It is like finding a worm in an apple, knowing that something you once thought perfect has a hidden flaw. And once you have seen it, it is impossible to not worry at it like a sore tooth.
”What did you mean earlier? “ Dair asked, though the clearing he was in had been empty the last time he had looked. There had been a subtle shift in the air, the tiniest of falters in the sounds of the wildlife around him, and something else as well that he couldn't quite place his finger on but it reminded him of the unsettling shift between his world and that of the fae. His suspicions were rewarded a moment later when a familiar voice drifted out of trees a moment later.
”The court has been known to chew up those who are caught unawares. “ The voice of the queen’s right hand man was flat and dispassionate, and when Dair turned to face him his expression was equally as bland. ”She seems to have taken an interest in you, so for all of our sakes I will do my best to keep you in one piece. “ A wave of shock passed through Daur at those words, his thoughts turning into a panicked tangle as he tried to figure out what was meant by that, and, more importantly, what would keep him from continuing to be in one piece. Some of this must have showed on his face, for the man's expression softened somewhat and he took a few steps forward before crouching down in the snow so he was closer to being eye level with Dair.
”I'm not…. there isn't…” His first instinct was to grab his things and flee, but the steady gaze of the man in front of him quelled that notion even as his grip tightened on his bag. ”I haven't seen anything that seemed that bad?” He did his best to force some sense of calm into his voice, earning him a slight nod of approval, but couldn't quite keep his voice from ticking up at the end of that statement, turning it into a quavering question.
”You know little of the true ways of the court, I wouldn't expect you to be able to spot the dangers you have come across.“
”And I guess you're going to tell me all of that? “ Even to himself he sounded petulant as he hugged his bag to his chest, eager to get away from this man who seemed perfectly fine pointing out each of his flaws. To his surprise, though, this prompted the man to laugh, the sound startling enough to send Dair skittering back a few feet.
”Perhaps, perhaps, “ he said with a shake of his head. “I am proposing a trade. A favor at a later time for my assistance in dealing with the court. “ He seemed relaxed now, like the laugh had broken the dam that was holding back all of his emotions. A hand was raised for each part of the trade he mentioned, making a back-and-forth weighing motion before evening them out.
The man's hands fell limply to his knees at that, the corners of his mouth turning down into a frown.
”The first thing you should know, young one, is that in the court nothing is ever given without something being taken in return. A simple favor, really, even I don't know what it will be, but you have my word that it will not be something that will endanger yourself. “
Nothing is ever given without something being taken… something about those words chilled him more than the weather did, and he drifted back a bit closer to the comfort of the trees. But the unspoken threat of whatever it was that lay ahead of him with the court seemed even more chilling.
“What do I call you?” he asked hesitantly, still scooting back until he felt his back run into the trunk of a tree.
A smile, crooked and genuine, spread across the man's face.
“You can call me Malkin, for I fear that's all I am now.”
684 words=3 points
Total to this point: 73 points
Posted: Sat Dec 01, 2018 12:42 pm
They are not like us, we are not like them, and they have and will use that to their advantage. To mingle with them means to shed yourself of your humanity merely for the sake of survival.
“...and we found him in the stable with the goats. “ A peal of harsh, croaking laughter startled a flock of birds into flight, drawing a small smile from Malkin. ”Not his most dignified moment, but not his worst either. But you should be focusing, “ he rapped his knuckles on Dair's head, earning him a scowl. ”Remember, you are trying to keep a neutral expression, you will receive little respect like this.” Dair, stifling his smile, tried to rearrange his expression to be acceptably blank, only to lose it to another bout of laughter as Malkin continued.
”Now, what he did with the goat after is his least dignified moment…”
Weeks passed in a similar manner, his time with the fae now competing with time with Malkin, who attempted to teach him the ways of the court in as little time as possible. His dreams at night were full of snippets of his lessons mixed up with his everyday life. He would be taking a test online, but the questions were asking about the proper etiquette for greeting the Questing One (whatever that is) and how to get past the Weeping Willow without raising its ire. (a: Walk backwards the whole way b: Leave an offering of fresh meat and milk c: Touch its trunk with a drop of your blood d: Whisper to it a secret)
(He chose b, which turned out to be incorrect.)
During his weekly card game with Nell's nephew, Daniel, he beat him handily in every round utilizing strategies that made little sense until the end, something he hadn't been able to come close to doing a few weeks ago. Daniel's face on the screen was a picture of shock as he played his last move, and Dair watched him throw his arms up with a groan of defeat.
“Man, I must be off my game if you're running all over me this bad!” There was a small pause before he added; “Well, kinda. You know what I mean!”
Malkin would have been proud of how he managed to keep even the smallest trace of a triumphant smile off of his face.
Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 6:39 pm
In which Dair begins to learn how to memorize his surroundings.
