain radiating from my ribs. “Well, I’d play smart, but then you wouldn’t be able to keep up.”
I manage to duck away from the first punch but the second gets me across the jaw and I hit the side of the building to my left. Okay, maybe I went too far that time.
“What is your deal Darragh?” He grabs the front of my tunic and pulls me forward until he’s glaring straight at me. “Don’t you ever act like you’re better than me.” He lets go and I’m shoved back against the boxes. Shay spits on the ground in front of me before turning around and stomping away. There’s an aura of supreme smugness radiating from every pore of his over-inflated ego.
I grit my teeth, sucking in my breath. Do I still have to apologize to this jerk? I twist the air between my fingers and I can feel the world listen in as I mutter an incantation before gesturing to Shay’s retreating form.
There’s the sound of a dozen frogs croaking and Shay jumps a solid foot into the air.
Oh, I shouldn’t have done that – it hurts to laugh right now.
Shay’s furious visage wheels on me, face burning red. I can’t stop my smile at the sight of it. “Is this how you get all your dates Shay?” I keep grinning, heart pounding in my chest as I steal a glance around. “No wonder Aisling told you to suck mud.”
Shay narrows his eyes at me. “The only ‘date’ you’re getting from me, is between my fists and your face.”
“Did you spend all night thinking that one up, or did your mom have to workshop it with you first?” I can’t help myself. “Oh, sorry Shay, I forgot, your ma’s too busy with more important things than you.”
I barely see the fist before I’m back on the ground, pain radiating around my right eye, head swimming. I press a palm to my eye as I twist to the side, face throbbing.
Shay looms over me, kicking me hard in the ribs again – I curl up, trying to protect my center. “That’s real rich coming from you Darragh.” He huffs, waits until I’m glaring back up at him. “Your own mother left you to die in the woods – no one actually wants you around, you white-haired freak.”
For once in my life, I keep my mouth shut.
“Nothing else to say, dirt-eater? No other funny jokes you wanna lay on me?” He prods his foot against my back. “I didn’t think so.”
This time, when Shay leaves, I don’t get up until I can’t hear his footsteps. I rub the back of my wrist against my mouth and come away with a smear of blood. Oh, that’s good. That’ll be fun to explain to Broin and Fiach.
Fiach first, I guess. He always keeps a first aid kit handy in his workshop. Think I might need one.
“What on earth happened to you?”
“Would you believe Shay started it?” I don’t meet Fiach’s eyes as he rubs something into the skin around my eye.
“No.” He puts the bottle in his hand down on the counter and crosses his arms at me. “Absolutely not.” Fiach’s workshop always smells like wood and metal.
“But he did!” I protest, “I was just minding my own business, and then here comes Shay! All, ‘I’m better than you and my farts don’t stink, but oh, I’m scared of frogs, respect me!’”
“Dara.” Fiach’s voice is stern. “You didn’t do anything to antagonize him?” He raises an eyebrow at me.
I wilt. “Well, okay, maybe I did a spell to make a bunch of frog croaks.”
“And maybe I said something.”
“He thinks he’s better than me! Just because he has a birth parent or – or whatever.” I flail at the ceiling with my hands, sending a small puff of sawdust off the counter top. “I just… he makes me so mad!”
“Dara, you know we–”
“I know, I know you love me now. I just…” I run my hands through my hair, pulling it around my fingers in loops. One day I’m leaving this whole dumb place behind…
Fiach clicks his tongue. “This isn’t just about that, is it?”
I don’t look at him. “What are you talking about?”
Fiach stays quiet, trying to wait me out. When I don’t bite, he shakes his head and moves on. “Oileán is too small to spend your whole life feuding with someone. We’re all in this together–”
“Oh, don’t start the whole ‘interconnected web’ stuff on me too…” I groan, pulling my hair around and around between my fingers.
“It’s true. And the sooner you figure that out, Dara, the better off you’ll be. Don’t let him get to you. Broin’s going to talk to his mom today–”
I can’t believe this. “You still want me to apologize to him!?”
“I want the two of you to bury the hatchet on this whole episode and move on. I’m not expecting you to be best friends.” Fiach sighs, “How’s your chest feeling? Those bandages helping any?”
I press a hand against my ribs, a spark of pain dances up my side. “Still sore.”
“Broin will have to look at it then.” He shakes his head at me. “What are we going to do with you, Dara?”
“Get Da to kick Shay’s ass?” I offer, hopeful.
Fiach gives me a tired expression. “And that’s exactly why you aren’t telling Broin what happened until everyone’s home tonight and I can talk sense into him.”
“No buts.”
I groan and tilt my head up to glare at the ceiling. “I’m… sorry, about last night, yeah?”
“I appreciate that, but I think it’s Broin that needs to hear it.”
I make a face at him and get to my feet. A hand on my arm stops me before I can reach the door.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
I pull my arm out of Fiach’s grasp, flinching as another spark of pain shoots up my side. “I wanted to look at that boat in the harbor.”
“Oh. That.” Fiach sighs as he steps back, letting me go.
“It’s just a boat.” When he doesn’t respond right away, I add. “I’ll behave. Promise.”
“Fine, but stay on your best behavior.” He scowls at the expression on my face. “I’m serious – Just, wait a second before you go running out the door? Okay?”
I tap a finger to my chin as Fiach turns away to go behind the counter, digging around for something. “I thought we decided my birthday was going to be on the harvest festival this year?”
“Not that,” Fiach calls back, lost behind the counter. I hear something heavy sliding around. “I kept waiting for a day where you behaved to give this to you, but I’m beginning to think that day’ll never come.”
I huff and cross my arms. For the last time, Shay started it.
“Ah, here we go.” Fiach’s head pops back up from behind the counter. “Sorry, had to hide it to make sure you wouldn’t find me out early.”
“Me, snoop around?” I grin sweetly at my Da. “Never.”
“Mhm.” Fiach raises an eyebrow at me. “Just come here, Dara.”
I meet him halfway across the workshop. What on earth does Fiach have in his hand there? Usually Da’s gifts are of the more perishable kind.
