V.O.C. of the People

Fire and Fear

“And the guy says ‘no offense, sir, but if 13 doesn’t get the taste out of my mouth, nothing will!’”

The group erupted in raucous laughter as Kemal gleefully surveyed the effect his joke had on the others. He was the newest citizen of the Town — having only arrived a few weeks prior — and it was nice to have gained so much acceptance so quickly.

A gentle silence fell across the group as the laughter died down and digestion took over. They’d just finished another of Mom’s delectable dinners, and were taking their once-daily chance to enjoy each other’s company. Malika did a good job of making sure everyone pulled their weight around the Town, but part of that meant not everyone got to sleep at the same time. Dinner was usually the only chance they got in a day to interact with everyone at once.

The silence went on for quite some time, until a soft “pop” sounded from the fire between them, and reminded everyone how long it had been. A few adjusted their seats, each searching themselves for the next conversation starter. Kemal was about to start another comical anecdote when a soft voice raised from across the fire.

“I was buying groceries,” Jenivive cooed gently. “Cheese, potatoes, leeks, and I still needed to go to the baker’s for some bread. Bastard walked right up, slapped irons on me wrist, and tossed me in a wagon.” She paused for only a moment, and took in a breath. “Didn’t even have time to call to me Gad, ‘fore I was whisked away. Bet it’s still there, stupid machine, rustin’ away in the streets of Dublin.”

Jenivive looked around to find everyone was staring at her. She didn’t mean to call for their attention, and she didn’t know why that was the story that popped into her head, but she’d never really been the best at impulse control. As their gazes all burned into her now, she recoiled slightly, not knowing how to follow it up. She could feel tears welling up in her good eye, and a sob building, as her thoughts drifted back home, and how dearly she missed it.

But before they could come out in front of everyone, Malika came to the rescue.

“I was in the middle of an assembly. I was proposing a budget increase for roads.” She let her gaze fall to the ground. “Doors swung open, and in walked Ju-Long, like he owned the damn place. He uh…” She paused, letting out a small chuckle. “I said I’d go quiet if he let me finish my proposal. He didn’t see fit to give me that kindness.”

“So you pissed and moaned?” Sergei called out, almost more statement than question.

Malika met his eyes, and responded through a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I gave them hell alright. One of his men is short an eye because of that day.”

“That’s my girl,” Sergei muttered, dipping his face down for a drink. The rest of the group just laughed, reveling in the mutual catharsis of causing their jailer even a modicum of pain. Jenivive giggled especially hard, grateful for the change of pace.

“Coward take me in middle of night,” Sergei offered up, after the snickering calmed down.

“Lord have mercy,” Mom whispered, barely audible. The others let their disgust show as well, as Sergei continued.

“He probably know I see him coming mile away. Take route of scaredy-cat instead of facing me. I was…” He sniffed and coughed a little, making an effort to disguise his pain. “I was in bed with wife, daughter one room over. I wake to see my krasivaya Zenia with gag, tied at wrist. Man say I struggle, she die. So I not struggle.” He ran a ragged sleeve across his eyes. “I ever get in range of that sobaka ublyudok, I put bullet in brain.”

“Not if I get him first, Sergei,” Sunita chimed out, amid nods of agreement. “Caught me crossing the border into India. Promised he’d send my son to the orphanage, but…” Kemal reached over and rubbed Sunita’s back as she struggled to hold in her tears. No one needed Sunita to finish to understand her fear.

“Kemal,” Malika chimed, trying to pull eyes off Sunita. “How about you?”

Kemal leaned back a bit, drawing in a breath through his nose. “Swiss Guard wasn’t too pleased when they found out about my… you know.” He made an ‘empty’ gesture with his hands, to which the others nodded. “The church was in the middle of trying to decide what to do with me when Ju-Long showed up. Offered to make me go away.” He shrugged. “I suppose they said yes.”

“It’s a damn inquisition, it is,” Jenivive complained. “Not even the Pope’s men are safe any more.” The group shook their heads in sorrowful affirmation.

“Armed robbery,” cried a soft voice, as everyone turned to investigate.