Dair let out an explosive sigh and slumped over at Malkin's announcement of his failure ( again) only to straighten his back and smooth his expression into something more neutral at the quiet 'tsk' from the man. When he had been told he would learn about the fate and their court he had expected something more.... interesting. Instead he had been subjected to countless number of tests and lectures on protocol and hospitality, to being drilled almost endlessly on the countless creatures that called the Queen's land their home, and then how to apply the bottomless list of protocols to said creatures.
And then he got to go home and do his actual homework.
He could tell that Malkin was trying his best to make it more interesting, but there were apparently only so many ways you could learn this sort of information, and he had said that Dair was nowhere near being ready to accompany him on his duties to learn from firsthand experience. But instead of complaining like he desperately wanted to he squared his shoulders and nodded to Malkin before floating off to the cafe he had been sitting at every afternoon for the last few days to watch the crowd again, hoping to get it right this time.
Maybe he'll also spot where Malkin was hiding this time too...
headshot x 3 - 3 points Half body x 1 - 3 points Full body x 1 - 5 points Simple colors - 3 points Simple background - 1 point 200 words - 1 point Total - 16 points
Total to this point: 89 points
Posted: Wed Apr 03, 2019 9:22 am
I know not how long I have been in this accused place, but a new mortal has been brought into the court and I know that soon one of us will no longer remain.
"Someone will not always be around to show you the way to the fae, it is not exactly what She should like me to teach you, but it should save everyone a good deal of time, hmm?" The corners of his eyes crinkled slightly as he smiled before pointing off to a stand of trees nearby. "Simple enough once you know the trick of it. The ways exist in the places in between. You just need to focus, and..."
Dair squinted at the trees skeptically. If it was that easy, why hadn't he been able to spot any before? Sure, when someone was taking him along it was easy to see where they were going, but on his own? The trees were given a good long stare while he tried to look the right way, opening his eyes wide then squinting them, trying to look at it out of the corner of his eye then straight on, but nothing worked. He sighed (something that was becoming a common theme with these lessons) and turned to look back at Malkin when he spotted.... something. In the small space between two twisting branches something glimmered, the colors slightly off from the rest of the surroundings. He floated a bit closer, his mouth still open from the half spoken admission of defeat, and saw....
bright golden sunlightfiltering through leaves that stirred in a breeze that touched no other trees around him. Motes of light glimmered invitingly, drifting out of sight towards the sounds of tinkling laughter and indistinguishable voices that were just far enough away that he was unable to pick out any words, but he could tell they were inviting him to come, come closer, come further, come join them in their revelry...
A hand clapping him on the shoulder brought his attention back to the present, though he didn't take his eyes off of the way that had appeared, afraid it would vanish if he were full loom away.
"Not so hard, hmm?" Since he didn't look back, though, he didn't notice the strain that had gathered at the edges of Malkin's smile, nor the look in his eye that wasn't quite friendly.
Half body x 2 - 6 points Simple colors x 2 - 6 points Complex background x 2 - 12 points 402 words - 2 points Total - 26 points
image description: Dair floating in front of a yellow wall and an open doorway that faces the beach. He is holding a large glass jar that is full of a jumbled assortment of small greyish rocks with holes that have been bored through them. He has a small satisfied smile on his face and seems to look somewhat proud. The caption reads: "truth.or.dair i have a jar of rocks. " The post has 23 likes and 12 comments, with one visible reading"voiceoftheforest how did you find all of those???" With the reply of truth.or.dair idk I jsut pick them up. "
Video description: the camera is pointed down and is showing a leaf-strewn ground passing by. The video itself is not very steady and the view jostles around as the person who is holding it moves. Dair's voice starts speaking from offscreen. "People asked how I managed to find so many hagstones, so I figured I'd show you my method. First you have to find some moving water, " here the view moves from the ground to point at a small stream. Dair's hand appears in the frame, pointing at it. "Like that. Then you go over and..." he trails off as the camera moves closer to the stream, the video becoming extremely shaky as the view moves closer to the water. There is a splashing sound before the camera pulls back and the view steadies to show Dair's hand that is closed around something. He opens it and in his palm is a small rock with a hole that has been written through it. "Then you just pick them up. " The hand on screen gives a thumbs up gesture before the video ends. The description reads "truth.or.dair answering some importnT qs" The video has 2,137 views, 73 likes and 43 comments, one visible reading "treebread dude that's not helpful"
Video description: A short video titled "wearing all of my sweaters at once". The video is a compilation of short clips that are 5 seconds or less, each clip showing Dair wearing successively more and more sweaters. The final clip shows him laughing before saying "Oh no" and falling out of frame as the weight of the sweaters keeps him from floating any longer.
