Dust at the Wall: 3.40

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The blood is power.

Kevat family motto.

 

Night came in slow on a chill autumn evening. Everyone left the kitchen for the main room. Sarea stayed in place.

Mae appeared around the corner, in the scarlet light of a sun almost fully set, with an armload of old sacks and a worried look.

“Lots of them,” she said. “Doubled the groups. Every five, ten minutes maybe. Whole lot of noise near the gates.”

“We’ve got to get the heads,” Sarea said.

“Yeah.” Mae rubbed the side of her nose. “We’ll have to time it right. Couldn’t find the way out Pachin used. Could be he magicked himself over the wall, unseen like. Wouldn’t recommend it. They’ve got archers.”

Since when did the Instigators have archers? Sarea ducked her head, studying the sackcloth. And since when did Ionas fly? “We have to do this.”

Mae took her hand and squeezed. “No risk without reward, Biter.” Then, “Heyo, you’re cold.”

“I’m fine.” Sarea pulled her hand back. “I’ve been cold before.” <!

More men meant more torches, but Sarea stepped out into a night of faintly sweet wind and a clouded, moonless sky, only the faintest trace of blood-red flickering out onto the clouds. They had dark, at least, to hide in, but…

“They’ll see my fire,” she said.

“We’ll make a way,” Mae said. “C’mon.”

The emptiness, the silence, was all the worse for the men stomping around and checking alleys and side-streets. Mae kept her on the move, pausing for bare seconds in one shadow or another before darting off again on a zig-zag across to the pit. That, at least, was out of the way of patrols. Maybe they were avoiding it.

Sarea didn’t blame them. Not tonight. The pit had never been safe on moonless nights. People simply disappeared, sometimes from right behind you, without a word or a shout.

She stopped five paces from the edge, always the safe distance, certain of where it was even in shadowed grey murk. The water bubbled. She had to listen to be sure of it, so quiet was the sound. The sweetness in the air seemed all-pervading, for all it was so faint, but had lost its sickly twist. And… on the wind, she was certain she could hear a man’s voice, but couldn’t make out the words…

Mae caught her hand and tugged her along. Sarea didn’t protest.

She scanned the edge of the marsh, through reeds struggling to survive, for the first hint, or sign, of – there. A cluster of leech-heads, bowed, sheltered in a patch of dead reeds not more than a pace off the bank. They looked runt short, heads lacking even the faintest trace of red. They hadn’t fed for a long time. She tugged back at Mae’s hands and pointed.

Mae whistled, low. “That’s not creepy at all.”

They split the sackcloth between them. A surviving sack to put the heads in, a roll of fabric for Mae to pick up the heads with, and only enough for Sarea to wrap one of her arms up, so she didn’t have to watch out for both hands. On Mae’s word, Sarea inched towards the cluster, holding her free hand out, back up, fingers curled slightly to hide the candle-flame flicking in her hand.

Closer. Closer. Closer –

A leech-head on the edge shifted.

Had it moved with the wind? It was swaying… but it was swaying alone. The dead reeds rustled, but not a single other leech-head moved.

Mae swore, creeping up next to her. “Hold it there, Biter.”

The swaying leech-head turned, slow, towards her bare hand. The short stem seemed to lengthen as it moved. Reached. Another another one followed, and another, and another…

The man’s voice was saying, “This is my mercy. This is my mercy.” Over and over…

“Burn it!”

Sarea blinked. A dozen heads coming towards her. She yelped, lashing fire out at them in the very instant Mae yanked her back. She stumbled and hit the ground. Mae darted forwards, cloth in hands, snatching at the ground as charred-stinking stems snapped back into the mass of heads.

“That’s one way to lure ’em,” Mae said cheerfully. She held up their carry-sack. “Seven down. Moving on.”

Sarea stared up at her. This is my mercy. This is my mercy. Something was wrong here, with… but the West Side was always wrong, wasn’t it?

They needed to do this. She needed to.

“Yes,” she said, and pushed herself up.

The trick worked the same on the second and third clusters of leech-heads, both as pale as the first, but the fourth had red heads. It coudn’t keep still, tall stems that danced with each other, awake and alive. It lashed out so quick Sarea couldn’t summon flame fast enough, but Mae stuck with her knife and decapitated one, and the rest fled.

They moved on.

Sarea lured, Mae warned. Sarea burned, Mae collected. They avoided Instigators and moved through the night.

The voice in the wind spoke, and only sometimes could Sarea understand it. Every time she did, her head swum, and she had to lean against something.

“Twenty eight,” Mae said, at one cluster. Sarea’d lost count of how many they’d found, or the time they’d spent out here. Without the moon, she couldn’t keep track of time, and there were so many leech-heads, and most of them hungry. And it sounded like the wind… was…

… laughing?

