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Short Distance Confusion: Prologue

Abaggijawah May 24th, 2015 (edited) 1,751 Never
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  1. Way up north in the world and a good distance off to the west, there is a place called Derutcurts. It is the two hundred year old capital of a demonic realm belonging to one of the many daughters of the Demon Lord. Palamina the Watcher, a lilim, governs the only major monster city in the aptly and uncreatively named Northwest Reaches.
  2.  
  3. Derutcurts is a walled city built in a mountain range, or rather in a crater blown into it. The south and west are high stone monster-made walls separating the city from two unnaturally straight and long valleys which were also blasted out by Palamina the Engineer. The north and east walls are mountain faces carved into the shape of stairs. Each step holds residential quarters and military outposts guarding the mines and cave communities stretching within the mountains proper.
  4.  
  5. The steps' residential sectors house most of the city's flyers and the homes themselves are built very tightly and efficiently. That is to say, every house is identically narrow and neighbours are as close as a wall away. The barrier-free roofs are even gathering places for the communities.
  6.  
  7. On the middle tier of the north wall in the farthest house on the left, a family lives. And as the night sky lightly rains bright snow onto the already smothered land, there are shouts from within.
  8.  
  9. “Poppa!”
  10.  
  11. Two chirpy voices rise into the air with two pairs of wings in childish celebration. Poppa Tom has arrived, striding through the door of their room with a lit candle and a bedtime story to tell.
  12.  
  13. Three-year old Malory and six-year old Candice can't contain their excitement. They've been sitting upright in bed for a good half-hour now, waiting for Poppa to finish telling tales of whimsical wonder to their older sisters, Jessica and Cadence. The former might have chased off their father though, insisting that fourteen years old is too old for bedtime stories. From the moment the two youngest children of Malida and Tom climbed into bed, they had been and still are wiggling their talons under the sheets and winter furs non-stop.
  14.  
  15. "Hush now, baby birds, Momma's getting ready for bed. Your sisters are trying to fall asleep too, so let's be quiet now, okay?"
  16.  
  17. The crow tengu and harpy slap their wings over their mouths half-jokingly before dropping them. They understand their father's wishes clearly, but speak in the loudest whispers possible.
  18.  
  19. "Poppa," begins Candice as the man of the house seats himself on a tiny stool beside them and carefully places the candle on the bedside table, "me and Mal wanna hear about Unca tonight."
  20.  
  21. "Uncle John? Again?"
  22.  
  23. Both the harpy and her adoptive crow tengu sister nod their heads vigorously. A large white puff ball atop the latter's red wool cap bobs up and down in agreement like a third person.
  24.  
  25. “Something new, Poppa!” demands Candice.
  26.  
  27. "Uh, let's see..." Tom strokes his pale shaven jaw in thought, staring up at the wooden ceiling. He's always surprised at how much Candice and Malory stick together, even though Cadence is the former's twin from the same egg. The year before, Malory had frequent nightmares and Candice stayed in her room every night for a month calming her down. She never left, much to Cadence's jealousy. "… I think…” Tom's mental playwrights scramble for anything on 'Unca' John, getting sidetracked frequently with thoughts about his kids. The chin stroking continues into an absolutely agonizing forever and ever for the two not-so-sleepy birdies.
  28.  
  29. ‘Unca’ John is a fruit farmer and the family's babysitter. The orchard, before it's destruction, had been a perfect playground and snack dispensary. He's been caring for (or perhaps juggling) four avian chicks of three different species on and off for eight or so months now, almost his entire time living in the area. Well, three kids. The eldest, Jessica at fourteen years old, has taken to helping control her more energetic sisters recently. Before that however, he was on the run from the Church for three years. Naturally, this meant that the man has endured more than his fair share of adventures and trials, but gets very few friends to tell such tales to. When John was finally able to settle down, just outside the border to Palamina the Cunning’s demonic realm, he told an awful lot of them to Tom and Malida. Whether it was just to kill some time, for laughter, or to teach a lesson, the couple ended up using the life of John as material for harrowing and spectacular adventures in half-truths and half-fantasies. They could have written a book about it. Heck, they did. Never published though.
  30.  
  31. Too bad they lost it. It's under the stove, the last place they'd ever consider looking. Now Tom strains and strains, but his mind yields nothing but old stories told a dozen times over.
  32.  
  33. Well… There's ONE chunk of material he’s never touched. The big boss and the fruit farmer had developed quite a rapport in almost a single year and the unusual circumstances behind their relationship could make a good story for kids. Well, after some trimming, additions, and more fairy tale razzle dazzle sort of thing.
