glance in your
a stolen second
chance for your
a stolen second
ticks by without
either of us
I started the year alone,
just my notebook and my phone...
it comes with little surprise
with wider open eyes
that I don't need to atone
for the sparse days missed.
when hope finally kissed
the fate at my feet...
living more complete
people who care and insist
and deserve my attention.
they've earned my attention.
who am I to deny
what I've ached for my life:
people who care who don't care about succession.
love the quiet hate the noise,
love the wide open road,
where the blue merges with green
and the second hand in slowed...
in the out and alone
is where I find my peace,
but in the in and alone
always bothers me...
did I say something did I do something
did I accidentally push you away?
or maybe you're just out and about,
lost in your first hand day...
but that there were an economy
where we could pay for our sins,
tiny little accidents and
big honking wins,
where you might owe me something,
and we tally up the score,
when I opt to cash it in...
what ideas I have in store
for you to fulfill to
wipe the slate clean...
(it doesn't have to be cruel,
it doesn't have to be mean,
and entirely opt-in)
but if you opt-out
with pending balances...
you figure that part out.
I can automate things
but I can't automate myself,
stepping on uneven ground,
harming my health.
I can make numbers dance
but I can't keep a beat.
walk steadily on,
striding down the street.
I can explain things
that I don't fully understand,
but I can't be original,
I can't make good plans.
I can spin a tale,
but I can't sell a word:
people don't want to listen
when they want to be heard.
I can befriend you online,
but I can't get a date;
too many options
makes me feel second rate.
I can be good enough,
but I can't beat the rest;
they expect perfection,
I'm not even second best.
I can do a lot of things,
and I can do them well,
but everyone wants an expert...
not an amateur show and tell.
as long as you're missing something.
as long as you've a hand to be held,
as long as we're going the same direction,
you can join me for a spell...
conversation is optional,
attraction doubly so,
company is more important
than nothing in common we know;
take my needs one by one,
find a target for each,
I'd take a hundred partners
to put completeness within reach;
spread myself out,
be one thing for each of you,
likewise be shared in counter...
the same opportunities too.
I learned long ago
of myself in the world:
too complex to fit one,
so polyam' unfurled.
so I'm not looking for one
to match in love and life,
I'm looking for all and any
who'll join me for a stride
or two as we walk
along this road.
I'm pretty flexible
(or so I've been told)
so as long as you're missing something,
as long as you've a hand to be held,
as long as we're going the same direction,
you can join me for a spell.
"later" is like "tomorrow",
a promise never followed through,
everybody always forgets
until it's too late to renew.
I often fall through the cracks,
get ghosted on accident...
should make turnabout fair play,
ignoring the pleas that you've sent.
I've only met one person
who always saw me disappear,
who never missed when I left,
who knew when I wasn't there...
she and I didn't work out
for reasons I can't explain;
suffice to say she's the only one
who didn't cause this pain.
so many lists
and so many lines:
from Selma to Globe,
or the 'way of sunshine,
the expiration of rights
for certain copyright law,
or three score and ten
defines the strong...
and so many languages
it's sixty and ten,
because at twenty
they start counting again.
every number is special
in it's own way.
this is my
some people give me a bad feeling
like they're not really real,
they're just whatever you want them to be,
they feel what you want them to feel,
they say what you want them to say,
but it's never what you want to hear;
because they're only parroting sentiments
not actually turning your ear.
love is not something we wind up
something we set or control.
for all that I love of spreadsheets,
I love what defies them more.
some things can't be classified,
some things can't be stored,
some things are like no other,
being labelled they defy,
but they're still a part of me,
a part of my why.
it's too easy to try to squeeze
everything into a box:
my loves, my hopes, my dreams...
easier to take stock
of everything in a list,
my self-defined inventory,
but the truth is... we're all human,
and that's good enough for me.
I'm attracted to humans,
no more needs to be said,
no more needs to be described,
and put your dissension to rest.
love is just like art,
a force that comes into our lives
without any rules, expectations or limitations.
Pink text: Hernando Fuentes from Sense8
not my colors
but I still show my pride,
they're OUR colors
and I'm not gonna hide:
for the freedoms that
the whole spectrum should share,
for the welcomes that
are too often impaired,
for the knowledge that
we all deserve to be loved,
for the promise that
our best IS good enough,
for the hope that
tomorrow will still come,
for the prayer that
this work might get done,
for the belief that
we're humans, one and all,
that we stand together
and we stand tall.
Yes, I know there are specific meanings to each of the colors and they don't line up with my stanzas. As per my last three poems, I needed a way to integrate the colors of the flag of choice (and the pattern of hair ties I wore on each particular day) into the lines of the poem. But with the rallying-cry-tone of this particular piece, they just weren't going to fit in-line. I also know the dark colors are hard to see with the grey/black background; if you can suggest a solution that doesn't look completely terrible, I'll give you a free poem request (which is a step above just a mere suggestion) to be redeemed when Pride month is over.
two months down and ten to go
(a sixth of the way around).
a lot of days left, though
plenty of inspiration to be found.
if I right out asked,
they'd make a line at the till
to ask for things to be written...
but the survey still sits at nil.
(there's an easy way to check
the validity of the link:
put a "+" at the end
to see what it thinks.
unless you'd prefer
to type the gobbledygook?)
I'll lay it all out below
if you care to take a look.
what would you do if
I just showed up for a day?
didn't get in your face,
didn't infringe on your play,
didn't hang about,
didn't follow you around...
but if you looked,
was there to be found
an unexpected hammock
in the park you walk past;
or strangely familiar face
seen lying in the grass...
not creepy or scary
just suddenly there...
then gone the next day.
would you care?
would you introduce yourself?
would you come up and say hi?
would you invite me somewhere?
or would you escape and hide?
