amatyultare: (bookworm glee)
[personal profile] amatyultare
Because what's the fun of making a mix without being able to expain what all the songs mean?

Dear Lord, I have managed to write something that is almost 6000 words long and yet will baffle all but maybe a dozen people.

Regarding the stories - I am so, so sorry. I took gigantic liberties with the plot and a bunch of the characters in order to make the story have a clean narrative arc. Also I left A LOT of characters out either because I didn't have a place for them in the story, I wasn't know much about the character, or I couldn't find a good song for them. (Also, I couldn't remember Noah's character's name, so I just called him Noah. Sorry!) (Also-also, notes are at the end.)

Regarding the songs - they tend to relate to a mix of the specific story and the character in general. Some are heavily on one side or the other; for example, 'Body' is obviously very story-driven. Probably the least story-related song is Mehru's, since it's reflecting her inability to move forward from the pain of her past. I obviously have a Lot of Thoughts about the song choices so, uh, feel free to ask about anything you want?

Track List (note that 8tracks only lets you listen to a mix 'in order' once):

  1. Body - Mother Mother

  2. Numb - Marina and the Diamonds

  3. Turn The Page - The Streets

  4. The Horror - RJD2

  5. Invincible - Pat Benetar

  6. Down And Out - Th' Legendary Shack Shakers

  7. Face The Music - Conjure One feat. Tiff Lacey

  8. Pyramid - Two Door Cinema Club

  9. Sacred Beast - Tally Hall

  10. "M" Is For Morphine - The World/Inferno Friendship Society

  11. Killer Queen - Queen

  12. Ulysses - Franz Ferdinand

  13. Born Again Again - Th' Legendary Shack Shakers

  14. Ain't No Room - The Vines

  15. Little Stranger - Owls

  16. Necessary Evil - The Dresden Dolls

  17. The Lady - Tally Hall


Before

Defiance

Keliape laughed as they tore her apart.

Heraldinius and Velestria had separated them, and in any case her eyes and ears were gone, but she could still sense Patch fighting desperately and calling out her name. Even Patch didn’t realize what was truly happening, a thought that made her laugh all the harder as the lion and the serpent growled and hissed and dismantled her physical form. They were sending fragments of her to every world in existence! And they thought they were DEFEATING her!

Her siblings didn’t understand at all.

As her arms were ripped off, shoulders dislocating and flesh parting with a sickening cacophony of wet organic sounds, she threw a tendril of power to Patch. Every bit of her would return to her, but Patch would return soonest. It would help with the hunt.

Her voice was choked off as her throat was slashed open and with one last giggle, she let the remnants of herself drain away to her faithful avatar.

Pilgrimage

Patch crawled. It didn’t exactly remember why. It just knew that its mistress had called it – NEEDED it. So it crept blindly on, in pain and need and unaccustomed fear, across space and time.

The only signs of its passing were minute tears, which rolled down its cheeks as drops of water and landed on the ground as bits of stuffing.

***

Arriving in a distant dark place, Patch suddenly felt…well, not right. Possibly nothing would ever feel right ever again. But it felt closer to right than it had in longer than it could properly remember.

The golden glow forming above Patch tugged at it with invisible wisps of power. But while the avatar had traversed the universe to reach this spot, it suddenly was unable to manage the few feet upwards to that that beautiful light.

Instead, Patch slumped beneath the remains of its mistress. “Someday”, it told the light silently, joints already becoming stiff with disuse. “We will be together again.” Its mind was slowing down along with the rest of it but it laboriously completed its promise. “I will restore you. I will avenge you.”

The Beginning After The End

Young Bold Soldier

What is it like, in your world? Wesley heard a soft voice inside his mind inquire. He suppressed a start and looked over at the dimly sparkling figure of Vana. Zie had appeared to be meditating, but apparently not. He scowled at hir.

“Does it matter? I may never see it again,” he said, not bothering to mask his bitterness. Vana opened hir eyes at this, glowing points of light observing him out of zie’s usual unreadable expression.

Indulge me, the Shardmind said placidly.

Wesley shrugged and, after a moment, began quietly describing whatever came to mind – the locations of great battles, the painful losses and stirring victories from the wars he had fought in. After a few minutes in this vein, Vana raised a hand in polite interruption.

Surely there is more to your world than fighting? zie inquired gently.

