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October 2011 Grab-bag

RedheadEmber

Figured I might as well post this.

Elements are:



Conflict

Gourd
(pumpkin/squash/etc)

Swarm

Rain

Deja vu




All works must be related to Elfquest, whether canon-based, original character, alternate universe, or whatever. Writings must contain all the above elements. Art can either contain all the elements, or illustrate one of the writings.

TrollHammer

Twisted Seasons: Horror, PT III



(Note: This is part of the Twisted Seasons Halloween Special/ series. If you haven’t read it, you might want to catch up….)



(If you don’t want to take the time to read it to catch up, here’s what’s happened so far:

Two Edge let his mentor, The Voice of The Dark, take his students, Snubnose and Wartfoot, off to a distant land to be restored to health (and in the case of Snubnose, life). This happened at the end of the Lodestone series.



Wartfoot was about to be restored to full health, but he moved while The Dark’s machines worked on him and his body was twisted in the process. Snubnose was restored to life, and his severed nose has grown back. Wartfoot is back in the machine to fix the damage from the first time through, while Snubnose plays with various other machinations dating back from the fall of the Palace.



In the Sun Village (in an AU, btw), Rayak and Leetah are Lifemates, and Leetah is pregnant with Rayak’s child, but soon after Rayak’s efforts to win Leetah’s affections were realized, he began to lust after her sister Shen-Shen, risking Leetah’s wrath.



A mysterious orb appeared one night over the village, bringing with it the Flying Ones: gaunt, pale creatures that seem to have no image when a Healer uses their magic to “see” them. The same night, strange creatures that appear to be Elves when in shadow, but change into wolves when in moonlight, also arrive. The Flying Ones warn to repel the Wolf Elves and offer their protection from them, requesting only to be able to view the villager’s dreams. Rayak, who despises any form of canine like animal, strongly supports them.



Leetah feels differently, and is uneasy about blindly following them. She leaves the meeting with the Elders and has an encounter with the leader of the Wolf Elves, who saves her from a snake attack and warns her about the Flying Ones who they have been fighting for generations. Leetah ponders how she can sway the village, as she feels that the Wolf Elves mean no harm, and the Flying Ones are hiding something….)




The diminutive Wartfoot tentative tested moving a single finger on his right hand, not wishing to risk any more torment if the machine was still working on him. Sensing no pain or other abnormal sensation, he flexed his hand, and then his arm before reluctantly rolling off of the table.



He stumbled, finding that he was a full hand or so taller than he’d been in his life! This miracle machine really was a wonder, “fixing” you the way you should have been, not the way you were! He clumsily stumbled around in the dark, trying to support himself as he could find stuff to hold on to. He stubbed his fingers a couple times as his reach was also greater than it was.



“SNARL!” came a grunt to his side, as Snubnose leaped out at him. Wartfoot brought his hands up to block and ended up elbowing Snubnose’s nose. They both fell backward reeling from the various new sensations and decided that was enough horseplay.



They prowled around their unfamiliar surroundings after lighting another torch. The Dark’s last message proved to hold up, as the caverns and tunnels were so old as to seem almost natural; minerals coated the walls covering the walls and even blocking some tunnels with various generations of newer tunnels that cut through the deposits and had new stalagmites started. As a sign of even more age, there was little moisture in the cavern with all the powdery dust covering nearly every surface: mineral deposits can’t form without water.



They finally found an ascending tunnel, and though Trolls shied away from exposure above ground it was wise to get a good feel for the lay of the land. As it turned out this was a good idea, as they peered out of the small opening in the side of a cliff, the sun having just dropped below the sea’s horizon. The twilight was more than bright enough for the pair to gaze at the water lapping at the base of the cliff far below.



They found an insignificant path that led them to the top of the cliff where they could look back across dry plains, hardly disturbed by a scattering of small knolls as far as the eye could see. Taking a few steps back from the edge of the cliff it seemed that all that divided the sea from the land was a sharp line, and even that line was blurring as it got darker.



