Short Distance Confusion: Chapter 2

Nov 24th, 2016
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  1. ---
  3. “We are lost children!” Declares Candice with a beaming smile.
  5. “Yes. Lost.” Malory repeats quietly with a smaller smile.
  7. And I’m a foreign man who’s lived here for almost a year who’s kneeling and talking to a dark brown feathered pinkish-skinned harpy chick with scruffy lighter brown hair, and a black feathered pale-skinned tengu crow chick hiding most of her black hair besides two giant bangs that curl under her brown eyes. Pfff- Wait. All of those are true aren't they? And there’s lots of brown.
  9. The crowd finally went back to their festival after what was probably five straight minutes of teary laughter and kissy faces. If anyone is still afraid of their great big lilim boss, that’s going to change with the little ones around. Maybe only WHILE they’re are around. Of course, either means me and Palamina will be getting special treatment that’s gonna be much more in-our-faces than usual today. Ugh.
  11. Plus these two little thick scarved and sleeveless coated firestarters are happily insisting that their parents are missing and are obviously trying to stick with us, though they haven't outright asked yet. Meanwhile, Palamina is paying Annabelle and seeing her off. Also, I’m failing to not glance at the stares of everyone passing by looking like they want to cuddle the kids. Anything coming from my mouth right now? Really godsdamned strained and between my teeth.
  13. “If your parents aren't HERE, how about we get you two HOME instead?”
  15. “They’re not home and we dunno where they or Jessy or Cadence are.” And there goes Candice swinging her innocent wings back and forth innocently while her equally innocent younger sister nods her innocent poofball hatted head up and down in happy innocent silence.
  17. Palamina can scry for wherever Malida and Tom are, or open a gateway straight to their home, but she’s definitely going to want to play with their youngest for as long as she can. Last time we were all together was their first face-to-face. I left the three of them alone for fifteen minutes to go haggle on the price of rope, and the two little birds ended up taking a lap nap after a lot of headpats and a story passed down from Mommy Demon Lord about the last unicorn of the Old Age. Palamina had the goofiest smile while watching them sleep. Whole thing was cute enough to make me look down on the kids like they were newborn babies. That a wannabe momma/poppa thing? Definitely sure it is. Don’t want to encourage myself, so I better stop thinking about that.
  19. Ech. Really shouldn't be trying to take my anger out on them. Have to thrash the busybody messenger harpy sometime instead. Not literally or in front of the kids, of course. I'm also pretty sure a harpy that regularly delivers mail in extreme cold weather can beat me into the ground, so yelling is the play of whatever day I happen to catch her scheming butt on.
  21. Speaking of scheming, the little ones look really happy with whatever plan they’re putting into progress. Evidence for that is the blanket rolled up in my left armpit, which is really uncomfortable to hold like this. Gotta trade my hat or something for a bag probably. Least it looks nice.
  23. Wait.
  25. Sari told me once that the blankets here are usually made from linen and wool is reserved for Thrawm’s most skilled weavers and knitters. This blanket is made of wool. How much did it cost?
  27. “Are you and Momma’s big boss gonna marry yet?”
  29. Oh right, they’re still here. Candice, you should stop listening to your mother who probably spent too much on this thing.
  31. “Uh, no.” I flatly state. But much to my surprise, Malory and Candice don’t look sad at all. They just turn their heads to each other very briefly, like they just shared a knowing look or signal which can only mean they’re moving on to their next phase of trouble.
  33. And then they smile at me. Crap. “Unca John,” starts the brown feathered six-year-old in an overly sweet tone she’s never used before, “can we stay with you and Momma’s big boss today?”
  35. Yep. They finally said it. Well, only Candice did but Malory was definitely thinking it. The sound of Annabelle’s hooves clip-clopping away and Palamina’s bare feet shifting on the stone pathway tell me that the latter has crouched beside me, and is about to happily say- no, HAPPILY DECLARE WITH GREAT JOYFUL CHEERINESS THAT WILL STAND FOR NO ARGUMENT, “Of course you two can! I’m sure we’ll find your parents while we’re out. Won’t we, John?”
  37. And there she is looking at me with a big smile and practically scrubbing both Candice’s and Malory’s giggling heads. I’ve had that look a few times on my face before. Can’t help but stretch my mouth that way when the twins’ and Malory’s faces light up like bonfires from snacktime or playing tag or just flying like maniacs. Jessica, being older, is a different story but no less enjoyable company. I love seeing them and Palamina definitely feels the same even if their mother is awfully… Well, let’s just say we pieced together the harpy’s game, ploy, desire, play, want, maybe need (which has extended to everyone else in the realm now, godsdamnit) during our first exchange of letters. Not the VERY first, but back at Palamina’s tower with theeeeeee whatchamacallit? Maybe back-and-forth? A game of catch but with words and a dozen or more papers that eventually get multiple conversations written all over both sides? Anyway, four out of four sisters are great. Mother is matchmaking. Father isn’t much help stopping her but he tries.