Video description: Another short video titled "get ready with me". The video is less than a minute long and is comprised of three clips. The first clip shows him sitting up in bed and text superimposed over the video says "step 1: wake up. " The second clip shows him struggling to get into a sweater that has gotten caught on his branches. Text superimposed over the video says "step 2: sweater". The next clip shows him still very disheveled, grabbing the strap of a bag and floating off screen while dragging it behind him. The text over the video which is now just a shot of his empty room says "step 3: go." Faint thumping can be heard in the background, likely the sound of the bag he is dragging being dragged down a set of stairs. "
Half body x 2 - 6 points Simple colors x 2 - 6 points Complex background x 2 - 12 points 534 words - 2 points Total - 26 points
Total to this point: 141 points
Posted: Wed Apr 03, 2019 12:42 pm
There have been mutterings around the Court about a tithing, though they are all quick to change the subject when I near. I cannot begin to imagine to what the Queen would pay a tithe to (or with what) but I am sure it will not be pleasant.
A pair of hands settled across his shoulders, though the faint pricking of nails through his shirt made him think more of talons than anything else. He noticed too that the world around him grew… sharper somehow. The colors were a touch more vibrant, the ambient light picking out every blade of grass and every leaf in excruciating detail. Some part of his mind registered danger, for his heart began to pound furiously, and slipped a few beats when a quiet melodious voice drifted through the air.
“You have certainly adapted well to our ways,” the Queen said, and though her voice held nothing but kindness in it, he didn't help but notice the space that had subtly opened up around them. The music had continued, dnf'd the dancers hadn't missed a single step, but it seemed ad of the rest of the court was going out of their way to make themselves as unobtrusive as possible. His hands clenched and opened a few times, though his expression remained perfectly neutral. Malkin would be proud, he thought, mildly surprised by the bitterness that thought brought with it.
“I would like to think so, my lady, “ he said evenly, clapping his hands in front of him to keep himself from fidgeting any further. “I hope I haven't caused any trouble. “
Her laugh rang out like the chiming of the finest crystal, though Dair heard a faint edge to it that sent a shiver down his spine.
“Of course not! Foolish child, you have been accepted and welcomed into my Court, would I allow a troublemaker to remain?” Fingers tightened imperceptibly on his shoulders, the pricking of her nails becoming more pronounced. One tapped him on three shoulder in measured beats, once, twice, thrice. “I have fulfilled my duties to you, yes? I have provided an education, a home, a family…” Silence fell for a long moment before he nodded stiffly, his mouth having suddenly gone dry. “Good, good. I am afraid I may have to call upon you for your aid soon. This upcoming season is terribly important and there are some tasks I believe you will excel at.” He could all but feel the smile in her voice, as double edged as any sword and entirely without any kindness.
“You will lend your help for this, yes? It surely will not be the same without your presence.” A simple request, surely, but if so why bring up the implied debts associated with allowing him to enter her court? Why not mention what the actual task was? Or the importance of the upcoming season, which he had heard nothing about? And why did it feel as if she was holding him in place in a grip as solid as steel?
He swallowed a few times before he managed to croak out an answer. Whether it was the smart or correct answer he couldn't say, but he knew without a doubt that one never told the Queen of the Fae no.
“It would be my pleasure.”
Half body x 1- 3points Full body x1 - 5 points Finished sketch x1- 1 point Minimal background - 1 point
Half body x 1 - 3 points Simple color x 1- 3 points Semi complex background - 3 points 502 words - 2 points Total - 21 points
Total to this point: 162 points
Posted: Sat Apr 06, 2019 1:27 pm
I cannot say what evils pull the strings in this place, but there are those that even She owes fealty to, and like all vassals, must present them with the fruits of their labor.
God help me.
When he awoke he could tell that something was about to change. What it was, he couldn't day, but there was a charged feeling to the air that made his skin feel like it was half a size to small, that made him antsy and want to just go. After fidgeting his way through breakfast with Nell that seemed to drag on for hours he managed to slip out with a minimum of fuss before making a beeline towards the nearest park. Finding a Way to the Fae seemed to be easier to do in a natural setting, though he had managed to find a few pathways in the city itself. But there was a spot in the nearest park (coincidentally enough, the same park where the tree that gave him his soul had been) that rather reliably acted as a doorway.
The plant life he passed seemed to mirror the feeling if change, branches that had been bare were beginning to put out buds and the first leaves of the season and the air was filled with the tentative chirping of birds that had just hatched. The people he passed had already begun to shunt their heavier winter garb in favor of things that allowed them to soak up the finally warm sunshine, though lightweight jackets were still on hand to fend off any sudden changes in temperature. Dair hitched his bag further up his shoulder, ignoring the temptation to stop and take some photos of the changing season in favor of following the feeling in his (metaphorical) gut that only seemed to be growing in urgency. The park would be there later, but the something that would change…. Well, who know when that would come around again, whatever it was.
He glanced around the park surreptitiously, making sure no one was watching before he took a deep breath, floated around a bend in the path, and vanished.
The court was in chaos. To an unfamiliar eye it would look merely busy with people going to and fro on various errands, some carrying clothes, some tending to horses or other mounts, some assisting others as they got dressed, but to Dair it looked like someone had shaken up a hive and then left. The usual stately grace of the Fae was gone, many bearing obviously worried or frazzled expressions on their face, those in lower positions in the Court even going so far as to look disheveled and unkempt. A worried frown tugged at the corners of his lips as he slowly floated forward, looking through the crowd to see if he could find a familiar face to ask what was going on. The tension in the air was almost palpable, and he was so focused on what was ahead of him that he let out an undignified squawk when a hand grabbed his arm and pulled him aside.