  34.  
  35. “Errrrrrrr- yes, I’ve got something." Tom finally announced after a solid minute. The two chicks eagerly listen to their father begin, almost jumping as they shift in their bed. Their patience isn't fraying much really, but they really want their bedtime story.
  36.  
  37. “Once upon a time, there was a man and a lilim.
  38.  
  39. “The man wanted nothing more than to be left alone and lived in a cave. He didn’t want to see any humans. He didn’t want to see any monsters. He didn’t even want to see any animals. Being alone is the safest way, he thought.
  40.  
  41. “The lilim had been cursed by one of her wicked sisters and could never speak. She was too embarrassed to see any humans. She was too embarrassed to see any monsters. She was even too embarrassed to see any animals. Being alone is the only way, she thought.
  42.  
  43. “By fishing from the river, hunting animals in the forest, and gathering plants from the meadows, the man’s belly was always full though his heart always felt empty.
  44.  
  45. “By telling everyone what to do through letters, hovering far above others like the sun, and silently watching others like a statue, the lilim’s lands remained happy even though she remained sad."
  46.  
  47. “Now, the cave where the man lived sat on the edge of the lilim’s territory. The lilim heard about him and became excited by the thought of someone who knew nothing about her. She wanted to talk with him, but could not figure out a way to do so. She wondered and pondered, hemmed and hawed, paced around and around and around her room. Finally, after a biiiiig pile of mail and messages about her land formed around her, the lilim came up with an idea. She would write letters to him.
  48.  
  49. “Not long after, the man received the first of many by way of harpy. Within, the lilim claimed that she wanted to be friends. But the man did not believe it at all and wrote back, ‘stop writing to me.’
  50.  
  51. “Again and again she wrote to him, and again and again he responded with ‘stop writing to me.’
  52.  
  53. “One day, after countless letters had been passed to him, the man had had enough. He scribbled a different response to the lilim, demanding that she just take him in person if she wanted him so badly. Imagine his surprise when she refused.
  54.  
  55. “Suddenly the man wanted to know more about the lilim and she was more than happy to write back.
  56.  
  57. “The two found that they had a few things in common and many things that they did not. But it didn’t matter that they both liked watching the stars or argued over if tomatoes were supposed to be a vegetable or a fruit, the man and the lilim enjoyed sharing every single word. Finally, they no longer felt alone.
  58.  
  59. “One day, it finally occurs to him that they should actually meet. The man starts writing requests for the lilim to come out and visit him in person. She had never mentioned her curse to him and still felt that meeting anyone face-to-face was beyond her when saying even ‘hello’ was impossible.
  60.  
  61. “The man came out to see her instead. Guided by the harpy that had delivered the first letter to him, he entered the city of the lilim and was directed to her home.
  62.  
  63. “She lived in a tall stone tower with only a single lonely window at the top. From the bottom the man yelled, ‘Hello, my friend! Hello! I have come to see you!’
  64.  
  65. “Surprised, she immediately stuck her head out the window and stared downwards at him, but just as quickly withdrew. Again and again, the man called out to her, but she never responded. The lilim was busy trying to build up the courage to fly down and meet him.
  66.  
  67. “Finally, the man tried to lure her out and pretended to leave. ‘Goodbye, my friend! Goodbye! I will be back another day!’ Hearing that made her jump out the window and plummet to the ground, landing safely in front of him with her wings but fluttering in panic.
  68.  
  69. “The man grinned. ‘Hello,’ he said. The lilim held up a hand and timidly wiggled her fingers in greeting. ‘Can we talk?’ He asked. She said nothing, bound by her curse, only shuffling nervously.
  70.  
  71. “Question after question after question followed and the lilim felt worse and worse about not being able to answer this very patient man. Her bitter and happy feelings all bottled up inside just built and built until she couldn’t stand it anymore and answered in the only way possible.
  72.  
  73. "The lilim grabbed the man's head and kissed him right on the lips.
  74.  
  75. “He only resisted for a second before feeling something new grow inside him. What he was feeling was love.
  76.  
  77. "The man returned the kiss and suddenly magic rolled over both of them, a cloud of pink smoke appearing for only a moment. Her curse was broken.
  78.  
  79. "When they finally broke the kiss, the lilim opened her mouth and spoke for the first time in years, 'Hello.'
  80.  
  81. "And they lived happily ever after."
