Catch a fistful of sky

Unfinished changeling story | June 22, 2011

        It was raining again in San Francisco, a heavy pounding rain that drove people indoors and swept the streets clear of pedestrians. There were a few that had somewhere to be on this early Sunday evening. They either moved with a purpose or nestled in alcoves waiting for a taxi to flag down.

        Malik was neither of these, instead simply drawing the cowl of his cloak up higher and watching the skies. He was standing in the shadow of a tree, his own natural talents making his discernment by the few mortals that strode past him impossible. He only noticed the weather in the most abstract of terms, enjoying the high winds and rain coming in sideways. For the most part he was dry, with his cloak shuttling most of the water away from his body.

Yet even the most dedicated courtier would rather be somewhere dry and cozy, perhaps with a mug of something warm in his hand and friends all around. Even in Malik’s case, he might prefer sitting on a pile of pillows, reading a book with a kettle of tea on hand.

However, duty called and Malik was if anything, dutiful. He had been tasked by the Queen of Autumn herself, Lady Jamilla, to find out what was snatching children from their beds during the stormy nights that blew through San Fran with greater intensity each time.

        However, it seemed like this night would be a bust, much like the last one. Still, Malik knew in his heart that another child would be reported missing in the morning, and that made him frown beneath his keffiyeh. He had his own suspicions on what was grabbing the children, but didn’t know how to act on them. Watching the sky, watching the streets wasn’t working for him.  The city was too big, the problem too large for him to cast his nets alone. He would have to seek help. Turning, he seemed to flicker from shadow to shadow as he continued his vigil. Imperceptibly, the rain began to fall off.



        The grandmother remembered, even if her children and her grandchildren did not. She could remember Iraq when it was part of the British Empire and with those memories were the stories of djinn and efreet that stalked the desert at night, capriciously cursing and blessing at their whim. She had seen one once, and even though it was ages ago when she had first started bleeding as a woman, she could remember every detail. How the sun made the sky the color of old blood, the copper smell of burning flesh on the wind, how the sand stung her skin. And the sight of the heavily muscled human torso striding above the desert, leaving a trail of dust, the lean wolf’s head on top of the body twisting to stare at her as it continued loping across the wastes.


        So the old woman remembered that, and how perhaps a cunning woman could summon one of these desert spirits, and beg it for a favor if it was placated correctly. The woman considered herself a good Muslim; she had enshrined the Five Pillars in her heart, but Allah was not answering her prayers to return her grandchild back to her bed. She justified it to herself by believing that Allah would not want to be troubled with a small thing like a missing child, and instead would take it upon herself to affect a rescue.

        When her son and his wife went to bed, she listened carefully for the crying from their bedroom to stop. When it trailed off into heaving sobs, finally quieting and being replaced by heavy breathing, she snuck downstairs with a small satchel. Opening the back door, she noted the rain, and followed the stone path, protected from the downpour by an overhead arbor. In the small backyard, summer’s full bloom was slowly but surely being replaced by the encroaching Autumn, the leaves starting to droop, the flowers losing their petals.      

        Here the crone set out what she needed. She put out several cones of incense. Taking a small container of sand, she poured it between each cone, forming a small circle. Inside the circle she placed a picture of her missing Alaya, the girl’s stuffed rabbit, and a lock of hair she had saved from the girl’s last hair clipping, kept with a scrap of ribbon. Once all the items were assembled, she lit the incense. There was no ritualized chant from the woman, only a murmured prayer to come and see, to rescue her beloved grandchild as she placed forehead to ground again and again.




        As the last strands of prayer were woven in the air, Malik’s skin prickled with the familiar flush of Glamour. With it came a haunting smell of roasting lamb, lavender and jasmine, and the grit of dust between his teeth. His hand flashed to the hilt of his scimitar, gripping the familiar weapon tightly. He felt horribly exposed out here, and knew if his Keeper had come looking for him, he could only hide and try to escape, not stand and fight.

After a moment, the glamour continued to caress him, and he started to think that perhaps it was not his Keeper come again. There was a definite trail for him to follow, and follow it he did, crossing streets and trailing down alleys as he came to the front door of a well to do house. Looking along the side of the house, he saw a small iron gate, and the trail of glamour became a torrent. Opening the gate silently, he stepped onto the brick path and walked into the backyard where the old woman continued praying, now wracked with quiet sobs from time to time that could be heard through the rain.

“What are you trying to do here?” he asked her quietly. She turned with a start, taking in the hooded figure, his face hidden under a ski mask with only a slash of pale skin and lavender eyes visible.