“I was in prison for armed robbery. Six years in, when he showed up.” Mom cleared her throat with a handkerchief, long since stained beyond recognition. “He offered to—is something funny, Sergei?”

She turned a frustrated head to Sergei, who was giggling like a child. After a moment, he collected himself. “I’m sorry, I just have hard time seeing you knock over bank with pistol.”

The group chuckled as they turned to hear Mom’s response. “Well I’ll have you know that’s not what happened,” she responded. Smirking, she said “I had a rifle.”

The campfire exploded in laughter as Mom allowed a smile of pride to creep across her face. Acceptance in the Town, she realized in that moment, wasn’t something she earned from her deeds; it was given to her, the moment she landed, like parents accepting a new child. The smile deepened, as she let her shoulders relax a little.

Slowly, the laughter died down, until the only sounds were from Jenivive wiping away tears of joy. For a long moment, they all sat there, enjoying the gentle silence and each others’ quiet company.

“They were going to kill Leon,” the voice rang out from the edge of the circle. Everyone adjusted and turned, straining to see the face in the twilight. “They were gonna burn him at the stake.” From the darkness, Nadiya stepped forward, her eyes fixed on the fire. “But I’d heard about the Dark Hunter. The Chinaman who took witches and Strangers away in the night, made them disappear. So, I grabbed Leon, and we ran.”

“Child…” Kemal whispered, to no one in particular.

Nadiya turned her gaze to him. “Don’t ‘child’ me. I wasn’t going to let them kill my brother. But I wasn’t about to kill my family and friends to keep him safe, either.” She turned back to the fire. “When we got to Barcelona, I raised some alarms. Killed some animals at night, made sure to leave a mess. Let some drunks get too friendly in public, then made an example of them in front of the guards.” Mom put a hand to her mouth in shock. “Leon and I were both under lock and key almost right away, and Ju-Long didn’t take his time. We were here two months later.”

Tension hung over the fire like a blanket, everyone too concerned or too terrified to risk being the first one to make a sound. Nadiya finally snapped out of her trance, and looked around. “We’re safe here, now. And we actually have friends here.” Something resembling a smile crawled across her face, but no one drew any comfort from it. “Anyway, I should get back to patrolling. The Hounds are out tonight.” She turned on her heel, and slunk back into the darkness from which she emerged.

Kemal, once he was confident that she was gone, let out an exaggerated sigh, eyes as wide as dinner plates. Immediately, a half-dozen sets of eyes turned sour on him.

“You’re new, so this only warning,” Sergei said, walking up to Kemal. “Nadiya kill to keep you safe. You think she creepy, she weird? We all weird here.” He stormed past Kemal, being sure to place a firm hand on his shoulder as he passed.

Malika met Kemal’s gaze, expressionless. “Thanks for the stories, everyone,” she said to the gorup. “Let’s clean up.”

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Cross Way
The Whispering Door

Avi. Avinnia swore she heard someone whisper to her. Avi. It was there again, she was sure of it. Her one gold and one blue eyes turned to look at her companions. They were speaking but not to her. Farrah was upset. Everyone seemed tense. She did not understand the reason. Avi. Who was the voice? It belonged to none of those around her and only she seemed to hear it. She turned her head to look at the door once more, her, blue and gold, layered hair flipping to and fro behind her.

Farrah’s voice began to fade into the distance, they were moving away, but it was to quick for her. There was an importance to this spot. She felt something but she could not place what it was. She stepped up to the door, no one left there to stop her, as none of her new companions had taken note of her remaining.

She looked around, in silence, looking for the source of the voice. Had no one else heard it? Was it the island, beginning to drive her mad, as it had others? No. Whatever it was, it had to do with the cross way. Avinnia leaned her head towards the door and rested her ear against it. It felt cold. Very cold, almost like ice pressed against the blushing warmth of her skin.

Avi. Avi. Avi. Her name throbbed in her brain but the voice was not her own. Someone was calling to her though there was no one to find.

