He continued staring at it for a while. NOw it went from that awful burning sensation to something akin to a painful itch. I wanted to curse COM and elder for his dire prediction, but I was concerned what effects that might have in the presence of a wizard. It might offend him, or start off the apocalypse, and who knew which was worse.
I cleared my throat. He jumped like I’d fired a shot. He blinked at me.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Um, when can you get me outa here? Is there a way you can examine this thing…without me being stuck here?”
“Unweaving workings is difficult, and this is… complex, to say the least. IT’s woven in with the universal fabric. I have to pluck strings carefully, lest this place become…unsuitable for human dwelling. The gatekeeper would be upset, and… it would have ripples and effects into your world itself. This working is…subtle and world shifting. I think it was meant for the Queen. Believe me, dear Lady, I don’t want to be here any longer than I need to be. The Earthworld is uncomfortable for such like me. This place…is far better, being distant from the shores… well, from the mundane world you live in. But it’s still… itchy for lack of a better term.” the wizard said awkwardly.
He brightened for a bit. “But you can read thoughts, can’t you? I’ve been watching you do it all evening. I think… why don’t I call a rabbit in here, and you can take that around your property while I work. Won’t’ that be fun?” he asked brightly.
I balked. “Can we at least make it a cat? Something that will… have some defenses?”
“A wild rabbit is by no means defenseless creature in the wild, my Lady. And he has wild instincts which you can simply rely on for defense. There are… cats that have the wild sense, too, I suppose if you prefer, but every decision like this can…change you.”
“Um… how?” I asked.
“Well, you sort of become a part of each other for a while. That always changes both parties a bit. It can be…managed if you are compatible, but not too similar. If you fuse, that would just make another mess to clean up, and not a very interesting one, at that. Otherwise, I’d just give your attention to the crow sitting on the roof whose been looking out for you for as long as you’ve been here. But… too close for comfort, unless…you manage the works yourself, and you aren’t there yet. Giving you a leg up at this stage could be dangerous. Especially when something has been feeding off of your essence. There can be…backlash. Natural defenses. But a harmless ride in a rabbit would be soothing for both of you, and settle your spirit.”
I couldn’t imagine it.
Fligget started giggling. The wizard regarded him with a quirked eyebrow. “What is it?” he asked.
Fligget subsided. “Well,’ he said, you could alway put her in one of the goats, she’s stubborn enough.” He snickered.
He considered it. “That would work… would it work for you?”
“Well, I like having a higher point of reference, though a flying creature would be pretty great, actually.” I said.
The wizard frowned. “Well, you’d have to let the bird teach you to fly. That can be… like ski lessons. For Phil.” He said softly.
I groaned. Phil could not keep her balance on skis if her life depended on it. She was on her ponderous backside before you could snort at her posture. She said she needed an extra coat for her posterior, and even Frank said she needed to do more sledding. Or take up luge. Yet she’d still go out every season, and drive another instructor to drink.
My eyes widened. “You know my Aunt!” I said.
“We all do.” The gnomes chorused.
“Of course. She’s the only reason why any of us can be here. Well, that and the land, of course. But the two together…has made this refuge possible.”
Then he looked at me. “You aren’t her daughter, but her sister’s daughter. Interesting.” He said.
“Yeah?” I said.
He blinked and seemed to ignore my query.
“I think I know a good creature, that would suit you, but not too similar. IT will be strong enough to carry you around, even possibly help…the situation. But you will have the height protection and flexibility you crave. But, you will feel a presence in there with you, and you will have to be a gracious guest, rather than a renter, you know?”
“I can behave. Usually.” I said.
He regarded me with narrow eyes for a second longer than strictly speaking necessary. “That will…have to do,” he said.
“Um, okay.” I said. “But you will have to tell me what this place is,” I said.
“OF course,” He said absently. Then he started. “You…have this…and you don’t know?”
“I, ah, er… left. Took a vacay. I bugged out. I couldn’t deal with it. I got older, you know? I hardly even remember what I did back in those days. It was like so much play. I mostly forgot.”
He sighed. “And you lost your faith.” He said.
“Hey, don’t put it like that, okay? I’m fine the way I am! God can deal with his own messes.”
He smiled gently. “What you believe is what you believe. What you experienced here… is a part of you. If you deny that, then it is easy for you to get lost— and used. It is only the protections of a power you have forgotten that has kept you safe thus far.”
“You mean I’d be screwed if I weren’t such a do-gooder? That my lack in the boyfriend department— is a help?!”
He nodded gently. “And for all your trying, you have yet to…ahh, indulge in the spirit of the age to your personal satisfaction.”