“I did not think you would come,” she said, staying on her knees as she spoke in what Malik recognized was definitely not English. He could understand every word, but he did not question his ability to do so, chalking it up to some quirk of the Wyrd. “I am so far from home, and the deserts that your kind prefers are far from here, yet I see that you have adapted,” she said. Even though he looked and walked like a man, something in her heart knew this was no man, and her prayer had been answered.

“My kind?” Malik asked with a hidden smile, tossing his cloak back and pulling down the hood. She would see the black leather of a duster, the same leather covering his thighs like a pair of motorcycle chaps, and the shine of his boots as he admired the garden while he walked. “What do you think I am?” The old woman seemed confused, twisting one corner of her shawl and following Malik with her eyes.

“You are of the djinn, are you not?” she asked him.

“No, I am not. I am of the Lost,” he answered, and sat before her, crossing his legs and meeting her gaze. When she dipped her eyes, he slid out one hand and raised her wrinkled face to look at him.

“Yet, perhaps I can help you all the same,” he said as he looked at the small circle with the precious items inside. The glamour coming off of the circle and the woman herself was a heady rush. He could easily be drunk off of it if he let it fill him, but instead he rationed himself, inhaling the powerful incense mingling with the fear of the woman only every few minutes.

        “The Lost?” she asked, and then shook her head. “It is of no matter what you call yourself, as long as you can help. My granddaughter, Alaya was stolen from my house two nights ago. The police are no help, and my children weep for their loss. We do not know what stole her from her bed, but I do not think was some man that took her. A window locked from the inside? Not a sign to be found? No, it was no man,” she said. Malik nodded, and suddenly rose to his feet in one smooth motion.

“Take me to the room. I am no man either, and I see more worlds than this one,” he promised her. Offering his hand, the woman took it after a second’s hesitation and was helped to her feet. Slowly, she led him inside the house, her footsteps the only ones that made any noise on the hardwood floor. She noticed this as they walked up the stairs, and turned to look his feet. Yes, they were on the ground, but he moved without sound. Shivering at a fear she could not place, she led him to the girl’s bedroom.

Malik took in the cheery sights of a girl who seemed quite happy with her place in the world. His gloved hand brushed over a clean desk, flicked a drawing of a castle that echoed with a little glamour, and his gaze lingered on a violin that glowed in his gaze with the wonder placed in it. The grandmother misread his interest and spoke softly.

“She was very good, perhaps no prodigy, but she was still very good at her violin. She could play for hours if we would let her.” Malik nodded in response, and stood over the bed, which had been untouched since the incident. Looking over the bed, Malik had to agree with the police that there was nothing left behind. Leaning near the foot end of the bed, Malik could make out three tiny indentations in the bedpost. It was like a trio of crescent moons had been pushed into the wood, each in line with the other. Or three fingernails, digging for purchase as she was tugged out of her bed into…

Malik’s line of sight went to closet to begin with, knowing how doorways were special to his kind, but it was across the room, and didn’t make sense. The old woman followed his gaze, wondering what he was getting at, but then saw the mirror and fell to her knees, praying and pointing, her heart thundering in her ears.

The Darkling turned to where she was pointing and cursed, his hand flying to his scimitar at the sight of the figure in the mirror, fists smashing against the glass and leaving small cracks. It was a woman, or at least it had the form of one. It was wrapped in filthy burial shrouds, streaked with blood and other putrid substances. The ends of these were being blown about in the nightmare world of the mirror, contrasting with the inky black background there. The skin of the woman thing was mottled and seemed drawn too tight over bones that threatened to pierce the skin. Her hair was swept around her head like a wild woman, the white hair caught in thick clots of some dark substance. Most frightening though was her face. There were no eyes in the face, only empty sockets that wept blood, and instead of teeth there were razor blades that ripped her lips with every wail.

Even through the barrier between worlds some of the loathing words the spirit screamed made it through. Malik watched with detachment as the thing threatened to drag them both through the looking glass. If Malik was alone, he would have let it come through and deal with it there, but he had the grandmother to worry about. The grandmother’s fear was coming off of her in waves now, and each one crashed over Malik. This made his next action much easier.

Summoning his will, it seemed that Malik’s shadow drained away from him, before his entire mien dropped to the floor and shattered, revealing the Autumn Courtier in all of his glory. His cloak blazed now with the stars, and the twin tassels of his keffiyeh flew out behind him, also dusted with gems. The ones on his cloak moved of their own volition, forming the Southern Cross and filling the room with the light of the harvest moon. His wondrous cloak was held by a clasp denoting a crossed dagger and quill – the seal of the Autumn Court of San Francisco. His weapon, the Sparrow Blade, flashed from it’s sheathe and the Damascus steel edge glowed blue. His mantle flared as he soaked up the Fear coming off the crone, releasing a flock of sparrows that buffeted the old woman before disappearing. A cloud of leaves spun around him, caught by a sudden gust of wind that came out of nowhere and blew cloak and tassels behind him as he took his blade in one hand. Making a come hither gesture with his free hand, Malik responded.