  82.  
  83. Tom leaned back in satisfaction at finishing his rough improv act. The truth is that there wasn’t any wicked sister’s curse upon the lilim, but the idea is certainly more child friendly than the human’s allergy to demonic energy making his skull inflate with blood. Aside from that, the father to four is particularly proud that there wasn't a single pause during the whole tale. The pride in his work doubles as Candice cheers, "Yay!" at the lovey-dovey happy-sappy end and throws her dark brown wings into the air.
  84.  
  85. Malory on the other hand...
  86.  
  87. "Malory? Baby bird? What's wrong?"
  88.  
  89. Tom’s and Malida's youngest stared at her father with a very slightly furrowed brow, tiny black wings resting flat on the bedsheets. One could almost hear the gears turning in her head, trying to process… something. Now that Tom thought about it, Malory had looked confused around the end of the story.
  90.  
  91. "... Baby bird?"
  92.  
  93. "Mal? Are you okay? Do you need to potty?"
  94.  
  95. Only silence responds to them. And only silence is in the air as they watch a little crow tengu in a puff ball hat hop out of bed, grasp the lit candle off the bedside table, and walk off into the narrow hallway.
  96.  
  97. Malory is a quiet child, speaking somewhat rarely and always briefly on top of that. Her mood is easily read from her face though. Thanks to that behaviour, both Candice and Tom become curious enough that they didn't just immediately grab the almost blank-faced Malory and put her back to bed. Instead, they follow, keeping quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the family.
  98.  
  99. Off the littlest one went, talons click-tick-clack-tacking on the wooden second floor of their house past both Cadence’s and Jessica’s tightly shut rooms before coming across a slightly ajar door. Gentle snoring could be heard from outside it, becoming louder once Malory pushes the door open with her shoulder.
  100.  
  101. Lit only by the candle Malory awkwardly puts down on the table by the entrance, the sparsely furnished room would look foreboding to anyone not of this household. All the children, however, know this room is safe as safe can be. This is where they go when the lightning scares them, when they’re sad, or when they need to bundle up during the worst nights of winter in a big ball of warmth. This is their parents' room, otherwise known as sanctuary (they’d call it that anyway if they knew the word). Within lay Malida, mother to four and primary breadwinner of the house.
  102.  
  103. Malida's and Tom's bed tended to be dominated by the former. Unless they were pinned down somehow, big brown-and-blue wings sprawl all over the mattress, sheets, and Tom in some new fashion every night. Thankfully, every period of sleep was only ever accompanied by a single shift from the straight-as-a-board-on-her-back position Malida starts the nights with. Tonight, Momma is in a simple pose. While laying on her belly straight as an arrow, her left wing lies across Tom's side of the bed and the right folds over the edge of her side low enough to drag on the floor.
  104.  
  105. The sloppy form Malida is striking leaves her in the perfect position for Malory to stroll up to her parents' bed and tug on the flopped over blue-and-brown wing with all the vigour she can muster.
  106.  
  107. “Momma. Momma.” She whispers repeatedly, pulling with every word.
  108.  
  109. “... Frzza... mzz-Mwhazzit?”
  110.  
  111. “Baby bird, stop that. C’mere, Momma’s asleep.” Finally taking action, Tom bends down and grabs his youngest daughter under her arms, intent on letting his wife finally get some rest on the start of her days off from work. It was no joke delivering messages from one end of the city and back again in the harsh winter weather and Malida’s exhaustion showed in her painfully slow rise from bed.
  112.  
  113. Malory squirms and flaps in Tom’s arms, still calling out for her sluggish mother.
  114.  
  115. “Momma. Momma.”
  116.  
  117. “C’mon, come along, you should know better than to-”
  118.  
  119. “Nah, Ah’m awake, Ah’m awake. Whaz thiz all about?” Slurring, but aware, Malida turns to sit on the edge of her bed, sheets and furs tangling around her rump and legs. The harpy’s sleepy half-open light brown eyes stare straight into Malory’s wide open darker ones, not to discern what the latter wanted but more out of deciding whether to deal with her or not.
  120.  
  121. “... Give ‘er here, Tommy.”
  122.  
  123. “You think she’s going to stay up again like this until she passes out?”
  124.  
  125. “Yep. Sweetpea here’s just a mite too curious for three years, I swear. Give ‘er here.”
  126.  
  127. Malory’s expression hasn’t changed at all since grabbing the candle from her and Candice’s room. The same very slightly furrowed brow is etched on her face as Tom passes his second adopted daughter into Malida’s lap. Only when the toddler is finally asking her question does her face move.
