A Throne of Shattered Bones

I.
Jacob sits on a throne of shattered bones. His shroud is black and red, hooded and flowing. A single gas lamp flickers behind him, casting shadows of dancing bones along the abandoned station. An empty beer can rolls along the platform. It topples over the edge, clatters against the tracks, and stops.

“Angelus,” he says. He holds out a pewter cup. Angelus pours his wine. Jacob runs a curled finger through Angelus’s long red hair. “Israel has betrayed me for the last time.”

Angelus sighs. “You betray each other,” he says. “You are both driven by a lust for power.”

Jacob sips the wine, considers Angelus’s words, and places the cup on the arm of the throne. “I am the one.” Turning to Angelus, he narrows his eyes . “I have many followers. It is only a matter of time.”

“You both have many followers,” says Angelus. “You are moving towards a war that Lazarus will not tolerate.”

Jacob closes his eyes and steeples his fingers. “Israel’s wings need to be clipped,” he says. “Only I can lead.”

Angelus offers another sigh, hands the cup back to Jacob, and pours more wine. Jacob looks at him and holds his gaze. “Do not sigh at me, Angelus. Say what is on your mind.”

“You’re the same. You and Israel are two pieces of the same puzzle.”

“We are not the same,” Jacob spits, slamming his left fist down.

“You are too alike,” Angelus says. “You will only end each other.”

Jacob stares ahead and crushes the cup in his hand, feeling the metal bend to his will. He goes to stand, stays frozen for a long moment, then shudders.

“What is it?” asks Angelus.

Jacob gasps. “I have been summoned.”

II.

Jacob waits, eyes downcast. He is on his knees, his nose touching the tiled floor. He listens to the scratchy rasp of Lazarus’s breath surrounding him. Israel is to Jacob’s left. They both bow and wait.

“We can only exist when we understand that we are one,” Lazarus says. Each word is clipped, stifled, pained. “Your pettiness has worn my patience to a gossamer thread.”

Jacob tries to wriggle, to squirm, to run, but he is paralysed, held fast by Lazarus’s will.

“We are one. We are dependant.” Lazarus spits the last word, punctuating each syllable with a click of his skeletal fingers. “It is time for your fable, time for your lesson.”

There’s a rush of red light as cold fire engulfs Jacob’s body. His flesh quivers and curls.

Then, the pain ceases.

“Jacob. Israel.” Lazarus’s voice holds with it command and affirmation.”You are cursed to end. You will expire if you do not feed on each other. You must learn the value of our brood.”

III.

There’s a rush of stale air from a train passing through the adjacent tunnel. The smell of refuse and insects drifts by. Bones splinter between Jacob’s fingers when he grips the arms of his throne. “We are going to war,” he says, turning to Angelus. “We cannot live together like mutually dependent parasites.”

Angelus frowns. “If Lazarus’s curse is what you say, then you will both end. Your talk of war and conquest will be for nought.”

“Lazarus,” Jacob spits. He closes his eyes and holds his rage. There’s a nudge at the back of his mind, a pull towards Israel. He leans forward, rests his elbows on his knees. His expression softens as he looks up at Angelus. “No one tastes sweeter than you,” he says.

There’s a tingle, an urge. He lurches forward, takes Angelus by the wrist, sinks his teeth into his flesh, and feeds. “What is this?” he growls, choking on the blood. He jerks away and drops Angelus’s arm as trails of blood extend along the platform, pooling near the edge.

“What is it?” asks Angelus, his voice weak.

“I…” Jacob rests his head in his hands. “Your blood is wrong,” he mutters. He jumps to his feet. “I have to find Israel.”

IV.

Maggots swarm at the base of the throne while Israel’s flesh teems with swarming, buzzing flies. There’s a pile of drained and rotting corpses scattered around his throne. The seat is made of dark oak. Human skin stretches across its back and sides, dried pinks and browns twisted in strands that bow and stretch with Israel’s every gesture and movement. A fluorescent light tube buzzes in the corridor leading to the platform, casting a cold blue light over the scattered dead.