“I suddenly feel… alone…” Wartfoot commented. “It’s easy to convince yourself that someone might be around, perhaps a few tunnels over, but seeing this, and realizing even Two-Edge is a week’s steady walk from here at the closest….”



“Well, not completely alone, but yeah, I know what y’mean.” Snubnose replied feeling a little agoraphobic himself. He hadn’t spent much time above ground in his life, but it seemed as though there wasn’t even a living creature among the plains. Perhaps there were some burrower-rodents somewhere among the straw colored grass, but part of him doubted it.



As it started to rain, they returned to the tunnels and explored their new sanctuary.



***



The sun finally rose low on the horizon, and already the effect of the floating orb overhead could be felt, even to those that had not left their huts yet. Leetah slept after her night’s ordeal, and the elders continued to bicker over the Flying Ones’ offer of aid. Though Leetah had understood how important it was that they not accept these visitors, she had been too tired to reason out how she could change the elder’s minds, who were dead set against befriending the Wolf-Elves, and were just trying to decide if they wished to welcome the Flying Ones. She slept fitfully.



Rayak, on the other hand, left the Elders’ meeting high headed and hot blooded. He’d argued strongly to put together a party to go after the abomination of the wolf-elves, but while the elders agreed with him that they should be shut out of the village, they didn’t feel like sparing anyone from the harvest to chase them down, especially since they seemed to have left of their own accord. Rayak was glad the Elders seemed inclined to feel as he did about things for the most part, but he wished for more support in eradicating the curs.



He looked up at the egg shaped… thing above him. The sun brought out more detail now, and he could see what appeared to be twisting curls of stone, layer upon layer of filigree, and he found it quite mesmerizing. It might have been due to lack of sleep, but he hadn’t realize how long he had been standing, staring into the sky, until the shadow of edge of the orb crossed him… hours had passed.



Leetah had finally woke up at this point and had been watching him for a few minutes. He finally blinked when he looked away, and stared dumbly at her, his mind clearly as far away as imaginable. She smiled and weaved her arm around his waist and led him away for breakfast.



They talked little. Rayak was still scatterbrained and almost unresponsive. Leetah had little interest in hearing about the meeting anyway, and wouldn’t dare volunteer details about her own adventure the night before. The meal was mostly eaten when Rayak suddenly drew himself together and frowned at the vegetables on his plate. He pushed the plate away and announced, “Sorry to leave you but I feel like hunting. I don’t feel like foraging like a prey animal.”



“Well, be careful, or you have to deal with me one way or the other when you come back!” Leetah playfully teased.



Rayak absent-mindedly nodded and strode out of the hut, hardly pausing to pick up his hunting gear.



***



Snubnose and Wartfoot had just finished breakfast as well, and were preparing to do a little exploring. Their former master’s master had set up the caverns well, so that plenty of cave-forage was available without much maintenance. This is a must for a being that might spend centuries sleep in wrapstuff but awakens ravenous. They feasted on large white fungi and the cave slug they had chanced to find while pondering where the small dark creature that had accompanied The Voice of the Dark went to.



They were able to determine which direction the cart had been pushed in from, and they set out down the path with full packs and various tools. It was surprising to find that the tunnel was not all that long: an hour after they started their journey it opened on a large underground chasm, unseen from the multitude of other tunnels below, but from their vantage point they could see the obscure but easy path the cart had taken to get to it. They scrambled down to the main walkway and looked for evidence of use, or some clue as to a way back to their home or Two-Edge. They chose a path and struck off into the unknown, unaware of another Troll spying on them from the shadows.



Muge was only slightly brighter than the rest of his clan mates, which wasn’t saying all that much. This clan had lived in isolation from Guttlekraw’s and Greymung’s kingdoms, and were fairly nomadic, taking up residence where life was easy and moving on when someplace new looked easier or more interesting. They had innovated crude stone weapons to push out competition, but only took on creatures that had little way of defending themselves. The deserted stretch of coastline was full of abandoned tunnels and held little in the way of predators or other competition, and they had stayed here for nearly as long as anyone could remember. They had spent some time in the desert before that, and no one cared to recall anything before that time.



