Faerie Thoughts

This is a story from the writing challenge a friend and I are doing as a way of practicing our writing skills.

The picture is below the story, and here is

Faerie Thoughts

Taeliun Highfeather slowed her wings as she gently touched down next to Chuckling Creek. The buzzing clatter faded to a bubbling quiet from the waters as she sat on a small boulder. She concentrated, and both leaves and grass, bent and flowed to her, covering her with a rich emerald dress held by two thin straps across her shoulders. She shook out her short brown hair that she’d cut just that morning, and waited for Siki’ek to arrive.

The morning sun had barely started to shed its orange coat for yellow when the Iridescent Drake made his appearance in a whirl of colors and melodic chirps. Siki’ek noodled through the air to hover in front of Taeliun. She gazed at the miniature Drake hovering scant inches from her nose as a wistful pout formed about her lips. The Drake noticed the change and hovered higher concern darkening his scales.

“Whyfor are your wings not humming the air and your nose reveling in the scents of morning little Taeliun?” The young faery blew her bangs away from her forehead then brushed them to the side with her left hand.

“I’ve been told by Mother to wait here. So I’m waiting.”

“Wait for what?”

“I asked Mother the same question, and she said, ‘you will know when it happens.” She rested her elbow on a knee, and supported her chin as she sat. The other hand draped across her legs. “I do so wish I knew what I was waiting for.”

The diminutive Drake whirled in the air, his colors brightening as he gamboled above the ground. “Perhaps it is an adventure! All adventures wait to happen!”

Taeliun perked up, her eyes getting a sparkle of mischief. “I do so hope it is! I shall wait for it!”

For the next while she and her companion waited eagerly, and quietly. It wouldn’t do to startle the adventure into running off before it started. Birds flitted from tree to tree in colors of brown and green, and red and yellow, and orange and black. Each melodius whistle and chirp felt like a premonition of excitement to Taeliun as she cast her eyes everywhere looking for the adventure. Finally she slumped back down on the tree root once more and sighed.

“I suspect it is not an adventure. Adventures must be what one goes looking for, not waiting for.”

The Drake whirled again, flitting a quick circle about her head, and stopping to hove mischieviously in front of her once again. “Maybe adventure is something that needs to be looked for. I shall think more about it.” Siki’ek settled with a quick whoosh of wings next to Taeliun. “Perhaps it must be something else we are waiting for.”

“You do not have to wait with me, Siki’ek, Mother did not ask you to wait.”

The little Drake scoffed and huffed and fluttered his wings. “Whyfor should I not wait? You are waiting, I can wait also.” He gave a dragonly smile of iridescent good cheer. “If I do not wait, I will miss what you are waiting for. It is much more fun to wait with another than adventure alone.”

Taeliun smiled and Siki’ek bounded off the ground, bright colors dancing as he noodled about once more in the air in front of her. “I wonder what it is we are waiting for, Taeliun. Whatever it is, it is certainly taking its own time getting here.”

He settled on the ground and resumed his waiting along with Taeliun’s. Over the next while of aniticipation the observed deer of brown and white pick carefully through the trees; small brown rabbits scampered about, nibbling plants. They froze mometarily when the birds squawked loudly. The sped off in a blur of brown just before a fox in soft orange appeared just where the rabbits had been.

It sniffed the ground, casting back and forth slowly, then began trotting the direction the rabbits had sped off. Taeliun wished them well. A hungry fox was a fast fox, and rabbits were smart to be elsewhere when one searched for food. Siki’ek lept into the air, startling the fox, which vanished into the low growth in an instant. The two friends gazed at each other, smiling and Siki’ek once more dropped from the sky to sit next to Taeliun.

A leaf chose that moment to drop from the lofty branch it clung to. It’s fluttering descent captivated both companions as the light breeze flipped it, spun it in a circle then lifted it higher in the air before finally allowing it to tumble to the ground. The breeze played with it, and rolled the leaf onto its edge and then over onto its back, finally laying flat against the ground. The breeze tried to lift it once more but now the leaf clung stubbornly to the ground and refused to move.

The little Drake pounced on the leaf, grasping it by its stem and leapt into the air, flying near the tops of the trees and releasing the leaf to begin fluttering back down once more towards the waiting earth. “It’s fun to chase, but slower than dragonflies. Flying bugs are easier to catch than it. They don’t bounce around as much.” Siki’ek swooped at the leaf which the breeze flipped into a roll, causing the Drake to undershoot. He rowed at the air, wings buzzing determinedly for altitude, then he flattened out and dove, snapping up a butterfly before returning to attack the leaf.

“I wonder when waiting is going to be over. Today has been fun, but I do not want to stay here after dark.” She remained properly proper sitting on the root as the leaf fluttered once more to earth. Siki’ek remained in the air chasing moths and butterflies for a snack. Seeing the little Drake eat reminded Taeliun that she had not eaten anything since setting out to do as Mother asked.

“Perhaps,” said the tiny Drake thoughtfully, “Perhaps what was to happen, did happen?”

“What do you mean?”

The Drake settled on Taeliun’s knee for a moment, then flitted up to eye level.

“Perhaps it was to find what we could wait for?”

Taeliun frowned and gazed at the iridescent creature. “What do you mean?”

“Did your Mother tell you what to wait for?”

“No, she did not. She only said I’d know when it happened.”

“Maybe that was what happened.”

“I am very confused, Siki’ek. Why are you saying something happened? All we saw were bugs, and sky, and clouds, and rabbits, and birds, and foxes, and deer” she said in frustration.

“Because that was what happened.”

She glared at Siki’ek, and as she opened her mouth, it closed again just as quickly.

“We were supposed to see all that?”

“Yes, Taeliun! We saw what we were supposed to find! We saw it! We saw what happened!”

“But, if what was supposed to happen, did happen. Why was it not an adventure?” She pondered for a moment, then found herself getting caught up in the idea. “We saw the day happen, and it happened around us! No one else could see what we did!”

“Let’s go tell your Mother!” The Drake noodled in the air then darted straight for Taeliun’s home, darting and dodging between branches and leaves. Taeliun laughed and spread her wings. She buzzed after her friend and back toward home.


Dark Renaissance – Chapter 13

Yellowjakket sped into Whitechapel, and dropped her power. She’d near exhausted herself holding onto it for longer than she’d ever done before. She’d needed to rest and ready herself. She hurtled though the narrow side streets, turning and skipping through them like a mad hare. When she’d felt certain any pursuit had been shaken off, she dove into the Aldgate East Tube entrance. Yellowjakket dashed down the steps and launched herself off the landing, heading west. Following the tracks, she slowed to a stop and blasted a service door open, disappearing off the tracks, and out of the search area.

She kept up a steady run. The dark, narrow tunnels were filled with pipes and littered with debris, making high speed travel very hazardous. More than once she barely ducked a low-hanging valve or bend in a pipe. At her speed, a concussion would be a lucky result. She finally reached her destination after a slow fifteen minutes. She entered the back end of the hidden tunnel, and immediately the bitter smell of marijuana assaulted her. The thickness and intensity caused her to gag involuntarily.

She recovered, and crouched, listening. Up ahead a number of voices carried to her. She started to stalk forward slowly. Yellowjakket wanted to charge in, but it was prudent to get a look first. These might be metas, and if so, it would be potentially very dangerous to get in a fight. The last thing anyone needed was the interest of the Patrols. The smell made her light-headed. She shook her head to clear it, and fell on her side, partly dazed by the potency of the smoke. Her vision swam, rippling like a heat mirage above hot asphalt.

