Trenner thought she might be losing it.
“I have made base camp,” she wrote, “in the lobby of the Pendington building. From the signs here, I am not the first to make camp here. I can see the remains of a fire pit in what had once been the grand Fountain to Athena, and over there in the former wishing well, people, ah, wished in another way.
My native guide tells me that he avoided the Exploration Club quite handily, and, seeing the way he blends into the terrain, I am not surprised. He is, after all, not a plant nor a building, nor is he a giant chicken (or a mutant killer ferret nor a feral housecat, although he bears the most resemblance to the last), and thus, even if he did not smell slightly like Wrong and did not look slightly like a pile of detritus, he was not on their agenda.
“What are you writing?” He sat across the fire from her, roasting something on a pan he must have taken from one of the dining halls – Goldblum, that was the one in the Lost Buildings.
“It’s my exploration log. I’m tracking everything I do.”
“Oh, I remember that. They taught us how to do that in first-year Exploration. Are you still thinking of going back, then? You haven’t tried the eggs yet.”
The egg in question was huge, and he had darted in and out of a nest with surprising dexterity, returning with something it took him both arms to hold. “I certainly want to try the eggs,” she reassured him. “And I’ll be here for at least a few days. If I come back too quickly, Professor Lokeg-Fridelabout is going to accuse me of cheating. And it’ll be points on the chart, sure, but it will be more points if I actually manage to prove the professor wrong and he has to eat his words and the egg.”
“Oh, are you still doing that? I was almost winning, the year I left, but I kept getting points through being sent on deadly assignments, and I decided I wanted to live. There’s a few of us here,” he added. “Five that I know of, all up in the top of Drummond Hall. It’s safest there. The chickens don’t like to roost on that roof, because it’s too steep, and we blew out the first-floor stairways, which keeps out the ferrets pretty well.” He noted the way she was looking around. “This time of year, this will be safe, too,” he assured her. “It’s just when they get broody that there’s a problem.”
Trenner considered broody as it related to a beast the size of a wagon. “How – how are they still here? How hasn’t someone eradicated them? Did the university really just let them take over a portion of the school? What about funding?”
She started writing down all those questions almost before she was done asking them, not really expecting answers from him.
“Well, they’re very hard to kill, surprisingly. The eggs are easy, but you have to survive getting the eggs. And they have no natural predators, which means there’s quite a few of them. That’s problem one. Problem two is, the university has always been known for taking the path of least resistance. In this case, the chickens resisted more than the trustees, so they put up a fence. I’d heard rumors – are you really writing all of this down?”
“Of course I am. I want to come up with a solution, which means understanding the problem.”
“You really are one of them, aren’t you?”
It was said with such admiration that Trenner could hardly take offence. “I’m sorry? What’s a ‘one of them?’”
“Oh, ah. My favorite professor, Professor Sojide, used to say there were Golden Students. Um. ‘If they can survive their time here, they will change the world, one way or another.’ I wasn’t one. Ah. Matilde was, but she didn’t survive the ferrets.” He looked down at his feet. “I just want to live. That’s pretty much it. My family all believe me dead, probably.”
“Hunh.” She had never heard Professor Sojide say that. She made a note of it in her book. “Can you take me close enough to see them, without risking yourself?”
“Tomorrow. At noon. I can take you to the right path. That’s it.” He shook his head. “I won’t go further than that. But if you want eggs… eggs I can get you.” He spooned out a large portion of his concoction onto her plate, more onto his, and then put the pan on a stone in the shadows.
She was not surprised to see movement there, movement that could have been human. She did not look too closely. They weren’t a danger to her, she didn’t think; she didn’t want them to think she was a danger to them.
The egg was better than anything she’d ever eaten. She said so, three times. In the end, her native guide – who still would not give her a name – colored and looked away. “There’s some tricks to cooking them. But the biggest tricks are in just finding them.”
“I look forward to seeing that, then.” She had never been more sincere. “And the eggs. Are they fertile, do you think?”
She had just had a glimmer of an idea, and it looked like her being able to walk out of here alive.
Percival looked at the clock. The day was right; the calculation was right; the ball was the perfect setting.
It had taken a little doing. Yes, the Club had a ball like this once per year. Yes, they held it in this place, the Grand Promenade, as it was called, right on the water. These things were always true. But to get them to move the date, to hold it not on a day of rest – that had taken all of Percival’s skill to convince his sister Gwendoline to convince the planners. And it had taken no little bit of Gwendoline’s skill and leverage, either!
There she was, the grande belle of this grand ball, dancing with a handsome man in a top hat. A handsome stranger. Percival leaned forward. This was the right time. He checked the huge clock on the wall, the masterpiece of the clockmaker’s craft. Where were they? Where were the Creatures?