She stepped away from the door, more confused than when she had arrive on Christmas Island. They would notice she was gone soon. At least, Farrah would, and she thought of how she should return to her friend. As she turned away, she had to fight the desire, the need to stay. As she finally convinced her blue skinned legs to move she began to realize the feeling the door was giving to her. Whoever or whatever was calling to her from beyond that door, was making her feel an emotion she had never known. She had always wanted freedom and to be accepted into a family, ever since her own family imprisoned her and turned against her. However, she had never known that there could be a feeling of belonging even stronger than that.

One last whisper flicked at her slightly pointed, slightly inhuman ears. She shut her eyes and pressed forward. She would have to investigate this further but first, she needed to understand what a cross way was. Even more so, why Farrah was so afraid of it.

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Dream Bugs

Farrah couldn’t sleep well, because of the dreams. They troubled her now that she could feel him watching her, waiting for her to give up. That piglicking door. No one would listen to her about how dangerous it was, but Farrah couldn’t blame them. They had no idea that every single mortal was in danger from that world, and the capricious creatures in it. And she couldn’t explain without fully exposing what a damnably precarious position she was in. Her pride wouldn’t allow it. Even contemplating it made her want to spit like a feral cat.

The dreams troubled her because he was near, but also because of the tree. Farrah wasn’t worried about the height or the discomfort – Avinnia was so careful with her human needs that both had faded the first night. Farrah trusted Avinnia, despite the logical part of her mind that recognized any magical being as a threat. No, the tree simply reminded her of bugs.

When she was little, Farrah would often play in her mother’s silk gardens. Winding rows of spindly trees and bushes played roost for countless silk worms. It was warm and dry, with dappled patterns of light from the high windows on the paths. Farrah liked laying under the slowly wafting strands of keba (that would later make the prized silk thread for weaving), puffing them into new spirals with her breath. Or letting the fat worms crawl over her fingers. What she didn’t like were the adult moths with their heavy abdomens and foul brown secretion. That’s what mother called it when a female sprayed liquid to let the males know she could mate. It smelled bad, and would’t wash off for days, even if you used the special scented oils reserved for marriageable girls.

Farrah dreamed now, many different dreams but all the same. The rustling leaves of the tree became wingbeats, frantic but soft. She could sometimes feel those wings brush against her face or feet and she would wake biting her tongue. Other times the wings sprouted from her own back in an itchy mess, and she struggled to fly away with her too-swollen belly. The phantom smell of mulberry leaves made her ravenous. A pale worm burst between her rough fingers. A male stomped and fluttered, trying to mount her. The dreams tortured Farrah, and each time she woke she pined for a home that was lost.

As the stars were overwhelmed by growing light, Farrah had to resign herself to the lack of clear answers. Avinnia was worried over her, again, and would ask more unanswerable questions come dawn. The door would exist, and perhaps open. He would follow her even if she ran. But perhaps there was a thread somewhere she could twist, spin, and diligently weave into something useful. Perhaps, if she was clever and strong and vigilant the world would bless her with more options. Farrah set her mouth in a firm smile and drew the folds of her robes closer around her. What would be, would be.

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Music, Alcohol, and Smuggling
Avi Wants to be a Smuggler

Avi stared down at the mug of alcohol, that sat on the table, in front of her. She had never drank before. She had never tasted alcohol before. Even if she had been a normal girl, her parents never would have allowed such a thing. Her parents were not there, she knew that, but she was there because of them. At least in some way it was their fault. The thought of her parents made her stomach lurch with emotions she did not want to feel again. Anger, heartbreak, loneliness.

One of her flock dipped their beak into her mug. She was not alone now. These people she as with, though all drawn together by their kidnapping and imprisonment, they were kind to her. They were including her. The two she was with lifted their mugs in a ritual she was not aware of. She focused on her own and it lifted up and clanged against theirs. They then drank and she proceeded to follow what they did.

It was foul tasting but she did not want this moment of being included to end. So, she drank. Her entire mug. It made her feel odd, warm inside and dizzy in the head, but the emotions that had come before she drank were fading. She liked that. Another drink was set in front of her and she began to down it. All thoughts of her past disappeared like the foul liquid.