The talking stopped when she fell. Fortunately, no one came to check out the noise. She slowly pushed upright and retraced her steps, finally getting out of the tunnel into clean air. The slim woman took deep gulps of air trying to clear her head. She couldn’t figure out why the smoke in the tunnel was so potent. She’d been around marijuana and other drugs growing up. In the public schools it was impossible to get away from. Kids wanted the latest, and greatest drugs. Their way of rebelling against family authority, or something to sell and make some quick cash.

After ten minutes, her mind cleared. Balance and a sense of wholeness returned. She started down the tunnel, and towards the checkpoint. The guards would want to know about the tunnel and the people nearby. New smells met her as she moved closer. Smoke from burned plastic hung in the air, along with a charcoal smell. She started to trot, suddenly fearful. There was no noise. She moved past the first home. The curtains over the small man-made caves had been burned away. She didn’t smell any petrol or other liquid flammables. The regularity of the burn marks made her think mages. Those were the only ones who might trouble themselves to attack a place underground like this.

The checkpoint was devastated. The metal pipe that served as a watch point had been melted so thoroughly that the sewer tube had collapsed. Debris and loose dirt half-filled the main tunnel. She kept walking, occasionally seeing a location where someone she knew had stayed. Where there had been a small, bustling community, there was now only the sound of dripping water and the quiet squeal of vermin that scurried through the debris of the lives that were once here.

She held her sorrow tight inside. This was not the time to grieve. Right now was time to look, search the detritus for any possible clues about the attacker, and the fate of the people. She sifted slowly through the wreckage, hunting for anything that might tell her where and who to focus her efforts on. A spot of color drew her attention. She moved a piece of charred wood, revealing a strip of blue-grey cloth with a distinct bit of red piping on it. A mage’s robe. That confirmed who the attackers were. It also meant that the people here fought back rather than ran. A piece of robe doesn’t just fall off.

So, with the mages being the culprits, she needed to find a group to question. That could get problematic. The other problem was, why had this place been attacked? It was small, out of the way. Nothing was here that would draw a full-on raid to her knowledge. She needed more information, which went back to finding someone to ‘talk’ to.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 12

Montrose was up and shouting orders as soon as the call came in. Yellowjakket had been found, just south of the main search. She’d apparently felt the pressure as she’d accelerated and was now just east of Stratford, moving towards London at a measured three hundred and forty kilometers per hour. Her sped made any ambush futile currently, but he knew she’d have to slow down. The past reports said that Yellowjakket couldn’t maintain that high rate of speed for long. He contacted Root and Thorpe, and had Control’s apportation specialists ready a teleport for him and his new team. Once she slowed down, then they could chance a jump ahead of her expected travel. Perhaps what he needed was a few metas himself. Fight fire with fire.

He returned in his mind to Root’s words. She wasn’t a teleporter. So what had really happened in those earlier encounters? He had built and cast out any number of scenarios, as any magic would have been detected by the mages trying to capture her, and if it was another meta, they would have shown in the sense-scans the mages performed trying to locate her. The only way to avoid either was to teleport far enough away. Once the target got a kilometer or so away, the traces faded unless a majo working was done by Control’s tame wizards. But with their inability to pin her location, they might as well be throwing darts at a map to try and predict her location.

Hamish stepped to his private teleport circle. The essence he’d gotten from the boy was almost used. He’d need another recharge when he got to Control. He wanted to be fully ready when he confronted Yellowjakket again. The teleport took hold when he triggered the permanent spell, hurling him in an eyeblink to Control in downtown London. “Where is she?”, He demanded as he strode from the circle. Montrose nodded at Root, walking past as the small man mumbled a ‘good evening’. He stepped to the prefect in charge. “Who’s on the list?” The prefect lifted his arm, and mumbled a spell. A face and name appeared above his open hand. Montrose nodded. “She’s in the ready room?” “Yes, sir. I’ll ring ahead and make certain you’re not interrupted”, the prefect said in a high, shaky voice. Montrose smiled. He enjoyed the respect power gave him. When Yellowjakket died, he’d be another step to a full council seat.

Sir! We’ve got news! The team assigned to search the tip for Charing Cross found the runaways.” The courier snapped a salute, and handed Montrose the memory crystal with the full report detailed therein. Montrose pressed the crystal against his temple and concentrated. The report said that the press-team had searched the Charing Cross orphanage, and had found exactly what the mole had described. Upwards of thirty children, all young mages and metas, currently unwakened.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 11

Yellowjakket sped east, darting through London Fields and continuing was through the small streets. She’d slowed enough to be seen, now it was time to move back North and West. She needed to meet the boys and guide them to the next conductor. He would guide them out to points north. She turned north, hiding in between buildings and away from the large main streets, sticking to feeders and cutting between buildings. She ran through Highbury Fields and turned Northwest, It took another half-hour to work her way up to Hampstead. Hampstead Heath is on the north side of London, still in the city proper actually.

This was the toughest portion of the trip. Pryor’s Field was a large area, and out here, while more remote, was out in the open. The fog thinned as she moved north so travel was much easier under near cloudless skies and a full moon. If they were spotted, there was no quick escape. The boys would be taken to Rochester, if they were lucky. If not, to Control, and then to god knew where. She was dead if they caught her.

It took ten minutes of searching quietly around the prior to find them. They’d huddled in the trees as she’d told them, going up to Joy pond to hide. One of the boys yelped when she seemed to step out of the shadows next to him. She stifled a tired giggle, then said quietly. “This is going to be the hard part. We need to traverse north, to Monken Hadley. I’ll be staying with you more on this leg of the trip. It will take a day, and we’ll find a place to hide at sunrise.”

The trip to Monken Hadley took two days, as the neighborhoods between there and Hampstead had active police patrols going day and night. One of the boys found out that there was an escaped felon loose in the area. Taking it slow and careful, the small party made it through without attracting attention. She finally ushered the tired and hungry students inside the building. The lights were left off, leaing Yellowjakket and the fugitives in the dim light.

The place had a surreal look. The building was one large open room, with double doors front and rear. One small water closet, and a bank of dimmable switches for the interior lights. Light coming from the streetlamps was filtered by the closed curtains, bathing the interior in a disturbing greenish glow. Dust seemed to dance in the beams of light, making the place feel almost disconnected with reality.

The Hadley Memorial Hall, and most of Monken Hadley, had been abandoned when it had been deliberately burned by Control. A small group of metas had used this area as their home, until someone had informed the authorities about their activity here. Control adopted a ‘scorched earth’ policy to send a message and create an object lesson as to their intentions. Whole families had been taken and tossed in the new isolation camp at Water’s End. Only a few still lived here. Those who stayed were unswerving in their loyalty to the Council, and Control.

So, on one hand, this location was one of the worst to choose because of the people. It was also one of the better places as most of the people had been removed. From here, they were in the hands of the UG, until they made it to Scotland. Yellowjakket decided to take a quick turn around the small town before turning in. She started to the door, when she heard a lock turn at the back door of the hall.

Everyone froze in place at the sound. She moved next to the door, ready to attack should something attack. The door rattled as someone pulled at it, then a second lock was turned at the bottom of the door. Yellowjakket drew a breath, and focused, as an old woman entered. She took a quick look at the boys, pointedly ignoring the black and yellow meta by the door. Hse was dressed in a dingy looking dress that looked a sickly green in the light. A darker, purplish-green shawl was around her shoulders. Her heavy black-framed glasses made Yellowjakket think of a librarian. Her skin had the same sickly greenish tone as the light. Her nose was a classic Roman nose with the prominent spur between the eyes. Her thin lips were a garish pink, and pressed in a thin line as she gave each boy in the room a once-over.