“You don’t know how humiliating that is! I mean, have you had sex? Do you know? Wait! Don’t answer that!” I closed my eyes and prayed I didn’t have those mental flashes that could be lurking…
But no. I saw him, younger, relaxed, and pleased, walking into a pleasant, dazzling ray of sunshine… except it was a bigger deal than that… it was…
Ow. Headache. Again.
Too big to grasp. Synax error, register overflow, etc.
I squinted and wished I could massage my skull.
The wizard smiled and massaged my scalp for me. His nimble sensitive fingers were remarkably good at finding the stressed out places and released muscles in my neck and head that I didn’t know I had. I groaned, and hoped it wasn’t too suggestive.
“So, uuuugh do you have a name?” I asked.
“Yes. I do.”
“Call me Trajan. It’s a good reference.”
“Okay, Trajan. That’ll work.”
“I need your true name. Not out loud. Um… tell her when you are inside.”
“Her…who?” I asked, but never really finished my thought.
He took a step or two back, then flourished with one hand, then made a complex set of gestures. He spoke Words. I heard them with my body, but I could not tell you what they were, but I could feel a call through the fabric of being.
I saw that he was holding a narrow wand made of toad lilies that were white, barely touched with peach at each nubbin giving the whole flower an old ivory look. There was more brightness, and … I kid you not, a pale ivory creature walked out of the light and directly over to me. It shied away from the wand, stepped in small mincing steps off to the side of it, and approached me from the side. It’s soft velvety nose brushed my fingers, and…I felt it.
IT was so like a horse, but narrower. IT had split silver hooves, and a snaky lion’s tail, even brushed with gold on the tip. It’s eyes were liquid blue deep depths like the shadow of a prow on the Pacific ocean.
All it needed was a spiraling horn… wich..it didn’t have.
But the light around it’s head was…odd. It winked at me, and put it’s face up to mine. How is it that animals from this other realm smell so…good? Horse breath should not smell like slightly meaty, roasted mushrooms and cinnamon. No horse slime, either. I shook my head. The fact it moved as close as it did, alarmed me. But my body was as rigid as ever.
I looked into it’s eyes, and before I knew it, I had a totally different perspective on the room. It was disorienting at first, to see opposite sides of the room at the same time. But before long, I could figure out where I was oriented, and feel the body, what it was like to have fur, how weight felt on my back, and how exposed it was to have your back facing the sky behind your head. Being naked was also a thrill, but a bit embarrassing. Fortunately, the creature was feminine— or next best thing, or that would have been too weird. I mean, if I looked that good without clothes on, my situation would be… different.
How do you know?
I jumped, which caused her to twitch. Having thoughts that are not your own, when you’ve lived in an isolated brain all your life is…like having an alien object under your skin that doesn’t hurt. It’s irritating, feels weird, but also you have this nagging desire to figure it out, which in this case feels intrusive.
It laughed like babbling water.
I retorted. “What? To not be laid by now, I must be doing something wrong. Everything possible has happened, I won’t bore you with the details. Oops, sorry about that. Danny was rather embarrassing. Sigh. He even wanted to get into my pants.”
For only one night, though. That wouldn’t…satisfy you. You bond for life, like we do. Some humans do and others don’t. We are lucky. All of us bond in fundamentally the same way, if we all are individuals.
“You mean I’m subconsciously doing this on purpose? I wish the rest of me got the memo!”
You are being protected, as the wizard said. It’s not all you, but also the path laid down for you.
“Oh crap. You mean I’m chosen? You mean I don’t get a choice in the matter?” I whined.
You are chosen to do. Or do not. YOUR choice. But you are given many chances to say yes, but once you know fully what you choose, your event horizon will narrow to the choices you have made.
“That sucks. Who can I speak to, to change that?!” I wheedled.
More laughter. I’m afraid that is the way of things…in every world I’ve been. In some places that is easier to ignore than others, at least for a while. Your people have become quite good at it.
“Well, we should probably give the wizard some space to work. Shall we go on a pleasant tour of the property?” I asked, resigned. I wanted to leave that conversation behind.
And, we did. Did I mention unicorns can fly? The view from the top of the garage was priceless. I even got more than a glimpse of the mysterious woods from the twisty paths in the old park. You will never guess what the theme park was. Yup. A cheesy tourist version of Irish mythology. Oddly, there was a dinosaur back there, too– a rather anemic looking T Rex on the outdated upright model. He was askew and the concrete around his base was relatively new. “Grr. Argh.” He seemed to say.
I wonder if he’d found his way back to here after those teenage masterminds stole him away to put on the roof of the school. Trouble is, they got pulled over by cops before they got to Adrian High School. Suddenly I could see the photo of the sagging station wagon weighed down with steel and concrete statue. It would have been impossible had it not been hollow. The kids looked suitably comical, straight out of an 80′s teen movie, with guilt plastered all over their faces. Even a dark haired Bueller silently appreciating the absurdity of the situation and enjoying his 5 minutes of fame.