He opens up his hand and holds it up for inspection. Whatever it is, it looks like it’s made out of tortoise shell. Some kind of hair clip? I look back at Fiach and he smiles at me. “Your hair is getting kind of long these days, isn’t it?”
I make a face. “I guess.” If this is just another tactic to guilt me into ‘personal hygiene’ I swear to–
“Ni Nualliáin had a bunch of these for sale a couple weeks back, thought you might want one.” He reaches out to touch my hair and I stand there, awkward as anything, as he brushes my hair back and out of my face before sliding the clip into place. “There we are, is that any better?”
Anywhere in the workshop is more interesting a direction to be looking at than my Da’s face right now. “I… guess…?” I make to brush my hair out of my face only to have my hand hang awkwardly in the air. “...thanks.”
“We can pick up more later, if that works for you.” Fiach looks at me, as if expecting me to say something more. When I don’t he just smiles and steps back. “Stay out of trouble, Dara.”
Spell broken, I turn away and make for the exit, raising a hand as I leave. “Always do!”
“I’m serious!” he calls from behind me. “And stay away from Shay!"
I leave Fiach’s workshop behind and pick my way through the maze of streets back to the harbor.
There’s a strange, light feeling in my chest – I can’t stop fiddling with the hair clip. Making sure it’s real. I swear Fiach was looking at me like we had shared some secret or – or knew something I didn’t maybe? Ugh – It’s just a hair clip, Dara, don’t go overboard about it.
I shove it out of my mind as the streets gave way to the harbor. The strange magic boat is still sitting exactly where I left it.
Well, ‘I’ didn’t leave it there, but that’s not the point. It’s only been like an hour since I left but there’s already more activity than before. Town militia are suited up and congregating at one end of the dock, away from the gangplank to the ship.
Talks going that well?
I catch Aisling’s eye, milling about outside the inn just off the dock. Are they on break or is business that slow today? They brush their hand clean on their apron before waving a greeting at me.
I return it with one of my own, grinning. “You look bored, Aisling!”
They take another look at me as I get close, brow furrowing in concern. “Wow, Dara, you look like a fish swam a thunderstorm. What happened to you?”
“Shay.” I don’t offer any further explanation other than a shrug and wince.
Aisling does not look impressed with me. “You need to stop inciting him.”
“You sound like my Da.” I groan. “Both of them. He just – he gets under my skin. I can’t stand him.” I wave a hand, I’ve wasted too much of the day on Shay already. “What’s the deal over here?”
“No idea.” Aisling shrugs. “Ma wanted me to find out why business was going so slow even with a ship in port but I’m staying well out of–” they point at the gathered militia “–that.”
“Think they even know how to fight?”
“Why?” Aisling’s voice is wry. “You want to test them?”
I snicker, “Maybe so!”
I lean back against the wall and we watch the harbor birds together while we catch up. Between our respective apprenticeships there hasn’t been time for much of that these days. When we were younger, Aisling promised they’d come traveling with me; we’d make up plans for how to stow away on a ship, where to get provisions, what we’d want to see…
I don’t think any of that is going to happen any more. Aisling seems pretty happy working with their ma at the Inn. We’ve been talking less and less these days.
“Hey,” Aisling taps me on the shoulder and points me over to the far enough of the harbor where the street leads towards the meeting hall. “Check it out.”
There’s Broin heading down the street, and with him is Eabha, Shay’s mother and the captain of the guard. Between the two of them is a woman with long hair; streaked with lines of orange and yellow in unnaturally bright shades. The pair of tinted spectacles obscures her eyes. From their faces, the three of them are arguing about something. Neither Broin or Eabha look happy, but the mystery woman looks unperturbed.
There’s a chuckle from beside me, “That one’s got hair even weirder than yours, yeah?” Aisling says.
I click my tongue and shrug. “Yeah, Sort of.” I put a hand to my shoulder, pulling hair in loops around my finger. “I guess.” Have I seen her before somewhere?
“You gonna go check it out?”
“Huh?” I look back at Aisling and realize I’ve already stepped a few feet away from them. “Yeah, I guess. I’ll talk to my Da. You want to come with?”
They shake their head. “I’m good, let me know how it goes?”
I pick up the pace as I walk across the harbor. Broin sees me first, and I stick up my hand in greeting to him. He shakes his head at me but I don’t stop my approach. “Afternoon, Da.” I put a finger to my forehead as I look at Eabha. “Captain.”
“Dara?” Broin stares at me, “What happened to– No, later,” he holds out a hand, warding me off. “Now is not the time.”
Eabha looks even less happy to see me. “Listen to your father.”
I smile brightly at both of them, then at the woman between the two. “Who’s the special guest?”
“Someone just leaving.” Broin says.
“Trading partner,” Eabha answers at the same time.
The two of them glare at each other.
The woman puts a hand to each of their shoulders and says something in Common. Broin’s expression only sours at it. Eabha eyes me then looks back to the woman and says something back to her, gesturing between me and Da.
Whatever Eabha says, the woman’s lips quirk upwards. She offers a hand towards me and then, in slow, basic common says, “Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Veronica.”
I grin and take her hand, shaking it. “Dara,” I answer.
She smiles back, revealing pointed teeth.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
The Test
lately i’ve been having some fun collaborating with my lovely girlfriend to write backstory stuff for the pair of Pathfinder rpg characters we came up with together. i’ve gotten her approval to share some of them here on tumblr; enjoy
Andromeda glances over at her most recent claim - ‘the hot one with the sword’ as she internally refers to the sylph girl. Aura has been hanging around as promised, and much to Andromeda’s chagrin, she’s been something of a “good” “influence”, whatever those are. In fact, the headstrong young aasimar wouldn’t even be here, in her private chambers, test materials splayed out on the desk before her, without Aura’s continued nudging that she should get it out of the way.
Pah. Get it out of the way. Apparently the sylph wasn’t a fan of keeping things in the dark to ensure one’s ego isn’t threatened.
“Do you really have to be here for this?” the aasimar asks, voice wavering briefly from its usual sturdy confidence.
