Oya everyone! This is late, I’ve been busy, but here you go!
Day 18: Scrape
Casey sits at her desk listening without looking up. The video plays on despite her inattention, the speaker droning on in a monotone voice. Their robotic efforts at inflection fall flat as they attempt to explain the mathematics concept. Proofs, likely, which is something Casey does need to pay attention to.
She has a pocketknife in her hand. With careful, tiny strokes, she uses the blade to scrape small lines of black paint from her fingernails. The flakes of nail polish curl and fall to the floor beneath her chair. The graphic on the screen changes.
The blade of the knife leaves little grooves where it slides over her nail.
“ . . . the third proof requires which law? The commutative law . . .”
Casey hasn’t heard any of what the instructor has been saying. Not really. She sighs, reaching over to restart the video. She’ll grab some nail polish remover once this is over. Her chair creaks as she bounces her leg up and down, zeroing in on the lesson.
Day 19: Ponytail
In the foggy green, almost-empty streets of Aethaurii, the sound of gunshots wasn’t uncommon. Nearly a daily occurrence. In the city, people ignored it. Just the Automatons doing their job, they’d say, or they wouldn’t say anything because the truth was much more uncomfortable. In the decrepit Cliffside it was a bit different. Everyone who stuck around in that trash heap of a village was acutely aware of the reason for gunshots in the streets, because nine times out of ten they were the ones getting shot at.
There was one group — a family, you could call it — that garnered such attention much more than most. For obvious reasons. Thorns in the Emperor’s side from the Early Days.
Kayden hadn’t been there in the Early Days. But he was here now, and safe to say he was following in the footsteps of his heroes. Kayden Oliver was a target because of his relation to Aislinn. Bluejay, though, Bluejay was a target because he was a problem.
So today Bluejay was jumping across rooftops near the outskirts of the City, drawing some of those familiar gunshots. None of them hit. Kayden was too good at his job to actually get shot. But he’d let them chase for a while yet. The longer the Empire spent sending Automatons after him, the longer they’d be leaving their supply warehouse open to the Kingfishers’ attack.
Something whizzed through his blue hoodie as a bullet caught the oversized material at his side. That was a bit close for comfort. Another caught his hood. That was absolutely too close. Kayden reached up and caught a weather vane as he sprinted over the shingles and used it to swing around and slow his momentum. The Pacifier immediately behind him tried to account for the sudden change in its target’s movement, but it didn’t even have time to adjust its aim before the small vigilante slammed through the fog boiler in its chest with a cobbled-together staff of pipes and blades. The green light in its optics died as it did.
The robots that hadn’t made it up to the rooftops didn’t make it out of the way as the wreckage of their comrade came tumbling down and smashed a Technomite or two. Kayden didn’t really stick around to find out how many went down. He jumped from the roof. Catching a few ledges on the way down to slow his fall jolted him enough to knock the hood of his disguise down to expose his bright gold hair.
The empty streets echoed with his pounding footsteps as he took off again. The wind whipped strands of hair free from the short ponytail gathered at the base of his neck. He blew the strands away. Aislinn had been mentioning that he needed a haircut for months, and he was okay with her continuous forgetting about it. He kind of liked it long. Not right now though, right now it was just inefficient.
Something caught his scuffed sneaker and he nearly pitched face first into the cobblestones, but a big arm wrapped around his waist just before he made contact.
“Good work, Bluejay,” Max’s gruff voice came softly. “Mission accomplished.”
Kayden let out a breath and allowed himself to lean against the giant of a man. He tucked his hair back into where it was supposed to be and pulled his hood back up.
Day 20: Bluff
The wind sent chills up my arms. It pushed against my back going right through my thin shirt. I wanted it at my back though. Because the other thing at my back was the empty air of a straight drop down the rocky, muddy bluff.
“We can talk about this,” I said slowly. I kept my hands held out. Low, fingers spread out, not a threat. Nothing to see here. “Nobody has to do anything rash. It’s all good.” My eyes flicked around between Bella, the sword pointed at her chest, and the handful of people backing us against the cliff.
The guy with the sword laughed. It was an ugly laugh but he was an ugly guy. Big. Scraggly. Stank. “Yeah, sure boy, we can talk. Talk about the weather, talk about politics, whatever you like. Do it quick though. You won’t be talking for long.”
That threat really shouldn’t have scared me as much as it did. Not that I was scared or anything, no, surely not. Just a little worried about, you know. The cliff. And the sword. And the other swords. And the one guy with a mace. Yeah there was a lot to be worried about here. Bella let out a tiny little sound. She hadn’t moved since the guy pulled the sword out.
My mind raced. “Sure, yeah, absolutely. But you might want to rethink your plan here.”
“And why would I do that?” The big guy leered at me. Ugh his teeth looked as nasty as the rest of him.
“Because . . .” I took a subtle deep breath. “If you continue to attack us. I will be forced to use my magic on you.”
Beside me Bella inhaled slowly. She very briefly glanced in my direction, and her eyes said what are you doing, idiot!?
The man blinked and leaned back a bit. The others behind him looked at each other. “What kind of magic?” the leader asked. The leery grin morphed into a sneer. My fingers twitched.
“Very powerful magic.” Oh, that was bad. Save it save it save it. “You heard what happened back in Arbor Village? That was me.”
I could feel the deathglare Bella wanted to send my way. But the guys behind the leader bandit did react to my lie. They backed up. I could see the fear on their faces.
The leader himself only sneered harder. Got more ugly somehow. “You’re lying.”
