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(Fiction) Sergei & Bunkin #2: The Glade

Writing 150The Essex Freehold was on a large lot of land mostly covered by wild forest broken up by small clearing — some of which had buildings and some of which didn’t. The freehold itself was right at the front of the property behind locked gates; you either had to key in a five-digit combination or say a secret phrase to the chimerical gremlin sitting on top of the key pad. Bunkin had gotten them in with the phrase, then argued about whether or not Whitney or Beyonce was better for ten minutes before Sergei dragged him along.

Now they were definitely not lost in the young woods and bushy undergrowth a half-mile behind the huge brick mansion, according to the pooka squire. The clearing with the “problem” chimera should definitely be around here somewhere. However, Sergei was getting the feeling that they were going around in circles. The deer paths were starting to show the signs of their previous passings, and the lower branches along the trees bore familiar scrapes from where his horns brushed them the first time.

Bunkin was a little ways ahead of him, squinting at a map that had obviously been printed by his school library’s dying printer. In an effort to make it more legible, he traced the faint outlines in pen. This might have been a fatal error; if he had marked in landmarks that were mere flights of fancy to make the travel more interesting, neither one of them would have a clue. It was a hazard in having a pooka for a squire, he supposed.

The troll tapped Bunkin’s shoulder lightly to get his attention and then signed. What are we looking for?

The map says that we should have seen the unicorn trail by now, and that we can follow that to the glade. But I can’t tell if these tracks are unicorn or deer. And since the big trail splits off three ways over there… Bunkin pointed to the east, southeast, and due south, then shrugged.

The squire had a point. Sergei had never seen a unicorn before, but he knew that it was roughly the same size as a deer with split hooves more than likely. He would have guessed the unicorn to have a gait more like a horse, but that wasn’t a given. He stared at the three paths Bunkin had marked out and tried to figure which was which, but they were far too similar. Unless…

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on the Glamour around him. There likely wouldn’t be much — this was mostly new growth on private land, and the natural magic of the place would be drawn to the balefire within the freehold’s mansion. But there should be enough for him to spot a basic trail.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Bunkin’s true fae visage more clearly — an upright six-foot rabbit with wood-brown fur, a basic tunic and trousers, and a hand-drawn map of the Duke’s lands. In addition to the oak, hickory, and sassafras trees there were others that shimmered with rainbow bioluminescence in the afternoon sun; squat bushes bearing, impossibly, mushrooms with red and white spotted caps and little button eyes; and tiny trails hugging roots and vanishing under the undergrowth. Sergei thought he saw something moving the grasses there, but looked away before he could find out what it was.

He peered at the three paths again. The first path, headed east, showed prints that seemed to dance along the dirt, with a crystalline glint catching the sun whenever the wind blew. Somehow, he knew this would be the way to go. He nodded in that direction and made his way forward, with Bunkin scrambling to catch up.

I’ve never seen a unicorn before, Bunkin signed to him. I don’t think I’m dressed right for the occasion. I hope she likes me.

When we get to the clearing, we’ll probably see Beyonce but not the unicorn. Of course, they might be surprised…but if they stuck to tradition, the mythical creature certainly wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.

What? Why? We’re the good guys. Unicorns can be shy, but they know someone pure of heart when they see them. Bunkin puffed out his chest a little. His eyes, huge and black and liquid, were surprisingly effective at broadcasting a purity he didn’t have.

We might be pure of heart, but I’m pretty sure you’re not a virgin. Sergei grinned down at his squire, then ruffled his ears with a broad, heavy hand.

“Gross.” Bunkin frowned as he stopped to ‘fix’ his ears. “I’m still in high school, dude.”

Sergei blinked and turned to look at his squire. You mean you are?

“When would I have had sex? During exams? When I was working for you over summer vacation? There’s just no time.” Bunkin was exceptionally stone-faced, or maybe Sergei wasn’t good at reading the expressions of a rabbit after all this time.

Well…maybe we’d better let you lead the conversation, then, Pure of Heart. Sergei stepped aside on the unicorn path to give Bunkin the right of way. You learn something new every day, he thought to himself.

It only took them a few minutes of walking to reach the edge of the clearing. The trees parted suddenly to reveal a small meadow no more than a hundred feet across, impossibly bright with sunlight. There, in the center, was a tall, almost elfin woman whose skin seemed to absorb and reflect the golden glow. She was in a sheer white dress, ribbons of fabric floating off her arms and around her ankles. Prancing around her was the unicorn, its pelt as white as her silk, its horn as bright as her skin. It stopped as they approached, looking their way with a warning, nervous snort. The woman’s gaze followed. Both Sergei and Bunkin knew at once this was the chimera they were looking for.

“No way,” Bunkin whispered. “I will never understand why so many people get so lost in their head over Beyonce.”

“Hello?” the chimera’s voice rang through the clearing like a bell, though Sergei couldn’t see her lips moving. The unicorn pawed in agitation at the grass, lowering its horn towards them.

Well, Pure of Heart, you’re up. Sergei pointed to the clearing, and Bunkin nodded.

I’ve got this, he signed, then strode confidently out of his hiding spot.

“Yo, Bey-Bey, what’s up girl??”