The only thing I can do
to change the world is vote
but it doesn't matter who I vote for
because we still end up
with a politician.
there's a city near me
sacked with sanctions by the state
for having insufficient
there's a new housing project
just spinning up
and the city has no plans
on making it affordable.
there's a punishment
they dodge the cost by
passing it to their residents.
there's the problem:
we pay for something
we have no say in.
we are powerless.
there's acres of warehouses
but not abandoned.
built and never filled.
there's acres of land
all for sale, all for sale,
but zoned for agri,
comm, light indus...
there's miles and miles
of roads of houses,
mcmansions laid out
like stamp collections.
there's me, who wants
to live sustainably,
but the selfishness of others
means I can't.
there's only so many
hours in a week,
paid fifteen an hour
and I can't afford...
there's a world
and I can't afford
there's so much
and I can't afford
53 days come and gone
and my writing mood has risen
aching to set words to page
but something is still missing...
my inspiration fits and stalls,
in dire need of tuning.
need a patchwork fix and fast
so outsourcing my Musing.
taking all suggestions,
giving credit wanted where due,
just complete a little survey
and I'll add it to the queue.
some legs in a passel
and a cold snout to boot
trotting through a forest
freshly filled with food,
barest light filters
through the shifting leaves,
branches barely rustle
very slightest breeze.
and then a glint of something,
a change in the light,
a shape swiftly passing
ignorant in the night.
a body on a bicycle,
legs pistoning on a frame,
pedaling in the darkness,
a person on their way
to some distant place
more there than here,
not looking around,
to intent to care
about a dark shadow
crouching in the brush,
eyes glinting in moonlight:
a patient watching wolf.
you think that the rows
trap you inside,
squeeze you into boxes,
make you fall instead of fly.
you think that the columns
tower over your head,
define your limitations,
make you small instead.
you think that the cells
are a prison buried deep,
chaining you down,
an animal to keep.
you think the formulae
rule your every move,
tally up your blessings,
give you nothing left to prove.
but the pages and sheets
show only what quantifies,
reminds me there's so much more
that proves I am alive.
your rules for me are mandatory
but my rules for you bear no weight
you skip as you see fit
ignore the warning on the gate.
I built a something,
an easy way to keep aligned,
don't have to say a word to me,
a checklist for your mind.
I asked you to use it,
I asked at least once a day.
it's been 48 hours...
I complete my half
several times a day,
but as far I can I tell
you've never looked at what I say.
instead you're writing more rules,
and they all apply to me,
more ways to keep me in line,
when you're still acting free.
two trees diverged in a fallen scree
and sorry I could not camp here
and put my tent here, long I looked
for flat clear ground over this overlook
to where I could minimize my footprint...
instead, I unlimbered my pack
and pulled out two tree-friendly straps,
and wrapped them snugly around the trees
so they wouldn't slip or scrape bark free,
and hung my hammock in between.
a tent has a footprint of trodden ground,
grass and undergrowth tromped flat,
but a hammock hung true and sound,
hung carefully, carefully bound,
does far less damage than that.
I am telling this with a sigh
somewhere laws and statutes abetted:
two trees diverged in a fallen scree, and I--
I sheltered in the sky,
and left less impact by my passing.
Deliberately riffing off "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.
(Yes, I know I butchered both the rhyme scheme and the rhythm.)
I brought the world in with me,
and I'll carry it out again.
the weight upon my shoulders,
the baggage and the pain
of all the things I think
I need to survive the night...
but only half will be unpacked
the rest is just a "might."
but it doesn't belong here,
so I won't leave it behind,
the trash and the refuse,
the waste and the rinds.
everything I thought I needed,
born heavy upon my back,
but all I needed was peace,
that I found on this path.
the anesthetic never set in
and I'm wondering where...
you told me not to fall in love...
you told me not to fall too hard...
you told me not to forget how to live without you...
the apathy and urgency is that
I thought I phoned in...
you told me it's final,
that you're going away
and not looking back...
no it's not so pleasant
and it's not so conventional...
and so I didn't...
it sure as hell ain't normal
but we deal, we deal...
but it sure feels like...
sit back, sit back,
relax, relapse again...
Italics from "Camisado" by Panic! at the Disco
Mandatory Compliance Training
Your mandatory compliance training
is due in
21 20 19 18 17... days
been telling my boss for months
I need a new computer
W7 and post-EOL don't a
secure workstation make.
couldn't light a fire
under his ass
if you coated it
in magnesium shavings.
but threaten compliance...
and suddenly he starts
(which he'll probably
Tertius sat at the desk, a couple stacks of blank receipt books next to him. Quartus and I sat next to him, and I was very carefully keeping my head down. We had a couple of buckets between us and the only copies of the minting manual.
A line had started forming. It was going to be a long day.
Tertius took coins, counted them out, and tallied them in the receipt books. He verified the amount with the player and then passed the coinage to us. We inspected them individually, dropped the suspected counterfeits into the appropriate buckets, and passed what remained back. He did the math, verified it with the player, and tore off the top sheet. He double-checked the carbon came through, and handed the receipt over.
It was dull work, but it needed to be done.
The worst was when we handed nothing back. I buried my head in my hands, trying not to listen to their protests. Whoever was behind it, if they wanted to throw the game into chaos, was doing a far better job of it than my delve into the Major Arcana. And the players had little enough trust of me as it was, I was paying for that already.
Tertius never stood up, never raised his voice... all he had to do was crumple up the receipt. The threat of reducing their wallet to zero was enough. In many ways, that was worse than killing their player, because a new character gets a small allowance until they get strong enough to start earning their way. These players would get no such allowance.
A couple hours in, I heard Panna come up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her place three pouches on the desk.
"These two are probably all counterfeits. I received them in payment for services from the player no longer among us. The other one should be mostly okay, its contents came from the Master of Coin in currency exchanges." She leaned heavily on the desk, her gaze sharp. "A lot of my income comes in small denominations, and I like to keep my savings in as small of a pouch as possible; makes it easier to hide." Her eyes flicked over to me, without needing to say "In case someone tries to go through my things."
I hadn't snooped, though I had been tempted.
Tertius nodded and dumped the first two on the desk. Quartus spun on her stool at the sound and some chatter rose from the line behind her: Panna was rich by the game's standards, and that was news to many people. He counted it out methodically, building slowly rising stacks of gold, silver, and bronze coins. He wrote down the tallies and Panna watched on disinterestedly, shrugging when he ask her to verify the count. It took several trips to transfer all the coins to our inspection area, and I started on the first while Quartus played runner. I was under strict instructions not to draw attention to myself.
Tertius started a second scrip for the last bag. She had some writs in there already, and the rest was all gold. Tertuis inspected the writs first, pulling out a notebook from somewhere on his person. He stacked them and set them to one side, apparently satisfied. Then he stacked the coins and checked them himself. Only one gold coin drew his suspicion, and he marked it on the receipt.
"Do you want to wait or..."
"Just give me the receipts."
Tertius marked the first receipt as no coinage returned, signed off the second as only one gold confiscated, and passed them over.
Panna folder the writs back into the pouch along with the two receipts, dropped the coins on top, stuffed the two now empty purses into a pocket, and sauntered off.
