For Sarah!

Dec. 2nd, 2010 12:33 pm
ext_20269: (nonsense - witch)
[identity profile] annwfyn.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] zg_shadows
"Do you think they ever really existed?" Tav asked Derren.

It was late and they were on guard duty, up on the 12th Floor where the space that had once been a roof terrace was now an orchard. The fruit trees had been there for decoration, fifty years ago when the Blue Fin Building was an office building, homing three different glossy magazines and a number of other communication companies. Then the Great Change had happened. Most of the city had been destroyed, but for some reason the Blue Fin Building had survived. It had survived the Death of Cities, and then later had survived the Long Dark. And somehow, it had become a home.

It was not a safe home. The city itself was not safe, for a start. The creature which ruled it had no great interest in the humans who infested its lands and so the Tower (as the inhabitants now called it) was able to stand, but its creations roamed the streets; the ghuls who fed on human flesh, the breath stealers who fed on human life, the wych kin who fed on fear, and tore apart anything that stood in their way. During the day the city was mostly safe - falling buildings were a risk, as were the feral dogs who roamed in packs - but a seasoned hunter or warrior really did not need to fear much when they ventured out. At night, however, the streets became something else and the Tower became a beacon to the unholy.

Still, so far, it had held for fifty years. The ground floor, which had once been a bright and open foyer, was now a bunker. Cement walls had been built, six feet deep, bound with cold iron and engraved with runes of warding. The gates themselves were solid iron, and watched over day and night. The first and second floors also had cold iron shutters and each room there held only guards and more reinforced doors which could be locked in case of an attack. No one who was not fully armed ever went any further down than the third floor.

The third floor held guard's quarters and amouries. Living quarters began on the fourth floor, running up to the tenth floor. And then, at the top of the building, in the huge glass rooms which had once been offices and now cunningly caught the thin tainted sunlight better than almost anywhere else in the city, the great greenhouses began. Food was grown there. There was never enough to feed the inhabitants well, and every child was used to being hungry - but it was food. And it kept them alive, year after year. Well, that and hunting, and sometimes raiding. But you do what you need to do, don't you?

The pride of the Tower was the orchard on the roof. It was, however, open to the sky and the skies were not always safe. And so, every night, the guards were posted.

Derren shrugged. She was a thin and rat faced woman who had lived her whole life in the Tower. She'd never been further than three blocks away.

"How should I know?" she said and then added "not convinced. I reckon it's just a story. You know, the kind of thing that parents tell their kids. Like the Ashen King who holds the memories in his underground city. Or the Island of Apples. It's not real."

Tav stared out over the rooftops. He too, had been born in the Tower, but he was only nineteen and these days he looked out into the distance often.

"You don't know that," he said. "You remember that bloke who came in last winter? He said he'd met a bloke who had heard of someone who had made the Island of Apples."

"Yeah...yeah...well..."

Derren looked unconvinced.

"I don't think it's true. I don't think that the Nine died to save our souls. I don't believe that there is a King to Come. And I don't believe that there were ever two lovers who loved the world more than they loved each other in the end. Robin and Sulien are...well...they are just a tale. An ideal. And OK, so that's nice. You know, it's a good ideal. Love your other half well enough to die for, but not too much to run away from your duty for. But it's not real."

Tav didn't look at her.

"But what if it is real," he said. "What if they are out there. What if the Nine did die for us? And what if the Heroes are still out there, still fighting?"

He gazed out across the rooftops.

"I heard something from Ayren last week," he said. "You know that pit, down by the iron tracks?"

Derren shuddered.

"Yeah," she said. "I know of it. You can't get near it, can you?"

"You can now," he said.

Derren blinked.

"What?"

"It's been scoured. Seriously. Ayren and her team were out scouting when they practically walked into it. Didn't notice how close they had got because they hadn't run into any trouble. Not a single wych kin.

"It's been burnt out. Just...blackness and earth where it used to be. Not even a dead body. Just some kind of symbol carved on the wall. Now, tell me, what could have done that?"

"Another of them," Derren said bleakly. "Some kind of internal struggle."

Tav shook his head.

"I think it was the Winter Witch,"

"Are you on drugs?" Derren said incredulously. "What? Did Grandfather Frost help her?"

Tav looked irritable.

"Come on! She's not a myth. You know that,"

"I know that this Tower is real," Derren said with some force. "This Tower, our people, and our duty. I don't believe in anything else. I don't believe in the Nine. I don't believe in the Ashen King or in the Last Lovers. I don't believe in the Winter Witch and I really don't believe in the Island of Apples. And I don't believe there is a King To Come.

"I believe in what I can see before me,"

Both of them were so wrapped up in their conversation that the long low chuckle behind them came as a surprise. Both guards spun around in an instant, shotguns levelled at the chest of the slim young woman who was sitting on the railing at the edge of the orchard. Bright violet eyes gleamed with amusement at this as well.

"So," the intruder said softly, "you believe in what you can see before you. But you don't believe in the Time of Heroes."

And she grinned, sharp and catlike.

"This might put you in a bit of a quandry. And I'd put those guns down if I were you. Because I'm not here to kill you. If I was, you'd both already be dead. Rather, I've come with a message. And you both of you need to hear it. Because it turns out that even if you don't believe in the Ashen King, or the Winter Witch or even the Island of Apples, they all believe in you,"

She slid off the railings and cocked her head to one side.

"And I'd believe in Robin and Sulien as well. Because it's their story that I need to tell you. And it's in their footsteps that you're going to have to travel, if you have any hope of finding the answers that I need from you.

"Now, do you want to talk to me, or am I going to have to waste my time letting you shoot at me first?"
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