Hurry up dearies, let’s get you out and to the house. We’ve got food and a warm barn for you to sleep at.” She smiled then turned as Yellowjakket stepped behind her. “How do we decide to trust you?”, she asked bluntly, her hand beginning to glow with a yellowish cast. “Oh how clumsy of me”, she chuckled. “Ah, oh dear my memory.” She frowned in concentration, and then looked at Yellowjakket. “You’re that girl in London that’s got everyone in a snit. Yellowjakket’s baker’s dozen. So what is the countersign?”

The smile left her face, and she made a claw of her left hand. A bluish liquid seemed to form there, smoking and spitting like boiling fat. “You’re Granny Goodwitch.” Yellowjakket said, and watched the old woman’s face wrinkle with distaste. “Yes, you’re the one and I’m the one. No one would call me that to my face around here.”

She looked at the children. “You’re a day late, and you’re way out of your home, girl. Why?” “Gewlry asked me to. She had some difficulties crop up and wanted these out soonest”, Yellowjakket informed her. “As for the late part. There was a report of an escapee around Hampstead, and the patrols were heavy. I prefer stealth to speed, especially when none of the boys can outrun a car, or a bullet.” Granny nodded. “That’s very true. I heard about that escaped prisoner. Bloody rotten luck the timing. But when is timing good for anyone?”

You seem to do well by it.”, Yellowjakket smiled. Granny frowned at Yellowjakket, who could see the mischievous twinkle in Granny’s eyes. “If you mean I’m old and slow, you’re a cheeky one.” Yellowjakket shrugged, and looked over to the children. “They’re yours now, I’ve got to get back to Londinium. I’ve got to find where they’re training the children to be Control members. If that place could be shut down, there might be a chance to really disrupt things. Maybe even get a full resistance going.”

Granny looked at her. “The resistance is there already. Someone just has to start calling for it.” Yellowjakket looked at the old woman. Granny Goodwitch opened the door, which turned the shawl from a sickly purple green to a warm lavender. “Well? We’ve not all night to chatter, fun as it is. Let’s get you to the house and some food in you.” She stepped out the door, and slowly walked towards the back of the lot and then turned north. The boys filed out and followed her in a silent gaggle, turning north and disappearing around the edge of the wooden fence at the edge of the property.

The slim huntress watched for a few minutes, then stepped out the door, quietly closing it behind her. The streets were empty of any moving traffic. Curfew was in effect. Yellowjakket flitted quickly from house to house. She could move much faster now that she needn’t worry about the boys. She swung wide around downtown Monkton Hadley, then paralleled the tracks back towards London. She was far enough outside of London proper that it was easy travel, without the dangers of overhead reconnaissance. She moved east intending on coming in from the last direction she’d lured them towards. If they took the bait, the area around Stratford would be futilely searched for her, at least for a few days.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 10

Yellowjakket sprinted hard and dodged left past two abandoned cars. The police sirens were louder but so far she’d only seen one and a quick shot had blasted the front left tire, crippling the car. It had swerved, and skidded to a stop as she sped off. She hoped it didn’t roll. Up ahead, over the rise she could see a number of flashing strobes in the gathering fog. There were a lot of police cars gathering. She needed to find a way to get by the roadblock and into open ground. The further away from the enclosed streets, the harder it would be for them to corner her.

She came hurtling over the rise, a dark blur in the light fog. Two vehicles had turned across City Road, blocking her path. A quick glance to her right showed officers behind vehicles on those streets also. Yellowjakket considered pulling a reverse, but discarded the idea immediately. The police would be blocking the roads, hoping she’d turn and allow the trap to close. It was time to push her limits.

She concentrated, then her body lit up like a firefly. The glow surrounded her, and she accelerated to thrice her original velocity. A hard left at the patrol car then a leap put one foot on the boot, and she was over and past before the officers could react. She ran, turning right when the street ended, then chuckled grimly to herself, charging into the City Road Basin and turning up the basin and then east in Regent’s Canal. She dropped her power, running on top of the water at a solid one hundred twenty. She was past the blockade and in the open. The helicopter following her she lost them after turning up Kingsland basin, and losing them in between the buildings.

* * * * *

Montrose gaped at Yellojakket’s sudden break. “No! No no no no no no no no NO!” She disappeared in a blaze of Yellow, passed over the parked police car and was gone. He heard the police radio frantically trying to redirect officers enroute to cut her off, but none were equipped to deal with the canal. “She’s a proper bitch, she is.” Root ambled up to Montrose, who ground his teeth. “I thought you said she’s a ‘porter. That weren’t no ‘port.” “She didn’t need to ‘port! You saw what she did. She just ran through the blockade like it wasn’t there. Root held up his hand placatingly. “No sir, I mean she’s not a ‘porter at all. If she were, using it or no I’d feel a shift. If ye ken ‘port, there’s always a, displacement, if you will.” He nodded at Haverstock, where Yellowjakket had disappeared. “She don’t have it.”

Montrose was still seething as the words sunk in. “No teleportation. Are you sure, Mister Root?” “Sure as I am standing, she cannot teleport. There is no feel of a ‘porter to her at all”, the small man replied seriously. “I repeat, Mister Root, you are certain?” “Yes, I am absolutely certain, Mister Montrose. There is no way that Yellowjakket is a teleporter.” A whoosh, a burst of light from overhead, and a wash of heat pushed down on them for a moment. Mister Thorpe, came at a trot towards the other two. “What happened? I’ve been holding that heat for nigh on three minutes. I never saw the git. I had to let it go. So, if you please, why did you leave me to cook like that?”

Montrose glanced at Thorpe, who returned his angry gaze with one that nervously flicked from his shoes to Hamish’s and back down again. The man had been left out of the events. Montrose noted that the police scanner had partly melted on Thorpe’s jacket. The heat he’d built up apparently shorted the system. Montrose went over the details briefly to bring Thorpe up to speed. “That’s a proper bollocks. Something like ‘er is hard to pin with just normals about. Perhaps more auxiliaries to control the edges?” Thorpe noted the slow building of anger and power in Montrose, and stopped talking.

Will you be needing us further, Mister Montrose?”, Root asked him, very politely. Montrose got his temper, and his power back under control, then looked at Root and Thorpe. With Yellowjakket out of reach until they sighted her again, there was nothing to do about her. Root and Thorpe were both good, obedient wizards. A tighter relationship between them would be mutually beneficial. With the captain’s job all but his, he would need reliable lackeys to watch his back as he worked to further his own power.

He looked at Thorpe, and forced a rueful smile to his face. “You are right, Mister Thorpe, it was a bollocks of an operation. We tried a slapdash approach, and it failed. What we need, is a dedicated force to find and corner her. Would you two be interested if such a possible group were to be formed?” He watched their faces carefully as e presented the idea. The two men listened, then turned to look at each other for a moment. Montrose almost chuckled to see them shrug their shoulders at the same time. “We’d be in, sir, if such a group were put together”, Thorpe said quietly. Root simply nodded in agreement with Thorpe.

Montrose smiled in genuine good will. He had a start of something. Certainly, it was spontaneous, but some of the best efforts came from spontaneity. Things were looking up.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 9

Yellowjakket took out at a flat sprint, holding to alleys and back streets until she was a good distance away. She was out on the street, in view, and moving as fast as she could, going south, crossing the Thames at Vauxhall. She angled southwest, then dropped into the underground. She followed the tube back to Euston, then scrambled through the tube to Camden Town. The black-clad huntress was listening to the radio traffic. While the wizards used magical means to communicate, everyone else used their cells and the police used their own channels. This was how she knew where the press-gangs were. The police would report their movements as a way of staying out of the wizards way. The less attention you had from those in power, the safer you were.