“Oh, don’t trust that cake, m’lord.” The waiter passing by pressed a glass of sherry into Percival’s hand. “It’s always gone two minutes slow, and nobody can make it right.”
Percival’s little pocketwatch clicked and tinged midnight.
Were those… tentacles suddenly sliding out of Gwendoline’s dress? And from behind the had of her dance partner?
“Nooo.” Even now, it was only a whisper. He had come so far. He had done so much…
But they weren’t supposed to manifest within his sister!
Written to Kelkyag’s prompt Intrigues at the ball. It feels either like Science! or Things Unspoken, or like Victorian Fairy City.
The Lost Buildings encompassed what had once been the pride of the University. They were tall and glorious, stately, and done in the Pecerin style of architecture that nobody seemed to be able to imitate anymore.
(Personally, Trenner thought it had something to do with the amount of opium Pecerin and her disciples had partaken of, but that had gotten her a few too many Hate Points in her architecture elective.) Continue reading
At forty, Gemma considered herself to be relatively practical.
She’d put aside the ridiculousness of her teens and the experimentation of her twenties. She had staid hobbies and a staid job and, to be quite honest, staid clothes. She had a very comfortable, safe, secure rut.
So when she was raking leaves and a rabbit in a waistcoat ran by, she shook her head and went back to the leaves. They had to get raked, after all, or the grass would die and she’d just have more work in the long run…
Then it ran back in the other direction, followed by a coyote in a suitcoat and what she was fairly certain was a red fox in a Queen’s Guard hat and jacket, and Gemma just had to follow.
It wasn’t like she believed it, she told herself, it was just that this was far too strange for her to not look into. After all, that was her yard, and her – where did they go? She stopped short, just as the rabbit ran past her one more time.
“Damnit,” she muttered, and hurried after the creature, which was definitely wearing a waistcoat. And now she, too, was being chased by a fox and a coyote, who, like the rabbit, come to think of it, were rather large for their species, at least as she understood it.
“I moved to the suburbs to get away from – oooohh shit.”
She was falling, falling, and as she thought this hole should not be big enough for me, the hole seemed to enlargen. She passed what looked like a picture-perfect 1950’s bomb shelter, except that she could see right into it. She passed through what loked like a large underground swimming pool, except she didn’t get wet at all. And then a library, the biggest library she’d ever seen.
She was falling quite slowly, she realized, and none of the animals were anywhere to be seen.
I’ve fallen and hit my head, she thought, I’m going to bleed out in my back yard. Wake up, Gemma, damnit, Wake Up!
At the second wake up, she came to a stop. Not awake, not in the least, but she was standing on solid ground in what looked like someone’s living room.
No. Not someone’s. It looked like what hers might have looked like when it was new, if it had been a 1920’s Display Home at the time, except that the doors were missing. No… no, there was the front door, smaller than the cat door she had in it now. And there was the door to the kitchen, even smaller.
On the quaint occasional table was a piece of cake and a cordial full of blue liquid. The cake had a sign next to it that said, in tidy if spidery handwriting, Eat me; and the cordial was labelled, as one might expect, Drink me.
Gemma sat down on the floor and swore.
The pay at the Lab was really good, and the benefits were literally unbelievable.
Jess reminded herself of that whenever she started feeling like she needed a Henchman t-shirt or an old lion-tamer’s ship and chair. She had two kids of her own and a niece at home; the Lab gave them a place to live that was probably the most secure three-bedroom house on the planet, had a top-notch school, and paid Jess enough that she could take them all on a really good vacation every year.
Which she needed, because right now she was supervising a slap-fight between two interns who just happened to be handling vials of what she thought was probably a neurotoxin. Continue reading
She had a lot of earth to work with.
Estella had walked half a day in each direction and not seen another living human.
She’d found more than a few who weren’t alive anymore, and done what she could for them as she went, wondering all the while why she had been left alive when nobody else seemed to have.
The radio made static and sometimes a whimper, but nothing she could consider company. The power was still running, more or less, but the TV was showing Please Standby on all stations and the internet – well, it was there, but she found only bots on twitter and only advertisements on Facebook. Reddit was a ghost town. Imgur’s last photos were of The Event – dozens, hundreds of photos, and then nothing. Not even a downvote. Continue reading
At the third adoption agency, Karen acknowledged that her family and the power were definitely getting in her way. Before she called the fourth – they lived near a big enough city, but there was still a limit – she visited her Aunt Becka.
She brought Aunt Becka’s favorite sweet rolls and a fresh box of her favorite tea.
And while they ate rolls and gossiped about the family, she swirled her mug and studied the leaves at the bottom.
