Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Queen

A colony of of ants lived on the edge of town, just where the overgrown yard of Ms. Jones gave way to the woodland that went up the mountain. The queen of the colony was, above all else, bored. Ant queens, you see, are not actually in charge of their colonies, but only lie in its depths and lay eggs all day, being fed and cleaned by her handmaidens. The queen had been told by one of her handmaidens about Ms. Jones, who the handmaiden had heard of from one of the colony's soldiers, who had heard of her from one of the workers who often left the nest looking for food. Apparently, Ms. Jones did everything for herself.

The queen was tired of having everything done for her, so she decided to become Ms. Jones. But even to leave the colony, she would need the help of the colony.

"You cannot go,"said the handmaidens. "If you leave we will have no eggs to take care of."

"Let me leave," said the queen. "If I lay no more eggs you will have no more work and will be able to do as you please. You must carry me to the house."

The handmaidens agreed that being able to do whatever they wanted would be better, and so they picked her up and carried her to the entrance of the colony, where they were stopped by soldiers.

"You cannot go," said the soldiers. "If you go, what we will have nothing to guard."

"Let me leave," said the queen. "If I lay no more eggs you will have nothing to guard and will be able to do as you please. You must escort me to the house."

The soldiers agreed that being able to do what they wanted would be better, and so they surrounded her on sides to protect her from the wildlife of the yard. Soon they met a worker, carrying a seed back to the colony.

After the situation was explained to the worker, he was overjoyed. "If you go, I'll be able to eat all the food I gather. Let me clear a path for you!"

The worker began clearing a path to the house, and more workers joined as they came to investigate the noise. Soon the entire colony had formed a procession, following the Queen as she was carried through the gap at the bottom of Ms. Jones' door, through brightly painted rooms and towards the bedroom where Ms. Jones was sleeping.

The ants all cheered as the queen crawled into Ms. Jones' ear, their cheers turning to screams as Ms. Jones began screaming and writhing around on the floor, crushing ants beneath her. Then Ms. Jones grew calm, stood up, and shouted "I did it! I can do as I please now!" Even more ants were crushed as she jumped for joy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Book of Flies

The book is black, an inch thick. On its cover is a gold-leaf design of seven circles, arranged in a hexagon. Inside each circle is the image of a fly. There is no title.

Every page inside is blank. If, however, you write a name into the book, you will find that one of the flies is missing from the cover. Open it again, and you'll see a table of contents, with the name you wrote as the first entry.

Turn to the corresponding page and you'll see that name as the chapter title. Wait, and eventually you will see a description being written, of the activities of the named person, written as if from the perspective of a small, flying observer.

These descriptions are thorough, containing descriptions of all activities, transcriptions of conversations, and copies of anything the target reads.

Seven names can be written in the book.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Horses

The people of the five-tongued river breed horses descended from the celestial horses of Snowcloud mountain. The horses can walk on the water of the river, but no other river, lake, or sea will hold them. The people live along the northern stretch of the river, from its source at the base of the mountain, and as far south as Icefall ravine, where cold steppe gives way to cold desert.

The river is a road to its people, a natural causeway wider than any built by mortals. The people ride their horses along it, and hitch the horses to large barges that can carry far more cargo than a cart.

Their settlements sit at each fork and curve, long towns and villages whose buildings sit at the water's edge, hiding from the wind in the small river valleys. The nearby lands are used to raise hardy crops, tough enough to survive the cold and the dry, but tough enough to break teeth too. The low hills further out are the pastures for the horses, as well as herds of pale pigs that grow wool and unusually round goats that produce massive volumes of milk.

One of the princes of the coasts sent an envoy hoping to buy some of these water-walking horses. He had hoped to use them against his enemies, reasoning that ships do not expect to have to defend against cavalry. He was most displeased to learn that the horses can only walk on some water, and petitioned his god for celestial horses of his own.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


“Ah yes,” came a voice from the back of the shop, sneaking to Harry's ears so softly it took him a moment to realize someone was talking to him. “Yes, yes. I thought I’d be seeing you soon, Mr. Potter.” The voice was followed by the soundless movement of long, thin fingers around the end of one of the stacks. The fingers were attached to a pair of arms, long and thin, with no hands in between.

“You have your mother’s eyes,” said the voice, although its own eyes were still nowhere to be seen. “It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Rose gold and an index finger. A wand for a rare talent.”

The fingers began to trace Harry’s body, fingertips trailing up his legs, counting his joints so gently he couldn’t be sure if he was actually being touched.

“Your father on the other hand, had a wand of steel and a ring finger. A wand for a warrior.”

The fingers moved up to his torso, sketching it in the air.

"...Fingers?" asked Harry, afraid to break the silence but more afraid to let it linger.

"The fingers of Merlin."

Harry looked at the boxes stuffed onto the shelves, stacked on the counter, piled on the floor, each one a wand. Each one a finger.

"He... must have had a lot of fingers."

"He did. He does. His body still grows them, on occasion. He was not alive in the same way that we are alive, and did not die in the same way that we will die.”

The fingers reached his head. They traced along his jawline, and found the scar, the jagged line of tooth-marks that cut across his face on their way round his skull, as if a giant had tried to bite his head in half.

“And that’s where…”

The fingers began to trace the scar, tapping lightly on each tooth mark.

“I wonder…”

The fingers suddenly withdrew, pulled by the arms back among the shelves. There was tapping and rustling and murmuring that might have come from multiple voices and then the fingers returned, clutching a slender box.

“Bronze and a little finger. Strong yet pliable. A wand for a survivor.”