About the only thing they were good at was finding things. Usually, a small amount of work was needed to extract raw gems from cave walls or steal a kill from smaller predators, but occasionally they would come across something useful that had been left behind by another group. As this was the greatest of all treasures, to find something without having to work for it, they had gone to great lengths to learn how to set up signaling for when a creature passed an area and alert them. Usually, if nothing else, it meant a meal, but occasionally they would catch a human returning to an old half remembered village, and as they knew these tunnels had been created by someone able, there were troves and caches spread throughout the tunnel system containing various valuables: trinkets, food, tools…. Anything was better than nothing!



Presently, Muge waited until the pair could no longer be heard (which was quite a distance as they still had a lot to talk about) before extracting himself from his vantage point. Even from his high perch near the ceiling he had been unable to make out the opening that Snubnose and Wartfoot left, but now it was clear where they had come from and where Muge was going.



He traced the small tunnel back in to the collection of machines and the half decomposed body of The Dark. Dim lights emanated from various items, but had little more effect of impressing Muge. His eyes saw only barter, leverage enough to live well the rest of his life! There was no system by which he could claim all these prizes for himself, nor leadership that claimed all for himself. Things were more or less first come, first served, but there was also little to keep others from following him to find where his riches were coming from and take them for themselves.



From previous experience, Muge knew he had about two trips he could make to claim as much as he could. This particular moment, and one more dash: after that another Troll would find a hiding spot and find the tunnel, then simply wait for him to leave and help himself. This was just how life was.



Muge started making a pile of smaller pieces he felt were the most valuable, either covered by glowing gems or reclaimable metal. He’d just laid the final piece he felt comfortable carrying when greed got the best of him. Why take the whole… thing (he wasn’t sure what this stuff was, only that it was covered in both gems and refined metal) when the gems could be pried out?



The thought was almost revolutionary for his kith and kin, but was still far easier in thought than in actual practice. Few of the glowing stones were even movable, and even the seemingly loose ones were affixed quite securely. He rarely succeeded in removing more than one or two from each object, but was able to cause all sorts of different effects while trying to wiggle them out: sounds, lights, vibrations… few of them really peaked his curiosity, but it wasn’t completely disregarded and when he finally gave up on trying to remove more gems he wiggled them simply to make more lights and sounds. Eventually he became bored and started packing up his treasures.



Years ago, The Voice of The Dark had catalogued this equipment and probed its function as far as he dared, but even he had not discovered the use of one device in particular. Even it’s creator was not sure of the reason why it worked, only that it was able to manipulate very small things. A screen allowed the operator to view these small things and reorganize what was seen into new patterns or shapes. It was though this and one or two other machines like it that the bulk of these other devices were built. This one excelled at influencing the way small pieces of living things were changed.



It hadn’t been cleaned in years, and it was also the device that The Dark had chosen to breath his last breath…. Bacteria from his decomposing body covered the small area, including the machine. Snubnose had left it on while waiting for Wartfoot to heal, but hadn’t done much more, then Muge stumbled upon it and was able to pry the display out, or perhaps he might have seen what he was doing, if it would have registered on his dim consciousness.



When Muge poked and prodded the buttons or “gems” of the device, the bacteria were changed in both shape and function, and a few became airborne before another Muge stumbled across another key combination that irradiated the lot of them, apart from the few he’d inhaled. Such things as bacteria were beneath the concern of any race on the World of Two Moons at this point, and much less of a concern to Muge as he trundled away with his loot, unaware of how this experience would change him.