She listened to the radio traffic, trying to visualize the moves the ‘PG’ were making. If nothing seemed to be coming north, then they could use the train, otherwise it’d be on foot to avoid discovery. The radio traffic didn’t sound like they’d seen her. She decided to play it safe. She trotted through Camden Town station, and spotted the children where they had gathered. The platform had a few evening pedestrians, though none seemed inclined to notice her when she landed on the platform. She watched the commuters as she waved the children near. Making sure none of them tried to leave or take cell-phone pictures, Yellowjakket whispered the next set of directions to the boys.

“All right everyone, we’re going out to Hampstead. I have a few places to be to keep the PG off of us. Once you get to Hampstead, Go northeast to Pryor’s field, and stay in the trees. I’ll meet you there.” She looked to the two oldest boys. “Keep an eye out for the others. And watch the people on the landings when you exit the station. Anyone tries to follow you, alert the others and try to lose them. If you can’t, scatter in two’s and lie low for a few hours. Then gather at Pryor’s. I’ll be there, and any trouble, I can handle it.”

She hopped down to the tracks, then places a hand on the outside rail, closing her eyes. She could feel the faintest vibration, the subway was near. Yellowjakket jumped the track, then jumped the southbound line, accelerating up the steps and actually generating enough of a draft to pull dust and paper into the air behind her. A couple of commuters shrank back against the wall fighting the sudden draft behind her. The dismayed security had an eyeblink of time before Yellowjakket was past him and gone up the steps and into the night.

* * * * *

Montrose was reading when the link went active. “Sir, she’s been spotted, Camden Town, moving east at high speed. We’re diverting teams to cut off her escape. Latest report coming in is Euston, now moving due east. Estimated speed one hundred twenty kilometers per hour.” Got you, Montrose gleefully thought. “Send two emergency auxiliaries a kilometer east, I’ll be there momentarily.” “Very good, sir”, the disembodied voice replied. “Messers Thrope, and Root will be meeting you. They will pop red for ident.” “Understood.” “Control, out.”

He gathered the pitiful remains of the boy, condensing the essence into a space, then he envisioned his destination. A moment later, there was a slight ‘pop’ as displaced air rushed to fill the location he had been in a moment earlier. He appeared Just east of St. Mark’s hospital. There was activity ongoing as a police cab screeched to a halt straddling the road Yellowjakket was expected on. Two plain clothes officers braced themselves on the hood and boot, aiming back up the road. Montrose raised a hand and a a ball of red light formed. Two other red globes popped into existence to his right. He smiled as the two auxiliaries trotted over.

Both were in dark long-coats that trailed to their ankles. The short thin man Montrose knew by sight and had worked with before. Andrew Root looked like he could be blown over by a strong wind. His face at first glance seemed emaciated, which a further glance at the body beneath the long-coat seconded. Barely one point two meters tall, Root looked like his namesake. His eyes however were a striking yellow-green, and almost seemed to glow in the dim light. The other man, was taller, and more rotund.

Philip Thrope had been a sideshow ‘freak’ before the turning had occurred. His skin hung in loose flaps, hair sprouted thick like a pelt in patches, giving him the grotesque visage of a animal with a case of mange. He weighed over two hundred kilograms, and while his appearance was striking, his strength and abilities with fire magic were known and respected. Both had been tested in combat, against men, and metas. Montrose smiled as the two men joined him by St. Mark’s.

“What’s the plan, mate?”, Thrope asked him. “The plan is to kill her when she gets here, start casting now, she’s due in seconds. “Righto, we’re on it.” The big man rotated his hands, speaking in a clear voice, “اللهب جمع، يدي المصدر، ذهني النموذج، هل لي القوة

The air glowed then caught fire around his hands, the flames getting brighter as he brought them together in front of him. Root began his own chant, a reddish darkness forming around him, then floating aside as another liquid-like outline formed and moved away to make room for yet another. In mere seconds thirty reddish black humanoids had formed. Shouts and shots from the west announced the arrival of their target.

Montrose grinned. Twice Control had been certain she had died, and twice she’d somehow survived. This third time would be the charm. He wondered how she’d survived the ambush at the prison. He’d snapped her neck, he knew it. Yet, here she was. The location spells had confirmed it. What instinctual power did she have, that allowed her to survive a broken neck? What power would cause teleportation to explode the ground around the teleporter like she did? He’d find out and claim that power. That was Root’s function. Each of his simulacrums devoured entangled displacement. More properly, they devoured the energy. She couldn’t teleport away, not with Root locking her down.

“You there!”, Montrose roared at the police. “Block off Pickard street, and ..” He glanced at the streets, “put men on Haverstock and Remington! Keep her on the City Road!” The second half would be on Thorpe. His fire could stop her from being able to escape. He could form barriers, and create balls of fire. Thorpe’s fire could, and would, burn anything it touched. Montrose’s personal specialty was metalmancy. He could warp metal, and animate it. The one flaw was that he had to touch his target. So it would be up to Root and Thrope to trap her. Then when she had no place to run, he could finally kill her.

It would be another step up the ladder. His previous commanding officer had died last night. The cause was a sudden heart attack. No one knew he’d hidden a small metal ‘bug’ loaded with potassium chloride just outside the odious man’s window. A thin wire that allowed control made it easy to inject the man with a lethal amount. Now the job was his. All that was needed was a proper conclusion to this trap.

Writing exercises – 1 – A picture is worth how many words

Hi.  A friend challenged me to a picture writing exercise and I wanted to share it.  The idea is to find a picture and tell the story behind it from your perspective as a writer.  I’ve found it to be great practice for focusing on detail for me.

Here’s the picture

story challenge

And here is the story:

Terry Chang smirked playfully and pressed his wrists together under his chin. The first two fingers on each hand flipped forward, straightening into a pair of ‘V’. He held the pose as Nick struggled to get the camera working on his cellphone.
The colors behind him clashed with each other: A poster which transitioned from white to blue hung over his left shoulder on the red-orange rusted steel door, making his on grey-green sweater and slacks create a neutral transition between the two extremes.
“How do I pull it up again? This cellphone is not intuitive.”
Terry chuckled as he held the pose. “It is intuitive you Luddite. Just tap the camera icon.”
Nick glared at Terry’s cellphone for a moment, then jabbed at the face aggressively. “Why am I looking at myself?” he grumbled.
Terry sighed, then stood up and moved over to his roommate. He sighed theatrically. “How did you ever become a physics major?”
“By not having to worry about technology. Physics is the laws of the natural universe made understandable via mathematics. Nothing in Physics has anything to do with these infernal creations.”
Terry leaned to look at the screen that Nick held out. “Here’s the problem, you reversed the camera choice.” He reached over and tapped the screen. It flipped, showing their feet and the cement pavement.
Terry chuckled as he walked back over to the rusted steel door and sat down on the step. He brought his hands back up alongside his chin and flashed a pair of ‘V’ with his fingers. “Should I say cheese too?” he said with a teasing smirk.
“Got it, and got it.” He clicked an additional shot then walked over to Terry and handed him the camera.
“Looks good Ter.” Nick harumphed. “Despite your Luddite cameraman.”
Terry grinned and looked at the picture. “It’ll make a great graduation photograph. Thanks, Nicky.”
In this instance, the picture generated 313 words.  🙂

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 8

Yellowjakket knocked on the front door of the orphanage. Gewrly was right at the door. The troll opened the door, and sniffed. “Yer early, Ms Jak. Spot of trouble brewing?” Yellowjakket shook her head. “Nothing that affects this.” She handed Gewrly the pillowcase of tinned food. “Add that to the pantry. It won’t do me any good tonight. Gewrly gave Yellowjakket a sinister looking smile. “Ae, ah can do that. Won’t you be needin’ a meal?” “After I get back, and a bed if there’s one available.” Gewrly nodded, and moved with a ponderous silence to a door just short of the cafeteria. She disappeared into it for a few moments, then returned with the same silent padding she had left by.