Then I realized. I was starting to remember my childhood. Though in a body not my own, the revelation made me feel cold, and a bit exposed. Unicorns have warm coats, so I knew it wasn’t her.
The morning was still misty, and the outbuildings didn’t have the chess playing bear or some unexpected caged zombies. I was a little disappointed.
Just a little.
But we had a drow, a wizard and a unicorn. That would have to do, for now.
I visited the sopwith camel that Phil used to fly. It looked a little dusty, and there were oil stains I did not remember. I sighed. I could remember flying over all the Irish Hills up there, seeing the Old Stone Church, All of Clarklake, Brooklyn, the Two Towers (it was the Gray tower and the Irish Tower back then) and the anonymous twisty roads that reminded me of a primal knot-work pattern. Even the Hidden Hills botanical garden was a thing back then. I had to go see Dorothy, one of thier curators. She and I had been friends since… well, maybe not. There was something weird there, and I still couldnt’ remember what.
Then I had a flash of flying with the crows. Flying. Not in an airplane. I shuddered, and fought off a headache. The unicorn supported me, but did not come to my rescue. I was glad of it, I wanted to fight my own battles.
Maybe I’d remember what happened to dad.
I shunted the thought away. I was suddenly sure I never wanted to find out. I felt waves of concern from the unicorn, but she did not interfere. I at that moment wished she would, and even that did not urge her to. I sighed.
“So you want to help me.” I sighed at her.
A thought waved at me. Really hard to explain. It’s like having thoughts you know aren’t yours. Except of course you aren’t insane.
“Why? What do you get out of it? Why do you care about some random human, some of whom probably want you dead, to take your horn and do whatever with it? Harvest it and sprinkle it on their food to make them horny? Because we just think that way?” I asked back, thinking out loud.
There are probably unicorns who want you dead, too. The thought tasted coquettish and a little playful.
“That just reinforces my point! Why?” I thought back.
There was the feeling of a stirring current beneath a calm surface. Then thoughts formed. They were not words, or a stream of focused communication, but fuzzy images that slowly gained clarity and form. A young small thing, looking sort of like a slinky white goat given twice as much legs as necessary,… as if on stilts… is running, jumping through the woods, more like a deer than a horse. Unlike the one who was helping me, Crystal with the scent of lilies? How do you turn that into a human name, has a visible horn, crystalline but there none the less. She is fleeing, and dark unknown creatures are hunting her. Perhaps shifted drows in the Otherform.
Silvery red blood is flowing from her side. She runs unevenly, and as she’s cornered in a swampy area, there’s a gate that forms just past the water’s edge. The creature gathers speed, and leaps through the gate, and finds herself in a completely different place, an ordinary field. She hides and shies away from a car going past, and takes off into the woods. The observer thinks she’s a rare white deer. The Irish Hills are magical!
She takes off and follows the paths, and creates space somehow. She finds the house, and my aunt greets her and, Phil sets her on the couch, and stitches up the wounds, and rinses them with alcohol. They become friends, somehow. Soon others come, fleeing the Blight. But she shies away from that black stuff that seems to suck out the life from everything it touches. The Queen had a solution. Then she vanished…
I blinked. This was a setup. Now I knew for certain that Phil left, just so I could be told all this and dragged back in again.
Now I could choose whether or not magic existed, at all.
“Great. Why me?” I demanded.
Then I was delivered a massive whallop across the back of the head. Or that’s what it felt like. No one probie-slaps a unicorn like that.
“Hey, why’d you do that?” I whined.
It was necessary. You’ll thank me later.
Soon we were delivered back to the wizard. My body, looking pale and waxen, lay on the bed in the apartment. It was a queen sized, and the body weighed down the mattress as if it were far heavier than it should have been.
The wizard had encased the wand in a fat wad of double terminated crystal which had awkward asymmetrical facets. You could see weird flaws that reflected the shape of the wand embedded inside. The berries were still stained with my blood, and glowed eerily through the flawed crystal. He was wrapping it in black suede, then a layer of silk, then placed that in a lead lined box. Fortunately for him, that had a convenient carry handle. It was an awkward shape. I noted he was even wearing black leather gloves. He snapped the locks shut, then sealed the edges with red wax stamp and a ribbon seal.
I raised my eyebrows. “Isn’t that a bit much?” I asked him.
He was smiling tightly, eyebrows high on his forehead, nose a bit scrunched. “Well, I’d say most precautions in this situation are appropriate…” he said.
I felt assured. Not.
“But there is one more thing I’d like to borrow you for before you rejoin your body. I should have… a bit of healing done, and… well, you’ll need to shake the dust off. Its’… complicated.” He waved his hands vaguely as he led us out of the back bedroom, down the hallway and back into the living area. He walked over to the couch, and bent before it.