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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(Fiction) Sergei & Bunkin #1: The Negotiation

Writing 150“I do know ASL, so it’s not necessary for you to be here.” The man sitting on the other side of the booth, tall and lithe and poured into a suit it would have taken Bunkin two months to afford, stared with a raised eyebrow. He brought his hands together, sleeves pulling back to show an obscenely-large gold watch. “I would feel more comfortable if I could discuss my problem in private with the man I’d like to solve it.”

Bunkin leaned forward to mimic the well-dressed man’s posture, though he had to lean around Sergei’s bulk to do it. “Sir Kolov appreciates that you prepared so well for this meeting, but he would like to remind you that I am his squire and assistant in all things. I am as much a part of your solution as he is.”

He stole a glance at Sergei, who looked down at him with a smile. After a pause, he nodded. Bunkin beamed, then remembered his composure. Still, he couldn’t help keeping a triumphant grin on his face as he turned back to their client. “So, Mr. Washington, what can we do for you?”

Mr. Washington frowned at Bunkin, looked pleadingly for some give on the part of Sergei, and sighed when he found none. “Very well. I need your word that what I’m about to tell you will be held in the strictest confidence. You cannot divulge any of this to anyone — not even to other members of any motley or freehold you belong to. Do I have your promise, Sergei Kolov and Bunkin Johnson?”

Sergei nodded immediately; Bunkin could feel it in the shift of that great arm jamming him into the wall. The pooka, on the other hand, closed his eyes and forced himself to swallow the multitude of interesting possibilities he could have offered as an answer. He took a deep breath, forced himself to look at the boring grey brick of truth, and coughed it up out of his throat. “I promise. You have my word.”

He slumped and looked down at the table. Suddenly, his burger was just a mess of processed beef and a slop of condiments. His shake tasted more like chemicals and less like strawberries. The sheen that made Mr. Washington’s skin glow wasn’t some fine grooming product, but nothing more than a two-dollar coat of cocoa butter. Bunkin resented this man for making him see things as they are. It left an awful taste in his mouth that lingered.

Mr. Washington, however, relaxed with a sigh. “Good,” he said.

He drew himself up, attracting Bunkin’s attention once more. Under his flawless brown skin and tailored suit was an even more supernaturally-perfect sidhe with robes of spider-silk and woven silver, spun rubies and emeralds. Mr. Washington allowed his disguise to fall, revealing himself as Count Akkin, ruler of the Freehold of Essex.

“I have a small problem with a…chimera…who seems to have become rather obsessed with me. It’s causing disruptions at my court, and I’m afraid it’s gotten to the point that I need it to be removed.”

“How do you mean, removed? Do you want us to destroy it?” Bunkin’s long ears perked and swung forward. The pooka relaxed his mortal seeming as well, revealing his large dark eyes, the suggestion of a muzzle on his face, the fine coating of fur on clawed hands. His green tunic, emblazoned with the crest he himself made for Sir Kolov, felt shabby and rough on his shoulders as he looked at Count Akkin’s fine dress.

“I would rather it not come to that, of course.” The Count spoke carefully, glancing to Bunkin before focusing on Sergei. “I believe that it could be persuaded to go elsewhere, if the right Kithain of noble intent were to intervene.”

Sergei shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Bunkin said, “Sir Kolov would like to know why you would like to be rid of this chimera. What sort of disruption is it causing?”

The Count coughed. “Well, you see…as you know, I have recently been engaged to Lady Tenithia and our wedding will be held in four weeks. This chimera did not take the news of my betrothal very well and it seeks to, er, persuade me to reconsider.”

The fur on the back of Bunkin’s neck bristled and a bolt of delight struck right down his spine. “You mean this chimera is jealous of your fiancee?”

If the Count were less composed, Bunkin was sure he would have seen the blush. He glanced at Sergei, and gave a short nod. “Yes.”

“Sir Kolov would like to know if you have any personal history with this chimera.” Bunkin pounced immediately, wiggling around Sergei’s elbow when it threatened to pin his chest.

“We might have…there is history, yes.”

“Could you elaborate?” Bunkin felt himself being compacted further into his corner of the booth by the Silent Knight, but he couldn’t let this go.

“I may have…created her.” The Count was not looking at either of them now. He was staring at his hands.

Bunkin’s chest felt tight and light at the same time. He had never seen a sidhe so uncomfortable. His ear flicked, and he felt his smile grow so big it stretched his entire face. “Her?”

Sergei’s elbow slammed into Bunkin’s chest. It was a short, almost subtle movement, but it was enough to knock the wind out of him and force him to leave off the chase. The pooka coughed and rubbed the point of impact. He was sure there would be a bruise.

I apologize for my squire, Sergei signed. He is still learning the etiquette of gentlemen. Of course I’ll help your chimera find a new freehold to call home.

Count Akkin took a moment while the troll signed, deciphering the movement of those massive hands. “Thank you,” he said, after he was sure he understood.

Think nothing of it. How will we recognize the chimera when we arrive?

The Count took another minute to translate the movements, and when he understood an indecipherable expression crossed his face. “She is…quite recognizable. You shouldn’t have any trouble spotting her.”

“Could you give us a description?” Bunkin recovered enough to resume his function, doing his best to keep his composure.