"Set whatever's left aside for later," he called to us. "More customers coming in."
walls always tumble,
empires always fall,
nothing is permanent,
nothing stays tall,
cliffs blow away,
and skies turn grey.
everything I write
will zero out too,
the only thing that lasts...
what I do today,
what I say to you,
the bridges we build (or burn)
even entropy can't undo.
The following material may not be suitable for all audiences.
if I wanted to be the good guy,
the vanilla, mainline, mundane,
I would have proposed to my high school sweetheart,
but she died before we got a second chance.
and we were both too young,
not that anyone's counting
(two years and fifty-one weeks
(except on leap years)
I'm searching for something
I can't ...reach.
scared me when I was young.
but today I'm one of three
and researching two of three
but I'll never be three...
I'm searching for something
I ...can't reach.
too many tries that ended in pain,
everywhichway still ended the same.
so took a break and the break turned to years...
I'm searching for something
...I can't reach
if demons were real,
if I could trade every remaining year
for one night that blows my mind
I'd do it
I'm searching for...
but the devil won't take my calls
so I'm just drifting...
for something to be.
Italics from "Ghost" by Halsey
three and a half hours isn't bad,
especially when it's halfway to somewhere
and halfway is easier than all the way
it's like going dutch
on a first date
for a long-distance relationship
four hundred miles
could be a lot worse
thirty days hath september,
june, and november...
and april sure is true--
but what if it didn't have to?
so many things we try to remember,
every month, jan to december,
everything we honor, everything we do--
but month's end doesn't mean it's through.
mathematics and statistics,
Arab heritage and assault awareness,
prevent child abuse, autism, parkinson's,
all suffer from evanescence.
and even may's got some too,
mental health and for the Jew-
-ish heritage we should embrace...
but one short month is just a taste.
so april may have come to an end,
but it's motives continue to rend;
all still fighting to be seen the same
even if a month doesn't bear cause your name.
so here's the change I foretold:
setting weekly blogs on hold,
still writing, just now in verse,
31+ days endured.
when months end and seasons change,
when the frost turns to dew,
when the winds shift and spin about,
and the world turns page anew;
come the opportunity
to change the road I'm on,
but trapped in familiarity
and fear stills my song
from starting a new lyric,
from trying a new verse...
too easy to stay here,
even when it hurts.
pain of moving forward,
pain of holding back;
sing the same words again,
retrace the same tracks.
because the devil I know
is like an old friend
who's betrayed me before,
and we've seen how it ends;
but for the devil I don't
I can only prepare
for the might-happens...
it's no wonder I'm scared.
and perhaps you have faith
--a man or a god--
who keeps you level
and properly shod.
but what I worship
is indifferent to me:
I show respect, gratitude
to the world I see.
(not so blind, not on faith,
no hope for answered prayers.
merely thankful for the gifts--
this world, this ground, this here
that I can see clearly
with my own two eyes.
not mystical, not of
the blind leading the blind.)
so I lean on myself
to determine when to change:
when the pain is unbearable
and my demons satiate.
it happens now. right now.
tomorrow will be new;
I'm ready for something different,
and I hope you are too.
another year here and gone,
and met with success at last.
29 so far and tomorrow come
and then the month will pass.
in that time I've done some things,
visited old and tried new,
gone sailing on discordant seas
and found home anew.
form and free and hither and yon,
safe and mature and secret,
hidden messages and wide open eyes,
promises made and kept.
and so today I make my mind
and change the future's road
surprise will come to my blog
when it does unfold.
but for tomorrow, I give you this:
a first chance for request;
what should I say on the morrow,
when I lay the month to rest?
Mature content warning
...so I have fun
I'm not tied up to anyone...
spend too long setting up,
drawing lines, scheduling time,
burn through the honeymoon
with logic and balance and grind.
but give me a play partner,
hash it out along the way,
spend a couple hours of fun,
and then go our own way.
feel the bliss/skip the heartache,
let everything just flow;
on and done and move along
don't worry what the future holds.
yes, I'd like something that lasts,
but I'm not going to sit and wait
burning through all my hours
while the chase gets away.
...but now I'm free,
there are no strings on me.
Italicized lines from "I've Got No Strings" by Dickie Jones
walking on eggshells
/the only people i c
to keep the cool
/an get to talk
lest I start to drown
/for any length of ti
in the pool
/me are in
in the demand
/it for ulter
for finding heart and home
/ior motives. they want so
i can't compete physically
/mething. money or power o
so I sell my soul alone
/r to trick someone or
and walk on eggshells
/to hurt someone. nob
lest i scare you
/ody wants me fo
Red text from (NSFW) "Rain Check for a Brain Check"
trying to think
of what to write
when you are
too good at reading me
and I don't want
to infringe on your consciousness
but then I remember:
ea'hab'tu sip'ib min'ite
(I have a language)
(that only I can translate)
through the space
through the gun
through the hole
in space and...
though you broke
tears itself apart
I don't have the
math for the...
cuz you broke
not your legs
not your logic
but the world
and the spring
through your teeth
through the wall
through the air
and promise me
in the silence and the solitude
of the drifting longing night
and the missing empty platitudes
that would clutter up my sight
in the moment, in the long open moment
when I have the canvas to myself,
build my dreams on the firmament
and need nobody else.
but then the worlds appear,
and their emptiness pains me so
that people are all but required
and I shouldn't be alone.
for whom do I build
if no-one's there to see...
though I build for myself,
alone doesn't mean free.
a hammy and a tent went camping by the bay
where their only misfortune way the length of their stay:
three overlapping nights and two full days--
what overlaps of vacation time before parting ways
she watched curiously at the rigging as he strung up between the trees,
just a few small straps to keep him suspended in the breeze.
he watched patiently as she found a flattish spot,
pegged down her shelter, working rather hot.
they dragged seating close together as they made separate meals,
watched the stars rise yawning before turning on heel
and climbing in to their respective nests;
both having a high priority to get a solid rest.
they both dreamed brightly, but I know not of what things,
though I doubt they involved sealing wax, cabbages, or kings.
and upon the day they woke, he with the sun,
but what happened after is another tale begun.
some people work hard for twenty years
and never become a footnote to history,
some people set pen to page once
and every word everybody wants to read.
but I don't write to become great,
I write to empty out my head
because it hurts less when
I fill up a page instead.
and here I'm thinking of stopping
at ten-ish years of my blog,
and continuing with the daily poems
I've been writing all month long;
continue the streak, continue the collage,
continue showing the forest and the trees,
go not bigger, go as you will or go home...
maybe it's time for a new path for me.
changing directions at the whim of my heartbeat
because something's coming after me...
not shying not hiding
drawing closer as a tide
I'm just inevitably forestalling
and every step earns me pride.
