Archive | October 12, 2016

Child of the Unburnt Ash

After Æ is for Ash, for the Finish It! Bingo Round Two.

This came out super-weird, in part because Æ is for Ash seemed like a complete story to me as was. So it’s… tangential? Sort of? Also, it didn’t want to end.

The Unburnt Tree, it was said, guarded all within Corthwin and protected them from harm, mindful or accidental.

It was a bit poetic, of course. The tree – and the younger ash trees grown from its seeds – did not protect the entire city. People still died. Small fires still burned sometimes, in the city. Buildings fell and fists were raised in anger.

(There were cities whose gods were less wooden and slow, where those things no longer happened. Those cities were terrifying places to visit, and those who could leave did so posthaste).

But, poetic license or not, every child was brought before the giant ash, the Unburnt Tree, to give and receive blessings. Children who for one reason or another were considered especially at risk were given names calling one the ash, thus to invoke even more of its protection.

Æscleah had been brought before the tree, a skinny, sickly, weak and early-born child, when she was just a week old. Her parents and family had hoped to forestall the illness they were certain would kill her, so they had fed to her a paste made of the Unburnt Tree’s seeds, and for a week, they had left her cradle in the roots of the tree, feeding her but otherwise leaving her to the ash’s care.

She had thrived, against all hope, beyond all prayers. She had grown chubby, that week hugged by the Unburnt tree. She had gained color and strength, although she remained a quiet child, not prone to crying. And she had, after her rough start, an amazingly robust and lively childhood.

And yet… (Because even gods who do not terrify with their overbearing control are still gods, are still beyond the ken of mankind) …she remained quiet, this child of a boisterous family. She remained still when others were excited, calm when others cried. She reacted, true, but she reacted slowly and with deliberation.

People whispered. Many children had been set in the Unburnt Tree’s protection; many had been named after the Ash. Many had been blessed — and of all those many, only Æscleah had been so very firmly marked.

“She’s a changeling,” whispered people who had never seen a true change-child.

“She’s cursed,” muttered people who were new to the city, or who were uncertain about the ring of ash trees now growing up around Corthwin.

The tree-minders looked on her, when she was finally brought before them, and shook their heads, not recognizing what was before them. “She is a child,” they declared. “Nothing more, and nothing less. Treat her as a child, and nothing more… and nothing less.”

And so Æscleah’s family did their best. She was not their only child, not by far, and they treated her the same as any other child. When she did her chores, they praised her; when she wandered off to the ring of unburnt ash unbidden and un-permissioned, they punished her.

And she wandered, punishment or not, permission or not, more and more as she grew quicker and quicker with her chores and her schoolwork. If she was missing, she would be in the crook of the Unburnt Tree, or tending the ground or the branches of one of the small scions, or weeding the beds of companion plants surrounding the trees surrounding the city.

As she grew older, the punishments grew harsher and Æscleah’s disobedience grew larger. She would skip all of her chores for a week, only to do them without fail for two weeks. She would vanish for days and nights on end, only to reappear as if no time had passed at all. And she seemed to mind not any punishment her parents or her teachers meted out.

Desperate to curtail her behaviour, Æscleah’s parents finally locked her in an interior room, a room of stone, far from the Unburnt Ash, far from the sun and the sky. “Do your chores,” they told her, “and you may be in the sun for five minutes. Do your siblings’ chores as well, and you may spend an additional five minutes outside.”

This worked for two weeks, as Æscleah grew wanner and quieter, as she seemed to wilt and wither, as a wind whipped up around the Unburnt Ash and its saplings. On the evening of the fifteenth day, Æscleah went outside for her allotted five minutes of sun – and vanished.

Her mother had been watching her. Her little brother had been playing with her. Her father had been by the gate. Nobody had seen her leave. Nobody in the streets had seen her pass. And the tree-minders who watched the Unburnt tree claimed that no, this time, they hadn’t seen her pass.

Nobody could find her. For hours they searched, and then for days, and then for weeks. When two weeks and a day had passed, when her parents had given up hope, thinking that Æshleah had gone to some other city, run away to join the circus, come afoul of some cretin not afraid of ash trees or their vengeance, when they had lain flowers in the bone-yard for her and said their words, then and only then did the Unburnt Ash reveal her.

She stepped from the tree as if she had been inside it, her hair gone white-grey and her skin seeming a bit green. She ignored the tree-minders. She ignored her parents. She spoke with a voice that was not her own to the people who stood by the gate. “Fetch the mayor.”

People muttered, and people complained. Her parents spoke strongly to her. Æshleah ignored them all to look at one young tree-minder, not that much older than she was. “Fetch the mayor,” she told the tree-minder. “Now.”

The tree-minder, who was used to the look of old people ignoring what was in front of them, who herself had been given to the Unburnt Ash as a child, who was not so stupid and willful as her elders thought she was, she ran for the mayor. She ran the whole way, and when she reached said notable, neither explained nor cajoled.