“She…uh…she looks like Beyonce.” The Count’s lanky frame slunk into its seat. His shoulders hunched further at the sound of Bunkin’s long, loud laughter as it echoed through the restaurant.

“Beyonce?!?” The pooka shouted giddily, and caught another elbow in the ribs. This time, the air left him with an audible whoosh; but he kept giggling around wheezes of breath.

Sergei arranged a time to arrive at the Freehold, and the Count offered an official title in exchange for his services. The troll, in the interest of shortening the meeting as much as possible, told him he’d think about it; Akkin left before Bunkin could get his breath back, darting out of the booth and walking out of the restaurant as quickly as his dignity would allow him.

Bunkin caught Sergei’s disapproving glare and folded his ears with appropriate abashedness. “Oh come on, though, you have to admit that is hilarious. Dude dreams up Beyonce to love on him and tries to kick her to the curb, and we’re supposed to think he’s the victim here? What a fucking idiot.”

Sergei’s glare melted into exasperation, then the slightest hint of amusement.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2017 in Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Gaming) Meet Bunkin Johnson, the Devoted Squire

ctd20

Last Friday I wrote up one of my characters for the Changeling 20th Anniversary Edition — Sergei Kolov, the Silent Knight. Now, meet his Devoted Squire Bunkin Johnson! I’ve had these two in my head for a very long time now; I had a vague idea for a Changeling-based TV show called “Sleepwalkers”, where faeries were running around as normal people except for folks who had “the sight”. They’ve gone through many different iterations, and I’m happy that they get to come full-circle to the setting they were always meant to be in.

Bunkin Johnson is (of course) a rabbit pooka with a whip-crack wit and a keen desire to give himself over to a cause that’s bigger than him. He finally finds it in Sergei — as his eyes, ears and mouth if necessary. They’ve thankfully relaxed the rules on pooka lies in C20, but I imagine that Bunkin’s lies are still fairly frequent, serving the purpose of advancing Sergei’s agenda and reputation. Also, they serve to deflect attention away from him; he works best when no one’s looking.

BUNKIN JOHNSON, THE DEVOTED SQUIRE

Background
Even though Carver Johnson comes from a family of Baltimore natives, the half-black/half-Irish student has never felt at home in the city. His father — a police administrator — couldn’t reconcile the fact that his son was interested in his office for all the wrong reasons even from a young age, so he left the bulk of the rearing to Carver’s mom, a veterinarian whose work often came home with her. Animals were one of the only things that young Carver could focus on, so his parents assumed he would follow in his mother’s footsteps someday. It was a mild shock when he chose to go to Baltimore City College for high school instead of its science/engineering focused rival, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Carver’s love of words rivaled his love of animals, though, and he quickly became one of the most popular “nerds” in school. He was the class clown the teachers couldn’t get angry enough to punish, the geek that somehow avoided beatdowns by the jocks. As easily as he navigated the treacherous landscape of high school, however, he still felt something was missing. He found what he had been looking for all his life the night he saw the Silent Knight rescue one of his teachers from a couple of thugs.

He thought he went crazy when he noticed the huge stranger grow horns and lupine fangs, or saw that his teacher had pointed ears and two eyebrows. His sense of hearing and smell grew sharper; colors popped way too brightly; voices cheered on one side or the other from the shadows. When the overly-pierced monsters were finally dispatched, Carver ran up to the stranger and begged to be his squire. He had no idea why; it just felt like destiny.

Nine months later, Carver has learned much about his own pooka nature and the world of the fae. He sees himself as the voice for the voiceless knight, making sure Sergei’s needs are attended to. His parents are quite suspicious of this newfound passion for helping the homeless, but they chalk it up as just another phase their strange son is going through. Hopefully, eventually, he’ll settle down and be a vet.

Mortal Seeming
Carver is one of those kids who looks reasonably put together; his fade is fresh, his edges are lined up, and his clothes are bright and well-kept. He presents a really nice silhouette. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s something in his expression and demeanor that gives him an air of awkward discomfort, like he’s just waiting for something frightening to happen. His eyes are spaced notably wide apart, his nose looks like it wants to lead right towards his lips, and two large incisors are prominent due to an overbite. His cleanliness looks fussy; he will never be calm or still.

Fae Mien
As a fae, Bunkin looks much more calm and collected. His brown eyes are huge and dark, taking in his surroundings with calm alertness. His long ears are often pointed in different directions, though it’s unclear how much he can actually hear. For all intents and purposes, he comes across as a tall, self-possessed bipedal rabbit in “simple” Victorian clothing. He prefers his feet to be bare, covered with tailored spats at most, with a messenger bag slung over one shoulder and across his chest. His companion, a tiny cockroach in a top hat, can frequently be found on the other.