Aura puts her hands on her hips, one eyebrow raised at her friend. “Are you going to get this over with instead of griping about it for another month if I’m not?” With a sigh, she relaxes her stance, smiling. “Look, is it really so bad? Wave your hands and mutter some nonsense and you’ll have your dad off your back for a while.”
“I-” Andromeda stutters briefly as her eyes flit to the hands on her friend’s hips, or perhaps to the hips themselves. “Well, you look, it’s not as simple as just trying to cast a spell and succeeding or failing. You have to prove a reaction first. It’s about the potential, you know, that thing everyone expects me to have in spades?”
“Hey, magic or no, you’re Andromeda. You’ve got plenty of ‘potential’, ‘Meda.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Andromeda mutters, not sounding very convinced.
Aura glances at the array of strange materials littering the desk in front of her aasimar friend. “What are you so worried about anyway? It’s not like you to care what anyone else thinks.”
Andromeda, apparently declining to answer, furrows her brow and starts assembling the first test. A small, clear quartz forms the center of a small circle of what look to the untrained eye to be completely unrelated items - the components. As far as Aura knows, this certainly isn’t the setup for casting a proper spell.
“Like I said, it’s about proving a reaction,” Andromeda repeats herself, resting a couple fingertips against one crystalline facet. “This isn’t going to do anything - which is good since I’d rather not have a misfire blow up in my face, and I’m sure that was the same for all the other jackoffs that took this test - but these components have a… oh, gods, what the hell was that stupid term? They have a ‘natural resonance’? Something something “that’s how spells are cast”. Because yeah, obviously, spells don’t usually go off randomly in the wild - it requires intent, and your own little mortal flare or whatever.
“So, you just have to focus on this quartz, nudge it over to one side, and you should see that ‘natural resonance’ if you have the ability to cast spells,” she finally concludes.
“The natural…?” Aura crinkles her brow, staring intently as Andromeda intricately sets up the test. “Not blowing up in our faces is good though. I’m a fan of that, got to admit.”
“Yeah, well, let’s see how it goes I guess.”
“Hey, you can do this ‘Meda.”
Taking in a sharp breath, Andromeda stares into the quartz, and after a couple seconds - perhaps deliberation, perhaps procrastination - she begins pushing the crystal away from her, nudging it closer to a sprig of holly.
The two items come into contact after a couple seconds.
Nothing seems to happen.
Another few seconds and Andromeda lifts her arm back, letting out a laugh as brittle as shale. “Well! Really, I was expecting that. I’m a half-celestial, so, I mean, it’s not like you’d necessarily expect me to be gifted with arcane talent of all things!”
“I guess your dad wanted to cover all bases. Is just the once really good enough, or do you need to like… try multiple times before doing the other test?”
“Everyone else who tried it and ended up becoming a mage got the resonance to show up first try, so I don’t think repeats would do anything. But who cares, right?” the aasimar laughs again. “It’s the other test I’m really interested in. I mean, dad’s a priest, mom was… some kinda angelic being or another. This is where the real money’s at,” she declares, putting aside the arcane components and picking up a single, even stranger object.
“See this bad boy? It reacts to a person’s aura-...” Andromeda looks over at her companion. “Um. Not like, your name, I mean.”
Aura gives her a tired expression. “I get it.”
“Ehe, well, anyways, every sentient being has an aura of a certain alignment and strength, and there’s a distinct difference in that aura depending on whether that person holds divine magic within them or not. Since this is a test designed for people who ostensibly can’t cast any such spells yet, you need to do something to get this thing to pick up your aura, and then you’ll be able to tell whether you’ve got the juice or not. Again, pretty simple right?”
“So you just have to do something… uh, particularly holy, I guess?” A small smirk on Aura’s face. “You up to that ‘Meda?”
“Oh fuck you,” the aasimar laughs goodheartedly, taking a few steps over to shove at her friend’s shoulder before returning to the table. “I help my dad out with this stuff all the time. I can get it to show up no problem.”
Sliding a hefty tome closer to the edge and opening it with her free hand, Andromeda says, “This is what my dad used a long time ago. That’s why he gave it to me for this. You can’t just read a book and get magic that easy, especially this kind, but if you’re going to try your hand at receiving even a brief divine connection then the prayers in this old thing definitely help.”
With her left hand clutching the gold ornament to her chest and the right pressing gently to ancient leaf, Andromeda begins the second test, her voice sweeter than honey as the Celestial words lift into the air. Aura recognizes it only partially; the words, the soothing nature of what almost constitutes a song, but this time it’s just the two of them together in Andromeda’s chambers, and it’s for no one else’s benefit.
Right on cue, the gold ornament begins giving off a faint light, and Andromeda, eyes nearly alight themselves, holds it aloft as if both to inspect and declare its result. And goes quiet.
Aura, meanwhile, stands staring at the glowing ceremonial object, eyes wide. A brief word of awe escapes her lips, whispered and hushed, but her voice is somehow lost in the silence until she finally brings herself to raise it again.
“I… don’t get it. It’s just- it’s normal.” Andromeda lowers her arm to bring the ornament to eye-level. “Dad’s was… all different. Not just the intensity, that’s obviously gonna be…” she trails off, appearing as if she’s staring straight through the object in her hand.
“What?” Aura’s gaze flits between the ornament and Andromeda’s face. “No –  no way, something happened there, right? Could it be… like, defective?”
Andromeda responds slowly, delayed, “...Don’t think so. I mean it’s- it’s glowing just fine.”
“‘Meda…” Aura trails off, face creasing in a worried expression.
Dropping the ornament back onto the table’s surface with a clack, Andromeda practically ignores her friend to go sit on the edge of her own bed. She leans forward, arms resting against thighs, eyes cloudy.
“Wow. I’ve got nothing. Everyone was wrong about me after all.”
Aura stands there a moment longer, uncertain what to do next. “Hey… Hey, ‘Meda, that’s not true…”
“Oh yeah, Miss GoodWithHerSword?” the aasimar scoffs angrily. “Real rich coming from you. Go on, why don’t you take the damn test yourself? See how good it feels having a bunch of inanimate objects embarrass you.”
