Sorry I’ve not posted for a while. I don’t know it’s always summer when all sorts kick off around here. Anyway, here’s a longish excerpt from my project The Little Queen. Still wondering if I’ll keep that title as well as about a series title. It won’t be long until this is done – just a few changes and a couple chapters to go. Anyway, enjoy:
Deep in the woods was a mound. Few knew about it and even fewer ever searched for it. Those who wandered too close were discouraged, their senses assaulted although in a way that was on the edge of perception. They heard and they saw but weren’t aware of anything but a strong sense of foreboding, leaving it and perhaps telling stories of a place haunted or inhabited by malevolent spirits. They were partly right – Tenley didn’t know if they were spirits but there were inhuman creatures living here and they did not welcome uninvited guests.
Tenley was allowed to pass, plant tendrils parting as she approached to reveal a portal leading down into the Queen’s realm. Not long ago she would have been blind in this passage, forced to rely on her other senses, chiefly sound and touch, to navigate it. Her mother used to make her do exercises blindfolded or lock in the basement with no light so that she had to find her way out in the dark. Used to. Now with the Queen’s gifts she could see almost as well in the dark as in the day, albeit without much color. Not that there was much color anyway but grays and browns.
As Tenley descended sparks blew at her as if there were a blaze deeper down, but no heat – these were in fact small firefly-like creatures that Titania made. She said she made them anyway – Tenley had never seen it happen, but there were many places she wasn’t allowed into. Certainly the inhabitants of the caverns were very different from anything in the world above. Deeper still and roots growing through the ceiling and walls parted letting her into the place where the mushrooms glowed and glass spiders skittered. The spiders made silk for their clothes, and in several pools crystals grew that, according to Titania, responded to vibrations and could be molded into any shape she wished. Sometimes the Queen just sat by one of the pools and sang to it. The armor the adult changelings wore was also grown in a similar fashion. Aside from the stone and dirt itself it seemed everything was alive in some way.
Another girl approached from the opposite direction. Another young changeling off to resume her life with her human family, Tenley supposed, once again curious about how much of themselves remained. The other girl had curly red hair, a square face, and dark eyes. She reminded Tenley of Wendy.
The girls paused to regard each other, Tenley furrowing her brow while the other tilted her head and stared back impassively. Before been taken in by Titania, Tenley had never spent much time around other children – mother had always chased them away. To Tenley they always seemed soft and silly anyway. Of course she knew she could beat this other girl in a fight, but did this girl even have the will to try and stand up for herself?
“What’s your name?” Tenley asked.
“Celia,” the girl stated immediately. “Celia Simpson.”
“Where are you going?”
“To do what?”
Tenley rolled her eyes. “And what will you do while you’re waiting? Dance? Sing? Play games?” She asked, but the girl just responded with a mildly confused expression. Ten sighed, then asked, “how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
Celia squinted hard. “I don’t understand…”
“No,” Tenley sighed again. “You really are just a doll, aren’t you?” she concluded. But then, what did that make her or the rest of them? She continued on her way in the hope that maybe she’d find some answers further in. Most of the other changelings were like that one – mindless drones going through the motions of life or whatever task they’d been assigned. There were just a few who were different; Tenley, Lilian, and…
“You look tired, Tych,” Ella. The green eyed blonde lay in an alcove above wearing a Cheshire grin. Tenley more than looked tired – she’d slept little since that night, and even less since she began her vengeance. She remembered all of them, mother and the murderers, the shock and pain in their eyes the moment before they dimmed. Ella swung her legs over and dropped, landing daintily on her toes. “I suppose revenge must be an exhausting business,” Ella mocked in the manner of a teacher or elder sister, “do let us know if it becomes too much for you.”
Several times now Ella had made it abundantly clear that she did not welcome Tenley here, although she would never dare speak up against her Queen. Jealously, maybe – she probably assumed that she would be next in line if anything happened to Titania. It wasn’t like Lilian would be much of a challenge to her. Tenley didn’t care at all about any of this, but she knew that Ella was probing for weaknesses and it could be a fatal mistake to show her any.