He was turned around roughly, any question he had been about to ask dying on his lips when he saw the state his friend was in. Malkin, never one to look too chipper, looked as if he hadn't sleep in weeks. Bruise-like circles ringed his eyes and his eyebrows were pinched together in a way that suggested that they wouldn't be relaxing any time soon.
“I am afraid I must be quick, things are moving too quickly to explain. You remember that I had asked for a favor in return for my aid, yes?”
“Yes, but-” a hand was raised to cut him off with a shake of his head.
“No time, not right now at least. The favor is a simple one. All I ask is that you do not do anything later today. You will know what I mean when the time comes, but I can't be any more specific than that right now.”
“Malkin, I don't… what's going on?” a grimace crossed the man's face, though he shook his head once more.
“Can't say. But here. “ A distant horn blew, causing him to look over his shoulder at the main bulk of the Fae. He looked back at Dair with a small smile before holding a small package towards him. “Take care of this for me, I feel it will fare better with you for now.”
Thoroughly lost in the quick change of tone, Dair accepted the package without thinking, the cloth covering shifting enough as he took it to see that it was a small, leatherbound book. He had cracked it open just enough to see the pages covered in small, neat handwriting when someone grabbed his arm once more. He almost fumbled the book when he started in surprise (though he didn't make a noise this time, thankfully), though when he looked up Malkin was nowhere to be found and instead Larkspur stood in his place.
“Come, come! She wants you looking nice!” she chirped, threading her arm through his as she towed him along.
“Nice for what?” He managed to tuck the book into his bag, looking over his shoulder one last time at the gathering Fae, who were now beginning to assemble in orderly rows.
“Why, for the tithing, of course!”
Tithing. A concept that he had only the sketchiest idea of, but it did involve paying something to someone, that much he did know. A small chill trembled down his spine, and he had to swallow a few times before he managed to speak in an even voice that didn't betray the nervousness that had started to grookie on him.
“A tithe to who?” A tithe of what? that question he held back, not sure if he actually wanted to know the answer, or even acknowledge the suspicion that he had.
If only he had feet. The look Larkspur gave him confirmed the fear he had, something that bordered pity and contempt. If he had feet he would run and run and run and not return, but instead he found himself pulled along down a path that seemed to darken as they went, Larkspur's words falling into a sudden silence with the finally of a door being shut and locked.
“We mustn't keep her waiting.”
1029 words - 5 points 1k+ bonus- 2 points Total - 7 points
Total to this point: 169 points
Posted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 12:37 pm
The days pass by too quickly now. I must find a way before it is too late.
Despite everything else that had gone on that morning, at the present Dair only wished that he could tug on the collar of his shirt, which was stiff, felt too tight, and was densely covered in scratchy embroidery right where the thicker park-like skin on his neck ended, which otherwise would have kept him from feeling it. Somehow he had the suspicion that it was a deliberate choice on their end. But any urge to fidget was quickly squashed by the presence of the Fae all around him, Larkspur at his side gently gripping his elbow as she guided him along. There wasn't much of a chance of him bolting though. A precession of the entire Court snaked through the trees, following a path he had never seen before. It was as large of a gathering that he had ever witnessed, and the grandeur of it surpassed any of the celebrations he had seen so far. Everyone looked to have pulled out their best, and no one was lacking any delicate embroidery or impossibly wrought jewelry.
The mood, though, did not match the apparel. A hush had fallen over the procession so the only thing he heard was the clink of jewelry or the muffled clopping of hooves. When someone spoke it was in a bare whisper, but even that seemed too loud and drew more than a few irritated looks. And on it went, the light fading from warm gold to a cold silver that was thin enough to make everything look insubstantial. After what seemed like hours the path finally began to widen into a clearing that overlooked the banks of a lake. The water was still and opaque, and even though there was a faint breeze that stirred the leaves it never seemed to affect the surface of the water.
The Court fanned out around the clearing, each finding their spot with a purpose that spoke of having done this same thing many times before. When the last of them filed in, a few stepped forward in unison, the Queen, the Erlking, Malkin, a few of the other courtiers, snd…
Larkspur strode forward, and with her hand still gripping his arm she pulled him along, pointedly not looking at him even when he made a feeble attempt to pull away from her. Up until then he had been able to rationalize what was happening, had been able to convince himself that he was overreacting and jumping to conclusions. But as the edge of the water grew nearer, and as the faces of those who had stepped up turned to look at him with merciless eyes, he could no longer continue to pretend.
He was passed off from Larkspur to the Queen with an overly formal curtsey, and though the leaden feeling in his chest made it feel like he was about to sink into the earth he merely floated at her side, shock freezing his face into an emotionless mask as her hand rested on his shoulder and she turned to address the Court that was now behind her.