“That’s not what I–” Aura huffs, taking a step back. “I don’t need a test to tell me I don’t have any magic bullshit anyway. It’s not the end of the world, ‘Meda.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You get to watch me lose the one thing that anyone seemed to respect in me, and spout off rich lines like it’s ‘not the end of the world’ that I really am good for nothing but getting high and fucking wasting space!”
“You aren’t a waste of space ‘Meda! Don’t talk about my friend like that! You’re smart, you're funny, you’ve got like…” Aura pauses, “half the teens in this town wrapped around your finger. So what if you can’t do this one thing? Anyone tries to give you trouble about it and I’ll… I’ll punch them or something.”
Andromeda sighs. “Sure. Whatever. Like anyone gave a shit about me for being smart or funny. Your parents are fucking potters; mine are a high priest and a celestial being, respectively. I was supposed to be something special. I mean, sure, I didn’t like how they all fucking breathed down my neck for it! But I… I grew up being told I was supposed to be more than this, and apparently I’m not.”
Putting a hand on the table, Aura looks away, not quite able to bring herself to meet Andromeda’s eyes. “You’re special to me.”
“I’m… what?”
“I – I mean…” Aura hunches her shoulders, face turning red. “What your dad wants, what any of these grownups want, it – it doesn’t matter. You’re already special.”
“...To you? Or just as a meaninglessly generic sentiment?”
“I–” Aura tenses up, still avoiding looking directly at Andromeda. The frizz in her hair pillowing outward slightly. “I like you. A – a lot.”
“Really? I uh, after I came onto you that first time we met, I thought maybe you weren’t attracted to… but, well, I have been seeing you at the temple a lot recently… was that because of me?” Andromeda sits up and presses her palms to the bed on either side of her.
“Y–yeah well, I wasn’t exactly coming in to brush up on my religious studies…” The blush on Aura’s face deepens further.
“Oh, gosh, um… I don’t think I’ve ever really, uh, been with someone in anything but a casual sense? I’m not exactly used to this. I mean, I’ve gotten confessions before, but it was all boys and I’m not…” she trails off.
“Oh.” Aura chews at her lip, voice small. “Sorry – I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like–”
“No!” Andromeda interrupts. “No, it’s okay, really. I wasn’t- wasn’t saying it was, like, bad or anything.”
“I just… not having magic doesn’t make you any less special ‘Meda.” Aura forces a small smile, finally bringing herself to look up at her. “Definitely not to me.” She laughs, “It’s not like I can do any of that stuff either.”
The aasimar scoffs, “Pshh, you can’t say that. You haven’t even taken a test for it yet, right?”
“‘Meda…” Aura rolls her eyes. “Fine, I’ll take the damn test if that’ll make you feel better. Okay?”
“Make me feel better? Yeah, I suppose it would give me a certain sick satisfaction to see you flunk just as bad as I did,” she chuckles.
“Yeah, well… I’m gonna flunk this test so hard, just you watch.” Aura mutters under her breath as she turns to sit down at the table. “What do I do here again? Just like… focus and touch the crystal thing?”
“You have to put ‘em in the circle formation again, like I had earlier. And then, yeah, focus on the crystal, and push it to one edge of the circle.”
“Okay…” Aura frowns, focusing on the set-up in front of her. After rearranging the components back into a circle, she chuckles, nervous. “This magic stuff is so weird.”
With nothing else left to do, Aura goes silent as she stares down the crystal in the center, chewing at her lip. “Okay… Well, here goes nothing.” With one finger she touches the quartz crystal at the center, pushing it to the edge away from her.
At first, nothing appears to happen, and Andromeda mentally assures herself that the same result is about to occur. Not half a second after this thought crosses her mind, however, does a spark of electricity jump from the quartz to the sprig of holly.
Aura yanks her hand back from the crystal, sucking in her breath in surprise. “Uh–” She glances back to Andromeda. “Did you see… that?”
Andromeda, for her part, is rendered dumbstruck, stuck staring at the table with wide eyes. Only after Aura turns back to her does she snap out of it. Pushing herself back to her feet, she moves to stand by the sylph’s side and says, “Aura, do that again. Come on.”
Swallowing a lump in her throat, Aura turns back to the table. Andromeda’s close presence behind her making it hard to focus. “Shit. Um.” Tentatively she reaches out with her hand again to push at the quartz.
Another spark of electricity jumps out and Aura immediately pulls her hand back again.
“Are you… kidding me?!” Andromeda exclaims, stepping back. “You! You can do this bullshit! All that fucking talk about me being perfectly special even without magic and you just casually make sparks fly around!!”
“I didn’t – I’m not – ‘Meda, I…”
“You know what! How about YOU go back to my dad and tell him what a fucking talented girl YOU are!!”
Andromeda, barely keeping the tears from cascading down her cheeks at this point, pivots and runs out of her expansive chambers through the side open to the temple gardens.
“Hey– ‘Meda!” Scrambling to her feet, Aura hastens to follow after her, stumbling on the legs of the chair. “Wait! I’m sorry!” Stepping out in the gardens, Aura slows to stop looking around. This part of the temple still unfamiliar to her. No sign of Andromeda in sight. Putting her hands to the sides of her head, Aura bites her lip hard. “Oh hell.”
“Good going Aura…” Gritting her teeth, Aura lets her hands drop, balling them into fists. “All that – now she hates you.” Spinning on one foot, Aura lashes out at the closest tree, punching the trunk in a burst of anger only to stagger backwards at what sounds like a crack of thunder as her fist hits the bark. “What–?”
Shaking her now throbbing hand, Aura stares at the scorch mark on the tree with a sinking feeling in her gut.
“Well fuck.”
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
first meetings
lately i’ve been having some fun collaborating with my lovely girlfriend to write backstory stuff for the pair of Pathfinder rpg characters we came up with together. i’ve gotten her approval to share some of them here on tumblr; enjoy
Aura flexed her fingers around the hilt of the scimitar, the weight of the blade straining her wrist as she held it out in front of her. How was the grip? Would it hold? The bits of scrap leather felt rough against her fingers. The weapon was old, some forgotten family relic. How long had it been rotting away in the attic?
