Stories, poems and other musings from the mind of a writer who suffers from World Builder's Disease
Tank shrieked like a banshee, if said banshee were a pipsqueak the size of a pisky; in other words – his size. He couldn’t recall ever sounding so pathetically sprite-like in all his life, not that there was anything wrong with sprites… but in front of Lord Icetwig? For shame.
Averting his focus from the grotesqueness of the other-worlder, he blinked up at his liege with pleading eyes. He wanted to ask why he’d been summoned, why he was here, and who or what that abomination looming behind his lord was. But his mouth wouldn’t work. All he could muster was a mewling whimper as he locked eyes with the Unseelie Lord.
Aw, come on, you sorry excuse for a fae, he chided himself, calm down. Some warrior you are. But terror had tackled his tongue and pinned it against his will. Lord Icetwig’s ice-silver eyes narrowed, his gaze more frigid than the icicles that dangled from the branches above.
Now, everyone was tall compared to a pisky, but to Tank, Lord Tanglesnap Icetwig was a veritable giant towering over him, long of limb and lithe as a willow tree–not that there were any of those here in Winterstone.
But the true reason for the flurry of chills coursing through Tank was that misshapen, dark being that loomed behind the faerie lord. That creature had creeped him out from the moment he’d seen it gliding across the snow. Where Lord Icetwig was graceful, this malformed and foul thing lumbered, despite floating three feet above the icy ground. Where his Lord wore elegant and bejeweled finery befitting a peer of the Unseelie Court, the stranger was garbed in a dusky, thick and tattered cloak whose cowl revealed not a speck of flesh, but instead held the pitch-dark void of shadow. Tank was glad he couldn’t see its face.
What’s more, a stench wafted from… it–Tank could not honestly consider this thing as a person, male, female, neither or both. It smelled worse than if a Bogle had farted in a Stink Lily, and then left it out in the sun to rot for a few weeks. And even worse, its speech was even more grotesque than its odor, if such a thing was possible. The thing belched out its words in a raspy voice, a cross between a toad’s croak and that same Boggle’s anal acoustics.
“This,” it said, jabbing a filthy rag-wrapped hand toward Tank, “will serve my purpose?”
“His kind, yes.” Lord Icetwig’s eyes tightened, and Tank suspected that the lord’s frigid expression wasn’t meant for him. Not entirely, anyway.
Then the expression softened, now cool and peaceful as fresh snow, and Icetwig bent low, as if he were to place a kiss on Tank’s cheek. “Calm thyself, pisky” he whispered in Tank’s ear, as if they were friends, even. “You shan’t endure this much longer.” Tank swallowed down his sniveling sobs, or tried to. His chest felt sure to explode with all that pounding going on in there. Did that mean that
Did that mean that Icetwig would let him go soon? Or…? Tank gulped, the chestful of icy air stinging all the way down as he pictured himself being fed to that hovering horror, gobbled down in one unsatisfying pisky-sized bite. Tank clenched his eyes shut. He clenched other places too.
“Sit,” his master said in that frozen pond voice. Tank plopped his backside onto the hard-packed, biting snow without opening his eyes.
Tank wanted out of there, and now. He knew simple glamour wouldn’t work on the Sidhe, and who knew if it could fool… the other one. So obviously, vanishing wasn’t an option. Then, nearly instinctively, he decided to shift. Something small and inconspicuous would do, like a snow-pip. A pip would blend with the snow, and wouldn’t freeze, either. He could scamper away before either of them was the wiser. So he calmed himself as best he could and opened his eyes, then blinked. Once. Twice. Three times the charm.
He didn’t change form.
A sinister sensation tingled across his skin, then quickly stole away.
“Now, now. We’ll have none of that my little friend.” Icetwig’s words didn’t sound friendly, despite the laugh. “That is no way to behave, you naughty thing.”
The other, putrid thing, drifted closer. “Yeessss,” it rasped. Tank’s gut threatened to crawl up his throat. He wanted to flee but nothing was acting right. He couldn’t shift, he couldn’t move. Something had hold of him, like he was in the death-cold grasp of some unseen, icy giant.
Then the world before Tank became a white and gray kaleidoscope as his tears crystallized. The lord’s doing, no doubt. Some of the more powerful sidhe had such abilities, he knew. It was crystal clear that Lord Icetwig had magicked him, and magicked him up good. Tank’s heart turned cold. Numb. All his terror and panic crawled up inside him like a hibernating bear. A bear that would be ravenous on spring’s return.
“Are you sure, Lord Elf? I do not see how a puny sparkle-farter could possibly–”
The sidhe lord’s hiss resounded like a boulder breaking the surface of a frozen lake, and he spun on the abomination. “We do not tolerate such language in our realm,” he said. “And do not underestimate this one because of his size. Do not believe every fairy story you hear. Those pathetic mortals and their weak imaginations…” Icetwig again turned to Tank, gently gliding the back of his hand across his cheek. “Even the least of the Aes Sidhe are mighty. This one is a veritable Cú Chulainn among his kind. He is formidable indeed.”
The floating turd gave off a grinding noise but did not otherwise reply.
Was that praise from Lord Icetwig? Tank wondered. Me? Formidable?
The creature didn’t wince or flinch from Icetwig’s rebuke. If anything, its garb grew darker if such a thing were possible. Blood-crimson edged its lumpy shape. Its stink grew worse, but that might because it glided nearer. Tank could swear it doubled in size. It certainly wasn’t because Tank had shrunk, though he desperately wanted to. The effect was a glamour. Both he and the lord would see right through it. It might be a shifter, but whatever it was, Tank was certain this creature was not native to Faerieland.