Wesley shrugged again. “Sure. Families, and – I dunno, music and culture and so on.” He smiled slightly, cheered by his memories of his own land. “But I’ve mostly focused on the wars.”

And you are a fighter, Vana observed, not, I think, a general.

He nodded, grinning. “It was always the front lines for me. I am – or I was, I guess –“ (he grimaced) “one of the best fighters of our age.”

There was a snort behind him, and Wesley craned his head around to see Sun fiddling with bits of something or other, as he always seemed to be.

“Problem?”

“No, just thinking. It’s funny how sometimes the best fighters don’t even understand what they’re fighting for.”

Wesley tensed. “If you want to insult me, do it to my face. Or you could stop making assumptions about things you know nothing about.”

This sent Sun on a tangent about people who took general academic observations personally, which Wesley handled by clenching his teeth and reminding himself why he avoided speaking to the small man whenever possible.

When Sun finally wound down, Wesley turned away without a word. He looked at Vana, but the Shardmind had apparently gone back to meditating. Wesley shook his head, feeling slightly unsettled, and went back to cleaning his sword.

Mad Scientist

Vana did not like Sun’s world, and zie particularly did not like being a ‘monkey’. Zie had never harbored any desire to be a fleshy creature. The experience was highly unsettling.

Sun’s explanation – the bizarre curse placed unwittingly by his ancestor on the entire realm that turned every person into a monkey-creature, his own attempts to reverse this curse – did not make Vana feel any better. But it did provide a certain odd satisfaction.

Zie had experienced a nagging sense of recognition regarding Sun, a feeling that zie knew him. It was utterly ridiculous; his small stature, his crafting-based magic, the mask he constantly wore, and even his species were strange to hir.  And yet…this last piece of information fit, like the last shard of a broken limb being pieced back together.

That night, trying to 'get comfortable' and 'sleep', Vana thought idly of an old fable zie had heard years ago. It was about an earlier age when zir people had dwelled in caverns that were so large that they seemed to have no ceiling. (Vana had scoffed at this idea when zie was younger, but after having seen realms like this hirself, zie had to revise hir opinion). These vast caves were lit and warmed by an unimaginably powerful source of heat called 'the sun'.

However, there had been one that was not satisfied. Or rather, say this sorcerer was too curious. Zie had wanted to find ways to create and destroy incredible amounts of energy, and experimented without fear - until, all accidentally, zie had put out the sun entirely.

Without this source of energy, the vast caverns of the world became bleak and all life withdrew deeper, into small caves that could be maintained with warmth from the world’s core.

Vana ‘dreamed’ that night, which was like meditation except not directed, about what hir world might have looked like long ago. Zie dreamed of that sorcerer who in hubris and detached inquiry had extinguished the sun.

And when the sorcerer turned to face Vana's dream-self, zie had Sun's face.

Indomitable

Vana was entirely baffled by Kyle. He was human, quite frail by Shardmind standards, and yet he persevered in being trained by a creature much more durable that he was. Currently he was struggling to lift ever-heavier weights, face red with effort and veins standing out in his neck and arms.

"That looks incredibly uncomfortable, and not really that useful." Sun observed, walking by with some unnamable materials in his hands.

"All effort is useful if it's in the pursuit of something you care about," the human gritted out, finally managing to lift the current weight a foot or so off the ground before hurriedly setting it down and straightening up, breathing heavily and shaking out his hands. “And if you care about something, no effort is too great.”

"That's right," boomed Barzum, clapping Kyle on the shoulder with a massive hand. The human staggered under the Warforged’s overzealous encouragement, nodding and rolling his shoulders. Then he took a deep breath and bent down to pick up the weight once more.

Vana shook hir head. A resolute spirit wasn't nothing, but zie worried about Kyle's reaction when he ran up against something truly too weighty to affect.

When he was finally draped panting on the floor, utterly wrung out, Vana brought up the subject. "A person can do many things," zie thought at the man, "but no one person can do all things. What will you do if you encounter something you cannot overcome?"

He turned his head and grinned in hir direction without otherwise moving his body. "I'll try as hard as I can't until I can't anymore," he said simply, "and hope that it's enough."

Vana shrugged, not convinced but satisfied for the moment

(Later, Vana would remember these words, and wonder. Zie wondered when Kyle returned to the group, after minutes for them but months for him, with new lines on his face and mechanical parts in his body. Zie would wonder more when Kyle finally, inevitably died in this fight that he had chosen to claim as his own. He had given it, quite literally, everything he had. Would he consider it enough? But of course by then it was too late to ask.)