“You would only slow me down,” Tenley stated and brushed past. Ella didn’t take kindly to that but still she wouldn’t want to displease Titania so she kept grinning inanely and danced around the girl.
“So what did you do at home all the time?” Ella asked. “Titania says you studied martial arts,” she said, and it was partially true – Tenley was beat up a lot but certainly picked up a few things about fighting in the process. “So could you show us how to do a Soolin Death-Grip?”
Tenley shrugged, “who’s Soolin?”
“You know what I mean – one of those things where you touch someone in a way that paralyzes them and they die an hour later.”
“What would be the point of that?” Seemed to Tenley giving your enemies that much time was a fine way to risk getting yourself killed.
“So that they suffer longer, of course.”
Of course. Tenley realized why it was she didn’t like Ella – she enjoyed all this a little too much. Fortunately what she asked for Tenley couldn’t give anyway. “No,” Tenley said, “I can’t show you how to do a ‘Soolin Death-Grip’ because that’s just a random string of words and nothing like it exists outside of shitty comic books. When I mean to kill someone, I kill them.”
“Well,” Ella frowned and lent back, “where’s the fun in that?”
The last man had told Tenley he had a family. It had made her hesitate – were he not already hanging upside down that could have been costly. The one before that hadn’t been much ‘fun’ either, despite all the toys and advantages she had. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be fun,” she said. “Just something that has to be done,” after all, they had killed first. It was up to her to finish it, and not rest until she did. It was the last thing her mother would have her do.
“I suppose all that stuff is fake. Chopping through concrete, one inch punch…”
“Oh,” Tenley interrupted, “that one’s real.”
Ella narrowed her green eyes as she leaned toward Tenley again and challenged, “prove it.”
“No,” Tenley answered. She saw no need to.
“Because you can’t do it.”
Tenley saw no need to answer that either. She turned her back on Ella to continue on her way, which again Ella did not take kindly too. Tenley knew she’d have likely been attacked, if Lilian hadn’t been watching them the entire time.
“That’s enough, Ella,” Ella’s red haired counterpart decided to reveal herself. Tenley wouldn’t exactly call Lilian nicer than Ella, but she was less cruel and far more dutiful, although no less blindly devoted to Titania. The only difference between them and the other changelings was that Ella and Lily were slaves willingly.
Ella pouted, “it’s not fair she gets to go out and have all the fun. You can tell her hearts not even really in it.”
Tenley glared and hissed, “it does not concern you. This is my revenge, and I will finish what I started. Heart or not.”
“We’re all a family here,” Lilian admonished. “You needn’t be so hostile.”
“That’s right,” Ella beamed, “we’re a family. A team. And there’s no ‘I’ in team, is there?”
Tenley didn’t know a great amount about families. She’d only ever known her mother, who had never been very good in that role. She’d imagined having an elder sister once but neither Ella or Lilian fit that role either, although she supposed families were rarely what you choose. In the end she turned away from them again, snorting, “There’s a ‘me’.” As she walked toward the next chamber she continued to list, “At, mat, tea, eat, meat…”
The chamber was dominated by a stone table, upon which a feast had been prepared; roast chicken, potatoes, and gravy. Tenley squinted, not sure if it was real until she took a bite. Then she couldn’t help but take another, and another, until her lips and even her cheeks were smeared and had gravy dripping from them. Then someone laughed – Tenley had been so fixated on the food she hadn’t even noticed the throne.
“I thought you might be hungry, child,” Titania said, fungus around her illuminating in response to some mental command. The Queen wasn’t alone – the were four others sat in a row next to her, ragged and scared, tethered to the wall by roots twitching around their necks. Obviously not changelings.
“Who are they?” Tenley asked as she used a cloth to wipe herself.
