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Old 04-01-2010, 01:48 AM
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Default Souls for Sale [OWC]

Note: Unapologetically inspired by all manner of Patricia A. McKillip books. Let's see how this goes, at any rate.... Bringing in two of my great loves: Music 'n pointing out how ridiculous people are, and how no matter what they do, they always manage to screw something up for themselves and everyone else. Which I completely adore about us.

Souls for Sale

Broken fingers grasp at cloaks and stretch out a trembling cup, sloshing with water. No one heeds the one-eyed harpist with the silver hair and the shattered hands. Only the rain is here to keep him company. Its presence is wet, yes, and very cold—but he does not mind. The pattering has become little more than background noise over the years, a white buzz in the back of his mind as it drips down the starved furrows on his cheeks, squelches in his boots. And besides, it keeps his begging tool of the day fuller than it might be without—cup, upturned cap, empty harp case riddled with moth-bitten holes… nothing seems to attract more than water.

The weight of the rain in his empty cup makes the days on which he starves (yesterday, today, a year from now and two and a half prior) all the more bearable.

The people see only a shadow crawling after them, eyes starred with fever, hands cracked to pieces and music crumbled to dust. He plays joy for the masses, but they do not hear; they do not bring him food, do not lend him their cloaks, do not lead him away to a fairy-tale life in a feather-down bed because a broken-fingered harpist pleases them as little as a no-fingered harpist, because his halting tunes are useless, because they think he means nothing (and they are right).

And then one day the harpist’s chest is as stiff and unmoving as his hands, frozen in the middle of a heart-beat, halted in place at the beginning of an inward breath.

(The Murkrow begin to pick his corpse clean, starting with the single eye that no one bothered to close and ending with his curled fingers. Only the rain cries over him.)

No alms for the beggar; only pity for the poor.

Only the city streets and the mime across the way notice when the dead harpist’s notes play again. A passerby’s offhand glance results in a momentary confusion (The dead man, that was the trash the birds were scraping off the pavement… and then, Meh, they all look the same anyway), but it fades into the background far faster than the hands blunder across the harp’s fraying strings. The resurrection of the dead is surreal, but impossible—and therefore he has not been raised, merely reincarnated in the featureless face of another weathered wraith. Soon he is nothing but landscape again, another dirtied stone clinging to the alley wall with crumbling mortar, striving to get kicked as little as possible.

There is something about him now, though, a darkness in his milky-white eye. Travelers cross the street to skirt the wall opposite from him; carts swerve just a wee bit away from the curb. No more does he receive the occasional rotten fruit to dull the ache in his belly. Footsteps move more quickly past him, and young children hurry along a new route as soon as they catch sight of his grizzled gray mane. (And something about his overly-patched clothing is shabbier, dirtier, as if tar leaks from his very pores…).

They have begun to give their spare change to the street performer and his dog-eared, paint-tailed monkey across the way who pantomimes faux emotions, selling his soul to the masses.

While the white-faced mime with the tear drop below his left eye caricatures intimacy to the people, this beggar plays his songs only for the crows (not for joy—not even for sorrow.)

One day, someone stops.

From the other side of the way, behind a trotting horse with a jumpy-fingered rider, the white-striped mime ceases its dancing with charades partner. Kohl-rimmed eyes stare curiously at the first who dares to give uncharitable alms; the Smeargle turns, uncaring, to dash graffiti onto the wall with its paintbrush tail, fingering the back of its beret-shaped head as it seeks the perfect hue.

The mime senses a kindred spirit in the woman who unties strings from her pack and turns to the beggar. She, too, works with silent creatures. (Marionettes slump, falling slackly from the crosses slung over her back.)

“You need new strings. These might better your playing, I think,” she says, making her offering.

Puppet strings, newly dripping with rain, dangle from a nimble-fingered hand—bright red strings, spun of silk. Decorative, slack, something more likely to form a cord than a chord. The woman stands like she knows they’re useless but has nothing better to offer; her shoulders tense against retaliation, lips quirked into a tight grimace.

The harpist levels his eye at her and blinks—once, twice—black eye sharpening beneath the haze of illness. His fingers halt against the strings.

