I nearly sleepwalk through the rest of my day… and the next… and the next… and the next until I finally notice that three weeks had simply flown by. Requests for supplies were approved or denied and progress updates (including John’s latest fruit orchard report) were filed away for record keeping with my usual efficiency and grace. I even just finished looking at the latest adjustments needed for the mountain fortress being built in the west.
My mind is unclouded when I work, but John’s last letter continues to haunt me in every free hour. It is exactly why I try so hard to find some document or book to read. The offending object is gathering dust underneath my desk, coming to lie there after I read the scathing accusations within for the twentieth time and trying to find a flaw, a crack, any sort of vulnerability in his argument. I found none even with the help of all my books on writing and psychology, and the next thing I knew it had simply slipped from my fingers and I had no will to retrieve it.
Now, as I throw the updated fortress plans to the catcher-on-duty, my spirit has finally roused itself enough to do something about John, or rather I am frightened enough by what leaving this issue alone will do to me. Ideas slowly stir in my mind along with my nervousness on how to dance around his questions, but two more options make themselves far more prominent. If I were to answer directly, I’d have to swallow my pride and tell him the old truth. What I wanted before was a slave, to prove that no man can escape my field of control. But now there’s a new truth in the wake of his latest words. I want us to start over, to begin anew as friends bound by our scratching quills and full inkwells sharing stories and making each other laugh and cry.
The old truth would drive him away and he would never believe the new truth at this point. I’d like to think I know him well enough to suppose at least THAT much.
Perhaps I could admit both to him- but no. It would likely still cause disbelief at some turnaround of behaviour. If I were to stand any chance of convincing him of my friendly intentions, I’d have to tell him everything about me. There’s too much though. Too much that could be exploited in the hands of the Church should he run and be captur- Oh.
I laugh humourlessly to myself. In thinking about how to retake control of the situation, I’m forced to admit once again that my relationship with John is barely above that of two strangers who have been forced to communicate. I used to think of him as but another challenge, another typical human, albeit with a curious allergy, that forced me to work to maintain my pride as a lilim.
If I am to show my new feelings as sincere and save my pride at the same time, I’ll need to wait another two or three months. The Gunecies expedition is my all or nothing gamble now. It could be sped up if I personally made the trip but I can’t risk being spotted or someone succumbing to my uncontainable aura whether travelling on my wings or via magical gateway. Better that I wait and see if my people can find anything dear to him and if they don’t… Well… I don’t know what comes after that scenario.
… … Damnit. Why can’t I just swallow my pride just once? Just for one letter? Just to see what he thinks about my new way of thinking?
Surely it can’t be that hard. I’ll write it out just to see what it looks like and resist the urge to have it incinerated later.
There are things I am weak t
No. I hate that word. Weak. I’ve compiled power of all sorts. How can I be weak? … Except to this.
I take a clean sheet of paper from my desk drawer and lay it on top of the faulty draft.
Haven’t you ever heard of love at first sigh
No. I can’t write something so dishonest when that first meeting was ‘all panic and blood’ as he put it.
De r Jo n,
I can only think of how insincere ‘dear’ is.
And then I fling my quill aside, slam my suddenly glowing palms on my desk, and give a withering stare to that word tainted pile of papers until it bursts into flame. My mind blanks from the pressure I’ve put on myself. A second doesn’t even pass before I nearly smash my now expressionless head into the burning paper, stopping only a few centimeters short of my desk. The magical fire annihilates only the paper, not spreading nor climbing as they lick and dance around my hovering skull. Five minutes go by before it finally dies out and I slowly lift myself up and sit straight again.
One more piece of paper and a spare quill, both are slowly retrieved from my desk. The former is quietly smoothed out onto the surface and my fingers silently dip the latter in the inkwell at the edge ahead of me. As soon as the quill is pulled back and hits the paper, it starts moving faster than I’ve ever seen it go. My body seems to have drifted from my mind, furiously writing what I fail to do every time there is even one second of rational thought. With a single-mindedness I could not have achieved in any other situation, I ‘watch’ myself scratch, cross out, correct, muddle, and write whatever feelings I have concerning John and myself. It’s fascinating being my own spectator, witnessing a separation between pride and the rest of my emotions. Though there’s a vague tingle of defeat having succumbed to my inner chaos, I welcome it, taking further steps will seem easier now.