I could give in--
stand stronger and fight...
but I want to be caught,
be an exhausted prize.
Mature Content Warning
oh my god...
what could it be...
we're all doomed...
who's flying this thing?
I don't stand tall,
I don't hold tight,
I don't run fast,
I don't know right,
I don't kill demons,
I don't build things,
I just fall apart
when they get wings.
nobody knows my name,
nobody watches me climb,
nobody holds breaths,
nobody stands in line
for my attention,
for my handshake,
for my hancock,
for my art-make.
I'm not driving,
I'm not winning,
I'm not dancing,
not even spinning.
I'm just writing
but it ain't second best
I'm not renowned
or even followed yet.
I can't repair,
I just break down.
I can't grow up,
I'm just a-round.
I don't cause smiles,
I don't cause tears,
I just cause people
to not be here.
I'm not making
I'm not even worth
I'm just a piece of gravel
stuck in your shoe...
the best I can be
is annoying you.
that would be me.
Italics from "Bushwhacked" Firefly season 1, episode 3
more than I could hope for
all started with just one.
one light at the end of the tunnel.
one friend with the same dream.
we bought forty acres
when we only needed one.
one garden between us.
one simple agreement.
then we started looking
for other people to join us.
one at a time.
one by one.
it's the John Galt subdiv,
because we're not a co-op.
one rule for everyone.
one sun for everyone.
it's here when it's time to stand,
stand on your own
feel like I'm over my head
trying to do things outside my reach,
trying to be different instead
of the boring easy mete.
buying a lot and building a home,
couldn't leave well enough alone,
mcmansion debt scares me away...
(don't need the space anyway).
feel like I'm over my head
trying to build my own equity,
tired of renting instead
of having my own place to be.
prefab and modular go for broke,
but minimalism's up in smoke;
more the a thou' is wasted on me
for all that I need it to be.
feel like I'm over my head
trying to puzzle the pieces,
not a cookie cutter homestead,
just want to have my peace.
waking to fire in my bones
pains of being alone
stretching tearing aching need...
searching for strength to be
what I want, what I seek,
moving jerking building touch...
working to find nothing much
a few small desired crush,
hoping wishing begging thrown...
tired of building equity for someone else
who had their cake and eat mine too,
I want my land and I want my house
and I want it economical too.
a thou and change is too much for me
(minimal, spouse- and child-free),
and neighborhoods full of rich and old
pushed my type out of the inventory.
ought-five or six ought to do,
if I can just find somewhere to be.
I'm not against your way of life,
I just want the same for me.
what about-- not there either
oh here's-- not that one
it's actually-- that's not mine
but are you sure-- completely
that's impos-- completely
no, really it's impos-- fine, then you do it.
what! this can't be-- see
something is wrong-- oh, so now it's my fault.
I didn't mean-- yes you did.
forgetting to be polite
and picking up where we left off,
asking for a time and
feeling broken and lost.
feeling too much,
breaking and burning and drowning,
heavy weight in my stomach,
coming apart at the seams.
asking for help
but in the wrong place,
because nobody here cares
and I'm just losing face.
a bad horror story
because I mess everything up,
couldn't sell a tale to save my life,
but just keep churning it out.
in the wrong place,
because I'm nothing special here,
because I'm nothing special,
trying to be somebody
this world hates heroes,
loves attractive villians,
and nobody reads stories about nobodies.
nothing I can do about it,
always getting in the way,
better just be hands off
let someone else save the day.
having good ideas,
having good follow through,
but being too short in the crowd
taking credit for what I do.
you like pushing me.
you like needling me.
you like trying to hurt me, get me to the edge.
one day, you're going to find out.
you tend to deride me.
you tend to dismiss me.
you tend to underestimate me, devalue me.
one day, you're going to the hospital.
you like pushing me.
you like needling me.
you like stoking my rage.
one day, i'm going to crack.
and then you'll be frightened.
and then you'll be hurt.
and then you'll regret every little thing you did to me.
and i'll regret letting you get away with abusing me for so long.
outside there's shit on the ground,
left stuff turned trash littered around,
pens, markers, papers, masks,
finished with their initial task,
but not useless, not worn through,
not beaten, bedraggled, broken into.
just... one and done and tossed away.
object impermanence here to stay.
fill my pockets with the same shit,
every day carry floats my ship.
same item, same pocket, same every day,
easier to keep when it's put away.
built to last, last a lifetime,
steel, aluminum, hard and fine.
keep it til it breaks apart:
object permanence holds my heart.
things get left and things get lost,
things get forgotten and I know the cost.
I'll pick it up and turn it in--
I hate when things go missing.
but alone I seem to be,
they find it, "it belongs to me,"
when it's shiny, when it's sly,
what they want but wouldn't buy.
never clean the planet without a change
to how you treat the shit you engage.
stop buying pens that last one day!
stop throwing every fucking thing away!
re-education won't do the trick,
"just don't care" won't make it stick.
fine them, bust them, recycle the key.
waste your time on other things.
sometimes things just disappear,
and I feel my heart tear.
tear the world in search of it--
usually found and breathe a bit.
but sometimes it's gone for good,
stolen lifetimes away from should
have had decades with me
because you had no sympathy.
your hell is nothing to fear
because I'm not destined for there,
I've my own place nestled in green
that holds my soul while I dream.
a chapel with my loves inside,
small and cozy and stone and quiet,
a tree engraved in the altar wall
unweathered through time and tell.
unassuming quiet stature,
undemeaning to its nature,
unrepentant in all beliefs,
undemanding what's underneath.
to be the best person I can be
is good enough for the holy tree,
no judgment that you call your chains
will stop it from calling my name.
my life squeezed into squares
everything tracked, nothing spared
building the grid for the 'ware
engineered and impaired
surveyed found and lost
pained and sorted and cost
anything you want to know
tallied from head to toe
small wonder I like labels
when my own life is relegated to tables
silence reigns when monarchs fall,
when the wind turns and evil calls,
when there's on fear held in hand,
and you feel small and bland.
when the Work comes to an end,
when the world stutters and rends,
when the darkness comes to call,
when you must flee or fall,
when you're nothing but a stone in a shoe...
be the best annoyance you can do.
The camp was quiet.
Even in the off-season, there was some noise, some activity, some bustle about the place. But this morning, as the sun rose over the pitched tents, there was hardly a stir, until a shelter swayed and fell. It was hastily stuffed into the back of a car, a couple doors were slammed, followed by a light crunching of gravel as a single car rolled slowly away.
