The River

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Related to, if not actually a sequel to, They Wear Their Souls On Their Skin.

 

One

What they said doesn’t matter. You know this as sure as you know anything.. They can call you chicken all they want, because chickens are as brave as they are cowards, as stupid as they are smart. The younger kids can dare you to go across the river all they want. You don’t have to go.

But a part of you wants to.

No one crosses the river. Not really. It’s wide and deep, so there’s ferries, but they just take you over. You have to swim it to cross it.

It’s been a week and you keep coming back to here, sand and shingle and clay shore next to the river.

Two More

Wow, has 2016 been a shitty year.

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Like, a really shitty year. Holy carp, 2016. Stop. Just stop. For, like, five seconds.

But the sky is pink-purple with sunset, it’s only a little chilly, and it’s time to drag together some positivity and recover.

If it’s any consolation, whilst 2016 was being shitty, I was writing Apocalypse Girl [This is the AO3 account I actually have*! and this is Tumblr, which comes with a commentary. The commentary is me flailing about my own story. Just go with it, I guess.] It’s pretty dark, which is why it’s in different spaces. And there are warnings all over the place. Read them.

Also, in the UK, Mr. Kipling has released Toffee Terrible Whirls. That’s a shortcake sandwich of something creamlike and toffee. A box of six for a pound. How can I be upset about anything when I can get those again? Mm, toffee…

There has been thought, my dear non-existent fans. Thought and rumination. There has been gardening… and patio gardening. Which did okay! For a year with terrible weather. I have Plans for next year. Muahaha. There has been the Drawing of Maps because apparently I definitely draw maps now. By hand, because I have to be inconvenient. And the writing group, of course. That is a thing I have been a part of for a worrying amount of years…

There are a handful of Dust things that are not quite attached to Dust, and some of them can be posted. I’ll work on it.

But right now, I just want a cup of fruit tea. Ciao.

 

Yours,

S. A. Jinks

 

 

* It’s in Original Works. I’m not against fanfiction in any definition of the term, I love to read it** but really suck at writing other people’s characters. I’ll stick to what I’m good at.

** But if we’re talking about fanfic of Dust, my completely non-existent fanbase, let’s talk about that at a later time***.

*** That will probably never happen because I will never have a fanbase, let’s face it.

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.

 

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