With a breath, Aura shifted her stance, mimicking the pose she’d seen the temple guards take during their training. Fallen twigs cracked under her boots. Feet planted, one foot forward, one back. Free arm in front, weapon raised – hells this thing was heavier then she had expected. The tree in front of her showed no mark from the hour of practice so far. Not a single hit had bit. Shift weight, swing forward–
A solid thunk reverberated numbed Aura’s fingers and up her arm as the blade hit the bark of the tree. “Fuck!” The scimitar clattered onto the bare earth in a rattle as Aura instinctively yanked back her hand. Wind sent a rustle of leaves through the forest as the young woman shook the pain out of her hand. At least out here away from town no one could watch the too-tall gangly teenager make a fool of herself.
This wasn’t getting her anywhere.
Maybe it was hopeless. Whatever magic the Katsaros family line had when her great-grand-whatever-ma used this scimitar was long gone. The Katsaros were a line of potters, not planar travelers, or magicians, or warriors or any other grand tale. Maybe she should just give up already and accept that the only future she had ahead of her was following the family trade. A future life of working with clay, and mud, and pots, and bowls, and wheels, and damn pots, and cups, and damn fucking pots.
The breeze pulled at her hair as Aura’s frustration mounted. Red curls escaping her hairband to flutter definitely in front of her face. How long had she been at this? A month now? Sure she had fixed the hilt – or tried to anyway, but had she actually gotten any better? It didn’t feel like it. With a frustrated groan, Aura picked the scimitar up again and gave it a few experimental swings through the air. Maybe there was something she was missing. Some trick of positioning or movement. Or maybe this scimitar was a rusty piece of garbage and she’d be better off practicing with a kitchen knife.
With a frustrated cry Aura spun around to kick the tree that had definitely resisted her. The shock of impact rattled the branches in the wind, sending an irritated bird cawing into the sky while dull pain vibrated up her foot and leg.
In the distance, someone screamed.
“Dude it’s like really, ACTUALLY angry!”
Nearly drowning out the words, a chorus of laughter rings out, hardly even interrupted when the enraged forest creature leaps at the nearest tripped-out teenager and causes her to scream. Something (but who knows what, really?) tells the group that they should probably be backing up, though it doesn’t stop the incessant banter and laughter.
At least until it goes for the largest cluster of teens. Then they all start shrieking. Shriek-laughing, really.
They put in at least some amount of effort to run away, but for one unfortunate soul, the ultimate result of that effort is the catching of her ankle on an exposed tree root and the quick meeting between the earth and her face. Between the annoyance and the distant concept that it’s probably a bad thing she’s stopped moving away from whatever was chasing them, Andromeda does briefly find herself thankful that she didn’t break anything.
Meanwhile, the scene that greets Aura as she enters the clearing takes a second to process. In the distance between the trees, the fleeing form of someone screaming. Sprawled on the ground, one foot caught over an upraised root, a well-dressed dark-skinned person with long black hair struggles to get up. Some feet away from them, a strange, hairy, four-legged creature stomps its hooves.
There’s the crunch of boots against the forest floor and Aura runs to put herself between the stranger and the animal pursuing them.  Gripping the scimitar in both hands, she holds it protectively in front of her. A quick glance backward to check that the fallen person was conscious. “Don’t just lay there! Get going!”
Gritting her teeth, Aura turned her attention back to the animal. Some kind of pig? It had a lot of tusks for a pig. Maybe she could scare it off somehow? The creature snorted, stamping it’s forelimbs. Whatever it was doing it looked mad. Aura narrowed her eyes, heart pounding in her chest.
The pig creature charged forward. With a cry of alarm and a wince, Aura swung the flat of the blade down in front of her in time to have the animal crash face first against it. The momentum of impact sent her toppling backwards onto her butt as the animal recoiled.
Aura whooped as she scrambled back to her feet. The pig creature snorted, shaking its head. A tense moment held as Aura brought the scimitar up between them again, straining to ignore the throbbing soreness from her wrists. Finally, miraculously, the pig creature turned away, stomping it’s hooves.
With a sigh of relief Aura let the tip of the scimitar fall to the dirt. “”Holy shit that worked.”
“Holy shit that worked,” a raspy, feminine voice echoes. As Aura turns back, she comes upon a familiar face: Andromeda Cirillo, daughter(?) of Hektor Cirillo, the high priest. Her eyes are wide, her cheeks flushed, her pupils slightly dilated. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten going.
“What on earth are you doing out here?” Aura quickly glances away from Andromeda to inspect the surrounding forest. She hadn’t been staring. Not at all. Shaking the soreness out of her free hand, she pats down at her hair, more strands having come loose in the excitement.
“Uh… depends on how much of a snitch you are,” Andromeda replies completely unsuspiciously, rising shakily to a standing position.
Aura follows Andromeda’s gaze to the weapon in her hand. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Oh, that’s like, bad, huh?” A wide grin spreads across the darker girl’s features. “Guess that settles it. We’re accomplices now.”
“I like the sound of accomplices.” A nervous grin matches hers on Aura’s face. “...what are we accomplices of?”
“The dual crimes of going into the forest to do shrooms, and uh,” a glance down at the heirloom scimitar, “recklessly swinging around old weapons at local wildlife?”
“I’m practicing!” Aura hunches her shoulders, defensive. A beat, and then, she tilts her head. “Shrooms?”
“You know, eat ‘em and you get all high and stuff. You sounded like you were pretty cool so I was wondering why I hadn’t invited you out to something yet, but I guess you’re still new to being a delinquent, aren’tcha?”
A flash of heat floods Aura’s cheeks as she avoids looking directly at Andromeda’s smirking expression. “W–well – aren’t you… like, the High Priest’s daughter? That’s like… the opposite of a delinquent.”
“Yeah, name’s Andromeda Cirillo. Nice to meetcha.”