It was like the world let out a breath it didn't know it was holding. The breeze picked up again, spinning dust devils across the long and lonely driveway. The trees sighed and swayed, and the birds took up their songs once more.
One zipper, then two three and more, as people climbed out from their shelters, stumbled and stilted to the amphitheater, like they'd forgotten how to walk. There, along a table, waited the Council of Storytellers.
Primus stood. He didn't have to call for silence, for his audience was still, patient, humbled. They were scared
"It has come to my attention that our canon has some large workings in it, devastating spells that have dire consequences for all of us, not just those performing them. They are not to be used lightly, but they are accessible to anyone, regardless the breadth of their skill or the depth of their well.
"In light of recent events, we have decided not to remove them from the canon. However, there will be increased scrutiny of any who try to use them. On your souls be it."
Primus sat down, and Secondus stood up.
"There will be no retcon. As of four am this morning, you all woke as if from a dream. The prior twenty four hours were a shared nightmare, and you will slowly forget the terrible things that happened. They will fade, as all dreams do, once we wake.
"That is the canon."
Secondus sat down, and Tertius stood.
"It has come to my attention as the Master of Coin that some counterfeits have been floating about. I have begun an inquiry into this matter. I have posted a schedule of interviews to be conducted by party. Bring all your coin to be inspected. Counterfeits will be confiscated and replaced with a writ of funds owed. Any found to be collaborating with the counterfeiters will have their writs invalidated; all others will be paid back when the investigation is concluded.
"These writs will be character bound, you may not trade them as payment. If you are short on funds due to this investigation, bring it to your storyteller to be handled on a case-by-case basis."
Tertius slumped back into his chair. Primus glanced down the line, and Quartus shook her head. Then Primus stood once more.
"Check the schedule for your interviews, we have carefully arranged them to minimize the interruption to your stories, but the investigation is a higher priority. That is all."
People stood as if set free from shackles that weighed them to the earth. There was a sudden outburst of chatter, and then suddenly everyone was talking, the spell broken at long last.
Only I didn't stand, sitting behind the table and the stage, silent, all but blindfolded in the morning sun, listening and waiting. My heart felt heavy, and that meditative retreat suddenly seemed like a very good idea.
when I wake, the tree still stands,
the blood still drips, and open hands
catch like fallen rain and thirsty lips.
the chapel still waits for my time,
promises made, promises mine;
doors watch for death to come.
see the forest and the trees,
see my past overtake me,
sit on the frosty cold steps.
someday, I'll go inside.
see all who I've left behind,
loved, lost, and abandoned.
for all we speak of
of the permanence of the internet,
how nothing gets deleted,
how nothing gets removed;
for all the cloud storage,
for all the servers,
for all the computers,
for all the memory,
for all the history...
for all we speak of permanence,
the one thing you can count on
is that things are always changing.
the only permanence
is found in the spaces we create for ourselves.
"Why are we meeting here?"
"Why not? It's certainly convenient. It's also quiet."
"But it's his brain."
"He doesn't mind."
"But it's his brain."
"Relax. He's not going to butt in, are you?"
"See? Now how awkward would it be to slip up and speak aloud where you are?"
"Uhh, not good."
"Yeah, same for me. But here, no such problem. Now, what was so important that it couldn't wait?"
"What are you doing?"
"But he's recording our conversation!"
"So what? He's got no one to tell, and he's not going to leak it to anybody without risking himself in the process. What's the harm?"
"What's the benefit? Stop it."
"Oh relax. He records everything. That's what he does. Better to do it openly in front of us than to do it after we're gone."
"I don't like it."
"Then I guess whatever you had to say can't be that important."
"No, wait... Dammit. Why did you do that?"
"I collate. That's my thing. Can't collate without data."
"You're an idiot."
"That's not for you to say. Now get out of my head unless you have something productive to tell me."
"Fine. I didn't want to be here anyway."
Yes, cyan is a jerk. That's part of the point. Orange is kind of based on me, if you couldn't guess.
This piece contains material not suitable for all audiences. Consume at your own risk.
tight band across my chest
because what calms me doesn't make any damn sense
when you get home you take it OFF...
but I wear it to bleed my bleeding cost.
cantilevered til you can't breathe,
little bit-a-padding means nothing to me,
I breathe too much every goddamn day...
it's when I stop. ...I feel more sane.
not for the cd, not for the t,
not for anything reason you accuse of me,
not for any reason I can explain...
I. Just. Like. It. Okay?
it's none of your business anyway,
it's not your money, it's not your body, it's not your play,
it's not hurting you or making you less,
just because of a tight band across my chest.
Punctuation matters. The Brits call a "period" a full stop for a reason. Try reading this with more staccato.
fall into your arms when I get home,
wrap my heart in your warmth,
give me the promise that I'm not alone,
and lay beneath the hearth.
hold me tight and remind me
how to breathe in and out,
calm my nerves and anoint me
with hope that will out.
"I asked around, and people seem to agree, if you want something done right, talk to Igni."
"I'll take that as agreement. Secondus came to me about your money problem. Do you know about that? I'll take your silence for confirmation, is that okay? No? Yes? Good. So he's offered me a place at the table so to speak if I make you guys some real coins. I can do that. Coins are pretty easy, and apparently that's part of the problem. I'm not quite sure how to make them hard."
I held out my hand, palm up.
"What? You want me to give you something... sorry, I'm not good at charades."
I rolled my eyes, pulled out a pocket-sized notepad and pencil, and drew six circles on it, before offering it to him.
"Oh, you want to see the coins. No, here, I made a couple." Tertius pulled out a small handful of metal discs from a bag in his pocket. "The art isn't finalized yet, I have a classmate who was also in need of their journeyman's piece, and they're making the stamps. She's more artistic than I am anyway; I got the press and the blanks, she makes the... well, it's not an engraving and it's not a mold but it's sort of something in between. You probably don't need to know the deta--"
I nodded vigorously.
"Oh, you do need the details. Umm, it's probably easiest if you just come to the forge. Here, you hold onto these," he counted one of each denomination into my hand, "please don't lose those. But anything you can think of, let me know, and I'll see if I can find some time when you can come in."
"I don't suppose it's too much to ask if you have any clothes that don't involve billowing cloaks and loose sleeves? Yes? Fine. Just don't come crying to me if you find yourself on fire or anything, okay? Come on in."
I uncrossed my arms and entered through the tall barn door Tertius had to throw his shoulder into to open. He closed it most of the way behind us, as a sharp wintry gust slammed into the smouldering heat of the welding-classroom-turned-forge not unlike a cool hammer on a hot piece of metal. My cloak fluttered in the dueling temperatures but stilled when he led me deeper inside.