Between all the errors, ink blots, and the like, I can decipher a letter of sorts in there that is made up of half-sentences and keywords. It reminds me of John’s clipped responses in the tomato letters but to an even more extreme and shorter extent. After a bit more then a minute, I can feel myself deeply inhaling… then exhaling… And very suddenly I’m in full control again, my grip suddenly relaxing and the quill falling onto the paper. Frustrations no longer overflow yet the ‘cup’ that is my mind and body remains full still. There is but a moment’s reflexive shock at the disorderly scramble of ink I’ve made before I take another deep breathe and bring up one last sheet to lay beside it. Though the letter I made on instinct is pure, a full accounting of truths I now accept, it is visually a vicious slashing of ink and thus extremely difficult to read. I take up the quill anew and begin smoothly scratching out a clean version for my satisfaction, and hopefully his.
We have both been defensive, secretive, and perhaps even paranoid in discussing any personal matters between us. There is no love lost, nor was there any to begin with, I accept that now. But can we not start over?
I have tried to lure you into slavehood with what was perhaps a mockery of human courting methods, and in turn you have tried to break what relations we have. However, I cannot fathom why you decided that testing my patience with your last letter was a good idea. Your attempt to take advantage of my tolerance and goodwill in order to be left alone is odd as you were the one who suggested that we should continue sending letters to one another. Or are you as sick of this strange back and forth as I have become?
Again, there is no love, there was none in the first place. But I have come to realize that your presence in my life as someone who isn’t directly part of my infrastructure, someone who isn’t a follower or citizen, is valuable to me.
Remember the tomato letters? I never get to tease someone like that. It went on longer then I expected, but it was fun in hindsight. I’m quite sorry that I didn’t notice sooner. Moments like that are what I now fear losing if you became a slave, if you reacted normally to my power.
I don’t want to break you anymore. Let us join together as friends through these letters.
Crude and embarrassing… but satisfying. Should I include something more personal though? Like a bit of my life? The thought of John knowing more about me than I do about him still gives me pause however. Damn. I want to send this before pause turns to magical fiery destruction. However, Malida isn’t scheduled to make a trip to John’s plateau for another three days and I’m not about to interrupt her time off when she’s already worked so hard with other deliveries this week. Instructions will have to be written for all the catchers’ eyes and only theirs’. They must keep the letter unopened and hidden in whatever way they deem fit for three days or until Malida can deliver it, whichever situation comes first. That way any temptation to destroy it will be stifled by the risk of tearing the city apart with my accursed aura while searching.
… … And if this doesn’t work… It’s maybe just under three months for the expedition to come back.
Pruning trEES, pruning TREEeees, gonna cut all the Dead Bits and make ’em ALL grow-in-particular-shapes-that-will-be-healthier-for-them.
My lyrics are bad and I should feel bad.
I know. But it’s fun.
There’s a sense of doubled peace that’s washed over me in the recent weeks, one that doesn’t dampen at all at knowing, seeing, and interacting with a demonic realm every day. First reason, my second orchard is up and running on a small scale, still gonna need a lot of work, but what would have been the hardest part, growing the trees, has been solved quite neatly. Okay, not neatly, more like hire-minotaurs-to-uproot-a-few-dozen-fruit-bearing-ones-and-carry-them-from-the-abandoned-settlements ugly. Some of them even wanted to come back as regular workers (for possibly unwelcome reasons), but I don’t have enough money for that yet. Besides, I want to keep the work strictly to myself for now. It’s mindbogglingly satisfying to be back on the job even if caring for this orchard takes up most of my day. Second reason, not a peep from Palamina since I questioned her non-existent sincerity in my last letter. There wasn’t even a need for Malida’s help on that one.
More like I didn’t want her help. All of that came straight from me.
Right I am, brain.
I can’t really fool myself though, the communication was great (and I asked for it to continue in the first place), especially since I don’t have any real neighbours or friends. Some of the villagers come to visit every now and then, but as the days pass by, more and more of them are becoming aware that I’m allergic to demonic energy and staying away. Sometimes I can’t help but think I’m considered an ice sculpture around here, something to be admired (lusted after) yet liable to melt (go numb or crippled) if they don’t keep their distance. I may have exaggerated the exact effects that demonic energy has on me, but I’m pretty much content to let them go on thinking that if it prevents me from getting dragged into my cave, pinned down, and mounted.