Jacob stands before Israel, his arms outstretched, his wrists gaping and dripping with blood. “Brother, Lazarus’s curse is our only enemy now. I offer a truce between us. Let there be no blood spilled, save for our mutual feeding.”

Israel’s throne creaks as he sits back. A cloud of flies darts this way and that, eddying in a macabre waltz. Jacob watches his brother’s face, his expression and features mirroring his own. “Agreed,” Israel snaps. “Mark my words, Jacob, there will be a truce, but only until this curse is lifted.”

“As you say, brother.” Jacob bows his head in assent.

There’s a long moment’s pause between them. Israel stands, tears at his right wrist with his teeth, and offers it to Jacob.

“Together,” Jacob says.

“Together,” Israel says.

They lean down to each other’s gaping wounds and feed, sucking the blood with silent gulps as the flies hum around them.

“You taste…” they both say, their words trailing off as the faint hint of a smile creeps along their faces.

V.

Jacob is awake when Israel crawls into his bed. The flies hover outside the chamber, waiting. “Send your thrall away,” Israel says, pushing Angelus aside with a shove.

“He is no thrall,” says Jacob, but he makes no further protest when Angelus skulks away and stands with the flies.

They bite into each other’s wrists again and feed.

“I hate this,” they say.

VI.

Jacob and Israel meet on neutral ground, a tunnel used by rats as a graveyard. The tunnel is strewn with rodent corpses, some still bloated and crawling with maggots, others no more than dusty husks. Bones crack and shatter beneath their feet as they walk. They take a moment to feed on each other and then stand back-to-back.

“We must fight this curse, brother,” says Jacob.

Israel says nothing.

“We should test the curse,” says Jacob.

Jacob doesn’t move but senses Israel turning to him. There’s a long pause, a silence. A rat enters the tunnel along the track opposite Jacob; it stands on its hind legs, sniffs the air, locks eyes with Jacob, turns, and scurries away.

“Well?” Jacob asks.

“Well, what?”

“Well?”

“Do you have a plan?”

Jacob turns, meets Israel’s gaze, and nods.

VII.

The air changes when Angelus nails down the final sheet of thick wood. Gone are the ebbs and flows of rushing air that mark the rhythm of the underground trains. All around is dry and still.

Jacob curls into a tight ball and feels Angelus return to his bed.

“Do you wish to feed?” Angelus asks.

Jacob nods. Angelus offers his wrists. Jacob leans his head and tries to feed. There’s an urge to gag, to vomit. Jacob turns away and sighs.

“I…” Jacob says. “It will pass.”

Angelus says nothing.

The pull to Israel becomes an obsession, a twitching, a yearning twisting at every facet of Jacob’s mind.

“Jacob?” Angelus whispers.

“What is it?” Jacob’s hands and feet are heavy and stiff. He looks down: they are granite. “Summon Israel,” he says. “Now.”

Israel’s arms and feet are the same bluish-green stone as Jacob’s when he arrives, limping, supported by Angelus. The flies avoid Israel’s hands.

“Send away your thrall,” Israel manages.

“Go,” whispers Jacob.

Angelus turns and leaves.

Weak and gasping, the pair finds flesh halfway up each other’s right arm and feed. There’s a burning sensation, and they are bowing before Lazarus, their noses against the floor and their stone arms anchored to the tiled floor as if bound by chains.

Lazarus gives a wheezing laugh. “You dared to defy me? You thought you could lift the curse?”

“No,” Jacob and Israel say.

Lazarus clicks his fingers. “You were supposed to learn a lesson, but instead you worked against me.”

“No,” Jacob and Israel say.

“Do not lie to me,” Lazarus says. “You instructed your thralls to keep you apart, to resist the curse. And now you are here.”

There’s a green glow all around them as starvation floors the brothers. Pain tears through their insides, a boiling, searing pain that writhes and contorts from within. Their screams do not leave their mouths.

VIII.

All Jacob and Israel can do is feed. Jacob calls to Angelus for wine, but before he utters a single word, the petrification returns and spreads across his limbs like setting ice.

“I hate this,” says Jacob, his voice muffled as he feeds.