“The seasons have turned and turned and turned, and the time had come for us to once more repay the debts that are owed. Our people prosper and our lands remain safe, and for that we must uphold our end of that ancient bargain we have made.”
Dair's eyes sought out a friendly face in the crowd, but all who looked at him did si blankly, with the occasional dip of their head in acknowledgment. Even when he turned his head to look at Malkin he only got the tiniest of headshakes before he looked away. Do not do anything, his voice echoed in his head as the Queen turned him back to face the water and began to walk slowly towards it's edge.
His heart seemed to falter at each step she took, his mind an endless loop of thiscan’tbehappeningthiscan’tbehappeningthiscan't…
She stopped right before her toes would have touched the water, and from somewhere in its depths something moved, sending a single ripple shuddering towards the shore.
“In accordance with our bargain I give to you freely one who has been taught our ways and has been taken in as one of our one, but knew who is yet a stranger to our lands. Let this tithe be accepted, and let our bargain last unto the end of our days.”
Another ripple flowed across the surface, and though Dair’s vision had begun to blur he was still able to see…. Something that stirred in the depths of the lake. A gust of wind swirled briefly around the clearing, and over the sound of leaves rustling and jewelry jingling was the sound of a satisfied sigh. A voice, disembodied and soft, but nevertheless loud enough to drive out any other thought followed the sigh.
This tithe is….accepted.
832 words - points Total - 4 points
Total to this point: 173 points
Posted: Tue Apr 16, 2019 7:36 am
I know what must be done.
His heart, which seemed to have all but stopped until that moment finally burst back to life, beating wildly enough that he could feel it in the tips of his fingers. His vision blurred, and for the next few moments all the sounds around him turned into merely a high pitched buzzing, and all he was aware of was the hand of the Queen gently pressing against his back as she urged him forward.
“It is a great honor, my child, one that will be remembered until the end of days. How many mortals can claim otherwise?”
“Not many, my lady,” Malkin said as he clapped Dair on his shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze as he walked past. “And one that I will not allow to pass by me once again.” He turned as he walked so he faced the Queen and the Court as a whole, giving them an overly formal bow that seemed to be mocking them at the same time. “By your leave, my lady.” He didn't stop walking backwards though, each step taking him closer to the edge of the water whose surface seemed to be growing more agitated as time passed.
“What are you doing, you fool!” The Queen hissed, all traces of her kindly tone now vanished. Making paid her no mind, though, only gave Dair the smallest of smiles as the hell of his boots touched the water. A smile that vanished from his face as the water lapped over his feet along with any other emotion, leaving him looking as if he were a doll that was being moved by some unseen hand. Smoothly he turned around and smoothly he walked into the depths of the water with no hesitation. The clearing fell silent for a long moment once the top of his head disappeared under the water, everyone holding their breath as if they were sure that he would pop back up any second.
The Queen, radiating enough anger that Dair was able to feel it even though he was turned away from her, snarled a curse and spun on her heel, stealing back down the path and sending her courtiers scrambling out of her way.
“What an utter waste. What are you all standing around for? Let us go.”
Though he wished to stay, to watch the few remaining ripples until they had vanished, still hoping that something about these last few minutes would undo itself, he followed the Queen, not giving a thought to the compulsion he felt tp follow in her wake.
429 words - 2 points Somewhere between flat and shaded- 4 points Full background- 6 points Waist up kind of -2 points Total - 14 points
Total to this point: 187 points
Posted: Wed Apr 17, 2019 5:06 pm
“It should go without saying, but you will speak not a word of us while you are away. You will be summoned when needed.”
Dair stumbled into the forest clearing, blinking and disoriented. The leaves of the trees were almost aggressively bright, the sun shining down with an intensity that made him start to feel overheated in his many layers (his own clothes again, thank god). A frantic look around showed cheery bunches of wildflowers, a sight that make his heart skitter for a few moments. Spring. It had been spring when he left, hadn't it? The trees looked much the same, but it was spring still. Spring again. Whatever.
He fumbled through his bag, the contents seeming unfamiliar to him now, until he found his phone. Pushing the power button did nothing but give him a brief flash of a light. Dead. Of course, but who could blame him for trying? Some further fumbling found his bus pass, and after staring at it for a moment he suffered it in his pocket and took the old familiar path back to the bus stop.
The bus driver didn't seemed surprised at his appearance, only a cryptic comment of “back do soon?”
Dair could only shrug noncommittally as an answer.
There was a feeling of tightness in his chest as he watched the familiar landscape roll by, and there was only one thought that raced through his mind.
What was he going to say to Nell?
He floated on the sidewalk in front of his home for minutes before working up the courage to go in. Her car was still there, so she had stayed. One fear he didn't have to worry about at least. But the rest of them only seemed to grow larger to fill up the space that one had taken. Surely she wouldn't be okay, surely she would demand to know where he had been, surely….