Vital Statistics
Court: Seelie
Legacies: Squire/Beast
Seeming: Wilder (16)
House: Commoner

Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 2
Social: Charisma 4, Manipulation 3, Appearance 3
Mental: Perception 2, Intelligence 3, Wits 3

Talents: Alertness 1, Athletics 1, Empathy 2, Expression 3, Intimidation 1, Kenning 2, Subterfuge 2
Skills: Animal Ken 1, Etiquette 1, Performance (oratory) 2, Stealth 1
Knowledges: Academics 3, Computer 3, Enigmas 2, Investigation 1, Law 1, Politics 1, Science 1, Technology 1

Arts: Chicanery 1, Legerdemain 1, Metamorphosis 1
Realms: Actor 2, Fae 2, Nature 1, Scene 1
Backgrounds: Companion 2, Contacts 1, Dreamers 1, Resources 1

Tempers: Glamour 5, Willpower 4, Banality 3
Merits: Acute Hearing 1, Good Listener 1, Loyal Heart 2
Flaws: Echoes 2

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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(Gaming) Meet Sergei Kolov, the Silent Knight

Gaming 150A friend pointed me towards Changeling: the Dreaming in high school when he was trying to sell me on the Vampire: the Masquerade game he was building. If you’ve got basic knowledge about the World of Darkness, you’ll have some idea about how fundamentally incompatible the two games are — the Kindred are active agents of Banality, the force of disbelief that’s severing mankind’s tie to the Dreaming, after all. Even still, we made my first pooka character and that was that. I fell in love, and for several years Changeling was my jam.

Now the 20th Anniversary Edition of Changeling: the Dreaming is out and of COURSE I helped fund the Kickstarter campaign at the highest level. As part of the sweet stash of goodies, I will (hopefully) have two(!) character concepts drawn by one of the game artists for the new edition. I’m incredibly excited.

ctd20

As soon as I knew I could get two characters (thanks to my wonderful and generous husband), I knew exactly who I’d submit — Sergei Kolov, the Troll Knight and his loyal Pooka Squire Bunkin Johnson. When I run a chronicle — and you’d better believe I will — these two will be fairly prominent players in the Duchy of the Blue Crab (that’s the faerie name for Baltimore City).

I thought I’d do a quick write-up on Sergei and Bunkin, then post them here. If you’re thinking about writing a Changeling game or story, feel free to use them as you wish. I’m just really happy to be able to play in the world of the Kithain again!

SERGEI KOLOV, THE SILENT KNIGHT

Background
Sergei Kolov was born William Jackson Covington, the oldest son of a farming family scratching together their existence in rural North Carolina. He came into the world oversized and grew bigger from there; by the time he was 13 he was nearly six feet tall and his reputation as a gentle giant had been cemented. Bill’s father told him being meek wasn’t just what God wanted him to do — it was also the way he would have to survive in the world. No matter what he was like on the inside, people we see him as a big black man and be afraid. Bill took this to heart. He said only what he had to, when he had to, and he only made use of his God-given strength to defend people who couldn’t defend themselves. And there were a lot of those.

Things took a turn during Bill’s first year of high school. He quickly gained a reputation as a defender of geeks and underclassmen, but that kind of guardianship wouldn’t be tolerated for very long. One day before Christmas break, he was jumped by six upperclassmen and beaten into a coma. He woke up over a fortnight later, on New Year’s Day — unable to speak, but healthy for the most part. His parents knew, however, that something had changed; Bill’s eyes would dart to thin air frequently, and…odd things would happen around him from time to time. The Covingtons didn’t mind too much when their son told them he was going to move out after graduation; there was something off about him in a way that made his superstitious family uneasy.

He left home when he graduated high school to make his fortune in Baltimore, and he’s been penniless ever since. For the past two years, however, he’s made a name for himself in the Duchy of the Blue Crab through countless heroic deeds; the “Silent Knight” has earned the goodwill of Charm City’s commoners and the attention of the ruling Court. For now, he’s content to accept the charity of the local fae but has refused a more official position within anyone’s freehold — noble, or commoner.

Mortal Seeming
In his mortal guise, Sergei is an enormous black man standing well over 6 feet tall with 300+ pounds of hard-earned muscle. Even in the hardened streets of Baltimore, he cuts an imposing figure. Almost everything about his demeanor is meant to soften that image: he favors loose and functional clothing, almost constantly walks with a bend in his back, and only looks directly at someone when he’s smiling. He’s as well-kept as a homeless man can be, with a small mane of dreadlocked hair and a thick (but somehow groomed) beard.

Fae Mien
As a fae, Sergei is truly towering — he gains more than two feet in height and an even more Herculean build. His skin is shaded more slate than blue, but his eyes are as clear and bright as a cloudless sky. His bearing is more confident and self-possessed, his gaze steadier. His clothes are still loose and functional, but well cared-for. It’s impossible to miss the large broadsword at his hip and the table-sized wooden shield slung across his back; despite the amount of space he takes up (a lot), he never seems to bump into things with them.