  128.  
  129. “Momma,” Malory begins, bending her head backwards to look up at Malida’s face.
  130.  
  131. “Yeah, sweetpea?”
  132.  
  133. And then in that nonchalant and innocent way only children can pull off, the little crow tengu in a puff ball hat asks, “Why is Poppa lying?” before pointing a wing straight at Tom.
  134.  
  135. The reactions to Malory’s accusation are immediate. Malida wakes up, Tom becomes flustered, and Candice gasps in shock, “Poppa doesn’t lie! Why would Poppa lie? Mal, why?! Why? Why? Why?” On the verge of tears, jumping and beating her wings in a panicked frenzy, Candice repeats the single word question over and over, unable to process the idea of her parents lying at all.
  136.  
  137. The mother to four whips her head in the direction of her husband, her youngest daughter's question making an eyebrow raise in curiosity. Tom only nervously shrugs in response before miming a person falling asleep then flapping his cupped right hand as if it were speaking. With that pantomime and years of bedtime stories having been told, it isn’t hard for Malida to understand that tonight's tale must have gone wrong, though the exact circumstances escape and confuse her. The vague notion that the story must have been based on true events passes quickly, blown away in the face of Candice still wailing and lamenting her father’s deceit. A quick jerk of the head towards the six-year old harpy signals Tom to try and do something, anything, to calm her down before snapping back to Malory. The little one seems torn on whether to stay still and wait for Malida's answer or to escape and comfort her distraught sister.
  138.  
  139. “Uhh, sweetpea, what exactly did Poppa here lie about?”
  140.  
  141. Tom crouches and rubs the almost-crying harpy’s head gently, trying to stop her caterwauling with assurances that he wasn’t lying and to not wake up her hopefully still sleeping elder sisters. It’s starting to work, Candice being willing to give her father the benefit of the doubt. Her sad mood's escalation stops at wet hiccuping.
  142.  
  143. And then Malory had to open her tiny, not so fat, mouth again."Poppa said Unca John loves someone like you love Poppa.”
  144.  
  145. Candice suddenly freezes, her father’s hand on her head no longer a comforting presence. The memory of when Jessica had quietly asked their ‘Unca’ if he had a wife surfaces and all of Malida’s children remember a distinct, "No."
  146.  
  147. The six-year old harpy’s first realization gives way to a world-flipping second. A single thought turns into a barely heard whisper under Candice’s breath, “Poppa is a liar…”
  148.  
  149. “Candice?” calls a worried Tom.
  150.  
  151. “Poppa IS a liar.” Strange scenarios swirl like a hurricane in the chick's mind. What else did Poppa lie about? Are any of the stories about Unca John true? Is candy actually unhealthy? Can a hug really be too long? Jessica makes funny noises in her room every night. Poppa says they aren't nightmares but they must be.
  152.  
  153. Candice’s eyes rapidly water under the stare of her concerned father, her LYING father, something that does not go unnoticed by her very awake mother.
  154.  
  155. “Candy. Caaaaandy.” Malida gently calls out to the anguished twin, using the nickname shared between the matching harpy chicks. “Come on over here. I gotta ask yew two baby birds somethin’. Tommy, put ‘er down on my lap here.”
  156.  
  157. Upset, but compliant towards her mother, Candice toddles over and accepts a moment of help from her father. Two strong hands lift her light body up to her mother’s lap, where she is more than eager to huddle up, tightly holding herself and tucking her head under a wrap of feathers away from any liars.
  158.  
  159. “... Candy.” A tiny voice and a pair of little black wings reach out, trying to grab at the sad and angry harpy. Malida has to close her legs to bring the two close enough, Malory quickly scootching over to hug her sniffling balled-up sister. “Now," begins Malida as she wraps a blue and brown wing around each of her daughters, "yew two know whatcha have to do, right?”
  160.  
  161. Malory looks up at her mother’s face and Candice shivers a bit in her feathery shell, confused looks upon both of them. Malida tells them with a completely serious expression, "Poppa isn't lyin'. What Poppa wants is for yew two to help him write the ending."
  162.  
  163. "But Poppa already told us an ending, and it's a lie!" Cries the muffled voice of Candice.
  164.  
  165. "No, what Poppa wants is for yew two to learn how to make stories to tell him. He never said WHAT happened before they loved each other, right?"
  166.  