Well. Regardless it had to be done sooner or later. So with a sigh and a squaring of his shoulders he floated up the walkway and opened the front door. The place looked as it always had, sunny and bright and spotlessly clean, and in the open airy living room sat Nell, sprawled across the couch with a pile of textbooks that she was flipping through.
“Oh, hey! You're back early!” She looked up from her studying long enough to wiggle her fingers at him in a small wave before looking back down to her books. The second person to make that comment.
“I am?” He kept a frown off of his face as he started to float towards the stairs to his room, trying to look around subtly for any indication of… something.
“Yeah, you're usually out until almost dinner. But hey, since you're back early,” she looked up again with a cheerful grin. “Want to go get some lunch with me before I have to go in to work?” he paused as he floated up the stairs, the hand gripping the strap of his bag curling into a fist.
“Of course.” He looked back at Nell, forcing the corners of his mouth to curl up into a smile. “Let me know when you want to go.” She gave him a thumbs up before turning back to her books, allowing him to float the rest of the way to his room. Carefully he closed the curtains that acted as a door before he let his bag drop to the ground, his ribbon curling up next to it as he slowly sank to the floor.
His breathing quickened to tiny gasps and he hastily clapped a hand over his mouth to keep from making any noise. His eyes squeezed shut as he curled up on the floor, trying to hold back the flood of panic that threatened to consume him. Hands blindly felt around for his phone, for the charging cable and spent a fruitless minute trying to get it plugged in before the light on it pulsed a cheery green.
The screen only showed a blinking battery symbol. With a wordless snarl of frustration he tossed it on the bed and shoved around piles of books and papers until he found the tablet he had been using for school, jabbing at it a few times before his fingers finally found the power button. The screen flickered to life as it always had, the window with his half- finished assignment on it still open. His eyes slowly tracked to the upper corner where the date and time were displayed, though he had difficulty seeing it after a while as his vision began to blu.
Impossible. According to the tablet it was only a few hours after he had left that morning before…. Hours mind showed away from that thought, instead trying to grab onto anything else that might make sense of what had happened. Time has passed, he had watched the seasons change and things grow, but it was if he had just stepped out for a quick walk.
Like nothing had happened.
He sank slowly down onto his bed, staring down at his hands that were trembling uncontrollably. There were nicks and splinters that hadn't been there before, a part of the back of one hand that was now burnished smooth, physical marks that were proof that it hadn't all been in his mind. But if he couldn't talk about it, if no one even noticed that he had been gone, it was as if it hadn't happened after all.
He sat there like that without moving, feeling crushed by the weight of memories that he could never unburden himself of, until Nell's voice floated up the stairs to him, something to draw his mind back to the present.
“Dair, you ready to go hon?”
“Just a second.”
Listlessly he reached for the strap of his bag, leaving his phone plugged in after a moment of deliberation. He hovered at the top of the stairs, taking in a deep breath, then another, before forcing his shoulders to relax and smoothing out the expression on his face to something that was, if not quite happy, then at least not sad. Nell draped an arm over his shoulders as they walked out the door, filling in his silence with mindless chatter of her own.
“Hey, how did I not notice your hair getting so long? Did you want to get it cut soon?” She tugged at a strand that had come loose from the messy bun it had been in, well below his shoulders by now.
The apartment felt stifling, the walls seeming to grow closer around him as the seconds ticked by. Nell was at work, the thought of going back out to the forest made his skin crawl, but yet he couldn't stay at home. Without a destination in mind, he grabbed his bag, made sure the door was locked behind him, and headed down the street towards town.
Hours later he flipped the last page that had writing on it and stared incomprehensibly at the next blank page. He listlessly turned that one, and the next, until he was frantically flipping through the remainder of the book, sure that there had to be something, anything beyond those final words. I know what must be done. Am ominous end to any story, let alone one that you were a part of. The ragged back cover of the book thumped closed, and he angrily scooped it off of the table to shove it back in his bag, suddenly furious that Malkin, his friend, had left him to deal with this by himself, leaving him without anyone to even talk to about it?
In the process of jamming the book back in his bag, a small piece of paper fluttered to the ground, one that he hastily picked up with every intention of crumpling it up and forgetting about it, but the sight of familiar handwriting made him pause long enough to smooth it out and read it.
It was written hastily and messily, the ink having smudged almost to the point of illegibility, but he was able to make out a single sentence that sent goosebumps racing across his skin.
You will hear from me again.
It was then that he looked up, almost certain that that piece of paper hadn't been the before, but it wasn't as if… He finally took notice of the unusual distance between the table where he had been sitting at and the rest of the customers, noticed their frightened looks and hushed whispers. The paper ended up getting crumpled regardless as his hands curled into fists, and with a deep breath and a not inconsequential amount of effort the oppressive mood of the cafe lifted.
He drifted out as quickly as he could and made a beeline for home, feeling now that perhaps feeling stifled was the least of his concerns.