Vital Statistics
Court: Seelie
Legacies: Saint/Fatalist
House: Commoner
Seeming: Wilder (19)

Physical: Strength 4, Dexterity 2, Stamina 4
Social: Charisma 3, Manipulation 1, Appearance 2
Mental: Perception 4, Intelligence 2, Wits 2

Talents: Alertness 3, Brawl 3, Empathy 2, Intimidation 1, Kenning 2, Leadership 1, Streetwise 2
Skills: Drive 1, Etiquette 2, Firearms 1, Melee 3, Stealth 1, Survival 2
Knowledges: Academics 1, Enigmas 1, Gremayre 1, Law 1, Medicine 1

Arts: Dragon’s Ire 1, Primal 2, Wayfare 1
Realms: Actor 2, Fae 1, Prop 2, Time 1
Backgrounds: Chimera (items) 3, Contacts 2, Treasures 1

Tempers: Glamour 5, Banality 3, Willpower 5, Nightmare 0
Merits: Languages (ASL, Russian) 2; Reputation 2
Flaws: Mute 4

Chimerical Items
Broadsword (Str+Melee/6; dmg. Str+3 or +4 if two-handed, lethal) – 2
Wooden Shield (Armor Rating 2; diff. Increase +2; Dex -1) – 1

Treasures
“The Listening Horn” – This is an old-fashioned brass horn, intended as a crude hearing aid. However, anyone who puts the horn to their ear and invests a point of Glamour into it can read “between the lines” of what their target is saying. This duplicates the effects of the Naming 1 cantrip.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) A Formal Introduction

Writing 150This week I wanted to focus more on a graceful exit for my stories. A lot of them just stop, or I hastily construct a way for things to end when I feel the need to wrap things up. To be honest, it’s kind of sloppy and I need to get better at it. Most of the time my ideas come with a really strong starting point, but I honestly have no idea what to do for an ending. So now’s the time to focus on that.

This week, Kevin meets a few more people who live in the mysterious house across the street.

“What did you do?” The voice of an old woman was the first thing Kevin heard when he came to. A lightning bolt of pain crashed through his forehead, convincing him to keep his eyes closed for the time being.

“Nothing!” A younger woman replied. It took him a moment to recognize Tefir; the steely poise in her words were gone, replaced by the affronted exasperation of every teenager Kevin had ever met.

“Lianna?” The old woman pulled someone into the room with her tone.

Lianna’s voice was shockingly close. “Nothing happened, Mistress. They were just talking, and then he saw me.”

“Oh, so you’re gonna believe her and not me?” Tefir sounded angry and hurt.

“Mmmm, and you know exactly why, Tefiretti, Teller of Tales.”

“How many times am I going to have to say I’m sorry about that whole thing before you forgive me?”

“Oh, child, I already forgave you. But I ain’t forgotten about it. I told you how it is with trust, Teffie. Once you break it, it’s never going to be fixed all the way. And this is too important for me not to be sure. If it makes you feel better, I’m sorry for not believing you.”

“It doesn’t,” Tefir said, though it obviously did. “I don’t think he’s one of us. He doesn’t look or feel any different.”

“No, but he’s got the blood.”

“How can you tell?”

“You could too if you stop being so standoffish and look at him. Probably an uncle or a grandfather. You know his kin?”

“No’m.”

“Well, we’ll find out before too long. He’s got to stop pretending he’s still asleep though.”

“What?”

“He woke up a few minutes ago, but he’s being smart about it. Ain’t you, Colin?” The old woman laughed, and Kevin felt a light, but firm, punch on his shoulder.

“His name is Kevin.” Tefir punched him again. “Hey. Wake up. How come you didn’t tell me you’ve got the blood?”

Kevin opened his eyes. Tefir was hovering above him to his right, while a short, wizened woman peered down at him from his left. Next to her was the gigantic, shaggy head of the lioness, burning gold irises fixed on him with a predator’s intensity. The women both had stars in their eyes, which were big and black and swirling with glittering specks.

Kevin forced down the panic rising in his stomach. This wasn’t a dream. This was really happening.

“Hey,” Tefir said, and leaned down to stare. “How come you didn’t tell me you had kin?”

“I…don’t know what you’re talking about.” Kevin shook his head, like it would clear the dull throbbing ache making his thoughts slow and obscure. He tilted to his side to get up, but the old woman’s hand pushed him back down with surprising strength. “I have no idea what either of you are saying. Got the blood? What the hell is that?”

The old woman swatted his chest. “Language.”

“Sorry, ma’am.” Kevin apologized automatically.

“It’s all right, young man. You all shook up, ain’t you?” She smiled, her mouth rubbery and wide, teeth impossibly white and even. “That’s all right. You’re gonna be OK.”

“Wait. Where–”

“You’re in my house, in a guest room. We had Lianna pull you in and upstairs so we could have a look at you.” The old woman glanced at the lion, who narrowed her eyes. “You a bit too heavy for one of us to carry. For both of us, probably.”

Kevin relaxed. “What happened?”

“You fell down the stairs,” Tefir said.

“Because you had a big ass lion on your porch!”

“Language, young man. I’m not gonna warn you again.” The threat in the old woman’s voice was vague, but solid.

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” the lion spoke. Her voice was smooth and human. It was like she was a cartoon character with some celebrity saying her lines. “My name is Lianna. I’m the guardian for the Wayfarer House.”

“The what?”

Tefir, Lianna and the old woman glanced at each other, asking a silent question Kevin couldn’t even hope to guess at. The old woman spoke first. “Why don’t you two go back out on the porch? I’ll finish up here.”

“Couldn’t I tell him?” Tefir’s face pleaded with the old woman, who shook her head. She sucked her teeth and walked out. The lion padded out behind, her flanks noisily brushing the door frame. Only when the lion’s tail curled around the door knob to pull it shut did the woman turn her attention back to Kevin.