Steadfast

In truth, Vana found Barzum both more and less strange than his apprentice. On one hand, he was a Warforged and therefore not particularly fragile; he could, in fact, handle almost anything that might befall the party. On the other hand, he was optimistic to the point of insanity. Vana began to collect a few of his more ingenious motivational speeches and metaphors for zir own personal amusement.

Life was like: a bowl of fruit, a marathon race, a relay race, a sword fight, a naval battle, a large scale military invasion, a siege (he was fond of battle metaphors), and an exercise in meticulous craftsmanship.

Improving oneself was: a good thing, the best thing, the only thing, a necessary thing, or possibly something that everyone did without even necessarily thinking about it.

Physical strength, dexterity, endurance, and general ability had been compared to mental fortitude, life itself, intelligence, cunning, being able to speak multiple languages, being able to read minds, and so on and so forth. In fact, if there was a single other skill or aptitude that Barzum had not eventually compared to physical ability, Vana would be surprised.

But the subject that Barzum truly waxed most poetic about was hope. “Hope, my boy,” he boomed at his hapless apprentice, “is the core of the unconquerable spirit that those of any species can display through hard work, tenacity, and a drive to constantly improve.”

“Yes master,” Kyle replied obediently.

Vana suddenly wished zie had eyes to roll. At least zie knew where Kyle got his unassailable cheerfulness from.

Much later, when Kyle was dead and Barzum grieving, Vana regretted hir scorn, however silent it had been. Patting the warforged awkwardly on one jointed shoulder, zie ventured, “Do not lose hope.”

“Of course not, good companion,” Barzum said, but it was automatic and lacked is usual heart. “Hope can never be lost, only temporarily obscured.”

Vana nodded and, in the face of his awkwardly concealed pain, retreated.

The Ceiling Falls About Me, Ropes Tight Around My Wrist

It was an oversimplification to say that Vana enjoyed watching Mehru fly, but it was restful in its own way, much like zie supposed watching birds flit about might be. More importantly Mehru seemed truly happy only when she flew. Whether she was scouting for the party, looking at the scenery, or simply enjoying the air, she moved freely and her face was smooth and serene.

When she was on land, however, Mehru often seemed nervous or troubled. She was as twitchy as a grounded hawk, and as unhappy as a cat in water. (Vana had to have both metaphors explained to hir after Sun used them, but once they were described, zie agreed that they fit Mehru perfectly.)

The winged woman spent more and more time in the air as their missions continued. Even when they were back in Keliape's hidden domain, Mehru would often launch herself upwards, soaring half-seen in the endless darkness above the goddess’s light. Sometimes Patch would follow her movements, cloth head turning and button eyes tracking her unerringly as she cupped the air with her wings and changed directions idly.

When she eventually disappeared after returning from an assignment, Vana wasn't sure if it had been Mehru’s choice or Patch's, or Keliape's. After a moment's thought zie decided not to ask. What good would it do?

Zie simply sent a wish Mehru's way, that she would always have clear skies to lose herself in, before turning to the next mission.

Clear As Crystal

Vana rarely fretted, but zie had a nagging feeling that the situation was deteriorating. Team members were dying, or disappearing, on a more and more regular basis. New people were pulled out of their worlds and sent back seemingly at random. They had been moderately successful early on, but now the group was full of dissention and they struggled more and more to extract the artifacts they were sent to obtain. Patch was growing increasingly unhappy with them all, and so, with a wordless but densely perceptible aura, was Keliape.

Vana sat and meditated, ignoring the people bickering around zir. Slowly, zie considered each member of the party that zie knew, as well as what zie know of the new ones. This had always been zir's talent, considering all aspects of a group and using that knowledge to keep them safe and successful. Granted, this was much more involved than leading a deep-cavern exploration team, but the principle was the same.

After several hours of contemplation, no answers had come beyond what Vana already knew: the group was hopelessly split, with no feeling of common purpose or shared goals. Vana opened zir eyes and gazed up into the light of Keliape. "What you do you want of us?" zie asked silently. "What is your plan? We cannot go on this way. We must find a new direction."

The goddess chose, at least at that moment, not to answer.