402 words - 2 points
Total to this point: 196 points
Posted: Mon Apr 29, 2019 8:32 am
It was inevitable that he would end up back here, he supposed. For all intents and purposes the clearing looked almost identical to when he first found it, a fact that made him feel oddly tired. He floated listlessly over to the tree he usually sat by, letting his bag slither to the ground as he sank back against the trunk. As he sat he let his eyes unfocus and his mind go blank, making an effort to not think or do anything.
A leaf fell on his face and he brushed it away irritably, struggling to hold on to some semblance of peace and calm.
The wind blew through the branches, causing an unusually large amount of rattling and rustling. He closed his eyes in an attempt to block out the distracting patterns, only to open them again when he felt something fall on his head. He gave the tree he was sitting under an irritated glare before he sat up and floated closer to the center of the clearing and hopefully away from any further leafy distractions. Another breeze drifted along, carrying with it a cloud of something that looked like dandelion seeds which settled over him in an even layer.
A flash of white moved between the branches, shining brightly in the shadows of the trees and catching his attention at once. He hadn't gotten a good look at what it was, but he could have sworn that it was… no, but it couldn't be. A worried frown tugged at the corners of his mouth as he gathered up his bag with the intent of leaving. It had been a mistake coming back, one that he likely wouldn't be repeating any time soon. The light in the forest began to change as he made his way down the path towards the bus stop, all of the warmth leaching out of it until it felt like it was dusk (a quick check of his phone showed it to be a bit past noon). The tiny seed-like motes still drifted through the air, getting caught in his hair and clinging to his clothes.
The change from Gaia into the land of the Fae usually was more abrupt and obvious, but it took him until he turned an unfamiliar corner into an unfamiliar clearing to notice it this time. He looked around with an irritated sigh, sure that this was just a prank that one of the court members was pulling on him, but it seemed as if the clearing was empty. It was unusual, though, nearly perfectly circular with a spindly looking arch built in the center that was made of smooth stones and bleached, bone-white wood. The sky, when he finally looked up, was the inky dark blue of the dead of night with not a single star showing.
Dair… Again the oddly familiar flash of white amongst the trees, and the voice, which he had been hoping to ignore, sounded too familiar to do so.
Again he closed his eyes, more in the vain hope that when he opened them again he would be back on his familiar, comfortable path than anything else. No such luck. He took a closer look around, noting the stunted, twisted appearance of the trees and the sallow cast the grass had. Very much different from the lush, overgrown look that the rest of Fae had, especially the almost burnt appearance of the land immediately around the archway.
Not a good place to be at all. Even if he wasn't able to trace his steps back to Gaia he should at least be able to find his way to somewhere that he recognized. Not wanting to take his eyes off of that weird arch he backed out of the clearing slowly, ready to turn and hurry as quickly as he could at any sign of something moving in the clearing.
There was the snap of a twig being stepped on behind him, followed by a labored indrawn breath.
Dair froze where he was, his body tensing in an effort to not flee, to not show any surprise or horror as that too familiar voice spoke again.
"You finally came."
He swallowed a lump in his throat and gave himself a few seconds to erase the look of horror on his face before he turned around.
733 words - 3 points
Total to this point: 199 points
Posted: Wed May 08, 2019 9:14 am
The man smiled mildly at him, looking for all the world like he hadn't been pulled into the unknown depths of a fairy lake some weeks ago. If anything, he looked much healthier than he ever had, the dark circles under his eyes and the gauntness in his face all but gone now.
"It took you long enough to make it here, I was almost afraid you'd never show up." The was a joking tone to his voice as well, rather than the flat, tired affect his voice used to have. Perhaps being sacrificed to an unknown entity wasn't as bad as he had thought. "I'm afraid there is one small task I must ask if you yet," he continued with a sigh. The shadows shifted around him as the tree's branches swayed in the wind, the movement of the shadows across his face a nauseating thing to watch for some reason.
"Malkin, I don't understand, what are you doing here? Where is here?" The clearing, innocent looking enough, made goosebumps crawl across his skin and made him want to do nothing but leave. Malkin shook his head sadly with a shrug.
"The is always work to be done for people like you and I, Dair, regardless of what has happened. But this task is a simple one an easy one, and one that will benefit you as well. there is a being that has been locked away here, for ages unknown. All you must do is free it and it will be indebted to you." A finger pointed towards the arch in the center of the clearing, and though he didn't want to look back at it, he felt an odd compulsion to. "Just remove a single stone from this place and it will be imprisoned no longer."
"What is it?" Any sort of simple request these days made him wary, sure that the was some kind of hidden strings attached that he would only notice when it was too late. Surely something that was locked away was there for a reason surely letting it go would be more of a mistake than he was willing to make.