She snapped straight awake, heart pounding. Laughter. She could hear something laughing.

Sarea didn’t see torches, didn’t hear feet, but she edged closer to Mae and said, low, “We need to go.”

Mae tensed, a little, and tied the sack up. “You tired, Biter?” She glanced around, quick blue eyes enough to pierce every shadow. “This can get rough.”

“We need,” Sarea said, “To go. Now.”

The wind was laughing at her

“Sure thing,” Mae said, and caught at her elbow. “This way.”

They made their way back along the great, curving edge of the pit, Sarea’s skin prickling the whole way. The West Side was deathly silent, except for the stomping. She couldn’t breathe right, not quite, like the air’d become too heavy to hold inside her.

The Instigators are following us.

It didn’t make sense, but she’d never been so sure of something. They knew they were here, right here, and they were coming, and the wind laughed…

She stumbled over something in the dark. Mae turned to catch her, and off to the side, somewhere, there was a soft sound. Like a boot scuffing the ground.

Breathe, even if air wouldn’t hold. Focus. Fire came so easily, now. “Stick to the plan,” Sarea said, and she sounded hoarse, but at least it was quiet.

“Don’t you even,” Mae said.

“They want me. They won’t hurt me.” Sarea stepped back. Not yet. “You have to stick to the plan. That’s an order.”

She whirled in flames. She caught the pale face of a man ducking back behind a building before fire wisped out into nothing, and she ran.

Shouting erupted. She didn’t dare look back, only listen to the sound of boots chasing her, voices calling to each other. She ran, gasping. Mae could fight. Mae could do anything. But they wanted her, were always going to, the only Durasoona left in the West Side –

Where was she? She hesitated, blinking. The world blurred around her, but she could focus on this. She stood in a dead-end ally. Someone talking behind her, calming, like she was a wild animal to be tamed. She launched herself forwards and scrambled onto a rooftop. This landscape, she’d know even if they blinded her.

She needed to hide. She needed a place they couldn’t find her. Somewhere safe.

…home.

No, she couldn’t go there, they’d know… something was wrong, the world blurring again…

Home. If she went home, she could work out the rest later.

She shuffled her way across ramshackle rooftops. Her feet knew the way home more than her brain did. Around this corner, hide in this shadow from running men. Across that street, down this side-street, and back to the edge of the marsh pit. A sharp turn right took her to the half-collapsed ruin of the old Durasoona house. The kitchen that used to be their entire home. The fireplace, which she climbed up like she’d never left. The creaking wood of the first floor.

She crawled into a corner that felt stable, curled up, and closed her eyes to the dark.

 

back home forward

Dust at the Wall: 3.39

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The water flows.

Le Nife family motto.

 

Someone left them breakfast – weak soup and bread – before the whorehouse opened in the morning, but the building sat quiet, not a single male voice echoing up. Sarea sat on the bed, staring at dust motes dancing in cracks of sunlight. Mae leaned against the wall, sharpening the knives from – her new knives. Or so Mae insisted.

Sarea barely knew how to use the damned things.

“Tell me,” Mae said.

Sarea glanced across at her. “What?”

“Lay it out. Quiet-like. It’s better than this.”

Sarea hugged her legs against her chest. “When we go out, tonight, we’re going to collect leech-heads.”

“Yup,” Mae said. Shink. Shink.

“We need a bucket and as much of our skin covered as possible. The only thing they don’t like is fire. So we’re going to take torches. Or you’re going to. There’s…” she shrugged. “I’m going to have to show you. It’s a trick.” More

So that happened.

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Er.

Hi.

Roundabout the time I last just. Stopped. Writing Dust, I hit a funk and couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for anything I was already doing. Which happens, sometimes, to a lot of people. I didn’t stop writing – well. Come June, when 3.37 was posted, I kind of did. There are no words in June 2015. July is pretty low too.

2015 was a very bad no good year for a lot of people. I was one of them.

When I stopped writing Dust, I felt guilty, because I associate this place with it, so I avoided this place completely. In retrospect, I needed the month or two to get my act back together, but not the other four. My bad. The world outside my window seems to get worse and worse, and I felt… lost. Buried under a huge pile of shit and negativity. And my anxiety flared up hard all the way through December – the cold, the dark, the perpetual feeling like shit and being surrounded by crowds and screaming capitalism – I’m only just feeling like… well, me again right now.

I have a nightlight now, too. Bertha. A purple turtle that shows the stars on my ceiling. Light can banish nightmares like it was used to banish evil.

If anyone’s still out there, I can’t apologise for taking time away from something, or for being continually spotty, or my brain weather. I can tell you I’m back, that I promised myself when I started that I was going to finish Dust at the Wall and I will, that I know I must improve in many aspects and by all the holy fish in the world I will try, and for all I know I will fail the deadlines again and again, I will always get back up and try again and again.