“Come through then,” he said softly, but with iron in his voice, “And I will show you how the Autumn Court deals with kidnappers,” he promised with no small amount of quiet malice. His mantle flared again as he declared his allegiance, and the orange glow blazed off him now, another sharp gust cutting through the room and bringing with it the smell of dead leaves starting to rot. The thing in the mirror had a look of surprise when he dropped his Mask, and suddenly it vanished into the wilds of the world it inhabited.

A sudden expulsion of glamour, and the closet doorway glimmered. Malik leapt through, expecting a screeching landscape of blackness. Only there was a corridor that seemed to lead deeper into the Hedge, vegetation becoming more prominent as one followed it deeper.

This was not the same world as that in the mirror. Grunting, Malik turned and slid back through the closet doorway, the old woman staring at him with huge eyes. The being who had come clad in leathers had revealed himself as no simple wind spirit, but as an avenging angel as powerful as any she could have wished for. Crawling across the floor she kissed the hem of his cloak, begging for his aid and his forgiveness.

Malik looked askance at the mirror, his own reflection facing him now, and then gazed at the weeping woman. “Why do you ask for mercy and absolution?” he said, trying to pull her to her feet. She resisted with surprising determination and shook her head fiercely.

“No, no,” she hissed, defiant. “I must ask that you forgive an old woman for her lack of faith in believing she had been abandoned.”

“Abandoned by whom?”

“By Allah, who is the Compassionate, the Merciful, and the All Knowing. You are one of his angels, that is clear to me, and I only ask that you let him know I am humbled and will never doubt his motives in this world,” she told him, refusing to look at him. Malik paused for a moment, considering what to say next. This woman was still a source of powerful glamour, her fear replaced with faith that simply welled off of her in a geyser of emotions. Malik sheathed the Sparrow Blade and placed a hand on her head.

“You named Allah as the Compassionate and the Merciful, so you know that you have his forgiveness. Again though, I am no angel, simply one of the Lost,” he said. He knelt a little to take her wizened hand, and stroked the knuckles with his thumb. “I will hunt for Alaya, and bring you news of what has happened to her if she is beyond my aid, or return her to you if it is in my power. I need you to do something for me, as small as it may seem.” The woman looked up sharply, her eyes flashing in the dimly lit room, the only illumination a soft blue light from Malik’s cloak.

“If it is in my power, you have it gladly,” she said with no hesitation.

“Leave me some bread and some lamb every night, I may not come to fetch it, but I will know when it was there. Just put it outside in your garden, hide it somewhere. Do not look to see if it was taken the night before, simply place it under some leaves and leave it be,” he instructed her. The crone’s mouth quirked slightly.

“This will find my granddaughter?”

“No, but this will aid me in finding her. There is magic in what you do,” he promised her, and then spoke again. “Over hill and under bridge, I will hunt, I so swear. I will leave no stone unturned and no height unclimbed until I have word or form of your progeny. Strengthen me with your offerings, so I may stalk her kidnapper longer and deeper into whatever wilds she has been taken, and enact vengeance if such is possible. I swear by my name, Malik Last Laughter that as long as you provide me with succor, I will continue my search,” he finished.

As he spoke, he projected his will into his hand, and felt the strands of glamour form between them. Behind it all, was a sense of a greater force watching in the background. It was merely a tingling of his senses as he started speaking, but when he named himself, it grew into an active watching presence, it seemed. “Do you agree?” he asked her, and he could see by watching her watery eyes that she felt the same power in the room.

“I do,” was all she needed to say, and the Glamour surged between them for a moment, her fear and hope crashing into his own emotions of disquiet and duty, meeting where he held her hand. Malik had the sensation of his hand being bound to hers in spider web before it passed just as fleetingly.

“Then we have a bargain,” he told her softly, and helped her to her feet. She seemed to have difficulty getting up, and he realized that the old woman was quite fatigued. She didn’t resist him when he laid her in the bed, and was asleep before ran a finger along the doorway, and slid into the Hedge.




        In San Francisco’s downtown there is a building that has seen better days. The bricks are crumbling, the windows are boarded up and the doors are sealed. There is a pervasive aura of fear around the place, and several stories have sprung up to explain the creepy sensation that the old building off the beaten path has. Even the name of the road, Haont Lane, gives off a slightly disconnected feel, like the normal rules don’t apply. Every now and then some teenagers hear the stories about the building on Haont Lane, and find the few boards that are not tightly sealed and shut.

