Catch a fistful of sky

Changeling: The Lost fiction | June 29, 2010

Malik was thankful for the darkness.  There was nothing that said his quarry had to move at night, but for all involved it just made things so much easier. The privateer moved fast, for a Wizened, and never once looked for the Darkling, who moved from shadow to shadow on the empty streets. Of more pressing concern to the privateer would be the two Summer Court bullyboys that he could hear, but not see, their big Crimson Court feet reverberating through the world for all to listen.

They were the hand that distracts you while the other one did its work, pulling a coin from your ear or driving a stiletto behind it. Perhaps Simon Ragman had an idea of the death that was approaching him, hiding in the shadows of cats and streetlights, and was simply playing the players, but Malik Last Laughter, once Meyer Lawson, doubted it. Yes, Ragman was cunning, in that low way that children and simpletons are drawn in by, the kind of cunning that was dangerous enough to require you to never turn your back on his sort. It was that cunning, perhaps, that had led Ragman into the idea of stealing children for the Gentry.

For all its knowledge, the Leaden Mirror had no idea how many children Simon had sent through the Hedge. It was really impossible to say, and Ragman was good at his job. He crafted wondrous toys, clockwork birds that would sing your name and flowers that would bloom on command and turn towards your face, filling you with the wonders of Eternal Spring. He had no small knowledge of Artifice, that was obvious, but that had been his downfall in the end. Perhaps he picked up the wrong flower that day, but when he showed it off to a Fairest Muse, the changeling had felt the heady sensation of a charm come over her senses. It was tuned more for a children’s sense of wonder, so all it did was daze her and leave her questioning why someone would possess such a thing.

And slowly but surely, questions were asked among those of the Leaden Mirror, and Malik – court whisperer, spy, and saboteur, was dispatched to stalk out the Wizened and see what game he was playing. It wasn’t even a week when he grabbed the child who he was now leading down towards the bay, taking her to a warehouse where one of the Fae would come through and sprint her away to whatever Arcadian hell the Keeper had designed for itself.

As he ran with a passing car, keeping in the gloom the mechanical monster provided, he was thankful for the Summer courtiers all the same, as he knew they carried weapons of cold iron, just in case the Gentry decided to make an appearance anyway. Perhaps they would die in battling the alien creature, but those of the Antler Court all knew, on one level or the other, death was the fate that awaited them. In a way, Malik felt like he was doing them a favor – few people got their wish to die in the service of their beliefs.

Jumping out of the shadow of the car into that of a street sign, Malik’s cloak silently flapped around him, the black hedge spun sucking in the light, it seemed. The southern constellations splayed across the back of his cloak and on the trail of his head wrap were silent now, no glimmering of gem dust to give him away. He paused, feeling the creak of leather gloves and boots as he readied himself, and then sprung into the doorway an instant behind Simon. It was a close thing, as Simon must have felt a breeze buffet while Malik slid past, as loud as cat footfalls on the dying grass of Autumn. The shrunken, wrinkled head spun around, looking for what had breezed past him, mouth gumming in consternation once or twice. He would never spot the pair of purple eyes observing him from a corner until the owner wanted to be seen, which would be shortly enough. Simon dragged the moppet – a girl of 12, brown hair to her shoulders and wearing some jeans and a shirt, with one shoe missing – to one pillar and sat her down. Murmuring a command to her, she descended into a sleep and fell over like a sack of old leaves while Simon lurched to the center of the warehouse. And that’s when Malik came into view, causing the changeling to drop a bag of implements he had procured, mismatched eyes going wide upon seeing him and recognizing the tall changeling.

“Last Laughter,” he murmured, not even wasting time with denials. There was little open reputation about the Autumn courier, but plenty of speculation of enemies silenced and secrets ferreted out. “So how long have you known?” he asked quietly, mumbling now that the secret was out, a child caught at some petty theft.

“Long enough,” was the response, circling around the Wizened as the two changelings faced each other. “How many, Ragman? 5? 10?”