"Just a lost soul, much like you or I. Someone who was betrayed by one we know all too well." He heard footsteps behind him, though he didn't turn, his gaze still fixed to the arch. Hands settled on his shoulders, keeping him from turning back around. Malkin's next words were much softer but with a venomous edge to them that had been absent until now. "And should you free them, they will get their revenge on her, thus freeing you of any bond to the Queen or her court. All you must do it take a single stone, Dair, and you will be free of the Fae and their hateful ways." A gentle shove sent him floating holiday to the arch before he could stop, and when he looked back over his shoulder Malkin had stepped back into the shadows until only the vague outlines of him could be seen.
"Please, Dair. You will save us both from her grasp with this one act."
A choice then, one he was sure that he would have to make before he would be able to get out of this place. An outcome he knew the end of, Malkin's presence a haunting reminder of what was likely in his future, or something unknown which, if nothing else at least gave him the chance to change that. Not so difficult a choice when put that way. He squared his shoulders and nodded once to Malkin before crossing the remaining distance to the arch. The stones it was made of were rough and pitted as if they had been worn away over a great period of time. Tiny white mushrooms sprouted across the cracks and pits of the stone, which only emphasized the aged and worn appearance it had. Most of the stones he saw were quite large, and would require more strength than he had to move, but up near the peak of the arch was one that was smaller than his fist that had been wedged in, one that had two holes worn through it, one larger one slightly off center and the other much smaller immediately next to it. A hagstone. A humorless smile twitched at the corners of his mouth as he reached up to grab it. What are the odds.
It took a bit of wiggling, but it eventually came loose with an awful scraping noise. He edged back from it warily, the stone held loosely I'm his fist. Something should happen, right? Maybe only after he left, that's what Malkin said he had to do, right? Take it out of the clearing. The arch began to groan as he continued to float slowly away from it, and then a stone near the tp fell to the ground. It was shortly followed by another, and then a third. The rest of the arch followed suit soon after, collapsing completely as if the small stone on his hand had been the only thing keeping it upright.
I am freed.
It was a voice that had haunted his nightmares since he had first heard it. One that was clearly heard even over the sound of the remains of the archway clattering to the ground, even over the rustling of leaves as the tree branches tossed restlessly in the sudden wind. It felt like something slimy had crawled in his ear and made him want to claw at his head to get rid of our. One that he had heard only when Malkin had taken his place at the tithing.
He turned to run, to look for his friend to take him out off this horrid place, but Malkin was no longer behind him. Something was there, though, something large that twisted through the trees, that was hidden in the shadows so he couldn't get a good look at it even though he was sure he didn't want to. And where Malkin was standing was part of it that had slithered into the light. It was… it...
Dair's eyes widened in horror, the hand not holding the stone rising to cover his mouth to stifle the scream that was stuck in his throat. It made the voice seem pleasant by comparison, it made his mind shy away from even thinking about it even as he looked at it. His breaths came in short shallow gasps as he stood frozen, too overwhelmed by what he saw to even move. His rune flared brightly, pulsing erratically in time to his frantic heartbeat, before it stuttered to a barely perceptible glow and then winked out.
Dair collapsed to the ground.
1128 words - 5 points 1k bonus- 2 points Total a 7 points
Total to this point: 206 points
Posted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 9:21 am
Dair awoke slowly, blinking his eyes rapidly against the unseasonably bright sunlight. It hadn't been bright out that he remembered, back when he was in the clearing with…. His mind showed away from that thought, though he still felt a pang of nausea that made him squeeze his eyes back shut. After taking a deep breath he opened them once more and pushed himself off of the ground. He was unsteady, mostly due to the fact that one if his hands was curled around a large stone and wasn't much use for much otherwise. That wouldn't do at all, might as well keep it in one of his pockets until he could get home. Without thinking he tried to drop it in one of the pockets of a sweater, only to find that it wasn't there.
He paused, hands patting at his sides for a moment before it hit him. His sides. He had sides! With a shocked burst of laughter he looked down, bending at the waist back and forth just because he could do that now. He spotted his bag by a loose tumble of stones and grabbed it before zooming out of the clearing without a second look back.
The bus ride back seemed to take forever, but a quick look at his phone showed it was taking the same amount of time it usually did. He all but flew off of the bus when it came to a stop, remembering at the last moment to yell a quick 'thank you!' over his shoulder to the driver. He managed the few blocks between the bus stop and home quicker than ever, though he fumbled with his keys for longer trying to get the front door open. When he finally burst into the apartment he dropped his bag by the door, hoping that the push he gave the door was enough to close it.
"What?" She was in the back of the apartment somewhere, likely in the bathroom having just showered after work.
"DAIR! What is it? Can it wait for like two minutes so I can…" She poked her head out of the bathroom, a towel still draped over her head to catch any dripping water. A toothbrush stuck out of the corner of her mouth, though it fell to the ground as it opened in shock. A moment passed while she simply stared at him, and he held his arms out to the side and gave her a twirl.
Her shriek of excitement sounded loud enough to shatter the windows, and she bounced in place a few times before sprinting down the hallway to sweep him up into a crushing hug, her words turning into incoherent babbling as she spun them both in place. He felt as if his ribs were about to snap, but he didn't mind in this case.