Alright, this tree’s done, probably have to come back to it later though just to be sure. At least the apples are growing well. Once it’s fall and most of the fruit fully ripens, I’ll have to get around to filling a barrel or two and rolling them down to Sari’s village to thank her and her crew for helping me get those trees. Dunno if the pear trees will survive, only one of them took to the soil here. I wonder if I should try to sell at the market in Derutcurts?
Hmm… Derutcurts. And her. Can’t say I’ve ever tried to go there, don’t even know how deep past the edge of her territory it is. But I think- Bap.
I’ve got mail!
Ignoring the message that fell on my head, I look skyward and there’s Malida turning away with a sack slung around her waist. There’s no doubt it must be full of messages if she can’t stop today. Before I can turn away, there’s a sudden shout, “Write to the boss, ya tease!” Worried sounding words carried away on blue and brown feathers and the wind. Every time I see her, she just gets more tense about both my refusal to follow-up and Palamina’s silence. Aaaaand speak of the lilim, this thing off the ground is from her!
… … ‘Hello?’
Wow, this is really the best trick of a letter she’s put forth to try and get me to lower my guard.
What? No! Palamina didn’t respond for three weeks before this. She’s had time to mull over my words deeply and now here is a piece of writing with a tone I’ve never seen before from her with a pleading plea of ‘please’ at the end. This is the truth.
And how do I know she didn’t just spend that time cooking up a long term scheme starting with this? Trick.
Trick. Oh shi-
Trick! There! I’m in agreement with myself!
Shut up and give her the benefit of the doubt for at least a response or two.
Alright, alright. I know what? I’ll decide by chance.
I stuff the letter in a pocket before dashing over to the tree I just pruned. Immature small green apples, a few with tiny smears of red ripeness that are just starting to appear, hang from the branches. Snatching one, I make a grand show for myself of polishing it on both my sleeves and flicking any dirt off as I think up the terms of engagement.
Okay, I’ll bite this. If there is a worm inside, I write back. If there isn’t, I let her sweat it out for a while.
Hey, asshole, those conditions are rigged. Apple moths will go for the soft and ripe apples to lay their eggs in, not- and I bit it already. I’m a dick.
Mmmm, tasty (like victory [bitter and sour with a far too hard texture]). No worms! Back to business!
Damnit, don’t ignore me! HEY! HEY!
Pears, plums, no strawberries, no cherries, peaches, apples, ladida dida…
I’ve regretfully had to settle into normalcy again. Three months have passed since his complete and utter rejection of my friendship occurred. All I receive from him are the quiet, orderly reports I requested on his orchard.
I’ve never gotten over the event, less out of shattered pride at my failing seduction skills and more out of an indescribable sense of loss that rendered me a little lethargic some days. I suppose that is why when the message came stating that the Gunecies expedition returned, I managed to rouse myself enough on one such day to request the results as soon as possible.
And now, the day after the expedition’s return, I stare out from my balcony, my eyes directed at the catcher’s tower. Vanna has the day off today, so Tsuruko is the catcher preparing a long awaited package for delivery. However, after so much time and dead, rotting feelings between me and John, I’m receiving the Gunecies expedition’s results mostly out of duty.
The big, blue oni tenses up to the point of seemingly crushing the delivery in her grip and throws with far too much force as she usually does. Thankfully, I’m paying attention this particular time and stop the ball-shaped package dead in its tracks with both hands. Its enormous, larger than my head twice over. I wave at Tsuruko before ducking back inside, eyes on the bundled item from Gunecies.
As I lower myself onto the edge of my bed, my hands are already slowly picking at the packaging, ripping away little chunks of off-white wool and gently placing them all in one spot. To prevent Tsuruko and some of the other overzealous catchers from crushing their deliveries (or at least try to), some items are jammed in an extremely dense ball of weresheep wool. Enough is used to put up at least seven centimeters of padding in all directions no matter the packed item’s or items’ size. The volunteers are few and hence the supply is small, so the material is only utilized (and recycled) for particularly important or fragile objects.
