Thursday, 2 February 2012
It's the snowfest today, where we all put up snow related pieces of not more than a generous 1200 words. This encouraged me to take a longer short story and hack it down to size brutally. It's not from Court of Dreams, but it is a prequel to it (I've always wanted to do a prequel) answering that most important of questions: where does my faerie assassin Grave get his coat from? Enjoy.
In his great black armour, a backpack almost as big as him on his back, Grave trudged his way across the Arctic waste. Each step sank knee deep through snow. Still, he would not let a little thing like that stop him on his hunt. At eight feet tall of faerie Huntsman, he wasn’t about to let anything stop him. It was in his job description somewhere. Or was that the post office? Not the cold, not the snow. Not even the embarrassment of being followed by a female bear Grave was sure had mistaken him for a potential mate.
This whole trip was faintly embarrassing. Tracking down one rogue Figment that had entered the human world? After all the battles of the great war between the Courts? It hardly seemed fitting. Grave was for battle. For hunting the worst foes. For squashing things in his armour, occasionally accidentally.
Grave kept going, trying to remember how exactly you tracked a creature that could potentially look like anything, given its role as an extra for dreams. It might be in the form of a bird or an elk, a mysterious talking rock or a surprisingly well tanned ski-instructor. It had been in the form of a big, hairy thing with outsize feet, going around showing itself to humans, but the footprints had faded some time ago.
Grave was still thinking that when he came to a wooden hut. It was just a rough oblong of timber perched in the shelter of a stand of trees. There didn’t seem to be anyone home, unless Grave counted the snowman outside the place. It was a jolly looking snowman, with three coal buttons down its front, a carrot for a nose, and more coals forming its eyes and mouth. It was holding a broom. It was also wearing an ancient looking brown overcoat with twiggy arms poking out of the sleeves. Why did snowmen need to keep warm? Some things in this world simply made no sense.
Grave shivered. His armour had many fine qualities. It could stop blows, it was easy to clean, and it was always a good option for looking big and scary. You could even, as Grave had found out on the steeper slopes, use the breastplate for sledging. Its thermal qualities, however, lacked something. Grave couldn’t actually die of the cold, or of anything else very much, but at minus twenty, it was getting chilly. Besides, Grave was starting to think that wearing it might not be quite right anymore. Armour was for fighting wars in, and the war was done.
He tried the door to the hut. Finding it locked, he settled down in the snow, unshipping his backpack and fishing out a thermos flask full of tea. To get to it, he had to dig past a sleeping bag, assorted pots and pans, a couple of throwing axes (you never knew what you might find useful) and a hundred feet of climbing rope.
“There has to be a better way of carrying stuff than this,” Grave said to the snowman. “Actually…”
He took a second look at the snowman’s coat. It had deep side pockets. It also had a great many other pockets. Inside pockets, breast pockets… it seemed that there was hardly an inch of the thing that wasn’t occupied by a pocket somewhere. And it was big. Big enough that just maybe…
Grave reached for the coat.
“Hey! Oh… bugger.” The snowman started to inch away from Grave. “It’s not what you think.”
“I think that you are an escaped Figment, trying to fool me.”
“So it is what you think. That doesn’t mean I’m going back!”
Grave nodded. “You’re right.”
“It is the part where I am bigger than you that means that.”
“Oh.” The line of coals on the snowman’s face rearranged themselves into a frown. “Um, can we talk about this? I don’t want any… hiiiya!”
It lunged forward with the broom. Grave watched for a second, and then stuck his hand out. The wood smacked into his palm and Grave pulled, wrenching the broom from the snowman’s grasp.
“Damn! Well, we’ll see about that.” The snowman started to sing, and as it sang, for no good reason that Grave could see, it lifted off the ground. “We’re walking in the… ow!”
Grave hit it with the broom. The sphere of snow that was the snowman’s head rolled off, looking up from the ground at him.
“What was that for?”
“You were trying to escape.”
“Well yes, but now how am I supposed to go around flying around with young men in stripy pyjamas?” the snowman demanded.
“You aren’t,” Grave said. “Why would you even want to?”
“I dunno.” Over where the rest of the snowman’s body stood, its twiggy arms moved in a shrug. “Can we make some kind of deal?”
Grave glowered. “Turn back into what you should be.”
“What, a wispy, insubstantial ghost?” The coals of the snowman’s smile rearranged themselves into a smirk. “Won’t. I saw you admiring my coat. You can have it. All you have to do is
let me go.”
“So that you can be seen by humans?”
“I always moved when took the picture,” the Figment complained. “Fair’s fair. I know you’re tempted.”
“How do I even know it’s real?” Grave demanded. “It will probably turn back when you next change.”
“It won’t,” the Figment insisted. “Honest. I got this off the bloke whose cabin this is. He reckoned it was just what a snowman needed. He was drunk, but a gift is a gift.”
Grave considered it. Finally, reluctantly, he shook his head. “No, I’m bringing you back.”
“Well then,” the Figment said, “if you want to be like that…”
It shifted, the coat falling to the floor. For a brief instant, it was grey and mist like. The next, there was a sabre tooth tiger standing there. Grave ducked as it leapt, reaching up to grab it and throw it head first into the cabin wall, where its teeth stuck like staples.
“Thaffs noff fair!”
“Who said anything about fair?” Grave demanded.
“Thaff doff it!”
The Figment transformed into a lumberjack. Grave threw him into a snow drift. The creature that came out of it was bigger, and covered in white fur. Grave knocked it down again. He could keep this up all day. The Figment seemed to sense it, because it changed to its natural form again.
“See you later, sucker!”
Grave had been ready for this move. He reached down, picking up his thermos flask, swiping it through the space the Figment occupied.
“What are you… no!”
Grave grinned and screwed on the cap. Given a little longer in its natural form, the creature’s personality would fade and that would be that. For now, it was safely out of the way.
Safe and warm.
Grave walked over to where the snowman had been standing. The brown coat was still there on the snow. He picked it up, trying it on. It was a bit tight. Maybe without the armour? Idly, Grave tucked his thermos flask into a pocket. Yes, he decided, this could definitely work.