“The Unburnt Tree wants you,” she told him, and dragged him until he, not wishing his dignity to be quite that insulted, came along with her.

There, in the middle of people shouting at her and untouched by all of them, Æshleah stared at the mayor. “This is what I say. Once in a generation, you will give me a voice. You have given me a voice, and this body is it. Once in every generation, you will do as I say.”

Even the most recalcitrant people fell quiet now. The voice was not Æshleah’s. The words were neither Æshleah’s nor anyone else they had ever heard.

The mayor ahemed and coughed. “To whom am I speaking?” Because it did not due to assume, in the Empire. Cities had faltered and died over less.

“I am the Unburnt. I am all those that will not burn. I am the protection of the city. And, for that, I have my price.

The city was silent. Everything had its price. Ever god demanded something. They had been lucky for so long.

But still… they had been lucky for so long.

“What price would you have?” the Mayor asked. The Mayor had not been elected to rock the boat. The Mayor was quite good at not rocking any boats, Empiric or sylvan or otherwise.

“Every generation, you will give me a voice. And this voice… This voice you will mind, when the time comes.” Æshleah, or the body that had been Æshleah , sat down. “I cannot protect you if you do not listen.”

“Protect us from what?” someone in the crowd complained. And “what about the girl?” someone else shouted. It opened up a flood of questions. Æshleah’s body looked here and there, seeming to make eye contact with every single person who shouted a question.

When the crowd silenced again, she answered. “All those who are given to me have a little of me in them. This one required the most healing, and thus has always been mostly me. She is here, your Ash-Meadow-Daughter, the same as she has always been: a sprite within my will. Nothing has changed except your sight and your hearing.

“And your hearing must change more!” Her voice rose to a shout. “Or I cannot protect you. The fire is coming. There is flame even I fear. There are storms even I cannot stand. It is all coming, and you will need to listen.”

Suddenly, the voice changed. It sounded like a girl again, like Æshleah again. “But you won’t, will you?” She shook her head. “Because that’s how people are. Very well. When you’re ready to listen, come to the tree, and it will be explained.” She stepped into the arms of the Unburnt Ash, and was gone.

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The Hellmouth Job, Chapters 19 & 20 (A Leverage/Buffy Fanfic)

Part I
Part Ia
Part II
Part III
Chapters 7 & 8
Chapter 9 & 10
Chapters 11 & 12
Chapters 13 & 14
Chapters 15 & 16
Chapters 17 & 18

Nineteen: The Locale

“Oh, I think this will do, don’t you, darling?” Hardison fussed over the small house, checking out the old lace curtains. “And it comes with all these furnishings?”

The realtor was trying to put a warm face on things. “Oh, you know, sometimes people want to leave in a hurry, they don’t want to bother with taking their stuff. We had everything cleaned, of course; the place is spotless.”

“They left this?” Parker picked up a pair of lace panties gingerly. “The dressers are full.”

“Well, of course, you can donate all of that to the Salvation Army or something.” The realtor flapped her hand. “I’m sure you can come up with something, or we can send in someone to clear it up.” She frowned repressively at them. “It does come fully furnished.”

“Oh, no, no, of course, we can donate that to the church charity, right, honey? We’re joining the South Sunnydale Presbyterian Church, ma’am, and we’re super excited to be going there. Good works, helping people—”

“Nighttime prayer services,” Parker added with an insipid smile. “Truly God is powerful.”

“Truly, yes.” The realtor was looking pale and uncertain now. “So, ah, about the price…”

The price she named was several thousand less than the last price she’d offered.

“Oh, that’s lovely. And it’s ready immediately? We’re in quite a hurry to do God’s work, you see.”

“Right now, yes. Just contact your mortgage company and have them contact my office…”

“Is check okay?”

~

“This is stupid,” Elliot snarled, not for the first time. “I look like an idiot. I look like…”

“…like half the thugs out here. Straighten your tie and think cliche. You’ll fit right in.”

“Where exactly are we fitting in, Nate? Hunh? We gonna go sweet-talk a vampire, is that what you want? Because if you’ve got a death wish, there are definitely quicker ways to go about it.”

“No vampires, if we can help it. I get the feeling vampires aren’t the problem here.”

“They’re real, Nate. I know you don’t want to believe…”

“Oh, it’s not that. No, it’s just that there are always things that go bump in the night, Elliot. Some of them have always been supernatural… but some have always been human. And they leave different trails.”

“Since when did you become an expert in the ‘supernatural?’” Elliot’s air quotes accompanied a sneer.

“You’re not the only one that has a past.” Nate swung his cane theatrically as they wandered down the night street. “Although vampires are new. There was that one time I had to track down what turned out to not only be a priceless antique, but also the key to opening a gate to a Hell Dimension.”

Eliot paused. “Not the Knife of Pan?”

“Oh, no, but I’ve encountered that once or twice. No, this was the – hsst. There we go. Local muscle.”

The men walking up to them were only making the barest attempt at looking like humans, but they were dressed – like Nate and Eliot were – in the height of fashion, circa 1960. Their lapels were wide, their suits were bright, and they all looked very cheerful about matters.