Israel agrees, mumbling though Jacob’s armpit.

“We should end,” says Jacob.

“Yes,” says Israel. “We should end Lazarus.”

Bodies half-petrified, Jacob and Israel summon their minions. Stone crackles along their skin as they move from feeding to uttering short blasts of orders.

Jacob leans up and eyes his lieutenants. “We are in alliance…” A tendril of stone crawls along his thigh, twisting like ivy, and stops only when he returns to feed. “You must end Lazarus.”

Israel repeats the words to his own lieutenants and returns to feeding.

Jacob lifts his head weakly. “Take us to him,” he whispers.

IX.

The minions carry Jacob and Israel to Lazarus as battle rages. There are flames and spears flying in all directions, arcing in and out of time, extinguishing everything. The flies and rats hide in the shadows. Angelus leads the procession.

The minions fall by the thousands. Jacob and Israel crawl towards Lazarus, their knees and elbows scraping, stone against stone, along the ground. All the while, they still feed.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lazarus gasps, his flailing arms rendering him powerless.

Jacob and Lazarus drag themselves forward and separate. They lunge at Lazarus with a deafening scream and sink their teeth into his arms.

Lazarus writhes as they feed. They pull on his centre, tear at him, and extinguish him. Their arms and legs turn soft, fleshy and bony, the stone retreating along their bodies like the first thaws of spring.

“Fools,” says Lazarus. “You may end me, but I will make the curse stronger.”

A brilliant burst of black light emanates from Lazarus, filling the chamber with the screams of a billion horrors. The walls around them shatter and crumble. Lazarus falls to dust as a beam of sunlight penetrates from above.

Jacob and Israel share a smile as a gust of air blows the dust of Lazarus away. “We are victorious,” they say. “And now the curse is lifted.”

They look around at the scattered corpses of their armies, their crumbling empire, and the swarming flies and rats returning to their masters and share another smile. Jacob looks down at his hand and offers it to his brother. Israel’s smile falls away.

“What is it?” Jacob asks. Before Israel can answer, Jacob’s eyes widen at the petrification spreading along his body.

“The curse,” says Israel, holding up his stone hand.

Their bodies stiffen as the petrification moves up past their thighs. “I fear this will not end us,” says Israel. “We will be trapped in stone for— ” His words stop as his jaw turns to stone.

Jacob nods. “Angelus,” he calls. “Take us to the light. End us, before it is too late.”

Angelus crawls over to his master, his lover, his body wrecked with contusions and fractured bones. “As you wish,” he says.

Jacob’s body stiffens as the petrification continues up his spine, engulfing his ribs and twisting his shoulders. Angelus drags Jacob and Israel towards the sunlight, towards their end.

As they are dragged into the light, they are already men of stone. The flies retreat and the rats scatter.

Angelus falls to his knees. He is too late.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

Bound to the Seelenfalle

The sea was calm against her side as she stirred the stew and her footsteps creaked on the deck above. She looked out across the Braun Sea from the top of her crow’s nest, adding a pinch of salt to the stew as she pulled in a net brimming with silver and green fish.

She leaned and pulled against twenty-four oars as the net spilled out onto the deck. She looked back west to land from the crow’s nest as she added coals to the kitchen fire.

The Seelenfalle turned, adjusting its course as she awoke. Slipping down from a hammock, she rubbed her eyes and ladled stew to taste. Pulling the oars, she scanned the horizon from the crow’s nest and pulled on a pair of leather boots.

A ship poked over the horizon to the east. Wrapping a kerchief around her head, she heaved the oars in perfect unison. Emerging from below deck, she stepped out into the sun as she moved the stew pot to simmer.

Thin white clouds hung in the sky above as she tied the Seelenfalle’s sails to the mast, useless. She climbed the steps from the kitchen as she dragged a barrel along the deck. Stopping next to the fish, she locked eyes with herself for an instant, her blue eyes and blond hair, her grey eyes and brown beard. She dropped her gaze and turned to the fish, scooping them up in her arms as she held the barrel at an angle.