“Those will not coax music from any instrument.” (His voice is sharper than his right eye, duller than the blindly-staring left. Frailty crackles in his wheezes and punctures his lungs with blunted edges.)

“Nor do your fingers.” Dark hair, dark eyes—the face twitches from impatience with an addled old fool. She shoves unattached strings into his useless palms; the sharp motion throws the puppets dangling over her side into frantic, clacking movement (dancing, they are waltzing—together, but out of harmony.) Their strings shine darkly in the sun. (Even the rain can not keep light at bay.) “I’ve nothing better to give you, save a new eye from Ira.” Her free hand plunges awkwardly into a multi-fabric pack at her back and reemerges a few moments later, a faceted gem clutched carefully—she holds it towards him, tilting its surface until the light catches and refracts into his eye.

A savage, toothless grin lights up the beggar’s eyes; his own hand reaches towards hers, straining for the gem. It gleams coldly in the rain. The beggar’s seeing eye narrows.

“Huh…” She holds it to her eye, out of his reach. He falls back helplessly. (The mime’s face—it mocks him, mouth turned down into a dark-painted frown.) “You don’t want this. It’s said to steal souls. It’d snap a weak one like yours right up.”

She turns away, leaving him with only the useless crimson cords. From the slipshod knapsack pokes the head of a bent-backed Sableye, single empty socket staring blindly into the distance. One of the puppets shifts its button-eyed face towards him, turning on its red-burnt strings. Their dull gaze meets the beggar’s one-eyed glare for just a moment.

There is something alive about the sheen of their eyes… But they drift on their strings, and the moment is broken. The puppet’s blank stare winks off into the rain.

Last edited by Scourge of Amaranth; 09-06-2011 at 06:51 AM.
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Old 04-20-2010, 07:24 PM
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Default Re: Souls for Sale [OWC]

It is a young man, this time, robes feathered with dust and hands smudged with ink and charcoal, who pauses to pay heed to the poor man’s wants. This one grants no words, holds no conversations of pity or torment—the beggar can see, in the arrogant slant of his shoulders, that it is only the dirt of scrolls and books he does not think below him.

(What is the beggar but irrelevant dust? Kindling to ashes, flesh to dust—he has not the money for kindling, and has hardly enough flesh to give back to the ground that birthed him.)

The scholar raises his arm high into the air, hand fisted, golden eyes pensive. (His face is soft and young, but its expression is hard, faceted and unchangeable like the gem eyes of the puppeteer’s ghoul.)

From the sky sounds a hawk’s sharp keen, slicing through their ears faster than the beast plummeting through the sky like a steel bullet, wings glinting scarlet in the sun. With a rush of air and a jerky buckle of folding metal, the Skarmory lights at the man’s side. Its claws curl into the cobblestones, breaking spiraled cracks into their surface; hooded eyes glitter beneath the still-gaping beak. He does not cringe, does not shift even an inch amidst the winds and howls of the fierce bird’s descent; his eyes remain cool, steelier than the Skarmory’s jagged form even as the beggar claps his hands against his ears and tries to scuttle back on his age-bent legs.

The mime has not hazarded to show his caricature-paint face since the puppeteer gave her alms; this time, there are no mocking frowns and tears, no stop-motion charades to ridicule the music stumbling from the beggar’s ragged strings. For this, the beggar is glad. (The woman's scarlet threads still dangle from his wrist.)

The winds die between their feet.

When the fist drops, blackened fingers uncurling, the Skarmory’s wings collapse back onto its body with a twist. The hunter relaxes its grip on the cobblestones as its master approaches. His hands pry at the cold metal sides, invading the great bird’s space, scrabbling to grasp the silver feather that tops its wingspan in one hand. Head lowering in a knee-jerk reaction, the Skarmory butts its crest desperately, seeking to push the scholar from its side (and the reaction is unnatural, indicating a relationship more of fear and disdain between the Pokémon and its master.)

“Kovis!” The scholar’s rebuke is sharp, too sharp for the situation; it holds the frustrations of years behind its tone. Struggling harder, the steel-sculpted hawk releases a furied cry, jerking against its master’s unforgiving hands as they part its bladed feathers with an unforgiving yank. A moment later, the scholar has his hand wrapped around the feather, twisting, breaking. “Kovis!” he grinds again, words harsh and guttural. “Stand still!” More fumbling, and he has ripped one crimson feather from its socket.