“Thirty,” was the response, and even a heart like Malik’s, hardened in the cruelties of the Caliph’s court, felt a chill steal over it. He mouthed it once underneath his wrap, and shook his head. The Wizened continued, talking faster now. “You don’t know! You just don’t know! They say “Just one, just bring me one, and I’ll let you be,” and then they have you. And then it’s another, and another, and soon its not just one Gentry, it’s two, and then three, all wanting more and more of you. What was I to do, Malik, what was I to do?!” he cried at the whisperwisp, who stood stoically with his cloak wrapped around him.

“You could have come to us. It’s what the freehold is for,” Malik said, and then shook his head. “Now it’s too late,” he finished, and at that Simon ran his hands through greasy white hair and shouted.

“No! I won’t go back! You remember, we all remember!” Malik nodded once. Yes, he remembered. The long hours of darkness and torture, being stretched on a rack and having the hollow places in him filled with the substance of the night sky. The vague recollections of djinn and efreet training him in the ways of destroying someone with words and swords, how to sneak and stalk like the great cats of the desert he had once traveled across, fire wrapped around their necks when they hunted. Oh, he remembered little, but it was enough.

“You won’t go back,” Malik said, and the chilly silence that descended was broken when Simon pulled out a stick and spoke a word, turning it into a wicked cudgel that sported thorns which twisted and sighed in the salty air of the warehouse. The privateer didn’t say anything, instead bit his lip, his eyes rheumy one second, and then clear the next.

“You’re not taking me back to your… your handlers,” he whispered and then repeated it again and again, his voice rising as he built himself up, breathing heavier and heavier before screaming and rushing at Malik, club raised high. The dark clad figure stood there, watching him approach, and then spun away from his clumsy blows. His cloak swirled and spat, lashing out at Simon with a kiss as cold as the first killing frost of Fall.  To Simon, the silence that came from the Darkling was as unnerving as any Ogre war cry, and he almost welcomed the sudden sound and swift movement that Malik made, reaching for a hilt that peeked around his back. Where’d he was the last thought he made before coldness settled into his body, and seemed to be spreading. The long and elegant scimitar had flashed once, slicing down from shoulder to hip and opening up the shorter changeling with no problem. To Simon, it seemed as if his club was so heavy suddenly, too heavy to lift, and he let it fall to the ground, making a hollow clunk.

“Finish it,” he croaked to Malik, standing above him with the tip of the wavy pattern blade pressing into his Adam’s apple.

“Your Keeper is coming,” Malik told him, withdrawing the scimitar, and Simon could see the curious hilt, stylized wings forming the hand guard. “I had no orders to capture or execute you, simply to save the child,” he said while walking towards the slumbering girl. “Your fate is in the Gentry’s hands now,” said Malik, hefting the girl easily and walking back to the fallen changeling.

“No, no…” he hissed weakly, throwing his head from side to side as darkness closed in at the edge of his vision, filling it bit by bit until it was so encompassing that he fell into it, and knew nothing.

Malik stood over the corpse, the girl cradled against his body. The Southern Cross on his cloak blazed now, gleaming like the stars when viewed from the mountains: hard, sharp, treacherous diamonds on black velvet.  Malik took a deep breath, and pulled the glamour into him, the traitor’s fear a tangible reward for a job well done. There was so much of it; he didn’t think he’d be able to hold it all. The terror of the Keepers was something entirely different to him, and it pulsed in his veins, the glamour mingling with the darkness that hollowed in his body and becoming part of him.

His gloved hands ran over the pool cue that lay next to the cooling body, and he could sense the magic had fled from it on the changeling’s death. The same could not be said of the implements in the bag that Simon would have used to summon his Keeper. His first instinct was to toss it into the ocean, but that was not the way of the Leaden Mirror. Instead, he shouldered the dangerous objects, and would bring them back for study. There was something to be said for being able to summon a Keeper into an ambush.

Sliding past the hunters of the Iron Spear, Malik stole the girl back home, depositing her on the floor of her bedroom, and gently lifting the fetch from its bed, holding it close to him and carrying the creation outside to the small backyard the townhouse boasted. A second’s work with a sword, and all that was left was a puddle of water and a rough outline made of glass and grass.

Tired from the night, yet not quite done, Malik shouldered the pack over one shoulder and made his way to where the Ashen Court kept counsel, a half remembered bazaar tune hummed under his breath.

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Paratrooper. Correctional Officer. Federal Agent. Hello world, these are my thoughts and this is my story.

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