Thursday, September 26, 2019
They were starting to pull out, the fae and all their allies.
Arturin had watched the long line of fae passing through the veil, two or three at a time, each taking a whisper of magic away from the world. Most were more than happy to go, but a few ... a few of his friends lingered at the bottom of the hill. Like Arturin, they had all been born to this world, and they would be the last to leave it behind.
"Nothing more we can do," Talitian said with a shake of his head. Arturin had never seen such a look in his uncle's face as the elder fae lifted a hand to touch the world one last time. Magic played at his fingers. "So much potential wasted."
Arturin kept silent. His views were too well known and had never been popular. However, he was now vindicated in those views -- too late to help the fae or the humans. The magic would be gone soon, and there would be no hope to help the humans find a better way -- to find salvation and even survival.
Talitian looked at him with one eyebrow raised but said nothing at all.
"It seems a bit rude to say 'I told you so' at this point," Arturin finally admitted when his uncle didn't turn away. "I'm sure we all have regrets at this point."
"You've ever right to be rude," Talitian said and turned to watch the fae heading through the veil and back to the lands that many had not seen in centuries. Most appeared happy enough to go home, as though all the time they'd spent here meant nothing, and the humans were already ghosts in their eyes -- left behind and forgotten. "I always thought the humans were wiser, Arturin. I honestly did."
"So did I," he admitted. He knelt and picked a flower -- a dandelion, a simple memory to take with him. Arturin could not imagine why Talitian wanted this discussion now.
He stood again, cupping the flower in his hand. He brushed a touch of magic over the petals, and now the flower would be yellow forever. Almost all the fae were through the veil, just a few of the younger ones lingering. Those were mostly friends of Corden's who had taken up the battle with him when they still thought there would be a chance to bring magic to the humans and help them past their own destructive tendencies.
Too late now. Too late as fae after fae passed back into their own world --
"Arturin," Talitian said, a hand suddenly on his shoulder. "What would you do if the veil closed right now?"
"Do? I'd go home to my house and join my human friends --"
He stopped. The look on Talitian's face told him that this was not a 'what if' question at all. He felt a shiver pass through him and didn't know if he came from fear or hope.
"Uncle?" he whispered.
"You were right. A little magic spread to the others, and not hoarded for ourselves, would have changed everything here. Do you think it is too late?"
A serious question and not much time to contemplate. Arturin's friends still lingered at the edge of the veil, looking back at the two where they stood on the hill. They knew the question he'd been asked.
"I don't know," Arturin replied. It was the only real answer he could give. "Could a handful of us make a difference when the humans are already so firmly on this path? There will be war -- we know it. And more wars after that, ever more destructive. That path is set. Can we still nudge them another way? Maybe a few. Maybe enough --"
"Your choice, Arturin," Talitian said. "I can't say how long it will be before another veil might come this way. I can't say you'll survive -- the humans are volatile. Even your friends might turn on you if you start to show them what you can do."
He nodded, but his heart had settled suddenly. "It's a chance I'll take."
Talitian smiled. Honestly smiled for the first time in years. "Then I'd say we have some work to do, don't we?"
"You will stay?" Arturin asked, surprised again.
"If you will have me," he said. "This is your work, Arturin. I'm not going to step in now and pretend that I hadn't opposed even the best ideas that you've had down through the years."
"I would be honored to have your help."
Arturin turned toward his friends -- about twenty of them, he thought, we acted as though they only waited for him to join them. The last of the line of fae started through the veil, including Scoland, the eldest. He had also been the one most opposed to any link with the humans, despite living in the same world with them.
Scoland stopped and looked back, a frown on his face and his shoulder's straightening. Oh, he'd picked up the plan without a doubt, and he'd never agree. Arturin's friends were starting to back away from the elder fae, a whisper of worry coming from that area. Scoland lifted a hand --
But it was no attack that came. Instead, he took a chain from around his neck and sent it flying through the air -- and not to Talitian. Arturin caught the chain -- and the key that it held. The way to open a gateway back to home.
Scoland stepped through. The veil shimmered and disappeared, leaving the last of the fae standing in the light of a summer sun. Birds began to sing in the tree nearby, and a rabbit's head appeared in the grass.
He saw hope in those animals.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
The sun had almost set on another day, the landscape the same -- dead brown and broken only by occasional spots of green weeds. Taller plants clustered around rare waterholes. Corden scanned the scenery for another such place, hoping to find one still within walking distance tonight. He only saw desert and ruins, old and some far more ancient.