  39. “Yeah, sure. If Malida and Tom wanted to find their children, they would have found us by now. Being a harpy has a big fat flying advantage to it.” Palamina doesn’t like my bitter tone if her frown is any sign but she’s got to admit that I’m right. That or ignore me and just indulge a tiny harpy and a tinier tengu who are minor celebrities around here. Very low birth rate and all. Couple of people have told me that they’re jealous about me being their babysitter. I know Palamina is too.
  41. Given that the little ones are here and directly asking for both of us, this makes today a Palamina sort of day. Then again, so is every day we’re out and about together. The thing about having to isolate yourself from your populace for a century or two is that when you can finally come out without suddenly causing an orgy is that every public event and activity begs a happy-happy-joy-joy bounciness that’s always asking, ‘What’s this? What’s this?! There’s colour everywhere,’ even if you know what’s going to happen already from reading reports. Always makes for a fun time just by being near her. Add a pair of harpy chicks who’ll probably forget about their mother’s scheme at the next sight of shiny things and maybe today won't be so bad.
  43. ---
  45. ~~~
  47. It occurs to me that Malida is the one who put her youngest up to this. I’ve only met these two once before, and while they are energetic, romance does not appear to be something that would cross their minds very much. With absolute certainty, I can say that neither of them would think to drop a quilt over two people in public and declare them lovers. Their act is suspicious but they are merely adorable pawns. If their parents do not wish to find them, it is up to John and I to provide entertainment, safety, and guidance. Sadly, John’s foul mood may necessitate that I do this by myself, something supported by how sternly he’s looking at Malory.
  49. “Well…” A heavy sigh pours out from him, gaze shifting away from the tengu toddler momentarily as if distracted. So perhaps his brusque behaviour is directed more at my primary messenger than her children? The strength of my guess will depend on John’s next action.
  51. With two quick taps on his knee he suddenly calls out, “Malory. Up, up.”
  53. “Yay!” She threw her wings up! She threw her tiny little wings up, ran around John and cheered! First I get to see her sleeping face and now this! I could just scoop her up and- Inside. Keep it inside.
  55. “Palamina, can you hold my hat?” Hopefully the future will present more encounters such as that with them.
  57. “Of course, John.”
  59. The change is instant. After I calmly stand up and tuck the furry bucket under my arm, his expression becomes much sweeter. A small smile, wider eyes, and relaxed brow suggests that he’s ready for mischief and completely over his anger from before. Malory flaps her little wings so hard, struggling to hover and steady herself to get above and behind John’s head. On the ground, Candice cranes her neck upwards and dashes about under Malory’s flightpath, brown wings stretched outwards, as if expecting a fall.
  61. The wonderfully protective harpy makes the most precious sound I’ve ever heard, something like “Nnn, nnn, nnn,” with a tone of worry over and over again. I can’t help but try to assist. Where Candice cannot be, there is John’s hat held in my hands like a basket- Oh, smirking like a cheshire at us now, are you, John? But aren’t you concerned as well, holding your hands behind you like that? Thankfully, our worries are for naught. All too soon, Malory is giggling as she dangles her little talons around John’s neck and flattens some of his thick brown hair in a tight hug. Candice’s entire being slackens in relief at the sight, secure in the knowledge that her sister is safe. Seeing that makes me think of my own family.
  63. I miss mother and father. My sisters too, but less. A lot less. Old joys (the few times we’ve all eaten together) and ageless fears (have they taken any notice at all of what I've done since I left home?) almost make me fail to see the once worried bundle of brown feathers hurrying forward, jumping right between John and I and- Oh! Oh! She’s taking my hand, face fixed in a toothy smile and staring up at me with glee.
  65. Mother. Do you remember if I ever looked up at you like this?
  67. My voice shakes, just a little, as I crouch too eagerly and ask, “Candice? Do you want to hold Auntie Big Boss’ hand and not Unca John’s?”
  69. I hear one of my friend’s boots scrape the ground hard, like something made him flinch. Perhaps a form of address that I know he doesn’t want me using? Ha ha ha.