The fingers presented the box. Harry took it carefully, avoiding touching them. Opening it he found a rod of black bronze, as thick as his thumb and as long as his forearm. The handle was engraved with a geometric pattern which had been burnished brown. He took the handle in his hand, and it was like…

…like a pins and needles feeling in his soul. A limb he had forgotten was missing had been reattached. He was greater than whole. This would be every tool he would ever need.

Harry remembered that he was standing in the shop, holding the wand. He had lost track of time and the long fingers were once again investigating his scar.

“Curious… curious…” drifted the voice from the back of the shop.

“What’s curious?” said Harry.

“All wands eventually return to me, Mr. Potter. A successful alchemist will find that their own fingers become enough, and they no longer need to borrow one of Merlin’s. The wands come and go from this shop, generation by generation. And this wand… this wand was last used by the man who gave you that scar.”

Silence hung amongst the dust in the air.

“Seven galleons,” said the voice. Harry put the coins on the desk and left. Hagrid was sitting on a bench outside. He grew concerned when he saw Harry’s face.

"Don't let Ollivander worry you. He's one of the oldest of us, most are still more human than that."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Le Roi

The swamp swallows whole. 10 years gone, a wooden house will be overgrown. 20 years, it begins to sink into the mud. 30, and it is a framework of petrified wood. Even stone sinks.

Le Roi is a city of stone. It was designed after Paris, with wide avenues, magnificent monuments, and dense blocks of apartments.

The city is now 100 years old, and is 2 stories below sea level. Having sunk for a century, no building stands straight. The avenues have become canals, populated by gondoliers and alligators. Balconies have become entrances. Parks have become marketplaces, stalls built on rafts tied to the tops of drowned trees. In summer it is like a great simmering sauce pan, baking the stone. In storms the city seems already drowned and howling for breath.

The youth are fond of jumping into the water from the rooftops, or diving into the flooded ground floors, hoping to find left behind treasures. The city council has attempted to stop these activities do to injuries and parasites, but with little success. Among adults fishing is a common pastime, often done out of windows. Most are the businesses of smuggling guns and rum.

The manors built along the shore are hardest hit by the shores and were quickly abandoned by the rich and seized by the poor. Isolated families live in attics, surviving on what they can fish from the sea.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Kingdom of Fireflies

The king of the Kingdom of Fireflies is a sickly man. He has never seen the sun and it has harmed his health more than any of his subjects. It is all he can do to reach his throne room, and he must survey his kingdom from his castle windows.

The kingdom is small, built into the sides of the cavern containing the underground lake Bluelight. Everyone lives in carved out spaces in the walls, lit by glowing blue-green lichen. Some are alcoves with patches of dried lichen too sleep on. Some are as fine as a palace on the surface, or so their owners boast, despite no one having seen the surface in living memory.

Open spaces, side passages and islands in the lake, are reserved for agriculture. The people of the Kingdom of Fireflies grow grubs, planting them upright in the gravel with only their shiny black heads showing. The grubs are fed all manner of organic waste, slowly but surely growing fat. A farmer must judge, without digging up the grub, how close it is to pupating and maturing into an firefly. The closer to pupation, the fatter the grub, but the fireflies are inedible. A portion of each crop is allowed to mature, the fireflies swarming above the fields pulsing frantic mating signals, and under this light the people hold their harvest festivals, gorging themselves on grubs until the fireflies fall, then splitting them open and collecting their eggs for the next planting. The king looks for clusters of wandering lights, so that he can know his people will be fed.

Mermen live in lake Bluelight. They are not like the mermaids of the surface the King has read about. Cave mermen are pale, with semi-translucent skin that has a shiny, slimy look. They no longer have eyes, although they still have eye sockets. Instead of legs they have tails like eels, long and sinewy. They trade silverfish scales and steelcrab shells for tools, which they struggle tomake themselves. The king sees them sometimes, from his bedroom window, silhoutted by glowing algae.

The king's castle is carved out of a rocky promentory jutting out above the lake. It was created to closly imitate the childhood home of his grandfather, who grew up in a castle on the surface. It contains many artifacts of the surface, although few of them have escaped rust or rot. Visitors marvel at the workings of metal their ancestors had wrought. They themselves only know how to craft leather, chitin, stone, and bone.

Someday they will reclaim the surface from the evil that banished them, but the king knows he will not live to see that day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dread Hive

Bee queens may be sentient. This is demonstrated by the use of necromancy by some honeybee queens. Some maintain that the necromancy exhibited by some bee queens is merely a natural magical ability, and does not necessarily prove sentience. But most naturalists believe that the queens are sentient, and like all sentient life, can investigate things men (and bees) were not meant to know.

In a dread hive, all but the queen are undead. The queen no longer lays eggs, but dances rituals to raise the exoskeletons of dead insects. Her tireless workers haul in spell reagents and exoskeletons, and arrange themselves in complex patterns to amplify, always fueling the continuous expansion of the hive rituals.

Dread hives differ from living ones in one obvious way: they are too large. The workers collect natural spell reagents, which they purify into dread honey, a powerful spell reagent. The interior of the hive is laid out with geometric precision, in accordance with geomantic and numerological principles.

Where it comes from: Like all sentient beings, honeybee queens occasionally delve into forbbiden knowledge.

What it wants and needs: Dead insects. Their exoskeletons will be raised and join to the colony. The queen wears parts of insects as her armor, and can control them. Her colony incorporates the risen corpses of other insects; while most are still worker bees, everything from wasps to centipedes can be expected.

What it will fight for: They will fight other insects to kill them and incorporate their bodies. Otherwise, they fight only defensively.

What happens if you eat it: Dread honey is made from purified natural reagents. Eating it can awaken magical potential, cause prophetic dreams, or make for a bizarre death.

What can be crafted out it: Dread honey can be substituted for many other spell reagents, making it a very valuable substance. Candles made from dread wax reveal the presence of ghosts.