…This story keeps getting more confusing. But still, I’m trudging along with Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m not ready to just stop yet. The daily outlines are toast, the story I thought I was writing turned to mist, and I have no idea what I’m doing anymore. Yay pantsing! 😀
Read at your own risk/amusement: There will most likely be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, contradictions/retcons, uneven characterization and pacing.
Daily Wordcount: 1,945
Total Wordcount: 9,073 (includes Title, Chapter Headers, etc.)
Day 26 – Who The What Now?
“Eh, technically this counts as ‘tomorrow’,” said the Writer as she settled back into her desk. The whole gang was already in the faux-living room this time, all curled in their respective chairs. “At least you two aren’t trying to kill each other anymore.”
“I wasn’t ever trying to kill anyone,” objected the man in black, looking up from his book on kelpies. “And she’d really only offered to be mildly annoying, so I think you’re overstating things.”
The Writer gave him a Look.
He raised an eyebrow and went back to his book.
“Anyway,” the Writer took a deep breath and tried smother the urge to turn him into a newt, “the timer is set, so word count, AWAY!”
“Burning the flowers would only annoy me and you really don’t want to annoy me,” the man pointed out with a flash of teeth much too pointy to be human or horse. “But that said, asking nicely is always appreciated, but it’s the cost of the favor most folks balk at.”
He set down his cut with a sigh. “You are far from the first group to make it to the valley or to be pleasant enough to have tea with, but so far no one has taken me up on my offer.” He gave Mother a measuring look. “But this time might be different.”
Wuli gave Mother a sharp look and fluffed his feathers. “She doesn’t speak for all of us, we won’t fall for that trap. Either we all agree or there’s no deal.”
The man shrugged. “It’s your choice, I won’t make it for you.”
Wuli was skeptical.
“So you are offering to move to the city and protect it from the mon– snake?” Father asked. “What’s the price, if it was too high?”
“The snakes sleeps in the river bed consuming magic,” the man answered. “It wakes when it has consumed enough magic to do so, which is roughly every five hundred years. Sometimes longer if it takes a while for folks to figure out they can feed it magic.”
“So we have to stop feeding it magic?” Father guessed.
“Hmm, no, you have to feed it to me instead,” said the man.
There was a long pause.
“And that’s a high price because–?” Mother waved a hand at him. “Why do we care who eats the magic? We don’t do anything with it as it is.”
“Because he’s going to do something with it,” said Wuli with a growl. “Not just hoard it between naps.”
“You’re almost right,” said the man. “I will be using the magic you feed me, I’ll even be using it for things that will most likely benefit the town, but magic and flowers are just snacks. The reason the Oracles can’t see me is because I eat possibilities– futures.”
He leaned forward, eyes shining with something inhuman and very very old. “I’ll eat your magic and keep your monsters asleep, but your futures won’t be what they could be with me around. Your farmboys won’t grow up to be kings or wizards bent on saving the world. Your business will prosper, but never flourish. All of those rare, tasty, possibilities will just never be.”
He picked up his cut again and sat back. “You won’t notice, none of you. You’ll have good lives, just much less interesting ones. But I promise I won’t touch them, unless you ask me to.”
“Well, that’s… different.” The Muse gave the man in black a thoughtful look. “I can see why teenagers who were chosen to go on epic quests might not want to give up their chance at epic questing.”
“You’re going to make our town boring. That’s your big price.” Mother said, slightly offended.
“I’m having problems seeing a downside,” admitted Father.
Wuli just stared at them. “Seriously?”
“How would you know?” asked Mother. “If no one has taken you up on it before, then how would you know if we’d notice or not?”
“I didn’t always live here–” he started.
“Absolutely not!” Wuli cut him off. “We can’t agree to this! We can give up possible futures just because it will keep something bad from happening every five hundred years. Think of how many futures would die in the that time, it’s way more than the number of people we’ll lose to the snake.”
“He’s taking the outliers,” countered Father. “These aren’t futures that are likely even without his influence. We’re not like those cities full of magic, or the ones where quests happen at the drop of a hat. We’re out on the fringes of fairy tales to start with, what would it hurt to let someone else have those adventures?”
“Because they aren’t meant to,” objected Wuli.
“Like your partner was ‘meant’ to come on this quest with you?” asked the man in black.
Wuli glared at him. “You’d have eaten our futures too, so the next time we need to save the world we’d fail before we started. ”
“Eat those too,” said Mother firmly. “That’s our bargain then, eat those too.”
“What?” The man in black blinked.
“If you can eat the good futures, you can eat the bad ones.” She said with a huff. “So we’ll let you take the best of us if you take the worst of us as well. There won’t be any evil wizards or cruel kings to fight if you keep them as farmboys.”