“I’m not.” Well, I was. But only partially. I twitched my fingers again, hoping Bella would understand what I was getting at. “We were both there. The storm? That was all me.”
The tense feeling in my shoulders relaxed the slightest bit as I felt the wind at my back change directions, swirling around my body and lifting strands of my hair along with leaves and bits of grass from the ground. Bella gave no indication of her effort to move the wind around me.
Now, Big Guy backed up. The tightness in my ribs eased as his sword moved away from Bella.
“I suggest you leave us be,” I said in a low, sort of strained voice. I raised my hands and the wind grew stronger. It billowed my shirt and threw grass and dirt into the eyes of the bandits. “Unless you want a repeat of that. Right here. Right now.”
There were a couple moments of silence but for the increasing howling as the breeze heightened to a gale. My feet slid a little in the grass as I struggled to keep my stance against it. Dark gray clouds formed out of nowhere and began sluggishly swirling above our heads. The air dro
Ugly eventually seemed to make a decision. He waved his sword at his men, who were all too happy to make a hasty retreat. He soon followed with little more than a venomous glance over his shoulder at us.
Bella didn’t stop the gathering storm until the bandits were far out of sight. I let out a breath and pushed my hair back under my bandana.
“That is not a good plan,” Bella grumbled, grabbing my wrist and dragging me away from the edge and in the direction of the town we’d been heading to. The storm clouds softened and floated on their way and the wind died back to a chill breeze.
“Worked though! And as long as it works, that’s all that–”
A gust of wind knocked me flat on my stomach.
Day 21: Bad Dog
Claws click and skid across wood floors.
Crashes from knocked over books, cups, toys.
Scrambling out of the way as the slobbery white blur rampages through.
Cats dart under the porch.
“Lucy, noooo . . .”
A toy leaks stuffing and mauled bits of furry fabric.
“Lucy, you’re a bad dog.”
“No, she’s just dumb.”
Day 22: Heist
The lock slides just a tiny bit against the tension pressed into it.
Another tumbler fits into place. Timothy lets out a sigh of relief and tosses hair out of his face, unable to let go of the lockpicks enough to brush it away. Behind him a slow tapping. He ignores it for right now. Kevin can be patient a minute longer.
Timothy is definitely sweating now, though. This is the last step in the plan. One of the only reasons he is even here in this situation to begin with. The others have all manner of skills, gadgets, all the cool things. But somehow he is the only one in this entire heist who knows how to pick locks.
He doesn’t even know it for practical reasons, he learned to impress a girl in high school. Look how that turned out for him.
The hand holding the tension pick shakes. If he pushes too hard the pick might fly out and all his progress will be lost. But if he lets up too much it’ll slide back into place.
The last pin slots into place and the lock turns. Timothy sits back, wiping his forehead, letting Kevin slide past him and actually open the door. The treasure Kevin is after is inside that room. But Timothy’s work here is done. He simply sneaks back out of the building the way he came and heads home. Incidentally, he’s heading home to his wife, who was indeed impressed with his lock picking skills back in high school.
Day 23: Booger
Working in a nursery is a very complex thing. On the one hand, kids are cute. And funny. And you feel good about being the person their hovering parents trusted their precious offspring to.
On the other hand it generally sucks.
Small children tend to scream when they want things. They have no regard for any other humans in their vicinity, generally, so violence breaks out often. They have no control over their emotions so swinging between laughing and crying happens within seconds. If they want something they take it. If they don’t want something they throw it.
Then there’s the matter of diapers, of messy hands and faces after snacks, of snot smearing all over everything. Of the exhaustion after even a couple hours being around them.
But . . . once in a while. They’ll hug you. And say you’re their favorite. They’ll give you a picture they drew. They’ll choose to sit next to you when they play.
That part makes you forget about the rest of it sometimes.
Day 24: Fairy
Come away, o human child, to the water and the wild
Sorcha stumbled her way through the forest. The night was silent. No birds, no insects lent their voices to the cold empty air under the stars. The only sounds in the thick dark were her own unsteady footsteps, and the gentle soothing of the sea brushing over sand drifting in from beyond the woods.
With a faerie hand in hand
Her foot caught on a root and she fell to her hands and knees. Around her, in a perfect circle, small mushrooms. Tiny blue flowers, blooming even in the dead of night. Sorcha lifted her head. Through the tears stinging at her eyes as they flowed freely down her cheeks she saw the most beautiful person. Nowhere else was there moonlight, but on this person the moon gave her fullest attention.
They knelt down. “Hello, human child,” they whispered. “Why have you come out here, seeking the fae?”
“Please,” Sorcha sobbed, letting her head droop again. “Please take me with you.”
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand
The faerie made a soft humming noise before gathering Sorcha up in their arms. “Alright, human child. I will take you. And you will be safe.”
Once again, the forest sat in silence.
Day 25: Tempting
No, not safe
Mine mine mine
Take it! Touch it!
It wants us!
Hold it gently
The voices scream over each other. They quiet when the object in question is no longer in view, but as soon as it comes back into vision they shriek their opinions.
It is shiny. The object. Egg-shaped, vaguely. It appears smooth and cool to the touch like glass. From inside its murky interior come almost hypnotic flashes of red, orange, violet, deep blue.
No. The hands reaching out pull back. This is not a thing to be trifled with. Not in this place, not in this way. The voices clamor as the object is left behind in its crypt.
Go back! We need it!
Shiny, shiny, soft!
The mysterious object remains undisturbed, and its magic remains sealed away from the world.
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