Kovis’ cry strikes the very stones. Abused, betrayed, tormented—the shriek rattles glass windows and sends rubble crumbling from the rooftops. It is the shriek of a hunter fettered, an honorable beast never granted respect in return.

Even as the keen dies down, the Skarmory is leaping from the ground, struggling to take flight—but there is a gaping hole in its wingspan, a tightrope of air amidst anchors of steel. The jump takes it high in the air, and for a moment, Kovis is once again a bullet in the sky. But when the wind comes, everything comes crashing to the ground at its master’s feet, squawking a pathetic protest.

(And the predator is nothing but a twitching, weak, useless pile of scrap metal without its wings.)

The scholar’s booted foot connects with the torso of the grounded Skarmory, and a hollow metallic peal rings out, clearer than a bell, duller than the slate expression on the scholar’s face. “Skar…”

A broken finger finds the harp strings, plucks its sorrow for the fallen giant. The note vibrates in the sharp edges of the Skarmory’s switch-blade tail, shudders up through its form to the useless, gap-feathered wing, the twisted chink-metal neck, the crest of the downcast head.

The scholar squeaks, and the feather in his hand clatters to the ground. Blood pools from a slice on his hand, carved into the flesh with the metal’s vibrations.

Gold eyes search out the beggar’s one glittering eye. With a sneer and a turn of his head, he kicks the metal blade towards the alms cup. The beggar does not move to pick it up—merely sits motionlessly with his broken fingers curled unnaturally over the harp strings.

“Well? Is that how you’re going to repay me for my trouble? I cripple Kovis for your sake, make him like you, offer you the un-tarnished cause of his distress—all to make you more whole. And you refuse to accept my gift?” The scholar’s face is sheeted with steel.

“I cannot lift it; my fingers are broken.”

He shrugs. “Mine are bleeding.” And the ink-and-blood-stained man with the expressions of cold gems and too-polished metals turns his face away.

(The Skarmory’s glass pale eyes shut on the image of their pain, flutter-hopping down the street in its cruel master’s wake. And the beggar does not touch the crippling feather.)

Originally Posted by THE AUTHOR
Inspiration from poke123’s story, because he mentioned a few concepts of Greek mythology ‘n then proceeded to work ‘em into his story. I recently was exposed to huge numbers of Greek statues (<3 Hellenistic period), and as such decided to steal Roman city layouts and social standards for housing. That’s right, kids. It makes no sense.
So. That dude came out twice as lame and petty as I intended; I'm proud of myself. It'll be fun to get into him. Meanwhile, I am still blatantly ripping off thematic elements of Patricia A. McKillip, and will continue to do so under the excuse that this is vaguely a crossover. Kindof. Not really. But it will be my excuse. Also, the plot is now almost halfway set up. Yay.

Last edited by Scourge of Amaranth; 04-24-2010 at 03:11 AM.
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Old 05-02-2010, 02:36 AM
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Default Re: Souls for Sale [OWC]

The bells tinkle leisurely, not a note of concern present in their voices. This customer will be calm, measured in action and low of voice; Nepenthe can hear it already in the steady way they pushed through the dividing curtains. The footsteps sound evenly, but with an inconsistency in heaviness.

Limp… longer hip on one side, torn muscle, shattered kneecap, extra cane—but no, no third leg…

Hands flattened to her brow, forehead screwed up in concentration, black eyes narrowed on a frayed rainbow knot of marionette strings, the puppeteer slouches at her work-table. The customer is new, she knows, and this is always a bad sign—her shop is wedged so deeply in the labyrinthine streets of Cinncinox that only the invited or the seeking ever pass under her doors. The first have an unfortunate tendency to be politicians and-or murderers; the second, even worse.

Her hand grabs the knife secured under the table. “Ira…” Voice pitched low, she calls for her Sableye and rises to greet the unsteady-footed visitor. (Ira’s eyes gleam from the darkness of an undusted corner.)

A slant of light crawls across the floor, flashing briefly as the heavy, moth-eaten separation curtains are drawn back with the stranger’s entrance. The shadows resettle uneasily as the curtains slip closed again, robbing the dank room of all illumination but that of the incense and candles scattered unstrategically across the room.