Philip was beginning to sing at this point, a song that he called a sea shanty. She felt an urge to join in. She listened for a while, the words repeating and easy enough to remember even with the effects of what she had drank. She began to sing and with some encouragement her flock of birds began to chirp with them. Only Little Tip managed to catch onto some of the words.

At some point, after an unknown number of drinks, they moved on from sea shanties. Philip was now teaching her about his smuggling business. She loved everything about it. Living on a ship, always having a home to go back to, and she could perch somewhere high. She would be with people who accepted her. These people. She was growing fond of Philip, like she had Farrah. They could be the family she craved.

As the night went on, her interest in what Philip was saying only grew. When they began to sing sea shanties again, she grew tired. The urge to find somewhere high to sleep was only natural after sleeping in the tree for so long. She moved up to the rafters of the bar. Yes, this was the perfect place to sleep for the night. When she would wake in the morning, she would have a new goal, she would do what she could to prove herself worthy of being Philip’s, what the books she had read called, first mate.

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Gifts and Gossip

My Dearest Josephine,

I hope this letter finds you well; It has been quite some time since our last correspondence, and I do so rarely get news from your part of the world. Please, do send my warmest regards to your family.

Enclosed is something I think will be of interest to you — a recent acquisition of mine. The man I bought it from said he’d extracted it from a plant native to your region. I wasn’t able to determine much about it other than its obvious Weird properties, and figured it would be of better use in your hands. If you like it, consider it yours. I ask only that, should you find your colleagues wishing for some of their own, you give them my name.

Please do share how life in the West Indies has been for you. Life here upon the Black Sea can be so quiet, and with so few merchants passing through these days, it is so rare I get news from the more adventurous parts of the world.

May you always be in good health,
Saïd ibn-Nasir


Saïd,

It warms my heart to see word from such an old friend. It has indeed been too long since we have shared, and longer still since I have heard your famous belly laugh. It would give me joy to hear from you more often than just for business, though, should you find time in your busy day to send my way.

Times in Batavia are good. Summer will be starting soon. I have always been fond of the warmer months, though I fear being so far from dry air is bad for my health. I have developed a cough in recent months that has Meriwether fretting over me day and night. I get on well enough, though, and I think he worries too much.

I had some time to examine your gift before I sat to write. I must say, I have never dealt with a substance such as this. I will spare you the more technical details and say only that it is truly a marvelous chemical you have procured! I have no doubt I will be ordering more from you in the very near future. This elixir could very well do for medicine what Orichalcum did for industry. I will keep you updated with my findings.

Please, send my good wishes to Rana, and raise a glass in my absence tonight. I look to the day I hear from you next.

In all things good,
Josephine Baltes

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A Notable Correspondence
Philosophical Treatise on Orichalcum and Tech

Esteemed Dr. Crustevya,

I greatly enjoyed your august company during our woefully brief stay in Hokobae. Your skillful care of my companion, Phillip was generous to a fault. He is recovering well, and sends his thanks along with mine.

As to continuing the conversation we started before I left – several points of development have struck my mind with enough force that I feel obligated to bring them to your attention.

Firstly, the matter of Orichalcum’s many uses and benefits are widely touted and I would be a fool to deny them. But is it not the greater fool who neglects his inheritance for the gambling den, drawn by the promise of easy winnings? I do not suggest we forego the gifts of the Weird for the backwards ways of the past. No, instead I see before us a grand future of steel and innovation. In my studies with the University of Cairo I explored new ways to produce the energy to match any size crystal. I promise you that with the guiding fire of human ingenuity, we will fly to nigh-unimaginable heights, without any fear of our wings melting from around us.

Now, try to imagine all of the good technology can do. And not simply by virtue of reliability. No, I allude now to the possibility of true freedom. A bright dawn without the tyrant V.O.C. or barbaric religion that preaches fear and shame. A world where the only limit on a person’s potential is their own ambition. Female and male are endowed with equal minds, the Chinaman and the Frenchman are equally dexterous at a lever. But none of us are equipped to handle an otherworldly substance like Orichalcum, and control all of its ramifications.

Finally, I value your opinions on this matter, both as a professional and as a friend. I fear that it will be very long before I can give you a point of address, but if I can beg your patience and trust, there will be certain avian species that will seem abnormally astute. Give over any missives you have for me to those birds, and they will find me.