(If anyone had known of Vana’s plea, they might have wondered. Was what happened with the superheroes truly an accident? Or was it Keliape’s design all along? You could never really be certain, with a goddess of chaos.

But no one knew, and so no one wondered.)

The Sides

Unquestioning Virtue

Dan blinked up at the swirling lights above her. "Where am I?" she asked cautiously.

A voice that was ageless and all ages at the same time came from behind her. "Welcome Dan, one of my few faithful followers."

Dan gasped as the meaning of the other's words sunk in. She spun and knelt as gracefully as she could. "Keliape! I am – honored, incredibly honored.” She stumbled over her words as she stared up at her goddess.

"Rise," said Keliape serenely, gentle words in contrast to her constantly shifting form. Patch, ever loyal, stood behind her, fabric feet planted firmly. "Hear my message. You will become the new leader of the crusading band seeking my resurrection. You will guide them, and show them the light of Keliape, and mold them into a single unit. To that end, I wish to show you your enemies."

Dan bowed her head in acceptance. "Of course."

"Rise," the goddess said again, and Dan rose, and Keliape reached out and took the elf's hand in her own.

Dan was whirled through a lifetime's worth of images in a moment, but felt as if she saw and understood each one distinctly. She now knew the followers of Heraldinius, saw their smug certainty in their own goodness. Their ability to plot with their evil counterparts in order to avoid any direct challenge in the worlds they chose to control. The way they sought to make certain creatures' hearts calm and ordered gardens and allowed others to be left completely alone, rather than striving to provide their light to all and allow all to choose which path they wished to walk.

By the end, Dan was weeping tears of rage. Keliape lifted her free hand and wiped the tears away. "Do not weep," she said, little girl tones overtaken by that of a woman, then a crone, before returning to a playful child once more. "Once you succeed, Heraldinius's power will be broken. As will Velestria's."

Ruthless Inefficiency

And with another gesture she showed Dan another set of images, that of the followers of Velestria. Rather than a full history, however, she allowed a few horrific scenes to sear themselves into her follower’s brain.

Death and destruction. Not just the destruction of things, but of hope, and eventually of all life. People turned into shells, into drones. Not even to satisfy their own lust for power, though that motivation was also there, but simply to say they could, could in fact do absolutely anything they wanted. They would destroy the sun and desecrate the moon, rip the very universe open and scoop out its innards while it watched and writhed with agony, even if doing so didn't achieve their own goals – indeed, even if their actions went against their ultimate ambitions, on occasion – because it took their fancy to do so.

This time when she returned to the swirling multicolored haven of Keliape's dream domain, Dan was half bent over, retching helplessly in a fruitless attempt at vomiting.

Keliape steadied her with both hands, and Patch toddled forward to lean against Dan’s leg, which was not stabilizing but was somewhat comforting.

Dan took several deep breaths, attempting to control herself and re-order her mind, before she straightened, gently pulling away from Keliape's hands. "My goddess," she said hoarsely, rubbing her damp palms on her pant legs. "Command me."

"Form the group I have gathered into a team, and the team to a blade," Keliape said, everything becoming indistinct as the dream began to fade. "Restore me. And I will bring balance back to the universe."

Dan bowed once more to her goddess before she drifted back into true unconsciousness.

Momentum

Not Picky Just Particular

Dan woke up the next ‘morning’ to strange crackling and rustling sounds. "Wha?" she muttered, blinking in the dim light of the cavern before turning to look in the direction of the noise. The improbable growth of vines that had taken over an area near Keliape's light had suddenly withered. Among the now dry and crunching vines was the body of a woman – another elf, but wearing anachronistic armor and furs. As Dan blinked at the tableau the woman stirred and then pushed herself up, rubbing her eyes.

"What has happened? Where is my brother?" she demanded imperiously.

"Oh, Salis is awake again," Sun emerged from his hammock, seeming only mildly surprised. "Hello princess. Your brother fell asleep before you did, remember? And eventually he disappeared, probably back to your own world again." The monkey shrugged. "I did wonder why you didn't do the same. Guess you were just waiting for the right time to wake up."

The woman huffed and pushed herself to her feet, brushing herself off. Every gesture telegraphed haughty condescension, and Dan rolled her eyes.

***

Salis turned out to be just as high and mighty as Dan had suspected. However, she also had her good points. For one thing, she was (surprisingly, given her swords-and-sorcery-esque outfit) a crack shot with the handgun that she improbably happened to own. The next time they passed through a modern world, Dan managed to find a large cache of the correct caliber of bullet for her; Salis warmed up to her considerably after that.