A few minutes pass as I quietly tear away the wool, eventually observing a number of book corners and bindings appearing in the widening gaps. The stacked leather and paper release strong musty scents, no doubt from their years of poor storage conditions (three years perhaps?). Halfway through, I finally decide to read the expedition’s report that lay on top of their discoveries.
It states that no one had resettled Gunecies after its ‘cleansing,’ even with the demonic energy still infused in the land. The team confirmed that the Church’s influence still runs high in the surrounding territories and so monsters are afraid to approach. Several still functional farming tools were salvaged from the farm ruins, plus some interesting agricultural data from examining the plants growing in the former farming fields, and comparing them against several records that weren’t destroyed in the village’s razing or rotted away from outdoor exposure. Could be useful, Gunecies was seriously researching improvements to agriculture it seems. But it is not what I’m looking for in this stack.
The prize I selfishly hoped for them to find is jammed at the top of the pile, found below what the expedition originally thought was a complete and utter loss of a house standing behind acres of weeds and sporadic plant growth. Apparently the damage was so severe that the burned wooden wreckage had fallen into almost all of a hidden basement, the only mostly intact part of the building. Down underground, they found a single still-standing room with a door warded by powerful magic, but were unable to neutralize it. Eventually, they were able to get in by digging carefully next to the door and stepping through the hole in the wall they made. How novel. Inside were shelves filled with dozens of pieces of glass cut to various thicknesses, samples of some kind of clear rock, a slanted table, and a thin leather book upon it stuffed with loose documents titled, ‘All Seasons by John Doe – Private.’ The book is similarly warded like the door ‘guarding’ the room it resides in, allowing no one to open it despite the lack of a physical clasp or lock. I save the rest of the report for later and quickly pull the book away from the half-sphere of wool I’d torn into, my curiosity piqued. The room they found sounded like a place of research. What could be so important that he had a magical ward cast upon it?
I loosely grip the old tome and carefully walk over to my desk. After dragging the chair out with my leg, I sit, bringing John’s book with me and gently laying it down. The document bits stick out no more than a fingernail’s length and don’t tell me anything at all about their or the book’s contents. Too little is exposed, much to my disappointment. But what is more interesting are the runes and crop circle-like patterns adorning the leather just below the small title, burned into the material. The former traps the latter in a tight box, and the crop-circle shapes are drawn so closely against the runic enclosure that they appear to be straining against them. This ward is of such quality that few but the creator and the customer would be able to break it without assistance. Yet against me, the ward would fall with a thought and a gesture. Covering up my intrusion from John would be impossible though. Even if I replicated the design and function exactly, it would have to be done with demonic energy and he would detect that immediately.
I ponder what to do with the book, the thing I wasn’t sure existed, the thing that I once thought of as my last chance at friendship with John. Maybe it still is? Part of me wants to return it to him, no strings attached. Another wants me to break the ward and peek at what is inside- no, to gorge myself on the information on John I so desired in the past.
Peace versus pride… I shouldn’t have to think about it at this point.
Still, it takes a few hours for me to make my decision.
Malida has something awfully large for me this morning. Well, large in the sense that it’s bigger than a letter (or is it including a letter?). Sure isn’t a demonic fruit basket again. Surprised I remember that. Wait, is this from Palamina? After HOW many months? Oh whatever, had to be some day that I have to deal with her again. Anyway, as blue and brown wings flutter down, I pull the rectangular cloth bundle from her left talon as she hovers above me with a perfectly neutral expression on her face.
She lands once I have the bundle in my arms and immediately sticks out her right talon in front of me, a rolled up paper clutched tight in it. “Read the letter first, yew twit. Boss’ orders.” The insult doesn’t hit me as hard as it used to, back when I last wrote to Palamina. Ever since I blew off her boss, Malida became quite bitter towards me, no longer allowing me to babysit her children and refusing to trade in my name. She still came along rarely, to scold me for ignoring Palamina, to goad me into writing to her, those sorts of things. I chose then to ignore all that in pursuit of a quiet life. My stance remains unchanged.