  71. “Yes!” The harpy chick chirps with a hop, spreading her wings as wide as her smile.
  73. Yes! Yes!Yes! Yes!Yes!Ye- Inside. Keep it inside. Try to make an effort at least.
  75. I rise, forcing the corners of my lips not to lift too high, and look over at the other pair to this quartet. There’s no reason to look so wary, John. These misguided children may be here at their mother’s bidding but we can’t just leave them unescorted for the entire festival. Whatever they have in mind, we’ll just have to be like proper parents and tolerate it.
  77. “Unca! I wanna hold your hand too.”
  79. Ah, it’s like a dream. Today will be fun for all!
  81. ~~~
  83. ---
  85. “Alright, sure.” Without thinking, I just say it. And with that, Candice carefully puts her balled-up talon in my hand, planting her firmly between me and Palamina like a child about to be swung back and forth by her parenoh gods this was their plan all along.
  87. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On one hand, this was clearly set up by Malida. On the other, the kids seem to approve and it doesn’t sound like they were bribed by new toys. Don’t want to upset them by leaving or rejecting them which would also make Palamina sad though maybe she’d like being alone with them but that isn’t the point because the kids want us to pair off like it’s actually a good idea and now all three of them and the people passing by are looking at me like I’m gawping and glaring at Candice which I am- Oh, forget it.
  89. “Unca?” Candice is tugging my hand and Malory’s started gently slapping the top of my head.
  91. “John?” Eyes like smoldering coals stare in concern.
  93. Forget it.
  94. Today’s a festival.
  95. Let’s not worry anyone.
  97. I came to learn more about a place that I’ve chosen to join for many years to come, maybe even the rest of my life. Yes, it’s a demon realm. Yes, sex is the national pastime. But Palamina runs a tighter ship than the other whore holes of the world. A ship I can sail on quite safely where I can take strolls, do consistent honest work, get invited to dice games and relax, all without fear… For about four to five hours at a time before needing to haul myself out and wait for my blood to go back down below my neck. Thanks, what-the-Church-calls-a-miracle! Palamina always plans ahead so I can join in on the best parts of the holidays though. That’s as much time as I get to enjoy myself with a friend.
  99. “Uh, no. No, nothing at all.” Very nice confidence there, brimming with quietness and hiding something. Be louder! “So, what are we waiting for? This is your show now, Palamina!” That’s better. Now keep it up.
  102. I couldn’t keep it up.
  104. “John? They’ve been tucked into your bed.” Palamina’s still sounds like a cheery child-spoiling auntie though. Quietly now, of course, the children are asleep. “I hope you don’t mind. Malory was just so tired and Candice wanted to stay by her side.”
  106. Children loudly plotting when to ‘accidentally’ call us Momma and Poppa (smiled).
  108. Candice skittering around my legs until I fell down face first, then gleefully staring at Palamina touching me with a helping hand (smiled harder).
  110. Palamina indulging every one of the kids’ romance pushing whims like it’s an afternoon long game of pretend (S-M-I-L-E, S-M-I-L-E).
  112. Every single person passing by tittering, whispering, rumouring, and rarely truthing about a certain relationship (Suh-mai-ulllllrrrrrggghhhh).
  114. Now that we’re down here, in my mining tunnel-like home (complete with lanterns hung from the middle of each room’s ceiling), Auntie Big Boss has had a chance to calm down after finally noticing how far my allergy had gone back at the festival. She and Candice scampered off to shop while me and Malory sat near the Salamander’s Passion Bonfire. The little tengu crow really did and still does need sleep, getting a little back at the taller-than-everyone-at-the-festival-stacked-together fire. I ended up nodding off too for I don’t know how long. In the end, when I woke up, my legs were lacking enough blood that they couldn’t move more than a twitch and I told Palamina as much when she got back.
  116. The kids weren’t let in on my problem, suitably distracted by a little spell to make THAT blanket fly like in one of their desert stories. They couldn’t have been more excited to ride a magic carpet. Swear it was one of the few times today when I really believed they were being children and not matchmakers.
  118. So while Candice and Malory were pretending to be street urchins caught up in a vizier’s scheme, I was a cat being lifted underneath the arms and carried. The carpet continued to serve as a good distraction after Palamina landed, magicked into doing a few laps around the area while she lead (dragged) me inside and onto a chair.
  120. “How are you feeling now?” And now we’re here, sitting next to each other in my study, still wearing our winter clothing. Gods, Palamina looks like a caught thief trying to mutter out a guilty apology now. She’d worried hard enough to forget about almost all the offerings, gifts, and purchases we’d received today. There’s only THAT blanket and a couple of tied-up bundles that I’m sure are what Candice decided to buy on Palamina’s coin.