The gangly teenager rubs at the back of her neck with her free hand as more curling red hair escapes from her hairband, waving slightly in the breeze. “It’s, uh, Aura Katsaros. My parents run that pottery kiln?” Sky blue eyes search the woman in front of her. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
“Oh, yeah, I know that place. But, anyways, it’s not as if I set out to be called a delinquent or anything,” Andromeda crosses her arms, “but apparently sex and drugs and whatnot are Bad. Fuck that, I say. Ya know?”
Another blush runs up Aura’s face the moment Andromeda says the word ‘sex.’ “I – I guess. I mean – my parents have been pretty strict too.” She lifts the hand holding the scimitar. “They’d flip their dumb pot if they knew I was out here.”
“Which is why we’re accomplices now.” The shorter girl pauses to scrutinize the taller’s blushing face. “Oh, you’re like… that held down, huh. Virgin?”
“I – What – Uh –” Aura sputters, eyes going wide. “What does that matter!?”
“Because I’m curious.”
“Well that’s not–” Aura takes a step back, face beet red. “I – I’ve been busy! Helping with the pots, or – or…” She deflates.
Andromeda laughs heartily before giving the taller girl’s shoulder a swift, solid punch. “Look, don’t worry about it. Always time to fix that. Anyways, we should start heading back before my dumbass friends get worried and tell my dad or something,” she says, quickly starting to head off in the direction of town again.
Face still burning, Aura follows behind the shorter girl. “...do you all do this a lot? I’ve been practicing out here for like… a month? I didn’t think anyone else was out here.”
“Not a lot… well, we take stuff a lot, but not out here usually,” she muses, hopping over another tree root and nearly losing her balance for a moment. “We!!!! Uh, ahem, we usually just get it off someone else. I felt like being adventurous today is all.”
“Careful there…” Aura bites her lip to keep from smiling as Andromeda wobbles, jumping over the same root with ease. “Adventurous? Well… I guess you got your wish today then.”
“Oh? You taking an interest in my wishes being granted, girlie?”
“G–g–girlie?” Aura stammers, foot catching on a fallen branch as she staggers. “I – I guess? I mean.. If – if you need someone to scare off any more wild animals, I’m your girl?”
Andromeda laughs again, almost with a faint hint of tinkling bells hidden within. “Oh~, you’re my girl, are you?”
Aura finds herself grinning. A light, buzzing tension in her chest as the breeze blows against her back. “I mean – I’m not like… one of your cool kid friends there.”
“Not yet, you mean. Remember, we’re accomplices now, so we’ll be going on plenty more adventures if I have anything to say about it,” she declares firmly.
“Planning to harass some more wildlife?” Aura laughs, “More adventures… That could be fun.” A moment of silence passes, and then Aura adds, hesitantly, “I think I’d like to go on a real adventure some day – just like, leave town and everything.”
“Yeah?” Though not visible for her walking partner, Andromeda’s face drops to a more somber expression. “I can’t really imagine what’d motivate someone to want to leave. But,” her voice picks right back up again, “hey, I’m not the type to tell anyone how to live their life.”
“If I stay here, I’ll end up stuck behind some potter wheel for the rest of my life.” Aura groans, “If I get one more lecture about shaping clay, I’m going to lose my mind.” She swings the scimitar up to rest over her shoulder. “This old piece of junk has been in the family for generations, if I could…” Aura cuts herself off, “Sorry, I’m just complaining now.”
“Hey, I getchu, I getchu,” the other assures her, “you don’t see me spending all my life in that temple reading religious texts and offering blessings like my dad would probably want.”
“Um… Haven’t I seen you doing exactly that?”
“I said all my life!” Andromeda huffs. “It’s not like I mind helping out sometimes. I just want the freedom to be able to enjoy myself too, and Dad’s been good about that. So, I’m pretty happy here.” A pause. “But I can see why you wouldn’t be. That sword of yours, then,” she glances back, “you’d rather be able to fight than make pots?”
“I – yeah! I mean…” Aura jumps over another upraised tree root. “I don’t know. There’s like… this old story about my great, great grandmother or something. She was, like, this… magic swordswoman? Or something like that. I thought maybe I could use her sword? Or uh… It’s a scimitar, I think? Anyway, that was the idea, but I don’t know the first thing about using it.”
“Well… you scared that weird boar-thing away from me. That’s not nothing.”
Aura giggles, “I still can’t believe that actually worked.”
“Still! Don’t discount yourself. Look, if it’d make you happy, I could talk to my dad about getting you into training for the Temple Guard, how’s that sound? I’m sure he’d look favorably upon someone who saved his precious daughter or whatever.” A hand reaches up to cup her own cheek. “Uh, just means we’ll need to make up a good excuse for why I was out here. But I’m sure we can handle that.”
“I – really?” Aura goes quiet, slowing down her pace as she thinks. “I’ve been trying to watch when they train but to actually…” She looks back up at Andromeda, “What story do we make up? Um… Maybe you were picking flowers or something? Is that a thing you would do?”
Andromeda can’t help but cackle in response. “‘Picking flowers’, Dad would just ask if that was a euphemism for doing drugs probably! Thankfully I haven’t been caught leaving town just to get high yet. How about we just say most of the truth, like, lie that I was invited out to go birdwatching or something with my friends, and then truth from there? Boar-thing we stumble across gets territorial and angry, you swoop in and save me, my heroine, how dashing, she’d be perfect, the works. Sound good?”
“D–dashing?” Aura stutters to herself, a tinge of blush returning to her face. “Uh–” She coughs, speaking louder, “Yeah! That sounds good. Great. That’s great! Thank you!”
“Anything for my girl, eh?” Andromeda says with an obviously amused, teasing inflection.
“D–don’t say it like that!” Aura breaks out into giggling again, anxiety fluttering in her chest. “Y–you make it sound like something else!”
“Something else?” Her voice dips into feigned ignorance. “What is it you think isn’t happening here, girlie? You oughta spell it out for me.”
“I– I–” Aura sputters, picking up the pace and pulling ahead of Andromeda. A dozen different lines of thought colliding in her head. “You keep making it sound like you’re – you’re uh, interested in – uh, you know!”