Humbly yours,
Farrah Al-Azar

Miss Al-Azar,

I am flattered by your correspondence and your friendship. You show yourself to be exceptionally bright, if bloodthirsty in your ambitions. I was not aware that the University in Cairo took female pupils as well as male, but of course I would not want to give offense to the power of your lineage.

I cannot claim the luxury of your high education. However, as you claim that your propositions would be accessible to all people, I will give my opinions boldly.

I cannot believe that you travel with a living machine, that miraculous gad, and yet fail to see the flaw in your own claims. Orichalcum enhances both tech and flesh alike and any virtue you name for machines can be given to the crystals in turn by this fact. While the Weird is erratic and incomprehensible at times, Orichalcum is not. The reagent is as predictable as the simple sparking of a sulfer match.

And forgive my shortness, but the visions you have are too optimistic. Speaking of true freedom and a flowery future because of technology? Tech means tools and as such can do nothing to eliminate man’s prejudice and most ignoble urges. Progress too narrow and reckless would only put people in more precarious positions than they are in now. What you suggest sounds more to me like a business venture, aimed to cut away at V.O.C. control.

I am filled with nothing but respect for you and your companions. Though it might be unorthodox, I would enjoy continuing this talk with you.

Warm wishes,
Dr. Sarroyen Crustevya

Esteemed Dr. Crustevya,

There is nothing wrong with not clinging to an education, because we both know that most institutions of education are simply large groups of men saying to one another “You sir are right for thinking, and well intentioned for consulting me in the matter” which can only lead to more entrenched minds in the muck of ignorance and mists of ego.

I do mournfully admit that you pricked my conceit well, deflating it to a more rightful shape of business venture. Alas, if you think that business does not mould every other aspect of our lives with its meaty hands, you must be blind to its vagaries. Anything that reduces the power of certain entities in our lives relieves the suffocating pressure they can apply to those that don’t fit their mould. And more breathing room, I think you’ll have to agree, means more freedom.

But if you are convinced that my ideals hold no benefit, I charge you to shake apart every wonder made possible by the implementation of Orichalcum, like the most tenacious ratting hound. Tear them all apart to find proof that they are infinitely reliable and superior to pure machinery. Because I will accept nothing less as proof against my growing conviction that only through expiring ration and innovation will we finally beat back the tides of uncertainty and fear swelling around us.

As always, I wish you health and prosperity. May you find any flaw in these small ideas, and boldly challenge me where I step wrong. But may you also keep a mind as open and fertile as black soil, so that new growth of ideas do not wither before they can bear fruit.

Yours truly,
Farrah Al-Azar

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A Broken Family
A story of the sister Avinnia lost

Sneaking out was Aleid’s idea. A common occurrence once Avinnia began to grow feathers. Aleid was a few years older than her Weird sister, but she had adored the girl from the day she was born. She found nothing wrong with her sister having feathers and she did not understand why her parents were so concerned. Sneaking Avi out of her bedroom was easy for the older girl once their parents retired to their bed chamber.

Aleid tugged on her little sister’s hand as she pulled her out through the door to the back garden. The wildflowers native to Iceland populated the garden. They were in full bloom and well taken care of by the family gardener. She let go of her sister’s hand and moved further outside. She spun around, the moonlight glinting off of her fair hair. She looked back over at her sister, stopping and smiling at the sight of the younger Elon girl.

Avi had already been growing feathers for over a year, many patches covered her arms and body beneath the dresses that their parents forced her to wear. She moved, awkwardly in them, the fabric bending and pushing the feathers in directes they were not meant to turn. To add to their parents horror, her once golden hair had begun to turn bright blue. Avi stared over at her big sister, concern showing through her eyes. If they were caught she would be the one in trouble.

“Ma and Pa are asleep by now, Avi,” Aleid said in a hushed whisper and reached out her hand towards the small girl. “Dance with me.”