“Release this.” He said, pointing to the sword embedded in the floor.
Artist Britton LaRoche. Sketch of King Arthur’s Sword in the Stone. Released to the public domain.
“You are kidding, right? I did that? I don’t even know how. How could I undo it?”
“Just lift it out, my Lady.” He said.
“I’m not King Arthur, I’ll have you know.” I said.
The wizard sighed and shook his head. “No, and that’s not Excalibur either.” He said.
I looked at it, and felt a roiling dread.
“If I do… It changes things, right?” I asked, lighter than I felt.
“Everything we do changes things, my Lady.” He said, sounding a bit tired.
“Yeah, but it’s not about decisions, right? For my future?” I asked, whining again.
The wizard sighed. “It helps us, but does not determine your final fate, if that’s what you mean. One act hardly suffices, I’m afraid.”
I sighed with relief, and walked over to the sword. I wrapped my palm around the pommel and pulled. It did not budge. I almost sighed with relief. But.. The sword felt warm. It wanted things. It wanted to dance, to flee it’s dark cavern and play in the light. So I imagined it flashing through in freedom, and the joy it had singing through the air, tasting the blood and bone of the enemy…
Before I knew it, I had the sword in front of me. There was a sizable hole in the floor, with a glint of light from the floor below. Fortunately, that was the metal shop, and not the garage. But it would still have to be fixed before anyone else could live in here. It was perfectly balanced and fit in my hand like a glove. I knew intellectually that this thing was heavy and should be hurting my weak hands, but… well, maybe those years of furious typing and the piano playing, and… yes, sword practice were still there, waiting to be remembered. I wasn’t that old. Only 24 or so. Which felt soooo old… but not compared to the unicorn who lurked in the back of my brain. Thinking how old she was made my head hurt. And my childhood was like a distant foreign land, that I was rapidly approaching on a clipper ship going too fast…
But there was more. Much more that needed to be seen. But I was tired. So… tired. And I hadn’t even gotten to my body yet.
So yeah, blah blah, the unicorn and the wizard did doctor like things to my body, only with wizard speak. Watching them I learned things about magic, or maybe I just remembered.
And wizard magic and what everyone else used is different. Wizards are like programmers. Regular magic users are like, well, ordinary users, or sometimes super users. Things like the wand were sentient, but…forbidden somehow. It broke multiple rules of natural magic, and only wizards could do so willingly and with foreknowledge. Even the drow needed help to do it.
So the question was, who was conspiring with the drow.
By the time the wizard left, I was starting to feel a little sorry for my would-be assassin. I know, right? But helping her seemed like a profoundly bad idea. He carted her away like a particularly horrific silver balloon. He waved to all of us and vanished in his brilliant beacon of light. I was so tired they had to prop me up with pillows on the couch to watch him go. Then they improvised some kind of travois and hauled me back with goat power. While the miniature goats were naturally trained, they had some kind of mojo to convince the elder more stubborn goats to play along. And along they played. The contrivance would not fit through the door, however. This was an occasion of much debate, and the dreaded gnome huddle was reenacted.
Then the unicorn whistled— no I don’t’ know how. And she—shifted. Somehow. Became a humanoid body of light that fireman carried me back in the house. She then set me in my bed, behind the moon door. I heard all the noises consistent with animal feeding. Cats slunk in later, and a few, including Hello Kitty curled up on and around me, as if trying to warm me up. Bilbo squatted on my feet and shuffled and dozed, drooling on the bedspread.
I decided I could wash it later. Later I got fed, (nachos with ground beef and beans, baked in the oven. Somehow there were avocados that became guacamole, though not enough tomatoes to add. They were pallid, store bought things… I was surprised Phil allowed them in her home.) Then, a bewildering trip to the restroom that somehow involved moving my body but not my mass, so that I didn’t even have to disturb the critters, though they were somewhat disturbed by an unoccupied outer shell that maintained gravity. Yet the errand was accomplished. Trust me, magic is weird.
By the time I saw her again, she was peering at me through the window, back in quadraped form. I could see her horn, a dull ivory thing that looked weathered and streaked with dark lines. She’d totally drained herself taking care of me. I felt responsible. She was now so…vulnerable. Hopefully this place was safe enough to keep her hidden until she recharged.
Then I realized I didn’t even know how unicorns do that. IF they could do that. She trotted off into the woods, and I knew she was was headed for the park. Beyond that, I had no clue. There were a lot of lovely parks around here, and more than a few enchanted lakes.
I laid back and realized, that as much as I’d learned, as much as I had accomplished, I still didn’t know jack about the vanished Queen.
Crap. I still had fish tanks to clean.
Text:(c) 2014 Margot St. Aubin.