Looking across the Braun Sea, the ship was fast approaching. She adjusted her course to north-east, and pulled hard on the oars. She tipped a bag of salt into the barrel and sealed its lid as she frowned at the ship from the top of the crow’s nest. The ship turned to match the Seelenfalle’s trajectory.

Letting go of the wheel, she ran along the deck to the bow as the ship matched the Seelenfalle’s speed as it lined up against the sides, its rowers pulling their oars in.

“Ahoy there,” she said, trying to keep her tone steady, amiable. The ship’s captain was thick and bearded holding a sword and pistol.

She scrambled from her hammocks and pulled on her boots as she sought her own swords and pushed gunpowder into the cannon.

“I say, ahoy,” she repeated.

“Are you the captain of this here ship?” the captain asked.

“The ship,” she said. She stopped rowing and slid down from the crow’s nest.

“Sir, I’m afraid to say this is not going to be your lucky day. Prepare to be boarded.”

She fired off a pair of cannon as she drew her sword and burst out from below deck. The ship wobbled in the water as men slid down ropes with hooks. The ship’s captain fired his pistol and she fell to the deck, grasping at her chest and pulling her daggers from beneath her seats.

A rapier stung her arm as it cut through her flesh. She fired off another trio of cannon as she charged from the bridge and the bow to meet another group of boarders.

The water hit her with a cold shock as she tumbled headfirst into the sea, tackling a thin man to the deck as blood filled her lungs. Swinging from a sail, she kicked the head of a boarder as she pushed a shot into the cannon.

Falling into the water, she felt a sword pass through her stomach as the wild-eyed captain strangled her.

Footsteps creaked along the Seelenfalle’s decks as the sea splashed against her hull.

Her eyes and ears were gone. She was blind. She was deaf. She was helpless.

The souls bound to the Seelenfalle were no more.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

The Lady of the Mound

The Lady of the Mound settles like dust between certainties, holding court on the boundaries of life and death. There’s a lantern, more ancient than time; its light is brighter than a thousand suns. The lantern guides her, comforts her: ever-present, endless. She draws her wisdom from its warmth, her sense of time and space from its inexorable glow.

She squints through the light at the Dark Lord’s approach. His wings shroud all in blackness: endless dark horizons twisted by hate.

“You have become complacent,” he says, his voice echoing beyond time. “You linger in light because you are weak. Embrace me.” His voice is a command, seductive and spiteful.

The Lady of the Mound turns away from his foul breath, sulphuric and bilious, the stench of billion corpses. “Never,” she says.

“Then you leave me no choice.” The Dark Lord swallows the light of the lantern, engulfing it until it is no more than a fragile shell against the infinite. The lantern shatters like a dried petal at the beat of wings as the Dark Lord takes his leave.

The Lady of the Mound becomes a shadow, deep and smooth. She closes her eyes, creates her own darkness, mourns for the light. For millennia, she holds in the loss, shielding herself from the infinite nothing with the infinite reality of her grief.

She trembles, opens her eyes, scans the emptiness, chokes down a tear. The shadow of the Dark Lord, somehow blacker than the blackness, approaches vulture-like as its wings ripple against the heavens.

“You have opened your eyes and I am here,” the Dark Lord says. “Embrace me.”

The Lady of the Mound turns. “Never,” she whispers.

The Dark Lord growls and rises through the infinite, leaving the Lady of the Mound with only her sorrow as reality.

In the silence, she sees the faintest of dots, a tiny glow darting like a dragonfly across the emptiness. She draws hope from its flight, watches as it bobs and whirls, iridescent against the eternal. There’s joy in that light. A second orb emerges, then a third and a fourth. Before long, the void is teeming with swarms of eddying lights, burning with love and happiness.

She draws from them, feeds into them. They expand and grow with each century. The lights drift towards her, coat her in brilliance and warmth. The void floods with her tears.

Time unhinges from itself when the Dark Lord returns. His wings bristle. His voice is filled with the pain of a thousand holocausts. “You have defied me,” he screams.

The lights flicker out with fear and the Dark Lord brushes their husks aside with his wings, returning everything to darkness. He offers his embrace, but the Lady of the Mound turns. The Dark Lord sighs a storm, then leaves.