“I’m interested in many things, so I really don’t know! Why, it sounds like you’re having an awfully difficult time getting it out of your mouth, too,” the younger girl cackles, in spite of herself.
“D–don’t laugh! I’m not usually like this!!” Aura’s voice tilts up in a frantic edge.
Continuing to giggle, Andromeda says, “Sorry, sorry, I just can’t help but notice how cute you are when you get like this. Shame we haven’t spent more time together before now. Thankfully, we’ll be changing that, won’t we?”
“Cute!?” Aura squeaks out, floundering. “Well – well your laugh is cute! So there!”
“Oh~? You’re not as hopeless as you seem. You should stop by my room later.”
A strangled half-note escapes Aura’s throat. “Why’s that? You – You got more shrooms stashed away somewhere?”
“Trust me, sweetheart, it’s not drugs I’m wanting to share most with you right now.”
“Then what– oh.” Aura goes quiet, the blush reaching her ears. “I – I’m going to have to – to – to turn that one down. Um, s–sorry.”
“...Ah, well, can’t say I didn’t try.” Shrugging her shoulders, Andromeda internally resolves to look for an opportunity to change her new accomplice’s mind, though she wouldn’t in a million years admit to it out loud.
Aura giggles, relaxing slightly when it becomes apparent Andromeda isn’t going to press it any further. “You… certainly aren’t what I imagined from the high priest’s daughter.”
“I get that a lot,” she chuckles.
“Well… if – if we do get your dad to cooperate, I guess… we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other now, huh?”
“Yeah,” Andromeda smiles again, eyes wandering out across the wild verdancy to one side, “I’d like that. I wasn’t just trying to get into your pants when I said you seemed pretty cool.”
“Th–thanks.” Aura smiles, a light hum in her chest as the edges of town start to become visible on the other side of the trees. “So do you. For a delinquent.”
“Oh shut up!” Said delinquent rushes forward to punch the offending girl’s shoulder in another playful display. “I’m cool because of it, and you know it. No way some stuffy brat who quotes scripture at you day in and day out and, even worse, is abstinent would be half as fun as I am.”
“Well…” Aura’s voice takes a light tone as she rubs her shoulder. “You’ll just have to prove it then.”
“Just gimme a chance to,” she winks in response. “Come on, let’s get to the temple and get this all sorted out so I can take a nap.”
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
btw, i’m feeling pretty done with the fallen hero fandom after the last week, but i still want to finish my fanfic - so i’ll still be posting to ao3, just not to tumblr
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
falling forward
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
You agreed to help Herald relearn how to fight – and oh god what were you thinking? Tw: past sexual abuse; suicidal thoughts [still feel]
[Read on AO3]
With Halloween behind you, fall is in full swing now, and the worst of the summer heat is safely in the past. Hard to believe it’s already going to be winter next month, if it wasn’t for the cool air filling your lungs. Was Banshee’s big debut trashing the Heroic Heritage Museum Gala really just this summer? It feels like a lifetime ago.
You hold your shawl against yourself as the wind whips it about, Herald holding you in his arms. Jesus christ you hate flying. Hate it hate it hate it. Why did you agree to this insanity?
You don’t know what you expected really, agreeing to train Herald. Herald! Of all people. But he needs it. He needs the work. Whatever cocky assurance he had before your debut has evaporated. The first couple sessions you couldn’t even do much actual sparring, his leg was still in recovery.
Keep reading
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
your friend
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Just friends. [i wanna be your girlfriend]
[Read on AO3]
It’s a few weeks into October before you secure a reliable way to liquidate the cryptocurrency you lifted from Pennybags. In the meantime you manage to hit a few more villains, expanding your collection. Dreadnaught is a wanna-be business tycoon. He doesn’t have the financial sense of a garden slug though. If you hadn’t cleaned him out, someone else would have through some less direct means. No one has heard from Psychopathor since his capture by the Directive last year, a convenient secondary target. Combing through some of his old hideouts had turned up a few more funds.
It was a good plan. But now what?
You’ve spent so long skating by on the skin on your teeth and now you have… You check the balance for your shell company’s account. A cool eight million. All at once. It doesn’t feel like a real number. That’s not even all the cryptocurrency. You’re leaving some be, just in case you need it as is.
Okay. You have to… treat this carefully. It’s still a limited resource. You only grabbed so much because you need the money to fund supplies and upkeep. Can’t let it get to your head. What would you even get anyway?
Keep reading
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
everything and nothing
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Funding a one-woman revenge mission isn’t cheap. You might work for free but Rosie doesn’t. Or Mortum. Or Marcie. The list goes on. [Feed Me Diamonds]
[Read on AO3]
It was the incident at Joes that gave you the initial idea: you need money to fund your operation. And where is flush with – conveniently untraceable – funds, but Los Diablos’s criminal underground?
Using Jane’s luck to gamble your way through the casino circuit would be suicide. She’d end up in a ditch or worse. But you don’t need to. You’ve got a state-of-the-art power armor suit.
In a way, it’s a return to the old days, to being Sidestep. You could never manage to hold down a job back then, but the guilt over skimming kept you from being able to afford much of anything. So, you know, occasionally when busting a villain’s lair or rounding up drug dealers, maybe some of their funds were… misplaced. It was either that or starve.
Or worse, admit your situation to somebody and ask for help.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
there’s no turning back
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Ortega’s gravity is pulling you back into everything you can’t have. The fantasy that anyone would care about you is as seductive as it is destructive. [In Undertow]
[Read on AO3]
It’s unsettling how quickly routine can develop, and with it familiarity. As the days turn into weeks turn into first one month then another. It’s not falling back into old habits, not exactly. But then again, it’s hard to tell sometimes. Volunteer work with Ortega, splitting weeks between the hospital and soup kitchen. It’s starting to feel… normal.
Was Ortega always this warm? Always this quick to touch, to catch your hand, to smile or frown? Were you always so quick to do the same?
It doesn’t feel right. Like… any moment god, or… something like it will realize the mistake and cast you down. Punish you for daring to feel like this.