“I’m here for puppet strings.”

“As are most. You’ll have to be more specific, sir.”

This would be the sort of man who has puppets dangling from his fingers, but no strings. He stands at an odd angle, one hand gripping the apothecary jar-covered shelf at his side dangerously close to a garland of envenomed Seviper fangs; if he shifts just one finger…. Weakness, inherent in his form. Yet he holds his head with a faux-coy tilt (grease-slick hair over face, shadows in the eyes) that belies the quiet assurance of one with power over others.

“Red. Scarlet.” He lifts his head and the hair falls away; the unveiled features are more stone than flesh, sharp, hooked and craggy in all the wrong places.

Ira gives a restless shift; flame glitters in his gem-eyes.

Foreign dress, but poor—capitol bourgeoisie, not native country folk. Cinncinox teems with rich filth. And Ira is wary.

Her answer is slow, too slow to be natural—the customer’s eyes twitch. “I am out, I’m afraid. Gave the last to a Soul Rent back in the capitol. His harp was in rather urgent need.”

At this, the stranger gives a brief shudder. The chainmail-slung hand clenches on its perch, eeking ever so closer to the Seviper fangs. “The way they treat those people is abominable.” His face is tense, now; he has said something that could get him killed if the wrong sword-slinging crony were within earshot.

Nepenthe wants to play with him for a moment, make him fear for his safety as she feared for hers. Then she realizes he’s by far the more powerful here, and that his Pokémon has yet to show its face—which means it’s likely larger than Ira. Ignorant, then; for this man, she will be one of the masses who knows little and seeks to understand less.

She shrugs. (Play the role, spin the role… puppet strings are at her fingertips, weaving a shroud for his eyes. He will not see a thing.) “It’s not as if that filth does a thing for society, anyways. Their bodies are weak because they have no will to live, and their minds are incomplete, lacking any semblance of higher thought—with the loss of their soul comes the loss of all that makes humanity good and decent.”

The man’s bearing folds in on itself, deviating from soft confidence into acute discomfort. (Ira’s eyes gleam brighter, and Nepenthe sees that this man is making a blindfold of his own.)

And then something shifts. His form tilts upward; his bad leg snaps straight; his hand drops to his side and his shoulders are even. The face is no longer stone, but fire, leaping in the shadows. “The harpist chose you, you know. He saw through your soul, saw straight into your Sableye’s eyes to the window of your own.” His voice is imploring, honest, as if he is sharing with her the only Truth but knows she will never believe. They are obviously having two very different conversations.

“Oh? And what exactly did he see?” Her voice is mocking, now. She will usher this man out of her shop as immediately as possible. Wherever this came from, she has no desire to follow. The words are clearly meant to draw her in, to excite her with vague possibilities that she will construct within the bounds of her own imagination.

“There will be three—the beggar has seen them. You are one of those three. You are the one of those three. But within the conclusion of this fortnight, you must be the only one—the scholar and the mime must die. If you are to perish, their rule will be tyrannical, brutal.”

Nepenthe snorts and smiles a sideways smile. “Good day, sir.” And her hand shows him the door.

“You must rid us of the others…” His retreat hesitates, but he leaves, gait once more crooked and hair once more concealing his face.

(The wood near the Seviper fangs is saturated with purple slime. It reminds her of a Ditto she once saw…).

Originally Posted by I WAS NOT INSPIRED
Uh, so, inspiration from Vagrant Knight, ‘cause I read it, and was all, OHLOOK, HIS BEGGAR HAS A WEIRD LEG. And then I started writing this and realized that I started imagining the visitor with a weird gait. …Which, although lacking deliberate…ance…ness… is certainly inspiration. So.

Incredibly rushed. I'll probably be back to edit.

EmBreon is the maple syrup to my slightly undercooked crepe
{URPG Stats}--{ASB Stats}--{Fanfiction}
khajmer = biffle
yoface = broham

thegalleonman: (8:37:28 PM) How sad.
thegalleonman: (8:37:37 PM) I'm amused.

Last edited by Scourge of Amaranth; 05-02-2010 at 02:39 AM.
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