“You’re gonna have a lot of questions, but I ain’t gonna be able to give you a whole lot of answers yet.” The old woman patted his arm, then reached behind her to pull up a chair. “Sorry about that, but that’s the way it is. I’ll tell you what I can, but I can only tell you everything after you settle in a spell.”

Kevin blinked and shifted, rising until he was at least leaning against the headboard. “I’m…ma’am, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I promise I won’t tell anybody about your lion or whatever. I’ll go back home and leave you folks alone.”

The old woman shook her head and grinned. “Nah, you ain’t. You can’t, not now. But that’s OK; we’re gonna show you a thing or two to get your feet underneath you, and then you can decide what you want to do.”

“I want to go home.”

The woman laughed. “Oh, child, bless your heart! Nothing’s stopping you, but you’re gonna see stuff over there that don’t make no sense either, and if you tell your ma about it she’s just gonna think you’re crazy. You better just drink your tea and listen to what I have to say.”

Kevin didn’t know how he knew, but he looked to the bedstand at his left knowing that there was a cup there. He took it, and smelled it, then tasted it. He pictured scruffy, waxy plants stretched out over a sun-baked landscape at once, and the vivid nature of the image disturbed him more than anything.

“Good, ain’t it?” The woman smiled. “It’ll help with the headache. Now, people call me Auntie Bones, and that’s what I want you to call me, got it? I know you’ve got to be wondering why my eyes are all swirly and what not, so let’s start there.

“You might have guessed this already, but I ain’t fully human. Neither is Teffie. We got stories inside us, you see — real, honest-to-God magic. Now, a story only works if you believe in it, which is why we keep to ourselves for the most part. People ain’t got time for that kind of stuff any more. But some people, some of you got this itch, or catch a scent on the wind, or something, that leads you here. For you, that means somebody in your family is just like us, and a little bit of that found its way inside of you. That’s what we mean when we say you got the blood. You ain’t fully human, either.”

Kevin heard the words, but he couldn’t accept them. Everything about the room — the size of it, and the lights, and the bed he was on — felt unreal. Some large part of his brain wanted to reject what the old woman was saying immediately, but there was some small part that wouldn’t let him. It was crazy, and he knew it. But he believed her.

“What, so you’re an alien?” The only beings Kevin ever saw with eyes like her were those aliens on those UFO shows.

“Mm-mm, child. Well, not the way you’re thinking. But we don’t really belong here. And we can’t get home. So we make do. And people like you help us do that.”

“How?”

“By helping us tell our stories.” Auntie Bones settled into a more serious tone, looking at Kevin intently. It was unsettling.

“That’s it?”

“Child, the story’s all we got. It’s the whole reason we’re here. If you don’t help us tell it, we forget it, and a whole piece of the world dies right then and there.”

Kevin looked down at his teacup. He was shocked to find it was empty. He didn’t even like the taste of it that much. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Auntie Bones sagged in her chair. “Not now. But it will. In the meantime, you’re hired. I want you back here tomorrow morning for training.”

“Wait, what?” Kevin blinked and sat up.

The old woman laughed and got to her feet, shuffling towards the door. “I like you, Kevin. You don’t know nothing, but I like you. See you tomorrow, hear? Now, stay as long as you want, but you should be feeling better about now. When you’re ready to go, just open the door and go down the stairs. Try not to fall.”

Kevin sat back against the headboard as the cackle of Auntie Bones echoed outside of the room. The cup in his hands was curiously warm, and when he looked down at it he nearly spilled the tea all over his lap. He wanted to throw it across the room; this was like that black magic his mother had warned him about. Instead, he took another sip, trying to calm his jangled nerves.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) The Wayfarer House

Gaming 150Now that the 20th anniversary edition of Changeling: the Dreaming has dropped, it’s time to start re-establishing the setting! Hooray! C20 updates the Kithain for the modern world, progressing the story from the classic World of Darkness and cleaning up a lot of the squishier ideas that never quite got hammered out in 2nd Edition. 

Going back to Baltimore got me thinking about what modern-day Changeling would look like in the Duchy of the Chesapeake. Here’s a first pass at an idea for a freehold in the heart of West Baltimore.

It didn’t matter how early you got up in the summer; the day was going to get started without you. That’s why the sunlight was already glinting off the candy wrappers and smashed bottles in the street at 7 in the morning, and why the crickets were already sawing away when Kevin stepped onto his front porch. It wasn’t hot yet, but the insects were warning him already — “Brother, you’d better find some shade in a few hours so you don’t melt.”

Kevin really hated mornings like this one. You couldn’t even enjoy it because you had so much to do before the sun got too high. Neighbors were breaking the unspoken rule that you just didn’t start lawnmowers before nine because they knew now was the only time to do it. Down the block, he could hear Mr. Gordon puttering away on that ancient gas cutter; there was a weed-whacker going one street over; in the distance, someone was taking an electric trimmer to their hedges. The drone of the motors told him the same thing the crickets were, and it made the morning feel urgent, almost panicky. It riled him.