Wuli flattened his ears, disgruntled.
“I could do that,” the man in black reluctantly said after a pause. “But they don’t taste very good.” He made a face and then sipped his coffee.
“But you like the flowers,” Mother said doggedly. “What if we work on growing you better flowers? Tastier flowers? We’ve got the right soil to do that, just no one’s ever bothered. Besides for every ugly flavored future there has to be a better one that follows.”
The man in black thought on this.
“Are we seriously going to just bribe him with food?” Wuli grumbled. “He’s an immortal, or near to it, and we’re offering up our city and some snacks.”
“We’re keeping the balance,” Father countered. “She’s right– we won’t need those really good futures if the really bad ones never happen. And he’ll get bored eventually, I’m assuming.”
The man in black shrugged.
“So if we make this deal now, can we unmake it in the future?” asked Father, thoughtfully. “Or would you be stuck in that town forever?” He looked over at the man in black with a frown. “That seems unreasonable to ask you to do that.”
“Then let’s just say that the agreement will only work while I live in the area and you can ask me to leave,” said the man agreeably. “At worst things will just go back to the way they’ve always been and it will have been just a really long nap for the snake.”
“This really doesn’t seem like a bad idea to anyone else?” Wuli said, frustrated. “Your town will never again have famous poets or athletes or inventors. No oracles! Your wood won’t win accolades outside the city, travelers won’t make us a destination for anything other than disenchanting.” He ruffled his feathers, fluffed and angry. “Your children’s futures will be dull muted colors and they won’t ever be special again.”
Mother gave him a furious look. “You need them to be ‘special’? My daughter’s in bed with a broken leg because she was trying to be special. Jeden’s going to die fighting that snake, if he hasn’t already, because he was special and that’s what heroes do. Have you ever listened to the stories? Heroes don’t always win and even when they do they drag other people down with them.”
“So yes, yes I think it’s a horrible idea,” she wiped her eyes, “and yes I think it’s the best idea we’ve got. Not for our children– their monster has already come, but for all the children after them that won’t ever have to wonder if the Oracle’s telling the truth about the death that sleeps in the river.”
There was a silence.
“No one’s ever taken your offer,” said Father quietly to the man in black. “Why?”
“Because they were young and didn’t want to give up their own futures. Because they thought they could kill the snake without me.” The man in black looked into his coffee cup with a sad smile. “Because they thought it was a trick to keep them from taking the flowers. Because the next time the snake woke up was a very very long way away.”
“And sometimes,” he said, “because I didn’t want them to.”
“You can make us chose this,” Wuli snapped bitterly. “You can make us choose anything– just nibble away at those futures you don’t want to happen until there’s nothing else.” He thumped his tail on the floor. “He never promised to leave us alone.”
“…you are one sneaky little immortal,” the Writer said, quite impressed.
The man in black grinned.
“Your futures are less impressive than you think, wolpertinger” said the man in black as he rolled his eyes. “I haven’t touched you. Not that you could tell.” He got up to make himself a new cup of coffee. “I like you three, for no conceivable reason. If I wanted it, you would never have met me or found the valley at all– pull or no pull.”
There was a pause.
“It doesn’t matter if he did anything to us or not,” said Father finally. “The argument still stands on its own merits. Do we protect the city at the cost of losing both the worst case futures and the best case futures for the people living in it?”
“Can people leave the town?” asked Wuli. “How far do we have to go to stay away from this.. curse.”
“Once the futures are gone, they won’t come back,” said the man in black. “Even if they leave they’ll have normal ‘boring’ lives, but their children’s futures will be their own. I can only affect the people I am in within speaking distance of, so you’re quite safe just being airborne.”
“Or living up in the hills,” noted Mother, thoughtfully.
“I can come visit,” the man in black offered.
“I think we’ll ask the children first,” said Father before Mother could invite him by for dinner.
“You aren’t welcome in the warrens,” Wuli warned with a growl. “Not until the elders have heard this– those two may be willing to trade away their city, but I won’t sacrifice my kin.”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” Mother sniffed. “If even the hint of mediocracy came their way the city council would fumigate the town. They’ll still think they are the best in the world at what they do, reality be damned.”
“Well, that’s settled then,” said the man in black. “The snake’s already awoken, there’s no need to rush back now. Gather the seeds, stay a few days, and when you get home if you still want me to come– plant them. I’ll be by in the late summer when they bloom.”
“And you’ll leave if we ask you,” Wuli stated.
The man in black nodded with an amused grin.
“Well, that was… a thing,” said the Muse after a long moment. “So where do we go from here? Just onto the ‘happily ever after’? Do we go back and work on the middle?”
“I’m not sure,” said the Writer. “I don’t know what to do with this yet, let me sleep on it.”
And it was so.