"This is Ko. She's handling the imprinting and artsy part." The stout gal leaning over her desk lifted a hand in a wave but didn't look up or stray from her work. Tertius waved his hand. "Yeah, she's like that. Speaks a mile a minute, can't make her shut up. Know anybody like that?" He grinned at me.
I rolled my eyes.
"Okay, moving on before this gets any more awkward... You wanted three denominations. We've got iron, brass, and copper." He gestured at the first of three piles of metal. "The majority of the shop's scraps are iron or an iron alloy, so that's what we're using; they should be paying us to take it off their hands. It's ugly, but we've got the most of it, so it's your lowest denomination."
At the second pile, he explained, "This is brass, second most common scrap. I know it's not silvery-looking, but beggars can't be choosers. Well, they can, but it never works out well for anybody.
He moved on to the third pile. "Copper. Heaviest of the three, so it's your gold stand in. We don't have much, but at a hundred-to-one ratio, hopefully you won't need much. If inflation ever becomes a problem, hopefully by then you'll be able to pay me, and I won't have to be so stingy with the stock.
"I've got the base molds over here," Tertius continued, "Still waiting on the designs for the faces, but you can't rush an artist. Well, you can, but I don't recommend it. They're all going to be pretty close to the same size, though iron is going to be thicker with a smaller diameter, copper is going to be thinner with a larger diameter, brass somewhere in the middle on both. Hopefully it's enough of a difference that you can tell the coins by feel as much as anything else." He turned and looked at me. "Any questions so far? No? Okay, then it's Ko's turn."
We turned in her direction and she didn't look up.
I put a hand on his shoulder, and then patted it when he stopped talking. I walked over to her station, alone, and glanced over her work without leering over her shoulders. She had printouts pinned up of ancient coins--mostly Roman, some that might have been Chinese, a few others that I couldn't guess at--alongside modern anti-forgery techniques.
She glanced up at me, met my eyes for a moment, before looking back at her work. Eventually, she pushed back from the desk, rolling her chair several feet away, and stretched.
I took the space she'd vacated, leaning over her station with my hands and the folds of my cloak tucked securely behind my back, eying the designs carefully.
When I turned around again, she was watching me carefully. I nodded. Ko smiled, grabbed a handful of molds and set them on her desk.
"So we're good then?" Tertius approached to the edge of his work area, but came no closer.
Ko flicked him a thumbs up, grabbed a nearby water bottle, and strode to the door, muscling it open with relative ease.
"What did you do?"
"What I had to..."
-I startled into wakefulness. An unfamiliar tent stretched over me. It smelled wrong, felt wrong. Where were my pockets and gear? Why did I... oh. Right. Ody.
"Good, you're awake."
I turned my head slowly. Panna sat outside her tent on a log dragged in from somewhere. She was eating something that looked warm and smelled good. My stomach grumbled and a smile slipped out from a hidden side, showing on her face for a brief moment before being locked away again.
Tatters of the dream still echoed in my head.
"What did you do?"
"What I had to..."
I stared at her for a long moment. She said something... something I missed, and it took me several moments to dredge it up.
"Do you want some food?"
I crawled out of the tent. There was a large jug of water just outside, and I poured some into my canteen, sloshed it around with the dregs and dumped it, before filling it once more and taking a long swallow. A narrow tube sewn down one of my sleeves held some powder, and I squeezed it into the canteen, shook the contents, and drank slowly.
Panna made a face. "Do you want some real food?"
I shook my head.
"Secondus needs to speak with you."
"It didn't sound optional. I think that's him."
A figure had detached itself from the main camp and was making its way towards us. A second spotted the movement and started to follow. It seemed they had a small argument, which the first one lost. Together they continued. As they drew closer, I recognized Secondus and Tertius.
"What did you do?"
"What I had to..."
"Panna, can you excuse us please?"
She glared at the three of us, nodded to Secondus, picked up the last bit of her meal and walked away. Over her shoulder she shouted, "Don't burn down my tent."
Tertius giggled, until Secondus gave him a stern look. "Sec, I know you have pressing matters to discuss, but before you scare anyone off, can I just say... Igni, you were right, we do have a problem, and it's bigger than just Ody. If there's anything left after Sec is done with you, I'd like your help dealing with it." He turned to Secondus, "Okay, that's it, I'm out, he's all yours." Tertius turned and started back towards camp.
"What did you do?"
"What I had to..."
"Are you listening to me?"
"Dammit Callidus! You cannot flake out on me! We need you. --I'd hoped after your release last night, you were going to go out and meditate somewhere, or take off early, not... What was that about?"
"Check your books."
"You are so far outside... I think you got lost somewhere, Cal. We might have to retcon the season, did you know that?"
"Really? What expert opinion do you have that a dozen storytellers, Primus, me, and Quartus couldn't come up with? Go on, Cal, tell me. What did you do?"
"What did you do?"
"What did you do?"
"What did you do?"
"What did you do?"
"What did you do?"
"What did you do?"
"I did what I had to do."
"It's called a Reckoning."
"It's in the canon. And when it's done, you'll have your game back. It has a built in reset."
Secondus froze. "When?"
"After the fire. Twenty-four hours."
"What's the cost?"
"You--" He paused as realization dawned. "It's Ody. You need me to give you Ody."
"I don't need you to give me anything. I will take him. He's already mine, he just doesn't know it yet."
"I-- Cal-- please tell me you're not actually going to kill him."
"I'll do what I have to do. If he cooperates, if he plays his part, then he can walk out of here tomorrow morning, banishment intact. If he doesn't... I can't make any promises."
"How long is the recovery period?"
"Why? Are you planning on letting him back in?"
"No, just... curious. If it ever happens again."
"Pray it never happens again."
"But how long?"
"Never. There's no coming back from this one. They get trapped inside the time loop so everyone else can get out. Delete one person to save them all."
"And if you fail, there's no peace for any of us."
"No, it's worse. Until the price is paid, nobody gets out. A retcon is a battering ram. The soul is a key. All you'll do is make the door harder to open."
"--Shit, Cal. That's a nasty piece of work. Who wrote that into the canon?"
"I think it was unintentionally grandfathered in when whoever wrote it borrowed rules from something else. It predates me. Probably your first storyteller."
"That would be Primus. And he didn't even know. --Wait, how much gets reset?"
"Everything. Even their memory. Only Ody and I remember it; for the rest, it's like these twenty-four hours were just a bad dream. For him, it's the rest of eternity and yesterday was the dream."