***



Rayak didn’t return that evening. He was even too distracted by his hatred of canoid beasts to consider sneaking off to Shen-Shen’s hut. His mind was on the hunt and his prey had seemed to have left the area, splitting into two groups. The tracks of the smaller of the two disappeared in hard stone with no definitive direction, and the larger group continued across the burning wastes for as long as Rayak dared to follow. He followed long enough into the night to see when the tracks changed from foot prints to paw prints: two thirds of the night had passed when he had found them, and he was that far away from his prey. He wasn’t even sure if they moved at the same pace he was. They could be faster and he would not be able to make up the distance.



Satisfied that the larger group was at least a day’s journey from the village he turned back. It was possible that the smaller group had purposely confused their trail, to turn back to the village for whatever devious plan they had come for.



***



As Rayak hadn’t returned, Leetah went to see Savah when the sun set and the looming lightless sky above nearly drove her to hysteria. She enjoyed the sun, and missed it as the great stone orb seemed to block it throughout the course of the day. She missed the moon as well, but as she tried to remember what the moon looked like all she could remember was the gathering of the Wolf-Elves on the edge of moon-shadow, and how beautiful it had seemed at the time.



“Savah, I am troubled” Leetah stated simply as she entered the Mother of Memory’s home. “It seems that the whole village has embraced the Flying Ones as friends, yet they seem to have no more reason to be here than the Wolf-Elves.” She didn’t wish to reveal her conversation with the light haired leader of the Wolf Elves, but she sought guidance.



“What you say can be true, I suppose, though the Flying Ones have stated that they are here simply to protect us from the Wolf Elves, as you call them. Your lifemate seems to agree with the decision.” Savah needlessly pointed out.



“It seems to me that it’s the other way around.” Leetah was beginning to feel like this might have been a waste of time. “Rayak’s predisposition against anything that reminds him of the jackals he runs into on his hunts guides his actions, and he pushed his hatred on the Elders. We didn’t even try to find out why the Wolf Elves came here, and it seems that they didn’t even try to ask for anything. The Flying Ones, on the other hand, arrived at the same time, block the sun our crops need, might block the rain we will need when it comes, and ask for our dreams! We don’t even know if they will leave!”



Savah changed her normally airy gaze and focused on Leetah. “My child, it seems that you feel so strongly about this. What events led you to feel so differently about the village’s situation than everyone else? You make good arguments, but there is urgency in your voice that goes beyond reason. Explain, if you please.”



Leetah sighed. There was no way to work around the wisdom of the ancient elder. Reluctantly, she repeated her experience of the first contact with both the Flying Ones and the Wolf Elves, adding her own interpretations of what her healing gifts and senses perceived. She pointed out that it seemed more foreboding to find the Flying Ones to be without the slightest image other than what could be seen with the eye. She went on to argue that there was no apparent malice or friendliness in the wolf-image she felt in the Wolf Elves, but neither was there any deception, or any attempt to hide what they were from her. For now, she felt strongly that while the Wolf Elves seemed unnatural and strange, they seemed almost ordinary compared to the complete void she sensed near the Flying Ones. The air itself seemed to offer up more about itself than the space occupied by a Flying One. This pointed to two conclusions: Either the Flying Ones were well skilled at hiding themselves and did so without knowing that there were others able to sense them, or they were so far beyond an aberration of nature as to be completely alien, perhaps only taking an Elvin-like form to deceive the villagers. She now shuddered as she described the swarm of leathery wings she had noticed the night before



“Leetah, if you had brought these arguments to me last night I would have been more inclined to force the elders to take more consideration of other ideas than Rayak’s. This seems more true than anything I have heard.” The Mother of Memory commented. “However, while these arguments have validity, your passion seems as unjustified as Rayak’s hatred. Why are you pleading so diligently for our decision to not only be reconsidered, but reversed completely. It seems that you might argue we should welcome the Wolf Elves into our village.” Savah was able to cleave to the heart of matters, when matters were brought to her attention. “Are you so strongly opposed to the Flying Ones presence because you can’t feel them, or are you desiring that the Wolf Elves be trusted?”