“Go tha’ way. There’s a bed, second door on your right. Take a nap and I will wake ye when ’tis time.”

Yellowjakket nodded. “I’ll do that.” She trotted to the door, opened and went inside. She located the bed, and was asleep before she hit the mattress.

Some time later, she was roused by Gewrly, who had grabbed the headboard and shaken the whole bed to wake her. “Them boys is near ready. I put some porridge out for them as it might be a long walk to the next station.” Yellowjakket nodded, and kept quiet. As a guide, she knew where the station was. It was up to her to keep the link secret. That way if the mages actually did find Gewlry and the orphanage, they couldn’t track past that as no one knew anything past where they were. It was a hard way to do things, but for their own survival, it was necessary.

Yellowjakket walked up to the cafeteria doors, and strode through them. Twelve boys were at the near table, spooning up the last of their meals. All of them looked to be in the fourteen to sixteen range except one, who was a head shorter than all the others. Unlike the others, he seemed to show no nervousness, and didn’t talk to anyone while he ate. The other boys seemed to avoid him, as if unnerved by his outward demeanor. He sat, blonde haired and blue eyed, his slightly pudgy frame much different than the lean, beanpoles the other boys looked like. This was the boy that unnerved Gewrly so much.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, she walked over to the boy and offered her hand. She saw children’s eyes widen in recognition. They knew her. Correction. They didn’t know her, they knew the costume, and what it represented. She’d gotten a lot of press. A lot of folks talked about her exploits back in the small sewer community she’d just left. The children obviously had heard the stories too. “Oh coo!” “Yellowjakket!” “Wicked!” “Have you been giving the mages more fits?” “What are you doing here?” “Are you the ‘conductor’?” “We’re moving out.” “When do we leave?” The children began chattering and shouting all at once. As Yellowjakket observed them, they all seemed to be excited at whatever adventure was coming. Some were notably relieved to be getting out of London, and a few seemed worried about leaving.

She could empathize with them. It would seem a grand adventure, or a romantic story of themselves escaping the clutches of the evil organization Control. Most she knew, had already seen the reality behind the romance. Siblings and family killed, or kidnapped. Their eagerness for the adventure was a show of how resilient youth was. They hadn’t forgotten, it had just been shuttled to the back, out of mind until it could force it’s way back out front. Some would handle it, some would get devoured by it. It wasn’t her job to try and fix any of it. Her job tonight was to get them to a place where they could live to find their own way through the loss.

She had to find a way to stop the mages. Or find other who could. There were a number of rogue Metas still loose, but as far as her own knowledge went, she was really the only one operating in the open in costume. She remembered how the world changed a little bit at a time. Science started working on smaller and smaller scales, to quantum physics. To quantum spin, and to, as the great physicist Einstein had called quantum entanglement, ‘spooky action at a distance’. It was found that with a deeper link in the entanglement, electron states could be shifted, much like spin. So heat an electron to a higher orbit in one place, the corresponding electron would also step to that higher orbit.

That discovery created the link people could describe as magic, or as super-powers. For the super-rich, small computers could be worn on a wrist to control this power to an extent. Just enough power to make the air around a person glow, or lighten an object. The smaller the mass, the more of it that could be canceled, or manipulated, by the wrist comp. This changed as it was also found that some people had an innate sense of connection to this quantum level. With practice and effort, some few of these with the innate sense could actually manipulate down at the quantum level without any artificial help.

Those with the strongest connections seemed to be those with the greatest imagination. It was not enough to be smart. There needed to be the vision and the desire to create. Artists, one might think, would rank high in this, but such seemed not to be the case. People especially those with thwarted desires, seemed strongest. Which made for a number of upheavals in society. Some Metas stayed in the hierarchy. Business didn’t suffer as did those in political power. Thwarted dreams given power created some very horrific retrebutions.

For a short while, costumed heroes suddenly filled the sky, springing from the comic books into real life, all through the new instinctual understanding of the manipulation of quantum entanglement. Villains also rose up, power filling them to offer the chance of making their own ambitions real. Wizards, as the ones who showed an affinity for using quantum effects in nature around them, began to band together to fight the worst of these new villains. They were joined by more of the metas, people who manipulated the quantum effects within themselves. These villains and sorcerers were captured, or killed.

In one signal instance, everything changed. One villain, aware that the change in time, and remembering the original past, gambled that another shift in time, the right way, would make him more powerful than his enemies. He gambled, and for three days, turned the world into a monument to his dream. A world subservient to him. The heroes were hurled back in time by the change, and the wizards realized that a second time change would strip this reality for another. This effort broke the overlord’s hold, and returned the world to a more or less balanced state.

When it was proven time could be treated in a similar manner, changes to time began. The final culmination was this current world, with this political system in place. Control, that arm of the Wizard’s council, was formed a result of those suddenly given power realizing that anyone who could influence time enough, could change the present, and the ability for them to retain their power. If time was changed enough, it might be the old oligarchs would suddenly were the ones with the power once more.

The wizards decided that the best answer was for them to remain in power. To that end they cast their own spell, tailored to stop other wizards or Metas going back in time. The trouble is that the spell stopped all other spells, but not Meta abilities, that were internally powered.

For whatever reason, Metas could still travel in time, though none could do it reliably. The Wizard Council decided that if the spell couldn’t control the Metas, they would have to, and started tracking down and rounding up any Meta that they could find, just in case that Meta could time-travel. Yellowjakket was overlooked initially, lost amongst the other colorful characters. But as the numbers of Metas were whittled down, her continued escapes brought more of the Council’s attention to her.

Worse, some wizards objected to these actions, and willingly joined the developing resistance. This pushed the remaining wizards into sterner measures, and they began rounding up those who showed an aptitude for wizardry, the ability to affect the world around them. The adults were taken first, as a number had begun to practice on their own, diluting the power of the Council. Later, children were added to the collection as their minds were easy to brainwash, and control.

Thus the reason for moving children out of Londinium. The Council’s power was greatest nearest their center. In places like Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, their power was opposed by others, and by other things that seem to have returned from legend and myth. Creatures like fairies, trolls, will-o-wisps were being sighted. They had their own reason for opposing the Council, and especially Control.

Tonight’s excursion was going to be almost wholly underground. The children would move to Charing Cross and enter the tube. If they were lucky, they could take the subway tunnel all the way to their exit point. More likely, they’d have to abandon it before halfway. It all depended on how much the wizards’ press gangs were canvassing the area. She’d hoped her actions last night would keep them south of Charing Cross. If not, this whole enterprise could end very badly. The children were oblivious to all this. All they knew was that they were being smuggled away from the bad guys to a place where they would be safe.

The children continued ask questions as she held her hand out to the young boy in front of her. He looked at her, then her hand and slowly took it. “Ronald”, he said without prompting. “Yellowjakket”, she replied with a smile and looked at the children around her. “But then you knew that from the way your mates have been carrying on.” The boy nodded slowly, his hand felt soft, like there was no effort to shake her hand at all. She kept herself from shivering as he looked up at her. She could see why Gewrly seemed spooked. His eyes seemed to have no life to them. His orbs were a dull brown, like there was nothing behind them.