        They enter with flashlights and cameras that go out one by one, usually while they’re urged deeper in deeper by some whispering voice in their minds, until the last light goes out and they are in the dark with only lighters.

        When they leave, they do not speak of what they saw in the flickering light, and they are at home well before the sun sets for months afterwards.

        In the closing of the 19th century, this was a “simple” whorehouse and opium den that came under the purview of a Chinaman named Wen Lee who was not so simple. Under his auspices, dark appetites could be sated for a price, and so could certain forbidden secrets from the East. The earthquake that rocked the city killed Wen Lee and collapsed several of the tunnels that he had fortified under the building, and it was eventually bought and went through several hands. Each attempt to make something of the building went awry, until the deed passed into the care of the Friends of the Leaves.

        It was here that the Fairest Lady Jamilla, Queen of Autumn, made her Court.

        Malik knew that even though the night was late, Lady Jamilla would be coordinating plans and stratagems. The day when she took control of the Courts from Lord Goldmane was only a few short weeks away, and there was still so much to do. Not only did the external events need to be finalized, but there was still so much going on within the Autumn Court.

The war against the Others continued to burble at a slow simmer, and recent changes in the Hedge were either worrying or exciting, depending on who you talked to. Spring and Winter seemed poised to take their covert war of decadence and morality beyond mere words and into action against each other. Each promised much to Autumn if they would lend aid; so far Autumn remained uncommitted. Summer had several of its most puissant courtiers disgraced after their actions in the so called “Culling of the Leaves” revolt, even as Lord Goldmane seemed to be winning his charm offensive to smooth events over. His ever faithful bodyguard Kimba seemed to have a hand behind the scenes in that, his claw fixing what Edgar Goldmane’s clever words could not.

Turning down Haont Lane, Malik thought of that treacherous affair, and how it could have ended poorly for the Autumn Court if the Loyalists had been able to oust Lady Jamilla. He frowned, and shook the thought away, walking down an alley between the two buildings and pulling out a piece of chalk from a belt pocket. He inscribed a curious rune, something like a C and a Z in one character, on the third board from the top on the second window from the end of the alley.

After a moment, the boards slid away, and Malik entered the lightless building, hearing the boards slide back into place. He took a right, and then climbed the stairs upwards. There was a momentary sensation of being underwater, and then he heard the commotion of the Autumn Court before he saw it as he turned the corner into the main chamber.

In one corner, several Lost argued passionately over some archaic text, one Swimmerskin ending up baring her shark teeth at a Wizened scholar, pointing at a line in the book. Off in a side room there were several cries of surprise, followed by laughter and the smell of something burning. He recognized the chortling as coming from a motley known for its gregarious experiments involving Hedge items.

Along the walls of the common room were various pictures from around the city, mostly blown up photos of abandoned buildings that cunning courtiers had gotten into. A fridge and freezer combo with a generous sideboard took up another wall, where you could make a sandwich and have a drink, both of which might not be entirely of this world.

One wall showed a projected map of the city, and the leader of Jack’s Grin herself, Knight-General Esmee, poured over it. A Manikin, her clockwork hand ticked as she traced a neon line in the air, reading some obscure pattern from the data on the map. Her neck made the sound of a socket wrench as she noticed Malik – one of the few Lost who could do so reliably, and she gave a slow nod before returning to her work. Malik returned it, but did not head over to Esmee. There was history between the two and it was not of the bad sort. However after putting down the recent revolt, he thought it best to let things settle for a bit.

Passing through the chaos of the main chamber, he walked down a hallway and into a sort of reverent silence, where the Autumn Court kept its archives. He did not take too much note of the changelings who were seeking or studying, instead heading for the door on the other side. He entered a hall decorated with obscure scenes from history, yet no less important. Here were the Vikings landing in America. Over there was a piece of Napoleon declaring himself a defender of the Faithful in Cairo. Malik did not study them, as he usually did, instead proceeding into the small parlor, guarded by a Tunnelgrub who seemed weighed down by the pick axe he hefted over one shoulder and an Ogre whose stony, spiky fists were weapons enough. The Stonebones was known as Rambler, and the Darkling was Gorp. Malik stopped a few feet from the door they were guarding, and tilted his head.

“D’you have news for her Ladyship?” he asked. Malik simply continued tilting his head while looking at Gorp. Gorp nodded and looked up at the Ogre. “Yeah, that’s Malik alright, bugger never talks unless he has to” and then opened the door to allow the assassin passage. Rambler merely looked over Malik and grunted his acknowledgement. Gorp shook his head in good natured annoyance. “Why can’t I ever run into some of those chatty courtiers that actually have something to say instead of brooding all the time?” he asked no one in particular while Malik slid into Lady Jamilla’s war room.


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About author

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







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