Even more impressive, Salis was one of the best healers that Dan had ever seen. More than once in the battlefield, she'd brought back party members who Dan had assumed were all but dead. Of course, she then demanded that those near-resurrected treat her with ‘appropriate respect’ – which Dan, on the balance, thought was reasonable. "Without her, you would literally be dead," she pointed out to Ahri, who rolled her own eyes but agreed to call her 'Madam Salis' going forward. Salis beamed and was even more effective next time.

All in all, Dan thought, not a bad start.

The Emperor Has Clothes

New team members (often quite short-lived team members) were a fact of life these days. So when the vaguely Middle-Eastern-looking hipster wearing Wayfarers, walked through a suddenly existing door into Keliape’s domain, Dan didn't react with much more than a single raised eyebrow.

"Hello!" the man said, rearranging the stack of papers in his arms and holding out his hand. "The name's Meloy." He glanced around the space with a remarkably blasé look. "So I'm back here again."

Dan let her other eyebrow rise to match the first. "You've been here before? I'm Dan, by the way," she added belatedly, shaking the man's hand firmly.

"Nice to meet you, Dan," Meloy said easily. "And yeah, I've been through here before. I thought it was over, but I guess not?" He shrugged.

"Well, welcome back," Dan said uncertainly. Meloy nodded and shifted, rearranging the papers once again.

“Would you like a pamphlet?” he offered hopefully.

***

Being captured by pirates during a mission and thrown into the brig wasn’t disastrous, but it was certainly annoying. Dan stood in the back of the crowded makeshift prison cell and held an impromptu team meeting; she was hoping to find an option that freed them without destroying the ship they were on. She noticed that Meloy wasn’t participating, instead choosing to amuse their guard with illusions. Useless. She sighed and turned back to the discussion.

A couple of hours later, the group no closer to a decision on how to proceed, the guard reappeared – Dan hadn’t even noticed that he’d left. The pirate announced that Meloy was to come up to the deck and explain his “magic of the heart”, whatever the hell that was, to the captain. Dan frowned as Meloy was escorted away, but the man shook his head and winked at her from above his ever-present sunglasses before the door closed between them.

Concerned but also curious, Dan left the rest of the group still rehashing their ideas and went to the door, listening intently to whatever was happening above. There was Meloy, words indistinct but tone grandiose. After a pause, various crew members began to speak; Dan tensed, but the tenor of their voices were positive, almost excited. Meloy and the crew continued to speak in turns, Meloy almost declaiming while the crew seemed to chatter and ask questions.

After quite a while of this back and forth, Dan heard gasps, then a few moments of silence. Then screaming. She tensed once more, but loud if inexplicable cheers eclipsed the screams within moments. There were footsteps, and a minute later a crew member appeared at the door and unlocked it. “The new captain has ordered you be freed,” he explained briefly, gesturing for them to leave.

“New captain?” Salis asked, but Dan left the man to his explanation of how amazing it all had been, striding up to the deck purposefully. She was somehow unsurprised to find Meloy in charge of the ship.

("Next time," Dan told him later firmly, "you do the talking from the beginning."

Meloy grinned crookedly. "My pleasure.")

Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise

Kermit was baffled. To be fair, the former minister found himself baffled on a fair number of occasions these days as they rocketed around between worlds in search of artifacts for some powerful being. Currently they were trying to convince a young and truly wretched looking child, emaciated and with sores on her arms and legs, to tell them where whatever-it-was could be found.

“I don’t know!” she wailed after the fifth time Dan had asked, patience noticeably fraying, about any powerful artifacts the child might know of. “I’m all alone and I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

His heart gave a twinge. “Shame on you all,” he said heartily, kneeling down to stroke the poor lost lamb’s head reassuringly, “this child doesn’t need double-talk or verbal games! She needs to the good word of the Lord!” Leaning closer to the child, he told her, “You’re never alone with Jesus, my dear. He is with you always.”

The girl sniffled and looked up. “Who is Jesus?” she asked piteously. He smiled at her, heart swelling even further for this poor child and her previously Godless existence, and began to explain a few of his favorite parables from the Good Book.

That was the beginning.