Matters, in this case, included the nail-studded Louisville Slugger that the big one was carrying.

“You look like you’re in town to do business.” The little one was maybe five foot four, tops, skinny, with a face like a weasel had mated with the wrong end of a crocodile and a smile like the croc had won. “Which is great. We here in Sunnydale like people doing business. Keeps the tax revenue coming in.”

Nate played dumb as only he could. “Oh, we weren’t planning on doing anything taxable, per se. we’re just here to take a look-around, see what’s to be had here. I’ve heard good things about Sunny-“

The big one stepped forward, his bat pointed at Nate’s chest. The little one cleared his throat.

Keeps the taxes coming in, I said.”

Nate’s smile was wide and cheerful. “Oh, I really was hoping you’d say that. My associate here has been feeling a bit cranky, you see, and I’d really rather he be cranky at someone who isn’t me. Isn’t that right?”

Eliot didn’t have to fake the snarl.

The boss made the fatal mistake of attempting to argue math – that is numbers – with any side involving Eliot. “There’s four of us. There’s two of you, and one of you looks like a pussy.”

“Oh, my friend, I hope you’re talking about me. But just to make the odds a little more even, I’ll sit over here. You can sit with me, if you like.” He nodded at the weasel-faced boss. “I’m sure we’ll both find it quite instructive.”

He sat down on the nearby bench and watched the leader dither.

Twenty: The Locals

“I tell you, they’re beautiful women. Beautiful women, here.”

“Gee, thanks, Xander.” Cordelia punched him in the arm.

“Seriously, Xan. Way to make a girl feel appreciated.” Buffy punched him in the other arm.

“Oh, there’s no arms left for me.” Willow pouted. “Well, that’s all right. I know Xander doesn’t think I’m beautiful.”

“No, really, Xander, tell us more about these beautiful… oh.” Cordelia swallowed. “Damn.”

“Wow.” Willow pushed her hair out of her face and gawped. “Did I say wow?”

“You did not,” Buffy grinned. “Perhaps you should say it again to be sure it’s said?”

“I feel outclassed,” Cordelia complained. “I should never feel outclassed.”

“Oh, darling.” The blonde woman seemed to have overheard. “You should not feel outclassed. Perhaps instead, feel as if your, what is the word? Sensei is here.”

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Finish It! Second Bingo Card

I’m filling this in slowly from the below list, but this is my second [community profile] allbingo card for the “Finish It” challenge.

8 (II) 11 (V) 35 (V) 23 (V) 29 (V) Daxton and Esha (III)
5 (V) 6 (VI) 4 (IV) 13 (I) 15 (III) After the Night (II)
34 (IV) 17 (V) 7 (I) 28 (IV) 22 (IV) Lies, Damned Lies… (II)
27 (III) 31: The Silver Road (I) 3 (III) 14 or 26 (IV) 36 (III) Child of the Unburnt Ash(VI)
32 (II) 9 (III) 18 (VI) 16 (IV) 24 (VI) 19: A Discovery in Depth (I)
30 (VI) 12 (VI) 2 (II) 1 (I) 25 (I) Hidden History, Misplaced Beads (II)

working on completed next Partial Finish

At any point, I may sub out one of these for another suggested one or something else I need to finish.

The numbers (those that remain) correspond to the list below. This was arranged from the [community profile] allbingo public card, your suggestions, and Random.org’s list randomizer.

The Roman numerals are another way of getting a bingo – do, say, all of the (I) instead of a line or a square or such.

see links here – http://aldersprig.livejournal.com/1197753.html

1 An Argument of Magic.
2 Shenanigans. (There are multiple snippets without immediate followups, but it’s mostly all one thread.)
3 Willard: http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/543285.html
4 The Portal Closed.
5 Duty.
6 The Cat’s Paw.

7 You’d Better Watch Out.
8 Rodegard — and Esedora.

9 Road Map To….
10 Space Accountant: A Reason – and Accidental, and bunking arrangements, etc (Genique got Married?) – http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1092113.html
11 Fated.
12 The Hazards of Magic.

13 Fifty Years.
14 Over the Wall left off in the middle of the discussion, just as it was taking (yet another) interesting turn.
15 Tilden: http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/525842.html
16 Where Do Unicorns Come From?.
17 The Strength.
18 Aetheric Cleansing.
19 Discovery.

20 Three Glass Beads, Peacock Blue.
21 Strange Favors http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/453665.html
22 Rin and Girey, and more Rin, with research.
23 Clarisse: http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/565158.html
24 Unicorn-Chaste.
25 Heroes (and earlier branches).
26 Change.

27 Exhaustion.

28 How The Family Does things — at resting point/chapter break, but there could be more.
29 Boy Trouble, which is rather skew from the previous.
30 Trash and Treasures.

31 The Silver Road.
32 Far Weston.

33 Æ is for Ash.
34 Skill and Dreams.
35 In the Attic.

36 Rumors about the Family.

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