Icetwig then backed away. Tanks eyes flew wide. So it was true. He was letting the monster have him. Despite the numbing grip of Icetwig’s ensorcellment, a building heat threatened to overwhelm Tank. He had no inkling of what was about to happen, but he had a very, very bad feeling.
The lord sighed, then murmured, “Do what you will, Grimanthe. But do it with haste.” The horror floated closer, ominous and horrifying. Tank wanted to rise, to run, to scream. But he couldn’t. He was frozen. His head buzzed like fire-mites were teeming inside him. He screamed a silent scream. The beast was now close, and that fiery caterpillar inside Tank felt as if it would be crawling out his throat any time now.
The vile creature, Grimanthe, drew closer still, its bulk widening. Its arms spread out like webbed bat’s wings. From arm-pits to wrists, it threatened to envelop him. Surely, Tank thought as his mind swirled in fright, that was just his cloak. Wasn’t it?
Tank squeezed shut his eyes as the reeking thing pounced. He tried to focus on his internal scream, but the something lashed at him, inside his mind. A barrage of horrific imagery, wave after wave, assaulted his mind.
First were images of his kinfolk, dissected and splayed across heath and glen. They painted the greens of his youth a sickly crimson as far as he could see. They’d been opened wide, their insides arrayed around them like a twisted work of grotesque art.
Next, the crows came, and the bugs. The sky was black with flying things, the ground carpeted with untold squirming and writhing many-legged and clawed insects. Like a cresting wave, the swarm swept over the bodies. With their passing, they left a scatter of gleaming white bones in their wake.
Tank recognized a high-pitched wailing. At first, he thought it came from the chorus of carrion-eaters. But no. It wasn’t them. The sound came from him. That was his voice. His wailing. If he could scream, then he could run. He must’ve broken Icetwig’s spell. He scrambled to his feet, but was suddenly surrounded by ravenous beasts, wolves with glowing eyes and blood-red foam spilling from their jagged-toothed mouths. He spun around. There was no escape. One of the creatures snapped at him, its hot breath and acid spittle stinging his skin as he dodged out of the way of those deadly teeth. He might have avoided this creature’s attack, but the others crowded in. He had no weapon–Icetwig had taken his sword–and there was no way he could duck
He scrambled to his feet and turned to flee, but a ravenous beast blocked his way. Turning, he found himself surrounded by slavering wolves. They had glowing eyes and blood-red foam spilling from their jagged-toothed mouths. He spun around. There was no escape. More and more of them joined in with the pack, howling and snarling. One of the creatures snapped at him, its hot breath and acid spittle stinging his skin as he dodged out of the way of those deadly teeth. He might have avoided this creature’s attack, but the others crowded in. He had no chance to avoid them all. His hand instinctively went to Snapdragon, and he was surprised to find the weapon there. Hadn’t Icetwig taken the sword? There was no possible way he could duck and dodge and fight off all of these beasts.
Tank’s bravery scurried away before he had a chance to unsheath Snapdragon. Panic flooded his senses. He knew he was done for. He found himself once again crumpled against the hard, icy ground, balled up like a doodle bug, waiting for the end to come. Waiting for those vicious teeth to rend him into so many pisky-pieces. And then, from some place deep inside him rushed a tingling energy. As it flowed outwards and exploded from him, the world turned an unexpected, bright, pale green. He’d felt nothing like this before. It was as if he was a geyser pushing out a torrent of spring water. But it wasn’t water. It was power. Energy. And it seemed excitingly familiar somehow. Natural.
The barks and howls of the demon-wolves suddenly sounded distant, as if they echoed through the bowl of a hollow tree like he was being pulled away from them. Then, with an odd, sucking and popping sound, the howling ceased altogether. The air around him warmed. The ground beneath him was noticeably hard and… hot.
Then Tank heard a noise, unlike anything he’d experienced before in his life. It was a cross between the bleating laugh of a Masseriol and an actual goat, but strangely had an echoey, metallic sound to it. He opened his eyes just in time to witness a monstrous creature gliding directly toward him. It was brown and silver and intensely odd-shaped, like no fae he’d ever seen. It was this creature whose call blared in his ears, rising in pitch as it charged him.
Tank quickly rolled to one side as the big sleek thing veered to the other, screeching louder than any harpy he’d ever heard. As he rolled up onto his feet, he felt a jab in his arm. Something was poking him there, near the elbow, sharp and painful. Looking at the thing that had nearly struck him, he saw the top of it was partially transparent, and through it, Tank could detect some of its insides. A smaller being was in there, a person perhaps, inside the larger creature. This person raised a small and spindly arm from the left side of the greater being. The middle finger of what was obviously a hand pointed high into the air. The whole of it, or them, continued to retreat at a steady pace, still weaving from nearly trampling Tank. It stole away on what was obviously a hard, grayish black road with yellow markings on its surface. An odd road, indeed. As alien as these surroundings were, the jabbing pain in Tank’s arm seized his immediate attention.
A trail of dark green blood dripped from where a shard of metal, at least a knuckle long, poked from his pale flesh. Tank carefully took the shiny splinter between thumb and forefinger and yanked it out.
“Youch!” He quickly dropped the metal. It had scalded his fingers where they touched it. “What the… who’d leave slivers of iron just laying around? I might’ve stepped on that.” He harrumphed. Then it hit him.
Tank wasn’t in Faerieland anymore.