Everyone had always told her she had no skill for it, no art. She looked at the leaves and saw a cradle.
“Here, dear.” Aunt Becka reached for the mug, and pulled her fingers back when sparks lit up between them.
“Oh!” She chuckled, sounding more pleased than the old woman had sounded in some time. “So you’ve decided to own it, have you?”
Karen thought about her answer for a moment. You had to be careful; words you said around family had a habit of coming back to bite you a decade later. “I think it’s decided to own me. But that being so, well.
I’m not going to be jerked around by it.”
“Good for you, girl. Good for you. Now, as for that pesky problem you’re having with the family, here, I can show you how to get around it. I do wish you’d come to me quite some time earlier, but they have their ideas, don’t they, and they push them and push them.” She pulled out a small silk bag full of bones and tossed them across the table. “So. You’ve been pushed a bit. Here, there, your mother’s the worst but there’s three other aunts involved and, bless her soul, your great-grandmother. Want to learn how to teach them to mind their own business?”
Karen sighed. “I’m no good at magic. I never have been.”
“Well.” Aunt Becka raised her eyebrows. “And who told you that, mmm?”
“My mother, my grandmother, and Aunt Zelda, Aunt Laurel…”
“Mmm-hrrm. And exactly what do they have to gain by you being good at magic? I know you never wanted this, Karen. I know, sweet child, that you dodged the least quickly. But I’m not dead yet. I have…” She tossed the bones again and contemplated that. “Something like three years, three weeks, and three days left, although that could be Fate messing with me, what with the threes. Anyway. There’s time and enough for us to get you ready.”
“But…” Karen put her face in her hands. “It will let me have a child?”
“It will let you adopt a child. Clever, that. Nobody’s really gone that way again, although there was one, now who was it…”
Aunt Becka liked to play at being senile. Her hair was all grey and wispy and her eyes were often clouded over, her face more wrinkle than skin, but when she looked up at Karen, remembering something in the far past, there was no doubt that she was still all there. “[-]. Now she was a fun one, if her diaries and her sisters’ diaries are to be believed. When her sister passed, she took in all her sisters’ children. And the husband. Now didn’t the grannies fret about that one!”
Karen couldn’t help but smile at her Aunt’s expression. And at the thought of making the grannies fret, if she was being honest. “So it can be done.”
“It can. But first, child, you are going to have to learn. We’re going to start with something simple, the cards. This set is a pretty gentle one.” The box was hand-made and the cards were clearly hand-painted. The family didn’t even play bridge with store-bought cards, much less do divination.
Karen slid the cards out of the box carefully and ran her fingers over the top card, a portrait of a woman who might have been an Aunt, a long time ago. She had that look.
“Now. You’ve done these before, right?”
“Just for play, with practice cards.”
“Then clear your mind, shuffle the deck, and think about – let’s say think about four years from now.”
She’d said she’d be dead in a little over three years. Karen closed her eyes and shuffled, thinking of The Near Future. She focused on amorphous time-coming-up and thought about the way the trees changed in the summer.
The cards seemed to spark under her fingers. She laid out a simple spread in a hurry, because it felt like her hands were on fire, and set the deck to the side. When she opened her eyes, Aunt Becka was staring at the cards.
The spread was sloppy, but that was secondary. The card in the center was a supernova. The card didn’t even exist, as far as Karen knew.
And Death and Luck flanked it, and below it was Growth.
“Well.” Aunt Becka coughed. “The cards like you. That’s going to make everything a little more interesting. Tell me, who exactly said you had no power?”
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March is Worldbuilding Month! Leave me a question about any of my worlds, and I will do my best to answer it!
This third one is from kelkyag:
where did the American branch of the family, Carrie and Sarah, come from?
Okay, so I’d originally thought that the immigrated from Away, but I probably shouldn’t have named aunts I was thinking of as German Carrie and Sarah if that were the case.
Also, that doesn’t quite match with what I said to Rix.
So, let’s see.
In the 1670s the first significant groups of German immigrants arrived in the British colonies, settling primarily in New York and Pennsylvania… Between 1820 and 1870 over seven and a half million German immigrants came to the United States
Since that story takes place in 1802, let’s say that the branch that thought of itself as the root branch came over to downstate NY in the late 1670’s.
That means there was an established branch downstate when Carrie and Sarah decided to come up north.
Which changes something – they may BE the root family, but they moved with no family at all. Were they part of a split; i.e., did they have the power of the family but were, say, the only children of an only surviving child? That would explain the move, too; if the power split off between them and another Aunt, a cousin.
So: Carrie and Sarah came from Downstate. *nods firmly*
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1276340.html. You can comment here or there.