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May 23, 2017

Flash fiction challenge – X vs Z redux

Filed under: flash fiction challenge — Tags: , — Eva Therese @ 8:12 pm

Flash fiction challenge as always courtesy of the great bearded sage, Chuck Wendig. I rolled the RNG and got Demons vs Fairies. I wanted to make it a kind of cold war spy games story with some banter, but it took about six seconds for it to turn sombre.

 

Youna made her way through the park, a spring in her step and a lightness in her chest. Living in the city, with all its iron and steel meant that she was always exhausted, always hurting. Being in the park gave her a respite, softened the pain to a dull ache.

Quintin was waiting for her on a bench by the pond, surrounded by hopeful ducks. He turned to look at her even though he couldn’t have heard her approach. He had one eye missing, covered by an eyepatch. Since he should have been able to heal any injury not instantly fatal, the missing eye had to be a punishment of some sort. Youna had never asked.

His gaze was steady but weary as if he was expecting a trap; she knew she looked at him the same way. But, while one of them would doubtlessly betray the other one someday, today, as the saying goes, was not that day.

 

Quintin scooted over to make room for Youna as she sat down next to him on the bench. She looked thin and pale and washed-out, having no Glamour to spare on her looks, except what was strictly needed to make her look human enough to blend in. None of the faes living in the city had that kind of power anymore, most of it was spent simply on keeping themselves upright and what little was left was needed elsewhere. The ones still in the Courts might have, but only because they never came to the real world anymore. Instead, they sent faes like Youna to fight a losing battle against demons like Quintin. In that way, he mused, they were very much like the demon princes, sitting on their thrones in Hell, making grand plans and leaving others to carry them out or to deal with the fallout when they went wrong.

You’re staring,” Youna interrupted his train of thoughts.

You look awful,” he said, bluntly.

Her face fell. “I actually felt good going into the park. No. Not good.” She shook her head. “But not quite as bad.”

How long have you been living here?”

Eighty years, I think. It all kind of blurs together.”

You shouldn’t stay for that long. It’s not good for you.”

She shrugged. An extremely eloquent gesture, which conveyed all she had to say on the subject, which could be boiled down to ‘I don’t get to decide’.

 

Quintin’s expression of concern made her uncomfortable much more than his remark about her looks. She looked down at her feet, dragging the toes of her sandals through the grass.

I understand,” he said.

In a way, he did. He was also just a grunt sent out to fight a battle on behalf of a master he had probably never even seen and certainly never met in any meaningful sense of the word. That was what had started their tentative friendship decades ago, the feeling they both had, that they were closer to the soldier standing in front of them, than to the distant generals.

And in a way, he didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, because his side was winning. At least it was winning against her side. The battle against the angels was locked in something of a standstill and there might come a day when he would understand perfectly what she felt. But today was not that day.

I just wish that I could do something to help you.”

Youna sat frozen for a moment, then turned her head sharply to look at him. “No!” she said. “No favours given or owed. No bargains.”

He nodded, didn’t try to argue. He knew what a bargain meant to a fae and why she would rather suffer than let something like that come between them.

She looked down at her feet again. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to snap.”

It’s alright. Should have thought that one through.” He looked thoughtful. “We should have been allies, you know. I don’t mean us two, but the faes and the demons. We have no real conflict of interest since we only want the souls of humans and you only want to toy with them while they are alive. And we could have used your help against the angels, instead of squandering our resources fighting you.”

We have too much in common,” replied Youna. “Like arrogance.”

Quintin nodded. “Pigheadedness.”

And we take ourselves way, way too seriously.”

 

The tense moment past, they sat in comfortable silence. When Quintin looked at Youna again, she had closed her eyes and was soaking in the sunlight. She looked as content as he had ever seen her, as she was ever likely to look. She also looked so ill. If she felt better in the park, he didn’t want to think about how she looked in the city. He thought about it anyway. The name ‘the fair folk’ seemed like a joke and a tasteless one at that.

She was wasting away. She needed to go back to the undying lands or at the very least into the woodlands and even then it might be too late. But the kings and queens of the different courts would never allow her to retreat from the lost battle.

Youna was dying. The thought made his chest tighten. He’d give her a couple more years and then she’d simply dissolve into mist and float away on the breeze. Unless she had been hunted down by some of the more zealous demons who took it upon themselves to pick off the few remaining faes. He toyed with the idea of sending one of them after her, end her suffering now, but he couldn’t be sure that the demon wouldn’t try to capture and interrogate her. No, if he wanted to give her a quick end, he would have to do it himself. He looked at her intently; she was half-dozing relaxed and unprepared right next to him. It would be easy. If he did it fast enough and precisely enough, she wouldn’t even know what he had done

But today was not that day.

Youna opened her eyes. “It’s too late for us,” she said. “But maybe not too late for you.”

I’m not following?”

It’s to the late for the fae. We’re all either in exile or we’ll be dead before long, one way or another.”

Quintin felt a stab of guilt as if she had somehow read his mind, but she continued without looking at him.

But you don’t have to make the same mistake with the angels. Don’t eradicate another race or let yourselves be eradicated. Make peace with them.”

This suggestion was so outrageous that for a moment Quintin just sat there, before finally answering. “That’s … impossible. We’ve been at war for thousands of years. Besides, I’m a lowly soldier, what can I even do?”

You have time on your side. And if someone centuries ago had told me to strive for peace, who knows where I would have ended up? Besides, I have something for you.”

She took his hand.

Quentin tried to pull it back, but the grip of her small, frail hand was suddenly as powerful of the iron that was poisoning her.

No gifts,” he whispered. “Not favours owed.” He looked into her eyes as she placed something in his palm, pleading with her to take it back.

Oh, but that’s the beauty of it. You can’t owe favours to a dead fae.” She smiled and then, as he watched, she melted away like a mirage, leaving only her clothes on the park bench next to him. For a moment he was too stunned to do anything, then he looked down. A ball of soft greenish light laid safely cupped in his hand. The last of her Glamour. There wasn’t a lot, but more than he would have guessed she had as a last reserve. Not a lot, but enough to make a difference if he spent it carefully. He knew that the sensible thing to do would be to ignore her wish and just use the Glamour to get ahead. It wasn’t like he couldn’t use the edge it would give him in the cutthroat world that was the demon hierarchy. And yet… And yet… He put the little ball of light in his pocket. He would have to decide how to use it, but he didn’t have to decide right now. Not today.

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