“All is lost,” the Lady of the Mound says. “All is lost.”

She holds herself and listens for the Dark Lord’s return, watches for the lights. Neither come.

“I beseech thee. Return to me. I beg you to return. I will protect you.”

Centuries pass until the first light twinkles, dim at first, then bright white as it embraces the Lady of the Mound. More lights emerge and coil around her, filling her with love and brilliance.

She shudders as the Dark Lord returns.

“You dare to embrace light? You embrace me,” he says, spreading his monstrous arms.

The Lady of the Mound faces him, breathes out her light, brilliant and white. Its beam tears through the Dark Lord’s body, ripping off his limbs, slicing through his torso, searing his flesh and wings to nothingness. He falls into the light, nothingness in nothingness in nothingness, an infinite fractal shattering beyond the dust of dreams.

The lights embrace the Lady of the Mound. They warm her, protect her, become her.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

Basilisk on a Yellow Field

I wore green on the day I performed my first kill. I stood on the edge of a large stone room lit by alchemical orbs casting soft white light across the faces of two dozen children as they danced to the drummers and pipers performing a traditional Ostreich folk song.

The adults looked on in their green finery. The men wore matching coats, tailored from silk. The women wore long hooded dresses in a darker green than the men. They were cut low along the bust and pulled tight at the waist, with wide skirts extending to the floor.

My dress was in the style of the other women, though, there was a hidden slit which allowed me to reach across with my left hand and easily grasp my blade, the Feuerschwert.

A red-faced dancer stared at me as she swayed from left to right, turning and twisting her hands in time with the music. I smiled, but my smile was not returned. There was fear in those eyes.

The Feuerschwert was cold against my skin. Though secured to my waist, I feared the ravenglass might cut into my flesh, bringing out its dormant power.

The scent of roasted pork hung in the air as I examined the revellers’ faces. I took care to note the features of each person in an effort to remember. There was a woman whose face sparked a memory when I saw her from the side, but when she turned to me with an unsure smile, it was clear we shared no recognition. Just one smile, just one nod of recognition was all I craved. Someone to tell me who I am – to tell me my name.

I moved left along the wall as the beat continued. Though the festivities were held in honour of Jorg Shultz’s fiftieth year, the Viscount had retired to his chamber during the final course of the feast. I stepped around a stone bust of my target, staring expressionless from a marble plinth, and skirted past a colourful tapestry that was fifteen feet across. It showed a knight bearing the Ostreich sigil of a black basilisk on a yellow field thrusting a lance into the belly of a green-scaled wyvern.

Reaching the end of the great hall, I slipped through a half-open door. The alchemical glow faded as I made my way along a bare stone corridor illuminated by wall candles. The handle of the Feuerschwert brushed against my side as my steps grew urgent. I found my way to a spiral stairway.

I ascended the steps until I reached a thick door in varnished oak. I placed my ear against the door and listened. Hearing nothing, I turned the handle. I held my breath, pulled up the hood of my dress, removed my shoes then stepped through the door.

The corridor was dark and the floorboards cold beneath my soles. A faint glow seeped out from beneath a door at the end of the passage. I reached into my dress, removed the Feuerschwert and felt a trembling as I held it my hands. Its ravenglass blade was a deep black, a much deeper black than than darkness of the passage.

I unhooked the skirt from my dress and freed myself from the corset, dropping them in a heap next to me. I stepped towards the door and teased its handle. My heart thundered in my chest as I pushed the door open.

A fire burned in a hearth at the far right of the room. Above it, a portrait of a long-dead Viscount looked on with a dark, vacant gaze. Thick green drapes hung in front of the windows overlooking the Braun Sea. I heard a shuffle to my right – it was Jorg Shultz. Our eyes met.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

I said nothing and pricked the index finger of my left hand with the Feuerschwert. The Viscount’s eyes widened at the blade turned from deep black to a glowing red as it consumed the blood.

“Ravenglass,” he whispered, his eyes bulging.