You’d deserve it.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
everything breaks in me
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Well, you know what they say; no plan survives contact with the enemy intact. [Wolf] Originally: [Everything Breaks In Me]
[Read on AO3]
You breathe a sigh of relief as Herald shuts the break room door behind him. He’s not that young, but just the air he has around him makes you feel decrepit by comparison. To say nothing of the stars in his eyes, plain to see in every two sentence exchange with the kid. Try not to think about the limp in his gait, his preference to hover over walking, the night at the Gala.
Damnit. How are you going to take them down for good if a broken leg is enough to make you feel like shit? These people aren’t your friends or allies. They’ll turn on you the second they know the truth. That was true before Puppetmaster hit the papers, and it’s only become more true now that Ghost is making regular headlines.
Something like you can’t have allies, never mind friends.
You can’t afford to forget that.
Never again.
You won’t go back.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
a little victimless crime
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Nothing like combining business and pleasure. [Do It All The Time] Originally: [bigger than the sound]
[Read on AO3]
It is as if you’re fighting with one arm behind your back.
When you originally conceived of this plan, you figured you’d use the villain suit sparingly. When infiltration as either Jane or some other possessed stooge wouldn’t cut it. Maneuver people into positions where you could plant suggestions, instill compulsions, weave a web of threads over the city with yourself at the center.
Argent’s possession has entered into your regular stable of nightmares. If that wasn’t enough, she’s hounding you at every turn, ensuring you can’t forget. Even pushing the mental commands, is starting to fray at you. Are you really any better than The Directive if you don’t let people think for themselves?
As long as they go down, does it matter?
Dr. Mortum frowns from across the table. “Is everything okay, mon amie?”
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
it feels like a lie
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Three lives to juggle means three times as many more lies and conflicting agendas. How is anyone supposed to balance all of this? [Please Just Go]
[Read on AO3]
Alarms blare inside your helmet. Shit. They realized you’re here.
Rosie is on the other side of the city; you had her create a distraction coating Memorial Park in smoke to try and lure The Rangers away. After the bridge fiasco last week you could use a break, sick as you are of fighting Argent.
That doesn’t do anything for the local rent-a-cops.
With a practiced haste you fold up the sheaf of papers and tuck them into a black storage bag attached to your suit belt. You’ll have to go over the rest in detail when you’re back at your best.
For now, you better cover your tracks.
The Nanovores make quick work of the rest of the filing cabinet before you turn yourself to the rest of the record room. Pulling out paper sat random, ripping shelves off their hinges and toppling over entire metal units. Damage done, you put a hand to one wall and weaken the joists.
Squaring your shoulder you back up, bracing yourself. When you charge forward, the drywall collapses into splinters and dust. Cries of alarm echo out in the hallway and someone fires a gun.
You turn towards the source and the man in the dark blue uniform takes a step back. You grab his mind, pulling him into a daymare just long enough to close the distance and knee him in the gut. Catch the gun before it hits the ground and it dissolves into dust in your left hand. “Someone could get hurt.”
You let the man drop and he just lays there, staring at you.
As tempting as it is to keep basking in the adrenaline rush, you should get out of here before Argent shows up.
Besides, Ariadne and Jane both have appointments of their own to attend to today.
To the same woman.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
not okay
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
You can’t even be in the general proximity of The Rangers without being dragged into their garbage, can you? Tw: past sexual abuse [That Kind Of Girl]
[Read on AO3]
Argent working with vigilantes is a new development. Not an entirely unwelcome one if it makes the Rangers look even more unreliable. But it begs the question as to what the hell is going on in that damn building? Is it worth trying to ask? Ariadne is just Ortega’s retired friend. Nothing suspicious about a friend checking in on another friend. Right?
It’s been a couple of days since the bridge fight, so it’s not like it’s too suspicious. Plenty of time for all kinds of details to filter out into the wild.
Walking down mainstreet you stop to buy a newspaper, flipping through the pages. One article in the celebrity column gives you pause. Herald and Argent have broken up?
You might not even need to do anything to get the Rangers to fall apart. Just push at the right moment and they’ll do the work themselves.
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
nothing cast in stone
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
You’ve got to stop falling asleep. [Satsuma]
[Read on AO3]
“Sidestep.” Chen sighs, glaring down at you as you scramble awake. “It’s the middle of the night. What’re you doing here.”
You straighten your jacket, adjusting your gloves. Idiot. Shouldn’t have fallen asleep like that. Can feel the imprints of the studs from your gloves pressed into your skin. “I–I–I could ask you the same question.”
“I work here.” He crosses his arms. “What are you up to?”
“God Chen, I’m n–not up to anything!” You throw your hands up in the air. Get to your feet. Put some space between the two of you.
“You’re homeless, aren’t you.”
You spin on your heel at him, face red. “F–fuck you! I’ve got somewhere to sleep!”
“But still homeless.”
“It’s… It’s not like that.” Goddamnit. He always gets you like this. Every fucking time. Asshole. “Look. Chen… I just – I just feel asleep okay? I’ll go, jesus.”
Chen’s expression doesn’t change. “Do you need help?”
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gaspingforthedevil · a year ago
the truth won’t die when they pull that trigger
Spiraling - A Fallen Hero: Rebirth Fan-fiction
Keep working that crack brigger. One day it’ll be wide enough for you to walk on through. [Stigmata]
[Read on AO3]
Holding your breath, you fall from the top of the bridge strut to the traffic below, jets slowing your descent. You’d tagged the car in your HUD and timed the jump, but it’s another to actually do it.
The limousine bounces as you hit the roof. Tug at the mind of the driver and she settles back into her focus. Another nudge and she hits the button to bring up the privacy screen between her and the backseat.
Here we go.
You’re in control.
The past month has been burned on following up the lead from Marconi. Nudging open the cracks. And where you can’t get Jane to snoop around, Ghost is there to pick up the slack. You put your left hand to the roof and wake up the Nanovores. They open up a circle just big enough for you to drop through, landing next to your target.
George Vanderpoel looks up from his cellphone, a look of shock on his face.
“Oh, don’t bother calling for help.” You cross your legs, gesturing towards the driver. “She can’t hear us.”
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