  167. "But he did." Malory flatly states with a slightly furrowed brow, mentally searching for anything from story time that would make her wrong.
  168.  
  169. "... ... Then Poppa just made a mistake. Everyone makes those."
  170.  
  171. "... Okay." Both chicks easily accept that simple explanation, Candice's relaxed but teary face finally popping out atop her still curled wings. In hindsight, that half-truth should have been the first thing Tom said when Malory had made her accusation. It would have brought this debacle to a close much earlier, and Malida wouldn't have started thinking of using the children to resolve her longstanding plot to pair up John and Palamina the Harsh.
  172.  
  173. "Poppa meant to end the story quickly, yew two have to help him fill in what’s missin’.”
  174.  
  175. “How, Momma?” They both ask with great curiosity.
  176.  
  177. "First, lemme guess. Poppa mentioned a lilim, right?"
  178.  
  179. Two nods.
  180.  
  181. "Y’all remember the big boss, right?”
  182.  
  183. Two more bobbing heads (and a pom pom). “She patted our heads with Unca once!” Exclaimed Candice.
  184.  
  185. “Well the big boss is the lilim from Poppa’s story, and she and Uncle John like each other a lot.”
  186.  
  187. Tom makes a murmur of disapproval at what is coming next. In the past, he has tried to dissuade Malida to not force John’s and Palamina the Unstoppable’s coupling with no success. Their longest and most bitter argument in over thirty years of marriage occurred when Malida tried to make the lone human feel even more alone by refusing to let him babysit the children. At the time, John had written a message brutally stating that he didn’t trust the lilim at all even after several polite exchanges of letters. Palamina the Beautiful became withdrawn and silent at that and Malida chose to manipulate John’s heart into resuming writing to break that silence. Not being able to see Unca John made the children sad. Not being able to see the children made John sad. And all the while, Tom’s and Malida’s relationship crashed into it’s lowest point from disagreements and anger.
  188.  
  189. Yet even after all that turmoil and the recovery of their love together as a family, Malida persisted in her matchmaking efforts.
  190.  
  191. “So why aren’t they married like you and Poppa?”
  192.  
  193. “The two o’ them are just shy is all. They done a lot together, shoulda been married already… Especially since neither o’ them ain’t ever seen without the other... “ Malida voice drifts into a quiet muttering tinged with amusement and dissatisfaction. Before Candice and Malory can ask what their mother just said, she starts up again, “Now, baby birds, I’m thinkin’ that they need a little nudge in the right direction. Yew two just do exactly what I say tommora at the festival and then tell Poppa a story about it. And if that don’t make John and Palamina love each other, then we can work on makin’ another story, alright?”
  194.  
  195. “Okay, Momma!”
  196.  
  197. Tom gives another grunt of displeasure as his two youngest agree to their mother's plot. At least this one doesn’t seem so emotionally damaging.
  198.  
  199. Once, John revealed to Tom that he considered Malida to be quite a busybody, an assessment that the latter thought to be very slightly unfair. The harpy’s husband never told John, but she didn’t read ALL the mail her mistress writes. Just the ones about men. Palamina the Watcher, the Engineer, the Cunning, the blah blah blah, daughter of the Demon Lord, lilim of the Northwest Reaches, has no husband. It makes Malida worry for some reason. Maybe some instinct drives the harpy as a married woman. Perhaps a desire to see her employer happy runs through her. Or maybe she thinks her break times and days off can get longer if Palamina’s doing the dirty deed regularly and leaving things to her lieutenants instead.
  200.  
  201. In any case, ever since Palamina started writing to John and vice versa, Malida has read every one of their letters and plotted to bring the two together. She’d jumpstarted their relationship by guilt tripping the man into writing in the first place. The land would have become unstable from the big boss' then obsession to make contact with him otherwise. But after attending the historic event when John willingly stepped foot into Palamina’s realm to visit her, enduring great discomfort from his allergy, Malida thought she could just kick back and watch ‘em go wild. However, in the end, the two are only friends. FRIENDS of all things after what they’ve done together! However, friendship is a giant leap up from attempted enslavement, and love is just within their grasp if they’re nudged in the right way.
  202.  
  203. When Candice and Malory are tucked back into bed, all they can think about is the plan they must accomplish and what it means for them. When they succeed, Poppa gets a happy story, Unca John will be happy, and Momma’s boss Palamina will be happy, meaning Momma will be happy.
  204.  
  205. These two children will do all they can, starting tomorrow at Cuddle Fest.
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