Leetah hesitated, wondering if she could find a way to bluff her way around describing what happened the night before, as though it would invalidate everything she’d said. She was tempted to bow out of the conversation, admitting that she disliked the Flying Ones and everything they had done in the scarce day since they arrived. This too would have invalidated her passion in her arguments and not gain anything for her efforts. Besides that, Savah knew her too well, knew everyone in the village well enough to know when one sought to cloud the truth.



She gave in and cast her gaze at Savah’s feet. “I met with one of them last night, after I left the Elder’s meeting.”



Savah settled back in her chair, as though relieved to finally hear what she’d already suspected. As Leetah recounted her encounter a resigned calm seemed to settle on Savah’s countenance. “It seems that we are the middle ground for a blood feud.” She finally stated, expression unreadable.



“A blood feud? What’s that?” Leetah had no frame of reference for such things.



“Blood feuds are rare among Elves, even though it would seem our long lives would allow for more chance for rivalry. Essentially, it is a clash between two parties, usually families, that neither family remembers the cause. Each side tries to wipe out the other, and it continues until one side succeeds. There is little way of resolving it. Anyone who gets caught between the two parties suffers even more so.” Savah explained.



“But why did either one of them come here of all places? The Wolf-Elves seem to be more suited to greener areas, and the Flying Ones could go anywhere. We only came out here to get away from humans because they won’t follow!” Leetah pointed out incredulously. The Flying One’s secrecy was gnawing at her.



“That is disturbing, but you would seem to have better insight into this than I. If you can discover the reason behind this aspect of the sandstorm we have found ourselves in, it might be what is needed to sway the other elders.” Savah replied.



“You can’t reverse their decision?” Leetah seemed shocked.



“I’m sorry, but no. I may be the one that everyone brings their issues to, but it is the council that decides the path of the village, and after the tongue-lashing Rayak gave them they will be reluctant to consider any reasonable thought that conflicts with his strong will. Unless you have some proof, the two of us have little to no chance to do anything. If you tried to change their minds they might even forbid you to look for more reasons to distrust the Flying Ones. Be careful.” The Mother of Memory dismissed her.



***



Laden with his treasures, Muge trundled back to the makeshift underground city, hoping to turn a vast profit. He was sweating more than he usually did, but figured it was due to the pack full of gems. He could feel the gathering already starting to trail him, the curious and the bargain hunters….



He found an empty niche near the center of the settlement, trying to focus on the task of looking for traps or other issues with place he chose. Their clan didn’t settle very densely, and there were usually plenty of empty holes to crawl up into, but occasionally a cheat would try to snare the unsuspecting with false walls, death traps, and whatever. Muge’s head was cloudy, though, and he found it hard to even see straight, much less contemplate anything but the most obvious snares. Finding nothing, he started arraying everything around him and settled in to wait for the inevitable barterers. He would eat well tonight!



In Muge’s clan’s society, the detection of body language, or the absence thereof, was easily readable, even if only from the sounds the other Trolls made as they moved around. Muge’s perceptions may have been dimming, but his arrival was already stirring waves of others to come see what he had brought in. The initial wave of those that followed him in met with him and dashed back to their dwellings to gather their own wealth to trade for his wares. Their urgency could be felt by those close by, and that started the second wave of barterers, which brought better offers and more numbers.



Muge’s fuzzy consciousness was able to respond reflexively, however, and refuse all but the highest offers from these two waves of shoppers, and even deny the third wave of returning followers. It hardly registered at this point that he had stopped sweating and started to raise a high fever. It would be a few days before the really good offers came in, and all he needed to do was bide his time.



Finally, there was a slight drop in the number of visitors for the day, so Muge decided to pack everything away in the back of the den and get some sleep. He’d feel so much better after a good long rest.



As he slept, his fever continued to increase.



***



The Flying One’s Queen settled in on her throne in her great stone egg, ready to begin the first night’s feeding in the months that had passed since they had left the last village. This village was prime with full-blooded Elves, strong and eternal unlike the short lived Humans they had found so often. What was better was that this village had welcomed them without much fuss, and one of the villagers had even chased off the highly annoying, baying Wolf Elves! It would be a delightful feast of dreams to drink in.