Also, I did actually write.

I wrote Apocalypse Girl, a short about a woman who caused the apocalypse. This spawned more stories about what she did after, and then started to explore the furthering consequences. It’s on Tumblr, where I’m Errant Moggy, and AO3, where I’m Twitchiest. It’s fairly dark, and there’s violence and assault and the end of the world and short-form writing. I tag it “murder murder death death stabbity” but, you know, I’m not actually one for gore, so. I like it. It’s strange, for me, but I like it.

Also, you’re going to see more plants. I’m on a gardening course. I am absolutely loving it, except not the weekly plant identification tests, or the prospect of double-digging a massive bed starting next week. Help. Please. Help. Can I just be ‘sick’ that day…? But getting to be around lovely green things and watching them grow…!

Ahem. Yes. So: See you back here on the 25th of January, twelve noon, for Dust’s return. There’ll be a recap released in that time, and one or two drabbles I wrote whilst I was getting my head back into it.

Here’s a hope that 2016 is a better year for everyone.

Yours,
Jinx

Dust at the Wall: 3.37

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Those who flee survive.

Ap-Merill family motto.

 

Sanctuary earned a bed behind a secret door, a wash with clean water, a candle, and a long time alone, lying on her side, hoping Amisine didn’t find her.

Mae slipped in, stepped on the floorboard in front of the door. It creaked. “I like these people,” she said. “They’re angry.”

Sarea sighed.

“I reckon we can do it,” Mae said, settling on the end of the bed. “Rest up tonight. Between you and them, we got the lay of the land.” She patted Sarea’s leg. “What’s the plan?”

“No plan,” Sarea muttered. What’d she been thinking? Now she’d gotten Mae stuck here too.

“C’mere.” Mae pulled at Sarea’s ankle and, groaning, Sarea sat up. The Hunter nudged her. “You got a plan in there. Think it through. What you got so far?” More

Dust at the Wall: 3.36

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Remember where the heart lies.

Gan family motto

 

Sarea took too long to leave the house. The sweet smell lingered out here, night shrouding all but the marsh in darkness. She could hear men shouting, distantly, to her left. Mae might need help.

What help could she bring? The air stood still. No wind or breeze to manipulate, even if she could. She could use fire –

And every noble girl in the town knew she used fire. She didn’t think Commander Jorge stupid enough to ignore gossip. What could she do to help Mae that wouldn’t give her away in an instant? How did she know he hadn’t worked out her last name and wouldn’t be waiting for her at Isaye’s, the next time she visited?

Who’d stay friends with a Durasoona?

She walked along the outside of the marsh, to the right. Around, in the dangerous waning moonlight, for almost a full quarter of the pit, then right over a handful of shack rooftops to an alley. She couldn’t hear any patrolling Instigators. Maybe they were all distracted by Mae.

She walked out, then right. Barely half a minute, at a walking pace, to the crossroads where they’d helped da and Ionas out of the West Side. But if she kept going… the main alley cut all the way around the West Side. She’d find Mae. Maybe find a way to help her.

She needed to leave. Out of the walls and the shacks, she’d be safe from Amisine, and the thing in the pit. Everyone seemed to insist being the Sun mattered. It’d be the right thing to do.

But how long could she going to run from the West Side? More

Dust at the Wall 3.35

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Never forget, never surrender.

Pachin family motto.

 

The West Side stood still and silent when they crept in over the rooftops.

Mae found an empty shack and propped the door open just enough. The building, shorter across than Sarea was tall, stunk of nothing more than dried mud and rot. Sarea sat in one dark corner, hugging her knees to her chest, and Mae in the other, legs crossed, counting seconds and minutes with a hand patting her knee. Every now and then, men stomped past, armoured boots heavy on the ground.

Mae said, “One every quarter. Four to a unit.”

Sarea nodded like she understood.

“Come on.” Mae pushed herself onto her knees. “You show me those plants.”

Sarea’s knees and back ached when she crawled out of the shack, and the air smelt like sickly sweetness, but the empty quiet of the West Side soothed her nerves. She led Mae between buildings to the edge of the marsh pit by her old home, and crouched on the edge.

“I’m sorry about Aldhouse,” Mae said, settling beside her. More

Dust at the Wall: 3.34

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The sun is our guide.

Auros family motto.

 

It’s only to keep me safe until tonight, Sarea told herself, elbow-deep in dishwater. Only until Mae comes for me.

But the kitchen – the Hunter’s kitchen – only seemed to get louder and louder with each passing minute, every word and laugh another bar on the cell keeping her trapped here, pushing her down. The kitchen got busier, too, more people brushing past her, plates and bowls rattling as they were set down and she had one more stack of work to do. The acrid scent of the soap had her stomach churning. She couldn’t even smell the food they were cooking.