He sat on the railing and watched the neighborhood. There weren’t a lot of people out, but the ones that were moved with purpose. After the sun beat every living thing back to their pockets of shade, the block would be live with people jawing and fanning themselves on the porches. People would go visit each other, especially when a pitcher of lemonade or sweet tea came out, but that was all the movement you would see until the sun went down. Even then, it’d be too hot to do much besides cook a little something or play a quick game of basketball. This day, like so many in July, would be a long, slow torpor punctuated by brief sprints of movement before all of your energy was sapped again. These few hours were all people had to feel like people; it wouldn’t be long before it was too hot to be in the house without an air conditioner, and who could afford one of those?

So people were out, walking to the corner store, or watering their plants, or getting to the gas station or liquor store a few blocks down the road. The only people who were just sitting on the porch were him and the girl across the street at the Hotel.

It was just a house, but everybody called it the Hotel. As far as Kevin knew, only three people lived there — an ancient old lady with glasses that made her look like some kind of beetle; a short woman who never stopped moving or talking, who could go from laughing to murderously angry as fast as you could blink; and a girl, about his age, who carried herself like an honest-to-God princess. The three women had a ton of people over at their place all the time, though. Some were fairly regular, but most weren’t. The only white people Kevin ever saw that weren’t on TV or at the mall were at the Hotel. They would come out on the porch in the evenings and chat, with plates of food or big glasses of something alcoholic probably, and while the faces were mostly different it seemed like all three of them knew every single one.

Kevin had always wondered what was up with the Hotel, but his mother told him to mind his own business when he asked. The women never bothered the neighbors, despite all the traffic, and the neighborhood left them alone in kind. But that didn’t sit right with him. People around these parts were mostly quiet, and mostly private, but everybody still knew everybody else’s business. Nobody knew anything about the women at the Hotel, and nobody seemed the least bit curious about them except him.

He looked up and down the street, but there wasn’t anyone unusual coming or going. It almost never happened, but the girl at the Hotel was completely alone.

Without thinking about it, Kevin got up and walked across the street. He stopped at the iron fence, his hand hovering on the latch. Something in the back of his brain told him that he probably shouldn’t just walk into somebody else’s yard uninvited. So he called up to the girl watching him from the porch.

“Hey. Can I come over?” He instantly regretted asking like that. He was seventeen years old, not seven.

The girl looked at him, her chin held high. Then she looked away and down the street. “I guess.”

Kevin pushed the gate open. The metal wasn’t iron, but it sure looked like it; it was lighter, though, and cool to the touch. He stepped through it and up to the steps while the gate swung shut behind him. “My name’s Kevin. I, uh, live over there.” He pointed to his house, across the street and one lot over.

“I know where you live, Kevin.” The girl was looking at him again. From his spot at the bottom of the stairs, she actually did look kind of royal. She was in a cheap plastic chair, but it might as well have been a throne. “What do you need?”

 

“Nothing.” Kevin smiled, unsure why he was so nervous. “I just wanted to say hey.”

“Oh.” The girl seemed almost disappointed. “Hey.” She looked down the street again, and suddenly broke into a smile.

Kevin stared at her. She was one of those Erykah Badu types, always in form-fitting dresses or pants that looked expensive, hair wrapped in a scarf all bundled up tight. Today’s outfit was a sleeveless dress that was emerald in the shade but a glaring yellow in the sun. Her headwrap matched, and somehow she managed to get long earrings with (probably) fake pearls jangling around a single emerald. She looked pretty tight. Her family must have had money. What did they do in that house?

She looked back his way and he quickly focused on the stairs. He looked back up at her when he thought it was safe. “So what’s your name?”

She looked at him for a moment, like she was judging him. Normally Kevin would have been offended, but here he just felt exposed. “Why don’t you come up on the porch? I’m not going to stab you.”

“I know that.” Kevin smiled again, trying to be friendly but just looking nervous. “I just didn’t want to be rude or nothing.”

“Oh. I said you could come over, though. It ain’t rude to come up on my porch after I invited you.” She looked down the street again. “My name is Tefir.”

“Tefir?” Kevin swirled the syllables around in his mouth and decided he liked them. “What’s that mean?”

“That’s private.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Kevin tried to make out what she was staring at down the street. He thought he saw some lightning bugs in a little swarm, but that didn’t make any sense. It must have been a trick of the light.

“It’s OK. Nothing wrong with being curious.” She smiled at him. “What does Kevin mean?”

“I don’t know. Probably king or something.”

“So you’re a king then?”

“I didn’t say all that.” Was this girl making fun of him or something? What was he doing here? “Just…you know…something cool, like, this big deal that you can’t live up to.”

Tefir laughed. “Not with that attitude. I don’t know what Kevin means either, but I bet it means something like ‘bold’ or ‘seeker’.”

“Yeah? What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know, just a feeling.” Tefir sat back in her chair and folded her hands in her lap. “How come you never asked to come over before now?”

Kevin shrugged. It felt like he was sweating, but it wasn’t hot enough for that. “You always have company.”

Tefir checked him with her eyes. “Yeah, we do. But they’re friendly. I know Ma wouldn’t mind fixing you a plate if you wanted.”

“All right, I’ll come over then.” Kevin heard himself say that before he thought it through. It would be a little hard to explain that to his mom. “Who are all these people who come over, though?”

Tefir shrugged, then looked down the street. “Just some of Ma’s friends is all. She’s been all over, so she knows a lot of people. She gives ’em a place to stay when they’re in town.”

