It’s your usual fairytale. There’s the prince, beautiful and rich, who loves to be bound and bruised. There’s the stranger at the ball with whom he dances, who sleeps each night in the ashes of the fireplace with a blade in his hand. They fall in love and live happily ever after, until that knife bleeds red as blood on skin white as snow. Then there aren’t enough glass coffins in the world to contain his grief and the prince willingly embraces the needle that will let him sleep, sleep, sleep.
roses are red
Daren’s disdain is black
perhaps we should go now
I don’t need a knife in my back
Alice shows up in Mage’s moors with a message for her. What is the territory’s reaction to having her there, and how does Mage welcome her? ]
The raven seeks her first, for it can travel over mountain and forest, valley and field. When it finally reaches the shore of the frigid sea it lands upon her shoulder and whispers in her ear of the things it has seen. The woman turns her back to the white-capped waves and begins to walk inland.
The caribou seeks her next, for it is strong and surefooted, and can travel great distances. When it finds her walking across the frozen tundra it bows its great antlered head in offering and carries her for a time. The woman bows her head to the creature in turn when they part.
The snow cat seeks her next, for its home is among the rocks and crevices of the mountains. When it finds her following an icy path along a cliff edge it walks at her side so she will not slip. The woman tells it stories of seagulls and narwhals and fat spotted seals as they walk.
The wolves are the last to seek her, for they guard the base of the mountains and let none pass without their master’s say. When they find her descending the foothills they greet her with a chorus of howls as bright and flowing as the aurora borealis. The woman greets each of them in turn, alpha to omega, and then bids them show her the way.
When the traveler seeking her reaches the edge of the forest, the woman and the wolves are waiting. The traveler bows her head in deference, for this is not her land, and calls out, “Greetings, Lady of the Wastes.”
“Greetings, She Who Finds the Lost,” the woman replies. She steps closer and the wolves fan out around them both in lazy, alert circles. “What brings you on such a long journey?”
“The shadow in the south grows darker,” The traveler gestures back the way she came, and even from here the horizon’s edge seems dim. “Foul creatures creep forth and ill deeds are done by moonlight. We are no longer enough to keep the evil at bay… already many of my companions have fallen in battle against this thing. It spreads over earth and water alike, destroying everything in its path. It is like a plague, unstoppable and infectious.” She draws in a tense breath, steps closer. “Your land is untouched now, but it will not remain that way for long. Watcher in the North, will you fight with us?”
The woman turns, surveying the edge of her expansive territory. The only blood spilled here since her arrival so long ago has been in the dance between predator and prey. It is a savage land, cold and cruel, but a pure land subject only to nature’s harsh laws. The presence which grows in the south is not natural and its laws would not be harsh; they would be catastrophic. She cannot allow it to touch her realm.
“I will come, yes,” The woman gestures to the pack and from its ranks approach two wolves, one sleek and white and the other muscled and black. They come to stand on either side of her as their brethren disperse, melting back into the shadowed foothills. The three turn as one to the traveler and the woman draws up the hood of her dark cloak. “Let us seek the source of this plague and wipe it from the earth.”
It’s Mage’s birthday. She’s getting a surprise party from the islanders. Even if it’s not her actual birthday. ]
It was a comment made in passing: “If you were to burn a candle on a birthday cake for every year I’ve lived, it would light the night sky. That’s why my kind don’t celebrate birthdays.” Little did Mage know the comment would lead to one fairy’s frowned, “but everyone celebrates birthdays!” and one Pan’s thoughtful, “the night sky, huh…?” And so it began.
Several weeks of whispered planning, muffled giggles, invitations written with invisible ink, baking disasters, baking successes, excessive amounts of glitter, Lord of the Rings references, and midnight field trips later, they were ready. All they needed was some way to lure Mage to the right spot at the right moment without her suspecting anything. Of course, being an elf, she was hyper-aware of her surroundings at all times. And of course, being Mage, she was naturally suspicious and tended to stab first and ask questions later. Since neither Alice nor Muffy wanted especially to be stabbed in reward for their hard work, this final aspect of the plan required the most forethought.
In the end, they chose to drug her.
It wasn’t an easy decision. They debated long and hard over the best method, but both agreed that a surprise party must, first and foremost, remain a surprise – and the only way to ensure that was to drug the hell out of the most paranoid inhabitant on the island. They slipped various potions and spells into her food and drink, rubbed them on her clothing, dusted them on her blankets, sprinkled them on her books and charts… and none of it worked. Each morning found the elf hale and hearty, unfazed by anything she might have ingested. Her well-meaning assailants were frustrated, albeit impressed with Mage’s Dread-Pirate-Roberts-style immunity.
Alice and Muffy regrouped and initiated Plan B: copy something they saw on TV. It required great stealth and was a once in a lifetime chance, yet they had no other choice. That final night they tiptoed up to her door, Muffy hiding to one side while Alice took a deep breath and knocked rapidly. “Mage,” she yelled through the door, “come quick, someone is attacking the island!”