His canteen was already dry, and he didn't like to think about another night without water, waking miserable and weaker in the morning. The hydronet might get him enough liquid from condensation to go through tomorrow, too, but it would be a dry and miserable day.
Then something odd caught his attention. Something glittered in the distance, somewhat north of the way he walked. Flashed again, red and orange -- he realized it was something catching the last light of day.
His map had shown no city in this area, new or ancient. He pulled out his pocketcomp, just to be sure. Nothing in the files, not even a lost listing for this area. He had already turned that way and started walking a little faster despite being worried about what exactly he might have spotted. It had been more than a century since anyone had found a true unknown settlement and all of those in ruins.
When Corden's aircar had dived toward the ground in a sudden catastrophic failure, he'd thought he would just die in the crash. Thanks to the long side across the sand, he'd come out of it with hardly more than a few bruises. He'd thought someone would come out to find him. Three days later, and with water and food nearly gone, Corden decided it was time to help himself instead. He was a government surveyor by trade, specializing in finding old supply caches in the Wildlands of the American Southwest. He'd always liked flying over the barren land, marking out old towns, finding the occasional working well.
Walking through it was not nearly as much fun.
The longer he walked into the dark, the more he doubted his sanity when it came to that glittering jewel in the distance. It could not be a town -- not of that size and clearly out in the open rather than buried beneath the sand. Such a place would have been seen in a flyover. Hadn't there been a report of things that looked like tilled land in this area? The directors had waved it off pointing out that there were no settlements large enough to support those kinds of fields -- it was just chance the plants seemed to grow in ordered plots of land.
Corden hadn't questioned it. But now -- now he could see lights glittering in buildings, and he walked down a path between tall rows of maize. He drank a little water from an artesian well and thought he'd never had better. And kept walking all the way to a brick wall and gate where a guard stood.
"Stranger!" the man said startled. Not much of a guard, but he guessed maybe a single person wasn't why he'd been watching.
"Crashed -- days ago," Corden said with a wave back at the dark desert behind him. "Saw -- lights?"
Corden stared past the gate made of tree limbs tied together into a crisscrossed box. The lights were still there, but shadows as well ... a settlement built under a substantial cavernous overhang.
"Come on in," the man said, pushing the gate open. "Welcome to Shangri-la." Then he laughed at Corden's sudden glance. "Yeah, local joke. Not much of a paradise -- but we do have water."
It took Corden two days to figure out that he'd wandered into something ... unusual. It wasn't just the hidden buildings, but all the rather modern equipment they used -- and the fact they spoke perfect Basic rather than any local Earther dialect. At the morning meal of the third day, he finally asked the questions that had kept him awake for most of the last two nights.
"Where are you from?" he said, looking straight at Sani.
Sani put his cup aside and offered a bit of a worried smile. "Mostly from Terra Nova. Some from other colonies. We petitioned to make a small settlement in some backwater location to test out theories. The Earth Gov said no. We had expected it."
"And you came anyway," Corden said with a nod. "I wonder how they expected to stop you."
"Nothing personal, but too many Earthers have delusions of godhood," Sani replied. "If they say it, it is so."
"I won't argue," Corden said with a grin. "And I've spent a lot of years off-world."
"Obviously. Earthers don't learn Basic. Why did you come back?"
"Family, mostly. But my parents died, and I just took another job and another -- I liked the surveying at first, but I've come to realize that it's just work for no good reason. Pays well enough, I suppose."
Sani nodded. "You can go back. We won't stop you. You can let the Earthers know we're here --"
"I won't," he said. He looked at the gate and the crops beyond. "What are you trying to do here?"
"Survive," one of the others said. "Re adapt to Earth after several generations elsewhere. Earthers claim that we're not the same anymore. This is our proof -- for them and for colonists who tend to think the same way."
"You know the tale of Shangri-la?" Corden asked. "If you leave, you can't find your way back, can you?"
"Somehow I don't think that would be a problem for you," Sina said with a laugh. "You have the coordinates, don't you?"
"We're not magic, you know."
"I don't think I want to take the chance just yet."
Corden stayed a long time, one generation passing into another -- and if some nights he and others looked at the stars and counted the places where they'd been ... well, they were just old tales, and there were wonders enough at their feet.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Professor Fluffytail dropped the papers on his desk with an ear-back glare. "You cannot be serious."
Little Prettykins ears stayed up despite Fluffytail's angry stare. "I am serious."
"You believe that cats, the smartest creatures on earth, reached sentience because of humans?" he demanded.