Only a little longer. Only a bit more…

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The Squirrelfic.

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This is the squirrelfic. Or the squirrel crack. Depends on who you ask. It’s not canon. Or rather – it didn’t happen in this universe. In another version of Dust, where I let go and wrote complete crack for eighty thousand words, definitely.

(I couldn’t do that. Sorry. It always gets annoyingly serious ten chapters in, and that’s not the point, is it?)

It could easily take place any time between the festival and… well, you’ll see. Sarea is quite snarky as a squirrel. I blame the shock of suddenly not being human… and the power of crack.

:-#-:

:-#-:

:-#-:

Sarea woke slowly. Sunlight fell through a gap in the curtains that posed for walls, right onto her. She curled up tighter in the warm patch, tail twitching. She hadn’t felt like this for a while. Even if this was Durabilis, and Keyne’s workshop didn’t manage the same temperature as her cottage did in autumn and winter, well… the bed’s comfortable, the sun is lovely and warm on my fur, and I haven’t anywhere to go for hours, she thought idly.

She paused. Wasn’t there something wrong with that thought?

She stretched and sat up, testing the air. No movement, just the sound of Keyne at work. She opened her eyes, sat back, and paused.

Fur? Why did she have fur?

Never mind, she decided, and leapt off the bed. She went under the curtains and jumped down the stairs. If Ionas was still here, she could take him shopping. They had the money for it, and she felt like making something for Keyne. A good meat stew, maybe.

She jumped onto one of the chair seats, and up again onto the back. In the corner, where Ionas usually slept sat upright against the wall, was just his coat on the ground. On top of it, a large red squirrel slept, curled up tight.

Jumping down, she darted up to the squirrel and sat back to stare at it. He’d gone out already, of course, but why leave a squirrel behind? She leaned in, touching it with her paw. It woke up suddenly, blinking brown eyes at her.

“Oh, hello,” it said, in what was definitely Ionas’ voice. “You’re a little far from home, aren’t you?” It got up, wincing, and cradled its right leg against its body.

She put her head to one side. “Ionas?” she said.

He focused on her intently, then looked down. “Oh,” he said.

Sarea sat back, frowning at him. But the gesture felt… wrong, somehow. She touched her face with… her…

Paw. She had a paw. Four paws, she counted, standing up and checking them all. She had a long, bushy tail. And fur.

Sarea sat down again. She’d become a squirrel.

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Dust at the Wall: 3.33

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To the glory of Durabilis.

O’Hallorn family motto

 

Once the party was over and they got back to Isaye’s home, Sarea changed as quickly as she could without ripping the beautiful dress, pulled her coat on, and went for the front door.

“Sarea!” Isaye caught up to her in the entrance hall. “You’re leaving so soon!”

“I’m sorry,” Sarea said. “I can’t -” She closed her eyes, breathing in and out for a moment before turning back to Isaye’s wide-eyed look. Still in her gown, she stood with a hand half-raised. “I need to be alone,” Sarea said. “To think. I’m not use to…” She raised her hand and let it fall again. “That.”

“Of course.” But Isaye still looked hurt. “You looked fine, though…”

“Please. Just let me get some fresh air. I’ll be back tomorrow.” Sarea shook her head, turning back to the door. “It’s not my place -”

Two arms around her. A firmly female presence at her back.

“You looked like a queen,” Isaye whispered. “So perfect. Why can’t you see that?”

Feet frozen to the ground, Sarea said, “Durabilis doesn’t have queens.”

Isaye laughed. “Used to.”

“Please.” She couldn’t breathe. “I’ll come back, I will, I just need -” Air. “Please.”

Isaye sighed, letting go. “Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,” Sarea said, and went for the door.

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Dust at the Wall: 3.32

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We endure.

Durasoona motto

 

Sarea barely finished dressing before Isaye pulled her out of the house under the shelter of a expanse of cloth on sticks and into a carriage. It was painted blue and silver, with an interior of deep red and soft, cushioned, seats.

“Where are we going?” Sarea said.

“Oh? I didn’t say, did I.” Isaye giggled behind her fan, gold contrasting against a blue, short puffy-sleeved gown. “The palace.”

Sarea sat back and stayed still. Amisine poked her head through the ceiling and said, “It should have been ours.”

“What should?” Sarea said, low.

“Sorry?” Isaye said.

Sarea managed a smile. “Thinking aloud.”

“The palace. The city. The country.” Amisine fell through and landed on the floor of the carriage on her back, and didn’t make a sound. “The world.”

The carriage rattled over a pothole.

“What would you do with the world?” Sarea said. Isaye closed her fan with a series of wooden clicks.
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