She caught her sister’s hand and snatched up the other. They began to spin, the moonlight glowing down on them. The moon seemed to make everything about Avi’s weird more evident. Aleid noticed that her sister’s hair had begun to layer itself, and the layers almost looked like feathers. Their parents would not like that but it only excited her

“You look so pretty, Avi!” she shouted with a smile spreading across her lips.

“Only you think so, Aleid,” was Avi’s timid response.

“Of course I think you are, you are my sister!” she spoke louder with a giggle. “You will always be my sister.”

The nights out in the garden were short lived. Only a few months of these went by before their parents discovered them. Avinnia’s continuing changes led them to lock her door at night, leaving Aleid unable to get inside. They developed a new game after this.

Aleid sat in front of the door to her sister’s room and slipped a paper under the door. Giggling soon told her that Avi like the drawing. A paper was slipped back beneath the door and she picked it up. She looked it over and began to laugh herself.

“Oh, sister, I do not think Pa is this fat,” she spoke through the wooden door.

Before Avi got the chance to respond, Aleid was pulled to her feet, as a man cleared his throat. She let out a gasp and looked up at the angry face of their father.

“Aleid, what are you doing out of bed at this hour?” Ewald Elon was indeed a large man, he was stout around the middle, and over twice the height of his eldest daughter. “One day you will take over for your mother and I. You can not be sneaking around every night and skipping your lessons.

“Pa,” Avi began to speak through her door, worry in her voice.

“Not another word out of you, Avinnia,” he snapped and slapped his hand against the door to silence her. “It is time for bed,” he returned to saying to Aleid. “I do not want to catch you out of bed one more time, or there will be serious consequences for your sister.”

When he let her arm go, Aleid quickly moved back from the door. She glanced over at it, concerned that her sister was going to get punished but she knew it would be worse if she did not obey. She hurried off for her bedroom down the hall.

As the years went by, Avinnia’s condition worsened and the less she saw her sister. Lessons were given to Aleid to keep her busy throughout the day and too tired at night. Avi’s lessons had stopped when her arms had begun to change into wings. Almost no one came into her room after that began. Food was brought to her, her window was sealed, and she had to bathe in cold water. So, when her door unlocked, one late evening, it came as quite a surprise to her when her sister walked in.

“Aleid!” she shouted as she hurried across the room to greet her sister. She was going to hug her but Aleid’s hands lifted to stop her. “It has been so many months since I have seen you. May I hug you?”

Aleid did not speak at first, her eyes hardened and cold, the same eyes that her parents had went they looked at her. “I am not here for a hug, Avinnia,” she began, her voice steady and without feeling. “I will be seventeen soon and I do not have time for your silly games. I have come to see you because of the relationship that we once had.”

“What are you talking about, Aleid?” Avi asked as she was confused by the words coming out of her sister’s lips. “We are sisters.”

“WE are not sisters,” she added almost as quickly as Avi had said they were. “You are something that happened to be mistakenly born from my mother.”

Avinnia stepped back from her sister, unable to believe what she was hearing. Aleid had always loved her feathers. What could possibly be making her say such awful words? She crossed the room back over to her bed. “How can you say that?”

“It is the truth that I now understand. It may have taken time, but I finally understand the abomination that you are. Now, let me speak what I have come here to say. Mother and Father grow tired of tending to something like you. It is putting a great strain on them, keeping you secret, and keeping you alive.”

Avi listened in silence. Each word left new tears in her eyes.

“They will not continue to put up with it much longer. Your… transformation, let us call it that, is a disgrace upon the Elon name. If word of what you are ever got out out status and business would be in jeopardy. I have heard them speaking of what to do with you and that is why I am here. When I was naive we were close. So, I am here to warn you. Your recent escape attempt has left them with no choice. On the eve of your next birthday, you will die.”

Fear left Avi paralyzed. She did not know what to say. She did not know how to react. Her parents wanted her dead? They were going to kill her? Not only that but Aleid spoke to her with hate and disgust. What was she going to do?

“I thought, for our past, you should know. Perhaps you will be able to persuade them or perhaps you will be able to plan a better escape. I do not want to know, and beyond this conversation I do not care. This is the last I plan for us to see each other.”

Aleid was beginning to leave. She had turned around and moved to the door.