"No, sir. I said we learned to speak because we wanted to talk to humans. When we found they wouldn't listen to our language, we learned theirs. By then we knew they had nothing to say. I propose the time has come to make them listen to us."
And that is how the change began.
Thursday, September 05, 2019
The King himself created the passage back to Northgate and took them there; a rare honor to have the King of the Faelands to visit any Gatekeep, let alone one that had been so much trouble.
None of Connor's party could be certain they wouldn't suddenly be attacked by trolls again. No one was sure what had set the trolls off on this war. Connor thought it had been Galen manipulating them, but it might only have been them taking advantage of a situation already in the making. They had allied with Galen, though.
The trolls had been quiet, at least, since the battle at the Royal Court. Connor feared that his return to home might set things in motion again. Having the King with them did not make him feel any better about the possibility of trouble.
Though at least the King brought his own soldiers, and they were more than happy with the idea of taking on some more trolls or maybe finding another mirror Galen.
Word had gone ahead that they were returning to Northgate, and his people made a good show of welcoming both Connor and the King. They even had a feast ready. Connor would have liked to skip that part since it would be his first official meal as head of Northgate. Besides, he was still worn and sore, even ten days after the battle.
Connor said all the right things, welcoming his guests, thanking his people, and hoping that all would go well for everyone. The King thanked him for his part in quelling the trouble at the Royal Court. He had already confirmed Connor in his role of Gate Lord. The Lords of the East and West Gates had been called in to swear they were not part of the plot with Galen. They could not lie, of course.
The King hit another problem. Somewhere, a mirror Galen held firmly to the Southgate stone and the magical power from it. The King could not name a new lord until they broke that power. It would be trouble in the future. But not tonight. Not yet.
The meal went well, the King pleased and his people honored -- but Connor was glad to have the feast done and the King ready to head back to the Royal Court without even a stay for the night. He dared not spend that much time away from the royal court.
"I'm staying," Antisha said with a nod to her father. "I think I'll do more good here than prancing around in pretty dresses at court."
"Now there's a vision I won't soon get out of my head," Druce said. "You might have waited until morning to say it, you know. The nightmares --"
Antisha laughed, though the King had looked startled at first. Now he smiled as well.
"Yes, you're right," the King agreed with a quick nod. "Connor seems to be a magnet for this trouble."
"A weak link," Connor said with a bow of his head.
"Only fools would believe so," the King replied. His portal was already formed, half of the soldiers passing through. "Take care, all of you."
He stepped away and was gone. Connor looked at Antisha with a slight frown.
"You don't want me here?" she said, a little worry on her face.
"Oh, I'm glad to have you with us. I just wondered if you really think there is going to be more trouble here."
"Yes," she said plainly and then sighed. "Let's just hope it isn't too soon."
Connor nodded agreement. The others didn't seem surprised or bothered by the idea, though they all looked as weary as he felt. Connor bade them all goodnight.
Connor didn't go to his rooms, and he didn't go to Lord Northgate's suite, either. Connor left the building and followed the path to the little mausoleum. He sat on the bench before it. The locals had set everything back to right, so Connor did not look in at the bones of his parents. He'd have to thank the people who took care of the grounds.
Liam found him there.
"It's where my parents are buried," he explained. "I didn't come here often. But I used to wonder how they could do what they had done, and save Lord Northgate whom they didn't know."
"And now you understand," Liam said, sitting down beside him.
"Yes, I think I do. It's about seeing the wider picture and knowing you can do something good, whether it helps you or not. Maybe especially when it doesn't help you, because that means you are helping a wider world. My parents didn't even know about the fae, Liam. They could not imagine this world."
"Can you imagine theirs?" Liam asked.
"Not really. A world without magic? A world of technology and dark places. No trolls and ogres, but I've been taught that there are dangers enough in such a place."
Liam nodded. He said nothing more as they stared at the building.
"We are going to have more trouble, aren't we?" Connor finally said.
"Yes. But you already knew that, Connor."
"I'm ready for this. We'll finish this right."
"I never doubted."
"Liam, did you really see what I would do inside the Stone Room?"
Liam gave an unexpected laugh. "No, I didn't. I just knew you well enough to realize you would do what you saw as best. I merely pointed you in a direction I thought would help. And I did so in a way that the others didn't ask."
"Oh, very wise," Connor said with a laugh. He stood, and Liam did as well. He looked back at the building again but gave a nod this time. "So much to do. I'm ready for my own future."