As the sun fell and the last of the villagers dragged their pitiful crops of grain, vegetables, gourds, and other harvests, the Queen relaxed and felt out with her mind, searching for unsuspecting sleepers.



***



The leader of the Wolf Elves had sent his tribesmates to safety as he and his best warriors snuck their way back to the village. It was even more difficult than other times the Flying Ones plagued a settlement, as the village itself had a far better hunter among them. The Flying Ones relied too much on their ability to observe and attack from above to expend much energy tracking or trapping their target or prey. The leader had already lost one of their beloved members to the village’s hunter, and he was not about to lose another. He had been plagued by quandaries as to why they were returning back to aid those did not want help, but he remembered what the Flying Ones had done to his family and other villages. As long as the Flying Ones remained a thread he would stand against them and defend those who couldn’t help themselves.



His paws beat a rhythm on the stone in time with his heart. Nightmares flashed in the back of his mind just as it had ever since he had lost his cubs, watching them wither night after night and lose themselves, until they finally died. Their mother was only slightly stronger, holding on for one more moon. The more his tribe tried to protect themselves and hide from the Flying Ones the worse it got, and their vast forest home became a graveyard.



Their leader himself was the one to find a solution. Hidden deep, he found the beast within, and found strength in the beast. One bright moonlit night the Wolf in him erupted, changing his physical form and his way of thinking forever. His name was lost to the way of thinking of the Wolf, and the Wolf opened itself to the full onslaught of the Flying One’s parasitic meddlings.



It repulsed them. The Flying Ones reeled away from his pure mind like frost before the morning sun, and tried to shield themselves from him while feasting off of the rest of his tribe, but he was able to show the rest of them what he had discovered. The final dozen members of his tribe, with fully open minds putting forth the purity and wildness of the Wolf was intolerable for the Flying Ones, and they fled.



But the peaceful life wasn’t forthcoming in the aftermath. Though the mind of the Wolf now dominated what they felt and did, there was still enough Elf in them to miss those who had died, and the Wolf wanted revenge because of this. They eventually set off to find the Flying Ones to gain retribution for their dead kin, but in the process discovered the horrid truth: If they did not succeed in destroying the Flying Ones, their pain would be repeated again and again, in village after village.



To date, they had never successfully repelled the Flying Ones before a village was driven mad or succumbed to the psychic drain of the parasites, but they continued to try. The pack leader had other reasons to try and succeed this time. It was as if he knew the dark haired Elf he had met with the night before, as if they had met in such a setting before, and a part of him as deep and hidden as the Wolf once was now drew him to her, beyond his ability to understand.

RedheadEmber

Drip!

Drip!

Drip!

Hear the rain fall through the leaves.

"What can we do?"

The elf-child asks,

"It rains too much to hunt!"



"Come gather round."

Says Pike, and smiles,

"A howl you now shall hear.

A tale of things so long ago.

Of conflict and of hope."



Gather now,

elf-children do.

Await the tale so great.

And all the adults smile with love,

the feel deep in their hearts;

it is as though they've seen it all

happen once before.

Like present future and the past,

have minged into a one.



"Tonight I tell a scary tale."

Says Pike,

"So gather close.

I'll tell the story of a swarm,

our brave chief Cutter met,

deep within the darkened woods."



All the eyes grow double-big

when story thus unfolds.

Even older children try,

in vain to play it brave.



"Cutter took bright Newmoon out,

thus to defeat the foes.

He slashed!

And slashed!

Around the dark.

Not seeing where he stroke!"

Neither did our howlkeeper here,

he slashed a fruit right through.

Out splashes flesh from fruit,

and covers everyone.



"Who were the foes?"

an elf-child asks,

the question in all their minds.

"Can't you guess?"

Skywise smiles,

he remembers it so well.



"We-thing! We-thing!"

Petalwing replies.

Making all so clear.