  122. “Like not having children.” Hello, frustration. Ready to come out passively, aggressively, and honestly?
  124. ---
  126. ~~~
  128. “John, I’m sorry.” I sincerely am and I hope my words and tone are getting that across.
  130. A break away from the demonic energy that is so harmful to him was always in the plan. I just never imagined it happening this late and due to my own inattentiveness.
  132. With the children tucked away under furs and behind a door of wood, a guilty realization swallows my heart. This is the first time today since meeting Candice and Malory that I’m really paying attention to John. I've always been there to try and distract him from my subjects’ constant pushing towards me but today has been the worst yet, and I was too busy pretending to be a mother to two avian pawns who did little more than add to my friend’s stress. His bloated head, crammed with enough blood to match a salamander’s skin in colour, is a grotesque testament to that. Is it too much to hope that John had just a little fun today despite what he’s saying and looks like now?
  134. “It’s okay. Kind of. At least you enjoyed yourself.” He puts a strong emphasis on you, enough to make my mind scramble for anything appropriate to respond with.
  136. “Well… Yes. Yes, I did. And thank you for being so patient with the children. Malory wanted me to tell you that your chest was warm by the way.”
  138. “Yep. Slept inside my coat. Now please, can you light a fire, sit in front of it, and do nothing else?” John doesn’t speak in a way that reassures me. It all sounded like a series of sighs rather than words.
  140. “Of course.” It would probably be best to do as he says to calm him down.
  142. There’s a little fireplace in a corner of the room sitting inside a column of stone. It looks very out of place compared to the wooden furniture and mining tunnel walls of these rooms and seems to extend all the way upwards to the outside. I’ve never seen any hole out there. Then again, I’ve never examined this shelter very closely.
  144. With but a firm stare, the slightly charred logs burst into flame, instantly lighting and warming the room so much more than the lantern above us. A discreet finger, curled upwards, douses the thing.
  146. “Raise your feet for a moment, John.”
  148. Our chairs, tugged forward by tiny pink balls wrapped around the very bottom of the legs, don’t skid or grind or make any other noise. They glide towards the fire, stopping well short of it and with enough space for a grown man to comfortably lean forward and hold his hands in front of him.
  150. So there we sit in silence. And sit, and sit, and sit. The only thing of note is that John removed his coat and gloves, throwing them atop his lap. Doing so revealed a much thinner leather overcoat with a cloth tunic and breeches underneath. I’d best not strip down as well lest I shock my friend with the fact that there isn’t a scrap of clothing underneath these furs and leather. What need have I for multiple layers against the weather? Wearing these was just for the pride of this coat’s and hat’s maker.
  152. “Palamina.”
  154. “Hm?” I try not to show shock at the sudden whisper. Perhaps it isn’t the start of a conversation. Just a simple request for another log to be thrown onto the fire.
  156. “We both hate the pressure everyone’s putting on us, right?” I’m glad to be wrong.
  158. “Well… Yes. I’ve never seen their jeers and calls go on for so long before. It’s not normal for a man and a woman to keep each other close yet also apart. Does that make sense?”
  160. “Plenty.” He snorts, glaring with bloodshot eyes. “And no kidding. The bed here was built right inside the room it’s in. Big enough for two. I have no idea how to move that thing out if I have to.”
  162. “Gateways, of course. I’d help.”
  164. “Oh, look, more of us seemingly being husband and wife.”
  166. “John, if this is about your allergy, there are options other than incubihood.”
  168. “Name them, Palamina.”
  170. There’s a bitterness to his muttering that reminds me of earlier today, when he complained about how Malida has a ‘big fat flying advantage’ to help find her lost children. I'm curious enough to respond, if only to try and find a way to address John’s problems.
  172. “A human wife?”
  174. “You’d have to kidnap her, she’d insist we move away from here, and then we’d get caught by the Church.”
  176. A step-by-step answer is incredibly worrying. Granted, enough intrigue has been generated from a single human living beside a demon realm. A whole family would, perhaps, cause an excess. It would be even worse if the wife was from the Church’s city to the north.
  178. “Monster?"
  180. “She’d be the first of her kind to leave a man because I would be either in pain or limp in bed. Even better, maybe she used to be the kidnapped human.”
  182. My friend has definitely thought about this too much. This isn’t a conversation, it’s just anger. I can’t let this go on, even if it means provoking him.