“You’re the gel that’s moving us out then?” His voice matched his eyes, sounding lifeless, or completely beaten down. She found herself wondering what had happened to Ronald that would turn him into an apparent vegetable. All she could think was that something terribly traumatic had occurred, and that he’d stopped paying attention to the outside world as a way of either coping, or ignoring the truth. The children had settled down once she’d started talking to Ronald. Their faces were varied between, expectant, and fearful. It was time to tell them what was going to happen.

“All right, gather up, and sit. I’m here as your ‘conductor’ tonight. Which means we’re leaving soon. Get your food, and your packs. Leave anything not essential here. If you’re already packed, sit and catch a little rest. I want everyone who’s not packed to get it done in a half-hour. We’re on a tight schedule tonight.” Her wait was less than ten minutes. All the children had been told by Gewlry to be ready, and ready they were.

“Our first stop is going to be the Charing Cross Underground. There’s no easy way to it from here underground, so we’ll be walking. Go in groups of two and three. Go down, to the Northern entrance. We’ll gather on the platform, and I’ll take to the next stop.” She took a deep breath. And let it out slowly. She noticed a few of the older lads watching her, their faces flushing red. “You all know where the entry is? You will need to get a ticket. Last thing we want is someone becoming curious.”

She dug into her own backpack, and pulled out a handful of tokens. “These will get you on. Each of you take one.” She handed out twelve tokens. “I’ll not be with you on the underground. I’ll meet you at the next destination. The costume attracts attention, so I’ll be using that to draw press gangs away. Take the tube to Camden town and wait on the platform there. I’ll be along.”

The boys nodded and Yellowjakket shouldered her backpack, and trotted out to the front door. “Any movement, Gewlry?”, she asked. Gewlry shook her head. “Nobbut’s around. I’d feel them if there were. The troll looked at the children. “Off wi’ you. Do as yer tol’ and be careful.” She waved a thick finger. “I’ll make sure yer mates are safe.”

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 7 – Sacrificial

Hamish awoke early the next morning with a splitting hangover. He sat on the edge of his bed, and managed to mumble a spell that numbed the pain, but did nothing for the dry mouth and blurred vision. He’d just started his morning ablutions when a sharp rap at his front demanded attention. Despite the urgent knocking, he leisurely finished washing his face and brushing his teeth before answering. He opened the door, scowling, and the runner from Control blanched white. He’d heard of Montrose, and the reputation he’d been garnering as a dangerous man. He satanic features confirmed it to the terrified boy. He thought he’d come face to face with the devil himself.

Montrose smiled at the lad’s reaction. The reputation simultaneously stroked his ego, and made things easier. Being a feared wizard caused others to hesitate. It also gave him an edge in dealing with those in Control’s politics. Everyone thought twice about facing a man with a reputation. It didn’t hurt that the reputation was earned. He’d done his share of dirty work. Hunting dissidents, magical castings, executions, assassinations, research, he’d done what his superiors had ordered. The success he’d had helped build and broaden his noteriety.

It was for the right thing. This world needed those ruthless enough to save it. Magic had created this world, and placed it here for those strong enough to hold it and care for it. He would defend it, and protect it against anyone, or anything that tried to change it. He broke from his reverie to focus his gaze back on the boy. He had the tan stripe on his pants. He was a walking sacrificial lamb, and didn’t know it. He smiled wider, enjoying the pulse of fear coming from the boy. “Come in, explain why you’re pounding on my door.” The boy entered and stood rigidly at attention. “Yellowjakket surfaced last night in South London, Charing Cross. She attacked two press gangs, and when pursued, she fled south. The last report was a sighting near Beddington Park.”

“Lost her, did they?” He pondered the information. Yellowjakket had operated generally around London and the southern counties. The numerous reports should have been able to narrow the primary areas to two or three most likely places for her operations. Instead, it had confused things further. There was no pattern to her appearance and disappearance. Worse, she’d made fools of Control. People were starting to get ideas, and ideas were dangerous. Ideas meant someone remembered the past, and might try to change things.

His gaze hardened. Yellojakket was the cause of all this. Kill her and the resistance would topple. The problem with that idea came round again to the fact nothing could pinpoint a location as a possible base. He stepped aside and ordered the boy, “Stand over there.” He’d need energy if he was to face that meta. Her and her explosive teleportation. He mumbled a spell quietly. The ring sprang up around the boy, locking him in the hidden circle as Montrose intoned the last syllable. His eyes widened, and he screamed. He tried to rush out of the circle, and hit the shimmering wall, causing him to rebound back towards the center.

He begged Montrose, pled on his knees, crying for release. Hamish just watched with a satisfied smile as the spell began to take him. He didn’t have time to beg any more as the spell began to kill him by slow inches. He screamed his throat raw as thick strips of flesh were torn from him and dissolved away. Early on, the mages found that a sacrifice was more powerful when done while in the grip of a powerful emotion. Fear was the easiest to create in their experience. While it wasn’t the most powerful of emotions, it was strong, and that strength could be harvested.

There were a number of masterful casters who could prolong the fear to pull the greatest power from the sacrifice, but Montrose preferred to do his own casting, rather than accept a token of power that might have any number of compulsions or hidden tricks added in. Especially when someone wanted an advancement in position, but could not because another was already there. It was why his rise had been so swift in comparison. He didn’t trust his own kind at all. Anyone who wanted power was someone not to be trusted.

The boy’s cries faded as blood loss finally forced him to lose consciousness. His body rapidly dissolved and the essence of the lad floated in a greenish yellow ball centered in the circle. Montrose dropped the wall, and stepped into the circle. He moved so that his body pressed against the ball of magic, then he concentrated, opening himself and letting the essence fill him with energy. He felt invigorated. His magical aura was at peak strength. He was ready. It was time to find this chit, and deal with her permanently.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 6

Yellowjakket moved south and west, away from Charing Cross. She hunted press-gangs, and when she found one, didn’t hesitate. She tore into the first one she spotted. The gang had two kids in anti-magic shackles, neck and waist, holding them powerless to resist. The mind control in the collars held them while the belt disrupted any connection to the source.

She fired a electric pulse, striking the lead member. Her bolt caught the man in the chest hurtling him four meters back and to the ground where he spasmed uncontrollably. The other six spread out in a rough defensive circle. One girl ran to the downed man, and started to drag him back to the circle. Yellowjakket fired again, and a cage of electricity locked the two in place, their bodies rigid in the vicious, sparking sphere.

The mages fired back, a large sphere of pinkish red light covered the area around the mages, and Yellowjakket. “No place to run, Chippy”, one of the wizards laughed. “You’re nicked.” She didn’t try to escape, charging into the remaining circle of five. The first man took a high-speed elbow that shattered his jaw, spinning him to the ground. Her electrical blast lifted another mage off her feet, violently contracting muscles propelling her into the sphere. She screamed like a damned soul as her body melted on impact.

She pressed down and reversed field, heading back towards the center of the circle. Only three remained. A cage of electricity paralyzed the one maintaining the spell, and the curtain of death faded. The other two drew themselves up, moving their hands and chanting. The woman pointed at Yellowjakket, the man faced the children. She charged the man, barely dodging the firey blast aimed at her. She fired as she ran by, the electric cage trapping him, the spell, interrupted, fed back into the caster. He screamed in agony as his body and limbs twisted. The woman spat curses and cast another blast of firey death at Yellowjakket.