I jumped back on my toes as he tipped his chair towards me. Jorg unsheathed a blade, longer and thicker than my own. With a fluid motion he rolled up his sleeve and sliced the blade across his left forearm. His blade too glowed red.

A wolfish grin rose beneath his thick blond moustache. Nobody had warned me about this.

My hands were slick with sweat. I danced on my tiptoes, feinted left, then right, trying to draw him into dropping his guard, to making a mistake.

“Who sent you?” he growled.

I shook my head. I was not going to answer him. How could I answer him?

He swung his blade in a broad vertical arc. I hopped to the right and stabbed forward with a twist of my wrist. He jerked his shoulder to the side. We both straitened up, regaining our stance.

We circled each other, his blue eyes locked with my own. I dived forward, struck the back of his leg. He let out an agonised scream as the blade hissed, its magic tearing through his flesh, burning him from within.

He swung and I moved to parry, but instead of the expected ricochet, his blade went through my own, like two jets of water crossing each other’s paths. His blade nicked my arm and I felt its fiery heat swell inside.

Neither of us were bleeding from our wounds, but I sensed Jorg’s pain as it spread through his body. He fell backwards, looked up at me in terror. “What do you want?” he managed. His words were weak, his breath shallow.

I stood over him. His blade returned to black as it dropped from his convulsing hand. I pulled my hood down and pushed my blade into his chest.

“It’s you,” he gasped. “What–.”

I pulled the Feuerschwert from his chest. “Wait,” I said. “Who am I?” I leaned down and shook him. “Please,” I pleaded. “Tell me who I am.”

But he was already dead.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

No Rehab for Wizards

I cut off one of my eyelids today. It was definitely worth it.

“Now why on Earth would you want to do something like that?” Mum asks.

I shake my head, tut. “So I can control manatees,” I say.

“And what do you want to control manatees for?”

I shrug and turn the volume up on Match of the Day. Mum never gets me. She was banging on the other day about how I need to go into rehab. “There’s something not right about you, boy,” she said. “You’re always chopping bits off yourself. It’s not right.”

I tried to tell her there’s no rehab for wizards. Magic always has a price: a sacrifice of flesh always has to be made. A chunk of skin off your arm will give you control of a mayfly, but what’s the point in that? At least manatees have got a half-decent shelf-life.

I was telling her the other day about these wizards around Birmingham way who kill dogs and badgers for their magic. I asked if she’d rather me do that. She just cried.

The thing people don’t realise about using animals is that if you want to take control of dog, you have to kill about thirteen or fourteen of them. And even then, you only get to control one of those shitty little yappy ones. Seems pointless to me.

When Mum had a go at me for lopping off my little toe a couple of weeks back, I made a joke that I’d sacrifice her if she carried on having a go at me. She cried at that as well, and I really only meant it as a joke. Thing is, though, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.

I’d have to work out how strong the magic would be if I did it, though. I’m assuming it would be a bit like with the dogs. Kill a whole bunch of people to take control of a shitty one? I’d get in trouble for sure. But I’m thinking it’d probably count for a lot more if it’s your own mum. It must do.

I turn off Match of the Day and go upstairs.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Mum asks. “You’re not going to chop any more body parts again, I hope? What would your father say if he could see you now with all them bits hanging off?”

I turn back and smile. “I’m just going for a wee,” I say. “Stick the kettle on will you?”

When the kettle starts to boil, I reach behind the toilet and pull out my blade. I run my finger across its edge and grin as a small cut opens along my fingertip.

“Your tea’s on the hearth,” Mum says, shouting up the stairs.

“Coming.” I tuck the blade under my hoodie.

Limping back downstairs, I see Mum has put Eastenders on. “You don’t mind me watching this on catch-up do you?” she asks. “You’d turned your football off.”

“It’s fine,” I say.

I stand behind her and look down at her grey-streaked hair. I take the blade and bring it across her throat. She makes a weird gurgling noise.

I panic and run to the kitchen to grab some tea towels and kitchen roll. I try dabbing at the blood, but it makes a right mess.