  184. “Then let me encourage something just this one time, John. Let my scholars take a look at you. If your allergy is the only thing stopping you from making a family here, have it cured.”
  186. He scoffs again, putting on the same incredulous look that he’s worn so many times today, but without staring off into nowhere like before. “Would I still be a fit parent afterwards?”
  188. I freeze. If my attempts to calm John or lead him towards that point were goods on a table, I’d have swept them all away and slammed my hands on it. Instead, I must barely content myself with clenching my hands and giving him a withering stare that must not set him on fire.
  190. “John. What exactly are you implying? That monsters can’t raise children properly?” He best not be suggesting that. I dream of being a mother one day, of raising children closely and not by being a distant example. My human friend obviously still harbours some bias that shouldn't exist after his experiences here. That absolutely needs to be corrected.
  192. “Malida abandoned them to us as part of a plan. You spoiled them all day. Everyone else just stared at them or spoiled them even more. Just look at the stuff you and Candice got, I’ll bet every one of them was free.”
  194. They're weren't spoiled at all! Certainly not. Today was a festival and they needed appropriate care. Aside from John’s patience being tested today, what is there to complain about?
  196. “The children made happy memories today, parenthood should be about making more of those.”
  198. “Gods, no. You want your daughters not knowing a thing about being hurt?”
  200. “Hurting any child on purpose is unfo-”
  202. “Momma! Poppa! Stop fighting!”
  204. We blink. There was a very loud and very happy voice just now, yelling something very very strange. Suddenly, John looks much shorter and I feel much lighter.
  206. We turn our heads as one, looking over our shoulders towards Candice. Her feathery presence is instantly calming to me, letting me regain control but I’m worried that she may have just infuriated John even more by calling him ‘Poppa.’ She’s crouching underneath the table, peeking past a leg with a smile and looking back and forth at us. Malory is nowhere in sight, likely still in bed.
  208. At some point in our argument, I’d stood up and unconsciously exchanged my new winter clothing for my usual fare. A precisely torn shirt, tight leggings, and an absence of any bucket-like hat reveal my monsterhood in full. Bare hands, clenched into fists with long nails digging into my palms, relax and lay at my sides. Intimidating John, shameful as that sounds, does seem easier without looking like a furry pink and white blob. Not that it's working.
  210. John, on the other hand, looks almost the same. Overcoat, bloated head, and glaring at Candice despite his physical weakness. We must have sat at the fire for quite some time, his skin is a bit less red and swollen now. The look quickly fades, thankfully, but turns into an exhausted sigh and a proclamation of, “Gods above.” An appropriate reaction to the strange shout this harpy chick just gave. Are Malida and Tom fighting? Where else would Candice have gotten the idea of relating us to her parents like that? This doesn’t bode well at all for her or her siblings at all. “Candice, are Malida and Tom fighting at home?” And I’m most pleased to see and hear that John is thinking along the same lines.
  212. “Not anymore.” The bundle of brown feathered joy says, still peering eagerly at us for the moment we kiss, make up, and marry. Candice uses anything and everything to pursue her goals but with a childish air. If what John has told me before about my primary messenger is any indication, the chick and the mother bird certainly come from the same nest.
  214. “You going to have a word with Malida soon?” John asks the obvious question.
  216. “After Candice has been put back to bed.” I give an equally obvious response.
  218. “One second. We should check on Malory too.” He plants both hands on the edges of his seat, rising unsteadily but rising nonetheless. “Heck, I’ll stay with them while they sleep.” We both run up to support him, the child wrapping her wings around a leg and straining to lift it (adorably) while I throw one of his arms around my shoulders.
  220. As we stumble forward towards John’s room, I can’t help but think that the argument we had was merely put aside for another day. In the heat of the moment, I started to believe that my friend was making excuses as to why he would never try to have a family. Before losing control and now after Candice’s worrisome claim, it seems more likely that John is terribly afraid of a great deal of things.
  222. My friend gets us to set him down on Malory’s side of the bed, his awkward movements reminding me of how vulnerable he is. I watch him gently pat the still sleeping tengu crow’s head and wonder what resources it would take to help a very unique human. Candice almost falls while trying to haul herself up onto the bed as quietly as she can, something I almost don’t notice and prevent by making her float on a pink cloud.
  224. All that is clear is that family, a broad category to say the least, is but one of the many obstacles to John living a good and proper life here. Whether it takes twenty or two hundred years, I feel it is my duty to see this through as both a leader ensuring the best for a beloved citizen and as a friend who has received life-changing support from him already.
  226. I must return the favour.
  228. ~~~
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