Quiet life is overrated, me. I miss Malida, Tom, Jessica, the twins, and Malory. Hell, I miss P-
Shut up, brain. Can’t I just be a regular ignorant citizen (and eventually fruit merchant) here? Malida doesn’t seem to think so and very strongly at that. It makes me suspect that she (and the rest of Palamina’s SUBJECTS) have been brainwashed into loyalty with all that demonic energy wafting around, so she’s just looking out for her MASTER’S happiness (or maybe that’s too harsh a judgment?).
Make friends, coward! How about actually having meaningful encounters with people to make your decisions instead of letting those three years of running rule you?! The only shadow you’re jumping at here is your own!
Ignoring me, I grab the bundle’s knot with my left hand and slide the letter out of her relaxing talon with my right.
It’s been more than a long time, hasn’t it? I know you do not desire to see hide, hair, nor handwriting of me, but an expedition I ordered months ago has finally returned recently and the results will definitely be of interest to you.
You once wrote the name Gunecies in a letter. I assumed the place was of significance to you and in my then determined drive to gain a new slave, I ordered a team to go there and tasked them with thoroughly investigating and salvaging the village’s remains. There is a document in the cloth wrapping summarizing their observations of Gunecies for your perusal. I have more detailed ones including a few salvaged writings from the village itself for you on request.
But that wasn’t what I had hoped they would find. My true desire was that something significant to you would be found there, to ensnare your heart or perhaps provide insight into it for the sake of the former action.
Such is no longer the case.
They found something in your old home. It belongs to you. It has been included in the package and rest assured, I have not opened or tampered with it in any way.
Gunecies? When did I ever- Oh wait, when I proposed this orchard, I think. Must have wrote it down without thinking. And she sure tried to take advantage of that information quickly from the sound of this letter.
I take a look at the cloth bundle still being held in my left hand, hesitant to open it. Gunecies was somewhere I’d rather not think about often. My home? Yes. Demonized? Also yes. Burned to the ground? Damnit, yes. I still shudder at the thought of either the Church or monsters making use of those grounds. It just feels wrong to me for Gunecies to be trampled on after both a conversion and a cleansing, makes me feel like there are twice as many ghosts to think of.
“Just open it.” Malida’s harsh tone brings me back to the matter at hand. Ha. Leave it to her to help me focus, just like before.
I kneel, placing the letter on the ground next to me before untying the cloth knot. The harpy looks down upon me intensely, as if trying to prevent me from running away. Under her watchful gaze, I see the summary document on top of a book of some kind. Onto the ground it goes, right on top of the letter without even a cursory glance. I’m more curious about what Palamina’s privacy intruding expedition fou-
I blink twice. My eyes widen very slightly and stay that way. Gingerly, my hands grasp a leather book and bring it up to my face. An old reflex takes over, right palm dragging down the edges of the cover as my left swings the book upwards. The runes glow a dull orange very briefly, followed by the circles. The instant that light faded, I realize something very valuable has returned to me.
… … … Brain? This is… familiar. Right?
My research. The all-seasons glass house for growing anything you want, even in the winter. I quickly flip through it. Every note, sketch, plan, and correction is here, even the final draft.
Palamina must have popped this open right? And got a friendly human mage or someone to replicate the lockspell?
Seeing as this is a unique ward researched and developed by Gunecie’s local questionably insane wizard specifically for the village’s use (and I saw his severed head being held close by his wife’s [turned lamia] corpse), I really doubt that.
But she- the seduction thing with- control freak kinda- I- I-
I, my brain, am now sighing in exasperation. Just check the secondary privacy measure I put in and finally give Palamina that chance she deserves, plus an apology, once I find it unbroken.
As a non-magical measure of security, I would regularly replace a piece of clay jammed in the gap between the spine and paper, almost right at the very bottom and out of sight. If someone opened the book, it would be squeezed from the pressure and a single finger stroke there would tell me if the clay stayed flat and thus unopened or curved and intruded upon. This time, the clay was so old that it crumbled at my touch. Hard dust and bits fall out onto the ground, but not before I felt enough to know that Palamina was- no, IS telling the truth. Gods above.
Malida remains silent, but her expression has softened into curious glances as I go through what must be very odd motions to her. Good. If her mood’s better or she’s at least wondering about this enough, I think I can get her help for what I’m planning next.
Am I finally going to listen to me? Write to make up with my gracious host?
I’ll do one better. I’m finally going to Derutcurts.