Within a week, he was considered a prophet among the downtrodden people of this world. Within a month, he and his compatriots were being fed and supported by the populace. And within three months, they had turned the subjugated masses into an army burning with the zeal of Christian crusaders, invading the fortress of the wealthy few who ruled this land (and who, coincidentally, were the ones most likely to have the artifact.) The city fell, though not without much loss of life of those who “died for God and their fellow citizens,” Kermit intoned at their funerals. The populace claimed the wealth of the world for themselves as Kermit and his friends busied themselves with searching the city for the artifact.

But like many golden eras, this time of peace was short-lived

Kermit had a knack for oratory when he truly believed what he was saying, but his memory was terrible and he often contradicted himself from speech to speech. Since none of his flock could believe him to be less than infallible, and few were willing to concede that they might have misunderstood him, acrimonious theological debates were rampant. They were all temporarily united while facing their common enemy, but after the battle had been won and Kermit focused less of his attention on preaching and more on searching, the gaps between factions became chasms.

By the time the group found the artifact deep in a hidden vault, they had to return quickly to Keliape’s realm to escape the five-way religious war sweeping the world. The eventual death toll looked to be immense.

“Still,” said Kermit as they added the latest artifact to Keliape’s rapidly coalescing body, “it is all as God wills.”

Urban Living And Its Discontents

Noah hated cities.

And it wasn’t just that he hated them, he thought miserably to himself as he followed his discouraged team. It was that he was BAD at them. This hadn’t mattered much in his previous life, on a world where cities were practically nonexistent. But ever since he had joined Keliape’s group, he had been thrown into a number of metropolises, and things never came out right.

This time he had somehow revealed the team to the people they were attempting to infiltrate. And so they had been summarily evicted from what what Ahri and Dan had knowingly referred to as a ‘biodome’, into the lush but dangerous jungle that made up the majority of this planet.

He usually would have felt more cheerful back in the natural environment outside of the city, but he felt so guilty and the rest of the team was clearly upset. His apologies, and their conversation about how to find another way into the biodome while concealing their identity, had both petered out long ago as they worked their way around the covered city.

It was lucky that Noah happened to glance up when he did – he darted forward and shouted “Wait!”, grabbing Ava’s shoulder before she pushed aside the vine that hung in her way. “Don’t touch that,” he said earnestly, first to her and then raising his head to address the whole group who had paused to look at him. “We had that kind of plant at home, though it was much smaller. It’s poisonous, even to the touch.”

The group was silent for a moment. Ahri walked closer and, careful not to touch it, bent to examine the vine. Then she looked up at Noah. “How poisonous, exactly?” the blue-skinned alien asked.

***

“I don’t understand,” Noah said for the hundredth time (conservatively) as Sun carefully extracted the sap from the last of the vines. The simian man sighed behind his breathing mask, then straightened as Ahri and Dan appeared.

“Any luck?” he asked, although from their purposeful movements he had already determined that they had found what they were looking for.

“So far, so good. The tank is almost entirely unsecured, if you can believe it. And they filter the water before it enters the reservoir, so that’s not a problem,” Ahri said cheerfully. “But we’ll need a little more specialized equipment from you, I’m afraid.”

Sun shrugged. “No problem. Tell me what you’re looking for,” he said, gesturing her closer as Noah drifted uncertainly towards Dan. Good. Let the erstwhile leader of their party take a turn trying to explain concepts like ‘concentrated toxins’ and  ‘city-wide sprinkler systems’ to the idiot savant for a change.

***

The screaming and wailing were more or less over by the time they cautiously breached the single entrance that they had been so ignominiously kicked out of a few days earlier. The biodome was heavy with the stench of death, though, and they had to step carefully to avoid the bodies with already putrefying flesh. Dan thanked Keliape for her insistence on protective gear.

She thanked her goddess again that they already knew more or less where the artifact was; searching gingerly amongst the city full of corpses would have taken months and been entirely unpleasant. She had never been so glad to open a portal back to Keliape’s dark, hidden realm.

As they stripped off their makeshift protective suits, Dan noticed Ava lean up against Noah’s leg in one of the flashes of affection the girl was slowly starting to show.

“See?” Ava said, smiling up at the odd plant-man. “You aren’t that bad at cities after all. You just have to give them a chance.”   

Save The Children

“We don’t want to hurt you, child. We simply want to stop your friends from hurting others.”

Ava snarled. Bad people. Bad place. Where was her friend-family?