"There won't be a next time."
"Next time you do a major working, any major working, just give me a heads up, please?"
I heard voices as I slept.
"Panna, I need to speak to him."
"He's asleep, Secondus."
"Dammit. Why are you protecting him?"
"He contracted my services."
"How much is he paying you?"
"It's not about the money. You know better than that."
Secondus grumbled under his breath.
"For all that you have praised him, what has you in a fit?"
"Were you in the woods last night? After the fire?"
"No. I moved my gear and went to sleep. Why?"
Secondus winced. "He... there aren't words for it. He feasted is probably the best way to say it. I don't know what he did or how he justified it, but he was less wisp and more reaper. The game is in tatters. Everybody has been set back to at least the beginning of the season, if not further. It's going to take weeks to untangle this mess, if we even can. We just might have to--"
"Don't... don't say it..."
"You can't stop it Panna. Something has to be salvaged. A retcon might be the only option."
"What about Ody?"
"He didn't touch Ody. Crazy, but of everybody who's here, Ody is in the best shape as far as player characters go. He's been under close watch, but he seems... like he's given up, like he knows what's coming. I don't even know what's coming."
"Has anybody been in the forest since sunrise?"
"I don't think so. Why?"
Panna glanced back at the tent. "You probably shouldn't let anybody out of the campground until he wakes. You know him. Would he do anything for no reason?"
Secondus fell quiet for a long time. "I'll see what I can do."
I stirred, half waking like I'd forgotten something, before shifting to another position and drifting off once more.
"But he's only human!"
"Are you sure?"
"I know he plays as a wisp, but he is just human underneath, even if he never breaks character."
"If you're so sure, you go tell him that." The speaker shoved the other in front of him, and out of the shadows.
Silence fell, and nothing happened for several long moments, before the murky glow of a lantern pierced the darkness.
"Please, please, please..."
A quiet voice reached out. It didn't care for your begging. It didn't care for your gold. It only thirsted for your soul.
Igni ran a broadside on the night, and all the stories came crashing down. The players quaked in their boots, the NPCs shied away from the tide, and the storytellers found themselves lost. It was a Reckoning.
When the night grew darkest and the sun threatened to rise, the woods were nearly empty. Even the few with no souls to be stolen fled the forest. Only then did that consuming fire build his altar, from the sweat and tears and workings of all he had feasted upon.
One more soul was needed.
One soul to be sacrificed upon the altar, and that soul would find no peace, here or hereafter, when the rite was complete.
Igni licked his lips and whispered one name to the silence, claiming the soul from the night.
"Okay," she nodded reluctantly. "What do you need me to do?"
"First, you're going to move your tent."
"And put it where? ...No, no, I can't--"
"One, I'm not asking, and two, don't put it directly on the pile of ash, just nearby. On the other side of the tree is close enough."
"You want me to declare my allegiance. To you."
"Is that going to be a problem?" I scowled.
"Not for me. I can't speak for anybody else."
"They saw how I handled Ody. Nobody is crossing me anytime soon."
"But what if they do?"
I said nothing, just stared at her.
"Can I wait until light?"
"No. It needs to be done by daybreak. No later."
"I know you got an exemption, but I still have stories to partake in."
"Then you'd better not waste any more time."
She huffed, rolled her eyes, and the started walking back towards camp.
Tertius flinched when he saw me sitting in his tent. "Shit. When-- How-- What do you want?"
"You have a problem."
"You mean other than people with surprisingly good hand-to-hand combat skills sneaking into my tent?"
I said nothing, just waited.
"If it were anybody else, I wouldn't be so forgiving." He ran a hand through his hair, still waking up. "Fine, Igni, what's my problem?"
I flicked a coin at him.
He stared at it in the dim light of the rising sun for a few moments, then grabbed a nearby flashlight and looked closer.
I stood and started climbing out of his tent.
"Where did this come from?" he called after me.
"Ask Ody," I grunted, and then was gone.
I heard him start a swearing tirade as I walked away.
Panna was dozing in her tent when I opened it up, though she bolted upright when she heard the zipper opening. "What are you doing?"
"Wisp, remember? Sunlight bad."
"Wait, you... no, you can't sleep in here."
I raised my eyebrows and she threw up her arms.
"Fine, fine, go ahead." Under her breath she added, "I'm going to regret this. Probably would have been better just to go down with Ody."
I laid back on the floor of her tent, pulling my cloak tighter around me and the hood lower over my eyes. "Probably."
"What, were you expecting to get paid in real gold?"
"No, but I wasn't expecting poorly cut circles of cardboard either."
"Fine, I'll take them back."
"Go ahead. If you keep trying to distribute something that pathetic, inflation is the least of your worries."
"What do you mean?"
"I could counterfeit these so easily, and not even you would be able to tell the difference."
"Okay, you do better."
"What's the budget?"
"We'll call you Tercius, you'll be third in command when we take off, and you can play for free if you want to play," Secondus offered, shivering in the wintry air outside the local college welding studio.
"And all you need is for me to make a few fake coins?"
"It's a little more complicated than that. We need a minting, something that's at least a little challenging to counterfeit."
"What's the budget?"
Secondus said nothing.
"Seriously? I thought you were being serious about this whole thing."
"I am. We are. We just don't have any money yet. Once we start bringing in players--"
"You don't even have any players yet?"
"We have a couple of players, just one party so far, but the applications are coming in. We have them, we have the interest, we just don't have the management to handle them yet."
"So you want to buy me off with an honorary chair-like position."
"Just for now. When the money starts coming in, then you'll get your cut, with backpay."
"Don't push your luck."
"Fine, fine. It sounds like an interesting idea anyway. If it's intricate enough work, I might be able to pass it off as my journeyman project. What exactly are you looking for?"
"Gold, silver, and bronze."
Tercius threw back his head and roared.
"Oh, stop it. That's just what we call the coins. Nobody's expecting them to actually be gold, silver, or bronze."
"Really. Can you imagine tromping around the woods with a pretend bag of money that's worth actual money in the real world? People would play our game just to pawn off our fake money. We're not that stupid."
"So three denominations."
"Pretty much. Each converted at a hundred to one."
"Is there anything else you want? Your face on one side?"
"Please, no. We just need the denominations clear, made difficult to counterfeit, and not worth enough to pawn outside the game."
"You'll owe me big for this."
"I'm regretting it already."
Nobody tried to get me off Ody. I growled at anyone who came too close, until Secondus knelt beside me and shook my shoulder. He helped me stand while Primus and Tertius picked up Ody and escorted him away.