Mum always said that when I started to get into one of my panics I should stop, take a deep breath, and have a nice cup of tea. So I sit down on the opposite sofa and sip my tea, my eyes half on Eastenders and half on my mum bleeding out all over her nice cream carpet.

If I let her keep bleeding, it will stop eventually. Then it will dry and be easier to mop up. I really don’t want to ruin any more tea towels, so it’s probably for the best to wait.

Then I remember: I’d forgotten to do the incantation. What a complete waste of time.

I turn Match of the Day back on. At least I still had my manatee.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

King of the Trees

Emily was King of the Trees. A little boy gave her the title – he was King of the Train.

She didn’t know the species names. She called her tree Paramine. It was the big one in the centre. She sat in its branches and surveyed her kingdom.

The other trees were short and thin. They were no more than twigs strapped to stakes with black rubber ties. She called them Paranagents. They weren’t impressive, but this was her domain. This was her realm.

Her trees bore no fruit so she ate burgers and chicken wings left as offerings by passing visitors. They respected her.

She looked for monkeys, but there were no monkeys. She told a half-remembered joke to those who passed beneath her tree. Something about a monkey being stapled to a dead monkey. Emily laughed as she told the joke, but always got lost in the words. She gave no punch-line, only a statement of fact.

She shouted at those who refused to pay tribute or pledge allegiance. A man from the council told her she was trespassing. She told him she was the King of the Trees.

She wore a dress made of leaves and fast food wrappers, and wove sticks and ladybirds through her hair. When she wasn’t performing her royal duties, she worked as a receptionist. Her boss smiled at her and her customers smiled at her. It was a tattoo shop, so people thought she was being alternative. She wasn’t being alternative – she was King of the Trees.

The day came when the man from the council returned – this time with police and a court order. They did not offer tribute or pledge fealty. They told her a complaint had been made.

She told them to bend the knee and to respect her kingdom. They did not respect her.

Emily shouted and spat as the police dragged her away by the armpits. She told them she was King of the Trees. She told them her brother was King of the Moon and her mother was King of the Bears. But they did not listen.

They told her she could never step foot in that car park again.

Emily vowed vengence. Emily declared war.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

Reaching for a larlun

Joster fell limp onto warm stone as she pushed free from her cocoon. Ice peeled along her spine as she breathed and streched. She listened to the drip-drip-dripping of distant liquid.

She smelled gold, and iron, and five types of stone. Straining, she moved her outer eyelids, still frozen shut. Reaching out, she sensed a mind – the mind of a larlun – clean, slippery, wide.

Joster was weak. She was tired. She slept.

The larlun’s mind prickled. The pangs of hunger prickled. Joster unfurled her heavy wings. Their surface cracked as chunks of ice tumbled to the warm stone. She licked the water pooling beneath her and reached for the larlun. The larlun was slippery, but cleaner and wider than before.

Her tongue was dry and her eyes were still sealed. Joster uncurled her claws and pulled them along the warm stone, scraping, sharpening.

She closed her mind and slept.

Joster smelled life as she woke. She reached for the larlun, he was taut, was wide, was open and clean. Silent, she called to him, reached to him.

She waited. The larlun was close. He brought grass in a container made from dead trees. The grass crunched as it froze hard in her mouth.

The larlun shivered. His teeth chattered. She reached to his mind, but he was not afraid. She searched – his mind was wide and wide and wide. His mind told her he was cold. She cracked her icy wings.

Joster reached and asked the larlun why he was cold. The larlun said it was because he was cold. The stones were warm under her belly, so she drew the larlun close. She felt him shivering more. She smelled his blood and fear. His mind told her he was colder than before.

Perhaps she could kiss life into him like her mother did for her. Perhaps she could make him a cocoon, then he would become more, then he wouldn’t be cold. She reached with her mind and breathed her icy breath.

Joster heard the larlun cry out with his voice and his mind. She breathed into him, filling him with the life kiss until he stopped crying out. She kissed and breathed, making a cocoon for the larlun. She knew he would become more, become like her.

She reached out. His mind was thin, stretched, liquid. Then something snapped.

Joster reached and reached and reached, but the larlun was gone.

 

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.