“Sister, please, wait,” Avinnia whispered. Her cheeks were now damp from the tears. “Please, hug me,” she said as she began towards her sister.

No hug came. No response and no more words. Aleid stepped out the door. When Avi reached it, the door was shut, and it was locked once more.

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The Last Walk in the Garden
Avi is sentenced to death

Avinnia sat in the window of her bedroom, looking down at the garden below, through the locked glass. She wanted to be down in that garden, back with Aleid, with everything as it had once been. That night was not coming. It was the eve of her birth. A birthday that Aleid had said she would never reach. She stared towards the flowers and wondered when they would come for her. The moon was full in the sky that night, beautiful, silver light illuminating the garden. She waited for the footsteps.

A clicking noise indicated that her door was being unlocked. She turned her head to look over. Her father stood in the doorway, another man hidden slightly behind him. Her mother and sister were not present. Her mother had not looked or spoken to her since her last birthday. Avi rose from the window seat, her eyes darting from one man to the other, and the past. She needed to escape as she did not wish to die.

“It is time, mormel*,” pa said, his tone never had been so cruel.

She did not approach them, she could not bare the disgusted look her father held as he gazed upon her. “Please, papa,” she begged. “Please.”

“Grab the creature and take her out to the garden. It can have one more walk amongst the flowers. Then you know what is expected of you.”

Ewald turned away from his begging daughter and walked away from the room, leaving just the second man and Avinnia.

“He wants you to kill me, Dashiell?” she asked as the man was now in sight.

Dashiell was between Avinnia and Aleid’s age, and being the child of one of the servants he had grown up with them. On the occasional night, he had even joined the sisters in the garden. It had been a long time since he had seen her.

“Come with me, Avi,” he began. “Let us go walk in the garden.”

The garden was as beautiful as every time she had been in it. The flowers blooming under the moonlight. This is the last time I will see it, she thought and paused. Her gaze drifted from the flowers to the man beside her. He was no longer the young boy she had known. Feelings that she could not begin to understand swept through her. Her cheeks had been burning every time he looked at her. When she heard his voice her stomach did somersaults.

“How long do I have?” she asked him, her voice no more than a whisper.

“I have missed you, petit oiseau*” was his response.

She did not understand why he would say that. She had been sure that he would have hated her just as her sister did, as her parents did.

“When you walk through this garden it is almost as if watching la déesse,” he went on. “The vibrant color of your feathers painted against the flowers. They bow before the beauty you shine.”

Beauty? She wondered why he was speaking to her as if she was not a monster. Was he not their to end her life?

“Aleid told me about tonight,” she pried, attempting to find some answer in him.

“Tonight,” he repeated and turned to her. “Tonight I go against your father’s orders. Tonight is the night that you will be free.”

Avinnia stared at him with nothing short of confusion. What did he mean? Free? She was to die, would that be freedom?

“I watched you grow. I watched your feathers sprout and I found it to be a beautiful sight. I was to shy to show my affection when we were younger, and our positions would have made such attention from me undesired by your father. However, you have been disowned, and now he wishes for your death. I can not allow this.”

She was listening to his every word, her face burning, and her heart thundering against her chest. The cool tears slipped down her reddened cheeks, causing her body to involuntarily shiver.

He spoke more when she did not respond, “Your father came to me a few months ago, with his plan to dispose of you. It gave me plenty of time to form my own plan. A way to free you but to make sure your parents believe you are dead. They will not care to look at your body. They have no reason to be suspicious of me. As long as there is a body around your size to bury and I have that ready. Do not worry about the details, leave those to me.”

“I do not understand, Dashiell.”

He reached out his hand and ran his thumb across her cheek, wiping away the tears that had been falling. “I am in love with you, Avi. I have been for years. I need to help you be free.” He turned his head to look at the house behind them. “Your family did not wish to watch. This is the only chance you have. Flee, leave Reykjavik, leave Iceland. Fly far from here and do not come back. I will make sure they have no reason to look for you.”

Dashiell laid a kiss on her brow before stepping away from her. She was still confused by his confession of love but he was letting her go. She could be free.

“Go, Avi,” he urged.