The remaining storytellers shooed the gathered crowd of players and NPCs back to their campsites.
"What are you going to do?" Secondus asked, when we were finally alone.
"Finish what I started. Go back to bed."
"Do you need to borrow a tent?"
"No. All I need is to be released from my story."
"It's done. ...What are you going to do?"
"You don't want to know."
He patted my shoulder. "You know where to find me if there's anything I can do." Secondus turned from the ashes and headed back to camp.
I stared at what remained a few minutes longer, before heading back into the woods.
Panna was more or less where I'd left her, though she shuddered as I approached. "I didn't know, I'm sorry I didn't know."
"What did you know?"
"He was angry and wanted me to follow you and make sure you make it back to your tent. I didn't know he was going to burn down your stuff."
"And me inside it."
"I didn't know," she cried.
"What did he pay you?"
"The purse you already took from me, plus another one just like it after he was done with whatever he was doing."
"That's all he told me."
"What didn't he tell you?"
She was quiet for a long minute, tears streaming down her face. "I can't."
I sighed. "Turn on your light."
Panna flicked on a small flashlight and I poured the contents of the purse into my hand, examined them, before putting them back.
"These are counterfeit. They're not game currency."
"How do you know?"
I glared at her. "Turn off the light."
"How do you know they're not real?"
"Because I know who minted the real ones. --You're going to owe me."
"What? But that's all I got--"
"I don't care. You're going to work for me to pay off every coin you thought you were going to earn for setting me up, and I'm not paying Ody's rates either."
"That's not fair."
"Would you rather I turn you in as a co-conspirator? You'll never play here again. Ody is done, he won't play anywhere once this gets out; do you want to risk the same? Do you want a lifetime ban too?"
She stifled her objections, her sobbing, and merely shook her head.
"Do you have any reason to believe I am less than honorable to the game or my ethics?"
She shook her head again.
"Then this is just. You know the cost. It's your choice."
She held her tongue, thinking. "Can I have the counterfeit coins back?"
"Not a chance."
"Okay," she nodded reluctantly. "What do you need me to do?"
I locked eyes with Panna and scowled.
She shrugged and then nodded.
I threw my shoulder into her chest again and fumbled around her waist while she gasped for air, cutting away her coin purse where I found it. I hefted it; fairly full, but probably not all she had on her.
"If you move from this spot, money is the least of your worries." I pulled my shoulder away, and though she tensed up, she didn't move.
"What are you going to do?"
"Quiet. If you say a word, warn him, or are not exactly here when I get back, there will be hell to pay. And hell doesn't take this paltry currency."
She balked, nodded, and rubbed her chest where I'd hit her twice now.
I stepped back onto the path and followed Ody.
He crouched a few feet from my tent, watching and listening. After a few minutes, he unclasped a bottle from his belt, unscrewed the lid, and started splashing the contents around my tent. As a crept closer, I got a whiff of gasoline, and barely managed to keep myself from gagging on the smell.
Carefully pulling a length of rope from my cloak, I circled around my tent in the other direction, waiting for the right moment to present itself, but it didn't come until he'd finished his circuit, tossed the bottle aside, and pulled out a lighter.
While he stared into the tiny flame springing to life in his hands, I threw the rope over his head and garrotted it around his neck.
He dropped the lighter.
Ody's fingers scrambled at the rope as I tightened it, but he did more damage to himself than any prevention of the rope. I pulled him backwards, dropping us both to the ground while I scrambled to take control without doing any lasting harm. I didn't have a moment to spare to watch the gasoline catch, but as the fire danced in his eyes I succeeded in pinning him, stomach down, one hand wrenched behind his back, and his neck twisted inside a headlock.
And there I held him as we watched my tent burn to the ground.
"You can call me Panna. Mercenary and vanilla mortal at your service" She swept her arms in a flourishing bow.
I quirked an eyebrow at her.
"Oh, don't give me that look. I'm not like Ody. I see what's in front of me and make up my own mind. He needed my eyes and had the money to pay for them." She put her hands on her hips. "That's what us mercs do. If you have a need and you're willing to pay for it, I'm in; and if you're nice about it or let me have some fun, I might cut you a discount. --Ody is a jerk. He only gets what he asks for and not a second more, and pays a premium for it too."
I shrugged and kept walking.
"Wait, where are you going? Camp is back that way." She twitched her head down a fork that I'd passed, but kept walking with me.
When we finally came out of the trees, it was quiet and dark. Panna looked around for a minute, catching her bearings when she spotted the firelight from the campground, and it was a decent walk away.
"Woah, you camp over here? That's... kinda hardcore. I confess, I'm jealous I didn't think of that. Is this even allowed?"
I shrugged again.
"Do you mind if I brought my gear over here? It's so nice and peaceful."
I stopped and turned to her with a scowl. Panna took a few steps backward and found herself against a tree, unable to retreat from my growl any further.
"Sorry, sorry. I guess you just want to be left alone."
"You don't want to be left alone? Look, I'm sorry for whatever I said that offended you. I understand you don't like to talk much, but can you talk to me?"
I glanced furtively around and grabbed the front of her tunic, dragging us back into the shadows of the trees. Before she could do more than open her mouth to object, I covered it with my other hand, put my lips to one of her ears, and in my softest voice whispered "Listen."
Panna stopped struggling against me and I removed my hands.
I closed my eyes and put all my effort into listening. There was a snapping of branches behind us, deeper into the trees, and a light swayed down the path toward us. She jerked in surprise, but I pinned her chest with my shoulder. Whoever it was... they were more likely to see us if we tried to move further off the path than if we stayed put, stayed still.
"Are you sure they came down this way?"
"Nowhere else they could have gone. Brush is too dense around here to leave the trail. And his tent is out there. I checked on that this morning. He always camps away from everyone else."
"If you're wrong--"
"Well, let's just hope Panna did her job."
"If she didn't, it's going to cost her more than money."
They walked right past us, almost near enough to touch.
"Where are they?"
"Probably in the tent."
"Why not? Panna's a creative gal. She's good at taking incentive to get a job done right."
"Whatever. Look, you did your part, now scram."
"Where's my payment?"
"You get the other half when it's done. It's not done yet. Better hope your little merc has as much sense as incentive. Time to see if Igni can stand some real fire."
"What? Man, I think you're taking this a little far..."
"Then it's a good thing I don't pay you to think. Get out of here. Hurry up!"
The tracker bolted for the main campsite while Ody looked up at the clear sky and flicked off his flashlight.