“Child, calm down.”

She snapped at the crone scolding her, almost got her jugular. Not quite; the woman jerked back at the last second. Ava backed up, narrowing her eyes. She had gotten one of them earlier. He was probably okay. She hoped he wasn’t. She growled at the crone again.

“When did you join this group, child?”

Ava whined. Where were they? She had finally started to think she wasn’t dead, but maybe she was. Maybe she was in the afterlife and this was her punishment. To care for people but have them taken away.

“Now, there’s no need for that,” the crone said, leaning down. Ava narrowed her eyes. She wondered if she could manage a claw across the face. Maybe if she was fast enough? Then a noise outside distracted her.

“What in the –“ the crone started before the door exploded inwards.

“Ava!” a familiar voice said, hand reaching through bars as a battle raged all around them. “Hold on sweetheart – “ and the queenly elf aimed carefully and shot the lock off the cage. Ava bounded out and into Salis’s embrace. Her claws dug into the elf’s arms; blood dripped from the shallow wounds, but the woman didn’t flinch.

***
Later, when the followers of Heraldinius had fled, Salis patted the now-human Ava’s head and said without preamble, “This calls for retribution. Burn it down.”

“What, the building, the town? The world?” Dan said tiredly.

“As much as can be reached,” Salis replied serenely. Noah and Ahri were already nodding vigorously, the rest more tentatively.

Dan sighed. “Fine. Just - make sure none of us get hurt, okay?”

Chaos Walking

“Tell me what is wrong,” Dan heard. She instinctively spun around and knelt. Keliape had come to her in dreams more than once since the first time, but she would never really get used to it.

“Goddess,” she said, dipping her head respectfully. “Is there a problem? Are you unhappy with our progress?”

 “No,” the goddess’s voice replied, cool and inhuman in its constantly shifting timbre. “But you seem troubled. What is wrong?”

Dan stared at her hands. Images flashed through her mind: distant screams and bubbling, blistered skin; flames and clashing swords and death and death and death. She bit her lip.

“I do not – sometimes I struggle to understand what we must do,” she hedged carefully. “Whether the pain and slaughter are…” she closed her lips on the words necessary and right, “the best path for achieving your resurrection.”

“That is easily solved,” Keliape said. Dan looked up instinctively to ask what the goddess meant, then flinched away at a light touch on her forehead. Her heart suddenly began to pound.

“There,” Keliape smiled slightly at her. “That’s a very tiny piece of me. Far smaller than Patch has, even now. But it will let you see as I see, to an extent, my chosen one.”

Dan opened her mouth – to protest? To thank her goddess? She honestly wasn’t sure – but she fell abruptly back into unconsciousness before she got a chance to say anything at all.

***
Salis raised an eyebrow as Dan marshaled the group the next morning. The elf looked tough and practical as always, but there was something different. A recklessness, maybe. And Patch seemed to be more affectionate with her than usual, riding on her shoulder and leaning against herneck.

“You okay?” she asked her fellow elf in an undertone.

“Oh yes,” Dan said, the reflection of Keliape’s light seeming to make her eyes glow momentarily as she turned. “Better than okay.” And raising her voice to include the whole group, she said, “Everyone ready? Okay, let’s head out and see what the multiverse has in store for us this time.”

Good&Evil

The glow at the center of the cavern had turned impossibly bright, but the group didn’t turn away, holding on to each other for support as they squinted in the light of a reborn Keliape.

“Well done, my faithful band,” she said, the words whispered into their hearts even as the sound boomed so loudly they were forced to their knees. “You have succeeded, and may claim your reward. What are your wishes?”

They squeezed each others’ hands, and for a moment the whole universe held its breath.


Notes:

  • ‘The Beginning After The End’ is the title of a song by Stars

  • ‘Young Bold Soldier’ is of course a line from Turn The Page by The Streets

  • While I usually referred to Vana as ‘her’ during the game because it was easier, all shardminds are technically genderless. Therefore I’m using the gender-neutral pronouns ‘zie’ and ‘hir’ for Vana (and all Shardminds).

  • ‘The Ceiling Falls About Me, Ropes Tight Around My Wrist’ is a lyric from a Pinback song BBtone

  • 'Chaos Walking' is the name of a YA sci-fi series by Patrick Hess

  • ‘Good&Evil’ is the name of the Tally Hall album that both Tally Hall songs on this album come from

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