“Go away,” a bored voice responded from inside. Alice had expected this answer. She pounded harder, adding, “but the cats are in danger!” The door flew open so fast it nearly slammed her in the face. Before Mage could utter the blistering obscenity obviously poised on her lips, Muffy slid up behind her and sank a hypodermic needle full of something pink and sparkly into her neck. The elf slumped bonelessly into their arms, already asleep.
~ * ~
When Mage awoke, groggy and grouchy, she first noticed she was in a field and while the night was cloudless, no moon hung in the sky to offer its light. She then noticed, quite quickly after that, that she was tied with colorful ribbons to a chair. As her lip curled into a growl which would rip forth and demand explanation, several things happened at once:
1) A thousand candles of all sizes and colors burst into glittering flame, revealing their presence upon every available surface for a hundred yards in all directions;
2) A shrieking cry filled the sky, followed by the concussive and likewise glittery explosion of fireworks that seemed to stretch from one end of the horizon to the other;
3) Dozens of shadowy shapes leaped into the light and shouted in one joyful chorus above the thunder of the fireworks, “SURPRISE!!!”;
4) Mage uttered many words in many languages which it would be best to not translate.
Before anyone else could approach the elf and perhaps accidentally get their fingers or other body parts too close to her teeth, Alice and Muffy skipped forward. The fairy darted in and managed to set a pointed party hat on the captive’s dark head without harm, though just barely.
“Explain yourselves,” Mage hissed as all around her the Lost began to dance and sing and produce party food seemingly out of nowhere – including a gigantic black cake covered in glitter and paste gems. Alice gestured to the candles and fireworks still bursting in the night sky, grinning with mischievous pride. “You said if we were to burn a candle on a birthday cake for every year you’ve lived, it would light the night sky. So we figured, why not light the night sky, and celebrate all the years you’ve missed at once? Happy birthday, whenever the hell it actually is!” She winked. “And if you promise not to murder anyone, I’ll untie you so you can actually enjoy your party.”
Mage scowled at them both for a solid minute before finally sighing and slumping down in the chair. “Fine, fine,” she muttered, because even the coldest-hearted elf cannot resist a fairy cake. Alice and Muffy cautiously untied the guest of honor, who held to her word and only retaliated by smearing both of their faces with cake later in the night. She even allowed the party hat to remain on her head, though anyone who tried to snap a photo of her wearing it regretted the decision instantly. And that is the story of how the Lost Boys held a surprise birthday party for the cantankerous elven mage and managed to not incur too much of her wrath, comparatively speaking, which is pretty damn impressive and also why the feat has never been attempted again.
Mage and Alice meet at neutral ground, in a bar that serves magical folk. What happens? Do they drink together? Do they shoot daggers from their eyes from across tables? Play pool/darts? Sing karaoke? Make bets about who can flirt up more people? Play drinking games to see who can drink who under the table? ]
Mage employed one of two personae when drinking off-ship. Either she played the role of cloaked and hooded stranger sitting at a table in the farthest shadow, watching the other patrons in steely silence, or she went full-on Captain of the Jolly Roger, singing bawdy sea shanties and tricking people into entering dagger throwing contests against her. Tonight she had chosen the former in preference of some peace and quiet, and so she sat at a lone table far from the fire, hood pulled up to shadow her emerald stare.
“D’you need anything else, Captain?” The one harried waitress on shift paused at the table’s edge, a well-meant yet infinitely weary smile on her plump lips. Mage eyed the girl for a moment, wondering idly how a human girl had wound up serving in a place like this, then shook her head. As the girl walked away Mage’s gaze wandered with disinterest over the crowd, the usual motley collection of fae folk and dusty travelers which collected at roadside taverns such as this.
“Hey, baby, why don’t you give me a kiss for good luck?”
Mage turned her attention to a nearby table, where a group of hunters sat playing cards for dented coins. One of the greasier and more inebriated of their ilk had a meaty hand clasped around the waitress’ wrist and was yanking her roughly into his arms, despite her best efforts to pull away. A growl rumbled in Mage’s throat and she leaped to her feet, a slim dagger already gripped in her hand.
“Back the fuck off, you pathetic piece of–”
“Unhand the girl–”
The two speakers froze as their words overlapped. Mage, fingernails digging into the drunkard’s right shoulder, glared over his head at the woman who gripped his left arm. “You,” she growled in disgust. “You!” Alice spat in distaste. The man between them let go of the waitress, distracted by this new spectacle, and leered up at the women. “Ooh, cat fight!” he chuckled drunkenly. “Gonna tear each others clothes off?”
“Oh, shut up,” They spoke in unison again as Mage’s fist found the man’s solar plexus and Alice’s his already misshapen nose. He crumpled to the floor without another word, wheezing and leaking blood but making no move to retaliate. His friends jumped to his defense – until they took a closer look at the assailants and realized Mage alone wore more weaponry than all of them together. They then beat a hasty retreat, leaving their companion where he had fallen.