She moved back from him, tested her wings, then lifted into the air. It was not long before she was far enough away that she could not see him. Then her prison fell away from her sight. Then all of Reykjavik. She was finally going to be free.

*mormel is the dutch word for monster, mutt, and mongrel
*petit oiseau is french for little bird
*la déesse is french for goddess

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Feathers for a Hat

On the way back to the Crafty Sassafras, Philip decided that he wanted to stop and buy a hat for himself. While he was picking out his hat, Avi noticed a beautiful, little hat sitting on one of the racks. She picked it up, her eyes wide to take in the magnificence. She lifted it up and placed it atop her head, turning to Farrah. “Pretty ha-hat,” she said to get Farrah’s attention.

“It is a very lovely hat, Avi,” Farrah responded. She was surprised for a moment by the sudden interest before becoming pleasantly happy that Avi had finally found something appropriate to like. Avi’s desire for the hideous shiny buckles still lingering in Farrah’s mind. “Excuse me, the lady would like to buy the hat. Would we be able to put it on my family’s credit?”

“Certainly!” the merchant said, in a chipper voice and opened up their book of names. “What name may I put it under?”

“Al-Azaar,” Farrah responded.

“Ah, yes! Al-Azaar.” They began to look through their book, glancing up at Farrah and Avi every few moments. “Al-Azaar,” they said again. “I am sorry it does not seem that I have that name. Perhaps another form of payment?”

Farrah was startled by this news. The merchant did not know her family name. She stared at the merchant for a long moment then looked to Avi.

“How much for this hat and the lady’s,” Philip spoke up, bringing forth the hat that he had settled on.

“Oh yes, one gold piece for your hat and two for the lady’s.”

“Alright, how about this. Two gold pieces for both,” Philip replied in an attempt to get the price down.

Avi was beginning to take notice of the problem with money. “Pretty hat,” she said, looking down at the hat in thought. Farrah’s name had not been recognized, but her’s might be. Her family was in the dutch nobles, and their merchant reach was growing when she left home. She had once overheard her father lecturing Aleid on how they needed to reach farther across the world.

If she told them her name, would it get back to her father? Would she be discovered as still alive. She did not know if Dashiell’s plan had even worked. Perhaps her parents were just glad to be rid of her, dead or alive. She looked at the merchant who was still haggling for the higher price. She could try it. She looked down at her hat. No, it was too soon, the hat was not important enough for her to risk her freedom or her new family. She noticed her feathers on her wing and an idea lit up in her mind.

She plucked a couple feathers from her skirt and set them on the counter. “For the hat,” she said with a smile.

Philip took notice of what she was trying to do. “Two gold coins and these lovely feathers.”

The merchant picked up the feathers, looking from them to Avi. “These are from you?”

“Yes,” she replied, proudly.

They looked at the feathers again.

“They would look lovely on one of your excellent hats,” Farrah added.

“Two gold coins and the feathers for the two hats,” they finally agreed with a nod.

Avi put the hat back on her head almost immediately and Philip handed over the money. The rest of the walk home Avi did not feel that the stares were because of her wings. She felt pretty, she was sure she looked like a lady now.

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Wonder and Worry

“Is it their scarves?” Peter lifted his cup after offering the question. “Covering your face…that’s not right, I say.”

William scoffed. “I’ve worked up and down the Suez. Plenty of folks in Africa cover their heads, never bothered me none.”

Peter took a long drought of raki, and immediately grimaced in regret at the bitter anise taste. “Well, I mean,” he hesitated, judging William’s face. “We all saw what happened on the Songbird’s deck last night. That would make anyone uncomfortable.”

“No,” William dodged, shaking his head. “I watched a Stranger execute a man by boiling his blood.” He drew in breath through his teeth. “I think it’s how they move.”

“How they move?” Peter asked.

“They don’t walk right. They…slither.”

“Like snakes?”

“Like snakes!” William nodded in confirmation. “Exactly like snakes.”

Peter stared into his drink, thinking hard about William’s observation. “You’re right, they do move weird. And I overheard one breathing once, it sounded like he was gasping for air.”

“I tell you, Peter. Something’s not right about those men.”

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