She dodged once more, lungs beginning to burn. Yellowjakket returned a quick electrical burst at the woman. The hit slowed but didn’t stop her. Her ribs ached as she pulled deep inside and put on a last burst of speed, and arrowed at the woman. The mage saw her coming but had no time to create a defensive barrier. The impact knocked the mage, and Yellowjakket to the ground. Yellowjakket looked over towards the children, and saw the man on the ground, his limbs twisted like tree roots. The acrid, metallic scent of blood was in the air as a dark pool spread under him.

She looked back at the other mage, who rocked on the pavement moaning in pain. A misshapen lump showed the dislocated shoulder. The children were still huddled where they had been dragged when the fight started. “Do you have a family to go home to?”, she asked in an exhausted voice. The pain made her smile more a grimace. She lay on her side, and waited for the pain to lessen. The kids looked lost. Slowly the taller of the two shook her head. Yellowjakket guessed she might be ten. “Come on”, she gasped. “You can talk, can’t you?” The shorter girl piped up. Yellowjakket guessed her age was maybe five or six. “We’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”

Yellowjakket smiled wider. The sharp pain had dulled to a low ache. “I’m not a stranger now, am I? I’ll help get you home if you want me to.” The shorter girl shook her head yes as the older one shook hers in a no. The action made her think of her own sisters. Her heart ached for her identical siblings. She forced herself to smile. She pushed up off the ground, then walked slowly to the remaining mage, the others had fallen unconscious from the electrical shocks. She looked down at the woman, then to the children. “Turn around, I’m going to help this lady, but it’s going to hurt.”, she explained. The mage continued to moan in pain, raking back and forth as she tried to cradle the arm. Yellowjakket saw her left knee had been flexed sideways. It stuck out at a ninety-degree angle. She grabbed the leg, then pushed hard and fast.

The woman screamed, then passed out from the searing pain. Yellowjakket tried to stomp the shoulder socket back in place. Two tries had no effect, so she laid off any more attempts. Instead she went to the children. She slowly kneeled, wincing at the pain shooting up the outside of her knee. She stood up flexing it. Satisfied nothing felt torn or broken, she kneeled again, watch the lower lip of the younger girl stick out in a pout. “I wanna go home”, she said and looked at the other girl. She shook her head and told the girl, “Hush Caroline, we need to be quiet.” The lower lip stuck out further, quivering slightly. “It’s all right sweetie, it’s all right. Why don’t you two run on home. I’ll make sure these bad people don’t follow you.”

The little girl looked up at the black-clad guardian. “You won’t leave? You promised.” The older one pouted like the younger. Her own lip sticking out as she gave Yellowjakket a suspicious look, then moved Caroline behind her. “We’ll make it home, it’s just a few streets over.” Yellowjakket nodded then turned. “Tell your parents what happened. If they want help, have them leave a note with their address at that corner. I’ll come help.” Yellowjakket pointed over to the corner where a small Jewler’s shop resided. “Put the note on the post box. I’ll check every day for you.” She smiled at the two girls, then stood up, the stitch in her side finally gone.

“You two must be special, when those people are trying to take you away from your mum and da.” The little girl nodded as her older sister frowned and Yellowjakket. She smiled at the older girl then turned to look to the north as a faint siren drifted in the air. “Go now, hurry, they’ll be here soon.” Wen they hesitated, she glared at the girls and snarled “MOVE!” The word propelled them into action, and the two ran down the street and turned right between the Jewler shop and the Shoe hop just south of it. Once the girls were out o sight, Yellowjakket sped south, drawing the hunters after her.

For the next hour, Yellowjakket drew the hunters south. Ambushing another group of mages just before she disappeared into the tunnels on the shore of the Thames. Once into the tunnels, she turned north, racing through the storm sewers, the moving water disrupting tracking spells. The mages had planned for that trick, using humans twisted into caricatures of werewolves to follow her scent in the humid air. That too, she’d prepared for. After moving at high speed through the tunnels, she moved back to the surface. A quick run to a nearby cache netted her a 15-liter petrol can. She poured the contents down into the sewer, then waited a minute for the fumes to spread.

Leaving the lid off, she flicked a match and tossed it carefully into the hole. Speeding off as it arced down. The heavy thump of the exploding gasoline would guarantee any scent would burned away. If any of the trackers were close enough, the concussion might daze them for a while, giving her more time to lose herself in the sewer tunnels. Her speed was an advantage. The animals could track her, but at her speed she’d be tens of kilometers and hours ahead of anyone following. That is, if they didn’t have the speed she did. So far, no one had. It wasn’t something to rely on though. Mages could mimic anything she did, given time, and she was certain that speed would be something that the mages would have worked on.

I just hope it’s more trouble than it’s worth to them to make it work. She dashed forward, and emerged at Charing Cross once more from the Tube. It was a quick sprint to the orphanage building. She tapped the door, and waited for one of the guardians of the place to open it. The thing that opened the door looked human in outline. Up close and in the light, she could see the greenish skin and the overlarge eyes of the troll. The creature had been found wounded after a magus patrol had been through the area. She’d survived by diving into the sewers and somehow managing to elude her pursuers to the Charing Cross station. She’d emerged above ground, and in a gamble, found a small park and allowed herself to be turned to stone by the sun’s rays.

The pursuers never seemed to have realized at the time that the stone statue was what they had been hunting. Locals had hidden her, and when Yellowjakket and the resistance had set up the ‘underground railroad’ to Scotland for children and families, she’d volunteered to take watch, in return for the kindness she’d been shown. Yellowjakket always felt there was much more to the story, but never asked. She wasn’t certain how the troll would take the question.

“Hi Gewrly”, she smiled at the troll. “How are the children?” “Ae, they bae rright fine. Yer moving?”, the troll rumbled questioningly. “Yes, the oldest this trip. With all the activity around here, we need to be able to move fast. The younger ones will be following soon up the rail. We’ll be going tomorrow night.” She looked down the unlit hall towards the double doors that served as the entrance to the beds. The Troll turned her head to gaze the same direction. “Ae, I’ll mes’um.” Her voice hardened for a moment. “Not all off’em.”

Gewrly continued as Yellowjakket raised eyebrows in surprise. She’d never heard the troll say one bad thing about any of the children, no matter how they seemed to treat her. Yet now, she was talking about being happy to see a child leave. “What’s gone on, Gewrly?” Her concern caught the troll by surprise, and she turned to look at Yellowjakket with wide eyes. “He’s em’tae. Y’ken? I cannae explain what I see. He’s, wrong tae me sense”, she finished quietly. “He’s not a bad lad, I cannae stand tae be around him.” Yellojakket nodded. “Point him out to me and I’ll take him north with this group”, she replied evenly. “Maybe a change of scenery will help whatever’s troubling him.”

Gewrly looked at Yellowjakket with a long-suffering expression, then just rolled her eyes and turned to settle back into the shadows by the door. She would sit there all night, occasionally going to check on the children if she heard them move. Yellowjakket padded to the doorway, and quietly pushed the door open. The children were all lying down in the crowded room. The beds were pushed together headboard to footboard in a long line that reached from one end of the former cafeteria, to the other. Fourteen long lines of beds were set this way. Each line was broken in thirds, with room for one person to walk between the rows. The packing left the other half of the cafeteria open for the children to play and move about. It wasn’t a cheerful place, but it was a start to a better one than they would be going to if the mages had their way. No, the further they were away from Londinium, the better.