“Yeah? Was your mom in a band or something?”

Tefir laughed. “Naw. Military. Uh, kind of. But she retired and settled down here. I think she misses going different places, but at least different places can come to her now.”

“Doesn’t it feel weird having all these strangers in your house?” Kevin tried to imagine his mother having company every day, and couldn’t see any way it didn’t end with somebody getting killed.

“Mm-mm. It’s fine. I write letters and send emails to people all over the world. I can go anywhere and know that there’s somewhere I can stay if I need to. I like that.”

“So you want to travel?”

Tefir shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. I might get my mom’s old job, so I’d pretty much have to.”

Kevin blinked. “I can’t imagine you in the military, though. They wouldn’t allow headwraps.”

“Religious exception.”

“You’re Muslim?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“You wouldn’t have heard of it.”

“Some African thing?”

“Something like that.” Tefir snorted. She looked away from the street and at a corner of her porch, then laughed.

Kevin followed her eyes and screamed. He could have sworn there was nothing there before, but a giant lioness sprawled out in the corner now, so big her forepaws were just a few feet from him though her back was against the railing some twenty feet away. Her tail thumped the porch noisily and she startled at the sound. She rose up on front paws as he scrambled down the stairs; to his amazement, she looked surprised.

“Teffie,” the great cat said, “I think he can see me.”

 

“What the fuck?” Kevin felt like there was a rock in his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. He looked back at Tefir to find that she, too, had changed.

She was taller than before, her bearing regal, almost statuesque. Her skin was a perfect mahogany, and her eyes…her eyes…

They were huge and black, with white flecks inside that swirled and twinkled as he stared. They looked like the sky at night, a milky swirl of stars bending and straightening like a whip cracked in slow motion. They were beautiful and frightening and impossible. Kevin couldn’t look away, but he had to run.

His heel caught air instead of the ground as he tried to back down the steps. He tumbled into the dark before he knew what happened.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2017 in RPGs, Writing

 

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(Writing) Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 2

Self Improvement 150This summer I’ll be participating in the Clarion Write-A-Thon, a fundraiser for the Clarion Workshop. What is Clarion, you ask? Why, it’s the pre-eminent six-week intensive for budding writers in sci-fi and fantasy and it’s going on RIGHT NOW. The Write-A-Thon takes place during the workshop as a way to encourage writers to…well, do what they do best AND to make sure this wonderful resource is able to attract the very best teachers and students every year. This year, my goal is to write 50,000 words and raise $500 in donations.

In week 1, I raised $125 ($100 in pledges, $25 in donations) and I’ve written 4500 words. Not bad, but I know I can do so much better! If you’re interested in helping out, you can make a pledge (where your final donation is tied to my word count) or a donation at my author’s page here.

Last week was a little crowded. The 4×10 schedule is something I’m still adjusting to, and there were a LOT of calls to Baltimore. Mom is in a rehab center, trying to regain mobility in her hips, and she’s having a rough time. As much as she says she likes being alone, she really does need frequent contact with familiar people and that’s harder to come by where she is. She’s also changed pain medications, so I’m fairly sure there are withdrawal issues there (she was taking prescription codeine). That, combined with loads of free time to ruminate on the loss of her daughter and husband, is just not putting her in a great place.

That’s given me incentive to move forward on a number of things, though. We’re going to have to do something about the house; I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to have someone go through it, room by room, to tidy up and mark everything that is OK for keeping, salvageable, and what should just be tossed. I really need to try and get Mom’s finances in order. There are so many outstanding bills and services that should be scrapped, so I’ll need to make a ton of calls there just to simplify things. And once that’s done, we can turn towards a few long-term projects, like finding an assisted-living home for her and (finally) going through the process of handling the estate and benefits of my missing (and presumed dead) father.

That’s a lot to do over the summer, in addition to building a solid writing practice. But I’m for it! Last week I worked on “Demolition” for the most part, the short story that a generous patron won during the LAST Write-A-Thon I’ve participated in. I finally shaped an outline and are roughly ⅓ done with the first draft. The voice for one of the characters really came into its own in this really fun way, and I’m looking forward to ride that momentum through the end of the story. Hopefully, I’ll be finished with that this week — I’m thinking the final word count for the rough draft will be about 6000-6500 words.

In addition to that, I’ll be working on a few missives here at The Writing Desk. Wednesday, the penultimate set of reviews for DisneyFest will go up, with my take on Big Hero 6, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur. On Friday, the weekly fiction will shine a light on The Wayfarer’s House, a location that I’m building for my Baltimore World of Darkness setting.

All in all, the goal for this week is to bring my word count up to 15,000 (only counting short stories and The Writing Desk entries) and my total donations up to $200. Can I do it? YES I CAN! All that’s left is the doing.

Oh, and since this is my first entry this month, I thought I’d point you lovely folks to my Patreon, the Jackalope Serial Company. For the low low price of $1 per episode, you could receive serials featuring gay furry sci-fi and fantasy! This month’s serial is a “test run” for a shared universe I’d like to build with modern gay folks getting into all kinds of improbable shenanigans!

That’s it for today, now that I’ve spent this entire entry plugging things. See you on Wednesday, folks!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2017 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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