“Trespassers,” said Titania, colors rippling through her skin. She turned her head slightly to the man nearest her, the roots yanking him nearer. “This one claims he was a chef, so I had him prepare us a feast.”
The ragged man looked agape. Trespassers – probably just people camping out in the woods who didn’t know they had been claimed, or maybe they heard the ghost stories and came looking. People could be stupid like that. The question was what did Titania plan to do with them, and judging by the man’s look and next question she had already made lots of vague promises just to amuse herself. “W-was?” He queried.
Titania waved him off. “Let’s not quibble over semantics,” she said and turned back to Tenley. “Is the food good?”
Tenley supposed it was, although all she had to compare it to was her own cooking since it was a skill her mother never displayed since, well, she had Tenley, but Tenley never really took the time to prepare more than was necessary to maintain their health. “Food is food,” she shrugged, further distressing the chef.
“Well,” Titania frowned, “at least you’re not a fussy eater.”
“Why don’t you try some yourself?”
“I could, but I was curious,” Titania regarded her own hand with its shifting skin. She could control it, change the color of her skin and hair to whatever she chose and keep it that way, but mostly she didn’t bother. Tenley didn’t know if there was any meaning to the patterns – right now Titania was white with black patterns like writing scrolling over her. “I have humanity’s form and can gaze into the memories of all those who have become my children, yet I can never be certain how much of that experience I share.”
Sounded like philosophy. Tenley had read about it on the internet once but she was too tired to think about it now. “I don’t know if anyone tastes things the same way, but I know what I do and that’s all that matters.”
“A rather stoic attitude. I suppose that’s to be expected.”
“I don’t see how worrying how other people think and feel helps bring my mother’s murderers to justice.”
“And yet you do have questions.”
Tenley felt like this was all some sort of a game Titania was playing. Or a test. She didn’t much care for either anymore. One of the armored changelings chittered from an alcove above, it’s bulbous eyes turning to Tenley who glared back. No more games for her, but she did have questions.
“You said you can see their memories,” the girl asked, “have you seen mine?”
“I have,” Titania calmly admitted. “Does that bother you?”
“Not like I’ve any secrets,” Tenley shrugged, “not from anyone still living anyway.”
Titania lent forward in her stone throne, her dark eyes peering deep. “You hated her,” the Queen said, “for how she treated you. You’d done nothing to deserve being treated like that. And yet, you’ve always been devoted, hoping that if you could prove yourself, then… but none of that is possible anymore.”
Tenley’s fist clenched tighter as she listened. It was a fair summation of her short life, but despite having no secrets left she still felt… violated she supposed was the right word. Shouldn’t go looking into people’s souls without permission. She should just kill them all right now, but… Titania hadn’t wronged her. So far she’d been honest, perhaps just too honest. She’d read Tenley like a book, seeing all the words but understanding nothing.
“No,” Titania said, “I think I do understand. We’re much alike, you and I.”
Tenley snorted and proudly observed, “that’s a cliche.”
“But true. It’s why I chose you.”
“You had a mother?”
“In a manner of speaking. And a father,” Titania eyes became still as the patterns on her skin began to merge and grow and become a deep red. “He tried to kill me, after years of me bowing and scraping and doing all that was asked.”
“Where is he now?”
“In his castle. He’s afraid now to leave,” the roots around the cavern quivered, the captives gargled as their tips tightened around their necks. There was a great gasp as they loosened again and Titania’s skin returned to its usual pale pallor. “None of that matters now, child,” she said, “I am your mother now and this our family.”
Ella and Lilian took their seats at the stone table, either side of Tenley who believed she now understood. The Queen could have changed everyone into mindless dolls, but then she would be alone. No one to talk to, no one to entertain her, no one to prove herself to.
“I am glad you’re all here,” Titania said. “We have a little problem… well, three little problems now in fact. Three pairs of eyes that saw and that got away. We must discuss what is to be done about them, perhaps as we walk in the garden.”