She closed the door and walked quickly back to the troll. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, this same time, have the twelve oldest up and ready to travel. Include that one you talked about in the group. I’ll get them out of town, and to the next contact.” Gewrly nodded, her large white teeth near gleaming in the dark. “Ae will. Ye take cair, dolly. Themselves bae hatin’ you verra much.” Yellojakket noddded, and smiled. “I’m doing all right then.” The troll chuckled, sounding like a baritone chicken. “Tha’ ya are”, she replied.

The trip back she detoured east, going kilometers into Kent, before moving north, and finally returning to the Sewers under Brianburgh. She stopped at her bolt-hole to change clothes. She’d been gone times like this before. It was always easy to cover with talk about scavenging, if anyone became curious about her absence. Not that anyone really did. No one knew her Yellowjakket persona. Most here would cover for her if they did, which is why she took pains to keep her secret a real one instead of a shared one. The fewer that knew, the less danger for them. It was a lonely way to work, but now, more than ever, she had to think that way. She was alone.

She walked to the guards, and gave them the proper response. She could feel their gazes following her. They knew something had happened, but were too polite to ask. She knew the whole community would know in a few hours that ‘something bad must have happened to Sapphire’. I will not let this control me. I won’t let them know Selene’s gone. She clamped down on her sadness, and forced a smile to her lips, and a jaunty spring to her step. The more normal she acted, the less people would question her.

She managed to get to her curtain. The place still felt like Selene was going to appear out of her room, rubbing sleep from her eyes. The mental image made her knees buckle. The backpack fell from her shoulders and she bit down on a sob that forced its way through her teeth. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. They were all supposed to be alive, and running the mages in circles. Selene was supposed to be there to tell her and Serinda how to get the resistance really going. That was going to be Serinda’s job. She could sense power in people. She was a mage, but she was a meta too. Serinda was supposed to help recruit metas and mages that hadn’t been killed or captured by Control.

Being able to sense a person by their power was something that always bothered Sapphire about her sister. It was a big deal though. Up until Serinda died, they’d been finding people before the mages, and that had hurt them. Serinda had speculated, and one of the rescuees had confirmed, that the mages could pull power from an unresisting captive and use it to power their spells faster and more powerfully than simply pulling and manipulating the environment.

Life essence seemed, according to the partly trained mage, to be a fount of concentrated energy. The more aware, and alive a being was, the more ‘dense’ the energy they gave off when killed. And the mages found that this was a very fast shortcut to a lot of power. So when a major working needed doing, a number of the ‘lesser’ metas were tapped for the purpose. The description horrified her, and she could see, in the young man’s eyes, how much viewing such a ritual had wounded him. “I couldn’t do that, and in Control, if you can’t do what’s asked, then you’re next to be part of the ritual. It’s how they keep the underlings in line and focused”, he’d explained, shuddering at the memories.

“It din’t matter a whit that it was a kid, or a geezer they used. It’s like they got addicted to it all, and couldn’t wait for the next fix. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough after that. I just ran.” It had given them all a lot to process. For Selene, it crystallized what needed to be done. “We get ourselves our own army, and we make it people and metas and mages. We don’t go at them head-on. We isolate them, make them more desperate to find more ‘recruits’. We find where they’re keeping them, and we break them out, and get them somewhere away from Control. Starve a junkie and they turn on each other to get that fix.”

That led to Serinda’s death, and now, Selene’s. Sapphire felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t like she ever believed they’d die. Reality caught up with her fantasies, and bit her hard. She dropped to her knees just inside the curtain. As she started to cry, there was a quiet thump from behind. A moment later there, were hands on her shoulders as a body painfully kneeled next to her.

“Sapph? Hey, Sapph. It’s Simon. I’m right here. I’ll keep an eye on things.” His earnest, caring voice cut through the fog of pain, and she slowly pulled herself back from the despair that had started to overwhelm her. Unconsciously, she leaned into Simon, drawing comfort from his presence. Simon caught the movement, and moved to a sitting position. He held her as she cried once more for the sisters she’d never see. Later, Simon got back to his feet, and carried her to her bed, then drew the thin blanket over her, and quietly left.

Morning brought activity, and the noise brought Sapphire back from a nightmare of watching her sisters melt away in one of the sacrifices the rogue mage had described. She shook her head to clear it, and gave herself a quick sponge bath, filling the basin with the cold water that had been left on the stovetop. She dressed, then gathered up more portable food, packing it in a pillowcase. She added more utensils and the portable stove to the backpack, then stuffed in clothing. Last of all went in Serinda’s and Selene’s costumes. She pulled up the loose floorboards in front of the stove to get them, and stuffed them deep in the backpack.

Simon was right at the curtain when she pulled it open. He took an awkward step back to avoid spilling the breakfast tray on her. “Sapph! Er, ah, I thought you might like a little something this morning besides kibble. The scent of cooked egg and cheese wafted up to her. Her stomach growled with appreciation as she dropped the pillowcase with a clatter. She grabbed the slice of rough bread, and shoveled the egg and cheese as fast as she could. “Hey hey girlie! Inhale! Take. A. Breath.” he laughed. “Whrm dud you gut dis?”, she choked out between bites. She hadn’t had an egg in months.

“There’s another group south o’ London. I traded some work for a dozen. Seemed a shame not to share ’em with someone.” He shrugged then looked at Sapphire. Her won gaze had wandered up to his face and met his as he finished speaking. The warm feeling came over her again as she watched his eyes. The feeling felt good, and she caught herself leaning towards Simon. She caught herself before she overbalanced, covering her blush with another spurt of shoveling food as fast as possible.

“Look, Sapph, I don’t know what’s got you down, and I won’t question. If you need an ear to listen some time, look me up”, he finished. An awkward silence built up between them. Awkward, yet comforting. She wanted to break the silence, and wanted it to just hang around a bit longer so she could enjoy Simon and the quiet presence around them both. Simon gazed at her and his face flushed. He coughed, breaking the silence. “Umm, I’ll see you later, Sapph. Gotta few chores to take care of and all that.” Sapphire nodded, not trusting her voice. Simon turned and gave her a small wave. “Right, I’m off. Talk with you later.”

She looked down at the tray, and finished the last piece of bread, slathering it in the runny remains of the yolk. Once she’d done that, the tray went on top of the stove, and she picked up the pillowcase. The trip out to the bolt-hole was quiet. Everyone seemed to be about their own business as she passed the checkpoint.

The voices and noise of the small camp faded behind her as she trudged down the tunnel. Replacing it were the dripping of water and the scurrying of rats and other animals that used the sewers as home. She got to the hidden entrance, then ducked inside to find that her hideout had been discovered. The backpack of food was gone. Empty food tins were strewn about. The small portable stove had been nicked. Her clothes were strewn about, with some of them cut.

She dropped to her knees, staring at the wreckage done. As she glanced about the remains, she saw the neck from a bottle. A second glance showed a second bottle further down the sewer. She picked up the neck, mindful of the jagged end and took a sniff. It smelled of Gin. Someone had stmbled across the place apparently drunk and by chance, then eaten their fill, and took anything of value. Sapphire stopped, and listened. If they were drunk, thy might be still ‘sleeping it off’ here.

She lowered the pillowcase full of cans to the floor as quietly as possible, then did the same with the backpack. She held still for a minute, ears straining to hear the slightest sound. Once she convinced herself no one was there, she hurried to pick up what clothes could still be worn, then moved the rocks to get her costume. Placing it in the backpack, she scrambled out of the Hideaway, and shouldered her backpack and pillowcase of food. She wouldn’t have time to look for a place to stay. She had to be back at Charing Cross to lead the kids out of Londinium tonight. With her destination fixed, she started a quick trot Southward.