Alice eyed Mage over the motionless body. “That was… surprisingly altruistic of you,” she admitted. Mage sneered back. “Yeah, well, if you tell anyone, I’ll use your skin to patch holes in my sails.”
“Of course you will,” Alice rolled her eyes, then glanced around the tavern. “So where are your boys?” Mage crossed her arms and shrugged. “Probably fucking in a bathroom somewhere. Or killing each other. Where’s your gang of Sailor Scout wannabes?” Alice grimaced at the comment, though a corner of her mouth stubbornly quirked up in amusement. “Probably… not doing either of those things.”
An awkward silence fell over the two sworn enemies. They rarely met on neutral ground, let alone in a time when neither was actively plotting against the other. So if they weren’t going to battle to the death while trading vicious insults and digging up painful old memories, what else was there to do? Be… civil?
Finally, Mage sighed and nodded toward the bar. “Pretty pathetic, both of us drinking alone in a tavern.” She smirked. “Come on, loser, I’ll buy the first round.” Alice hesitated, considering how easy it would be for Mage to slip something into her drink, then followed the elf over to the bar. After all, a free drink was a free drink. Maybe Mage’s altruism would last the evening. At any rate, she’d keep a watchful eye over her glass.
Mage waved over the barkeep, then gestured to Alice. “Something… bright and sparkly for her, and something that feels like hellfire for me,” she ordered, tossing a few coins on the counter. Alice debated switching the coins, convincing replicas yet still obviously fake, for real ones, but decided to take Mage’s gesture of goodwill at face value. She could always leave a generous real tip at the end of the night. When their drinks arrived the two women sat silently sipping them for a time, both unwilling to admit to the other, or to herself, that this was not as incredibly terrible as she would have imagined the moment to be.
As she drank, Alice let her eyes wander over the tavern. Her gaze fell on the brute from earlier, still laying motionless where he had fallen in a suspiciously wide pool of blood, and she frowned. “You did punch that guy, right?” she asked. “You didn’t…” Mage grinned and clapped her temporary ally on the shoulder. “Have another drink, Alice dear. We’ve got the whole night ahead of us.”
I think these are my favorite nights, the ones where we crawl into bed and spend hours talking, facing each other like we’re at a sleepover, only you don’t have to go home in the morning, you don’t ever have to go home again because this is home, we are home, and we talk about the mysteries of space and the ocean’s depths, of science and justice, and I want to take your face in my hands and kiss you until you gasp but I don’t want you to stop speaking, either, I want you to keep talking about electric currents and hammerhead sharks and rubbing my ears to keep them warm, I could listen to you talk for the rest of my life and still wish for another hour to hear just one more opinion, one more silly story, one more blushing secret, I’ll always wish for more everything with you.
[ My arch nemesis and I provided each other with some writing prompts. This is the first she gave me. The limitations are it must be serious and canon to the story in which both our characters appear. Her prompt is below:
If my fragments for The Lodestar’s Lament are canon, (which I might make them) without the alternate ending – Mage has successfully totaled the island by using the Hook’s piercing tip to scratch open the rift at the bottom of the sea. Its pieces are either being crushed in a black hole or scattered to the edges of the universe in all cardinal directions. Her reaction? ]
It is a strangely silent Armageddon. The captain is uncertain whether this pleases or disappoints her. She is tired of feeling anything at all, honestly.
Mage watches from the deck of the Jolly Roger as the ruined island is subsumed back into the universe which birthed it, fragments drifting into a sky the color of burst galaxies and firework graveyards, and the heart of the island sinking down into a darkness that devours everything it touches. Only Mage’s power keeps the hungry nothingness from sucking in the floating pirate ship – and this, too, she will finally gift back to the world in which it belongs, and must stay, when she no longer needs its statement.
As the last of the island succumbs to the black hole’s pull, Mage turns and asks, “Is it enough?”
Behind her Tanim and Daren stand like motionless sentinels on either side of a stranger, one who has never before set foot in this world. She seems somehow a child of seven and thirteen at the same time, pudgy and pale, her long black hair a tangle of snarls and her blue-gray eyes filled with tears. She clings to a worn stuffed calico cat, so out of place on the black deck of the infamous ship.
“It was supposed to be,” the girl replies, “but…it’s not. Why isn’t it?”
Mage smiles sadly and comes to kneel before the little girl. She smooths her hair with a hand no longer twisted and blackened by the Hook; already she is returning to the one she was Before. “Nothing brings back lost family, my dear,” the captain tells her charge. “But fear not. We are your family, and we cannot be taken from you.” Glancing briefly up, Mage exchanges a look with the two men that seems to add though you can be taken from us.
“Captain, it’s over,” Mage straightens and follows Tanim’s gaze to the bruised darkness which once contained a place she might, given time, given grace, have called home. For a moment she does not speak, only stares at the reclaimed emptiness of space, then bows her head and utters something beneath her breath in a language none alive still speak.
With a sigh that forces itself into a pale smile, Mage turns back to the girl and lays a hand on her shoulder. “Come along, little one, let us leave this place. It is time for me to become The Wanderer again.”