Leaving a Mark – 4.1


Previous Chapter

 Next Chapter

Avery ducked beneath branches, pushing others aside.  She held one branch for Snowdrop, who reached for her wrist, clutched, gained a certain weight, and then crawled up Avery’s arm to her shoulder, in her small opossum form.

Wooden pieces of building were sunken into the surroundings, but the wood hadn’t gone soft.  Dirt overlapped the edges, or moss grew into the sides, until they were part of the landscape.  A burned out house with the burns covered up, or pieces of an old church that had collapsed in a storm, reclaimed by nature in a way that held them strong, the walls upright.

Avery ascended stairs, with white flowers on the rising slope to her right, and a brook noisily trickled in a dip to her left.

Snowdrop made a sneezing sound, which was an opossum pup’s version of a dog’s arf, or a kitten’s mew.  Avery looked where Snowdrop’s nose was pointing, and jumped, despite herself, at the sight of a young woman kneeling in the creek.

The woman was maybe around eighteen, wearing a white dress thinner than Avery’s t-shirt, and had flowers in dark hair braided loosely enough that there were evenly spaced gaps between the locks.  She was curvy, in a healthy way.

She held a pile of flowers in one hand, stems removed, and was placing them in the running water of the creek with what seemed like an abundance of care, even though the water babbled, rolled, and moved with such chaos that there was literally no way it could matter.

“Did she send you here to wait for me?” Avery asked.

The woman shook her head.  She took another few seconds to finish setting down all but two of the flowers, so the creek could carry them down the way, then stood.  The wet dress wasn’t transparent, but it still left nothing to the imagination.  Avery swallowed, then turned her attention to Snowdrop, to have an excuse to look away.

The woman grabbed a narrow tree, and began to ascend the slope to the path Avery was at.  Avery hesitated, then grabbed a tree herself.  She offered a hand, hauling the woman up.

The woman stood just a foot away from Avery, once she’d straightened.  She reached over, gave Snowdrop a stroke, and placed a flower behind Snowdrop’s ear.  The opossum chittered madly, like she was trying to talk.

Avery’s heart pounded as the woman put a flower behind her ear.  She was still holding one of Avery’s hands, and once the flower was in place, she pulled, heading up the path with Avery following.

They jogged through the woods, along a dirt path that periodically had floorboards in it.  The woman let go of her hand, hopping up to a tree branch with both hands overhead, and landed with what looked like an apple in each hand.

The most crazy-nice dreams that Avery had experienced weren’t anything half as nice as this.

The woman offered Avery one of the apples, biting into the other.

“No, but it seems nice of you to offer,” Avery said.  She could remember what they’d been told about Faerie, and not eating things while visiting the Faerie.  This wasn’t the Faerie, but maybe the same rules applied.

The woman offered it to Snowdrop.

“No,” Avery said, firmer.

Snowdrop sneezed at her.

The woman didn’t seem to take offense, smiled, and returned to leading the way up the path.  Up the thick forest trail along the side of the mountain.

The woman paused to pick some berries from the side of the trail, stem and all, before running ahead a few steps, as if to make up for the lost time.

“How do you know if they’re safe to eat?” Avery asked.  “Do you, um, do you talk?”

“I- yes,” the woman said.  “It’s been a long time since I had to.”

“How long?” Avery asked.

“Months?” the woman asked.  She turned, walking backwards, and pushed aside a branch by her head like she knew it was there.

“How long have you been here?” Avery asked.

“How old do you think I look?”

“Eighteen or so?”

“Then six years or so.”

The trail took a sharp turn toward the interior of the mountain itself, but as Avery ducked through some of the branches, she found herself in a space open to the late afternoon air.  The pieces of building that had been on the path here were omnipresent in this space, elaborate, stacked onto one another and glued together by moss and vegetation.  The flowers were everywhere, as were fruit trees, vegetables and ferns.

Ten people were present.  Young, old, male, female.  Two of the men wore the thin white fabric as kilts, one short, one knee-length.  An older man with long white hair wore it as a toga.  Two of the girls were topless, but one of them was, like, six, so it didn’t really count.  They lay down, sat on tree branches, and walked around the extensive space.  Some had wreaths of flowers in their hair.  Others laurels of leaves, like some old Roman thing.

“Who are they?”

“The most innocent.  People with nowhere else to go.  People who were hurt.  People who were sick, or struggling with some form of madness.  The cursed, the hunted, the unfortunate.”

“She collects them?  You?”

“When she can.  But the conditions have to be precise, so she can’t get many that way.  More often, we ask.  When we seek to escape it all for long enough, traveling for a day into uninhabited places, sometimes we end up at her feet.  Then you have to ask for help.  Sometimes you have to ask multiple times, depending.  Then you must abide by the rules to stay.”

“I think I’ve been conditioned to think there’s a horrible catch or something,” Avery said.

“No.  The only rules are to be kind, to be gentle, and to protect this space.  Some leave and come back.  Some stay for a while and then go.  Many stay.  Because the world hurt them enough, or because they have a relief here, from schizophrenia or addiction.  Sometimes when you ask for help you get it.  I think that’s what she represents.”

“I’d like an audience.”

“She knows.  She’s coming,” the woman with the wet dress said.  She ate some berries, and as the little girl held up a hand, she gave some to her.

Snowdrop clambered down Avery’s arm, hip, and then hopped down to the ground, taking her human form.

Avery felt conspicuous.  These guys were objectively the weird ones, wearing togas and simple dresses knotted at the shoulder.  Avery was wearing running shoes, track pants and a sleeveless jersey, her bag slung over one shoulder.  It felt artificial, here.

Snowdrop looked eleven or so.  Her hair was in a high ponytail, she had jeans with massive holes in the knees, and a black tee that was knotted at the side, to expose her stomach.  It hid part of the message, leaving only the ‘Pretty as’ and the illustration of an opossum with tire tracks through it and bright pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow.  Avery guessed it was ‘Pretty as Roadkill’.

Trying to beat the heat.  It was thirty-eight degrees out.  But here, at least, it was cool, a breeze moving through the space.

“I don’t want any fruit,” Snowdrop said, looking up at her.

“I can get you something after.”

“It’s terrible for me.  Bad.  Probably tastes awful.”

“After, Snow.”

“They don’t even look that juicy.”


“I want to leave.”

Avery sighed.

There was a guy, maybe twenty-five, who might have been a newer arrival.  Everyone here looked healthy and relaxed.  He looked like he’d had a rough time, and he hadn’t fully worked out how to let his guard down.  A woman was twining the stems of leaves together to make a laurel, sitting so her front pressed against his back, her nose just a few inches from his ear as she worked.

The woman who had escorted them lay down on a horizontal post.

No fear, no pain.  Comfort.  No dealing with the scarier world out there.  Abundant food, pretty women, company.  Not being lonely.  It felt like a balm to the soul, a counterpoint to the scarier memories of the Trail, which felt weirdly vivid, in contrast to the other memories around it.

It was everything she’d thought she wanted and now that she was here…

Scary.  Scary?  Sad.  Weird?

Why was all of this so hard to figure out?  She was so glad for the people who needed and had this but she was bewildered and spooked by how much she didn’t want to fall into this.

“I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t tell Verona about this place,” she told Snowdrop.

“I shouldn’t tell Louise either,” Snowdrop said.

“Is she treating you well?”

“I’m there pretty often, y’know.  But she’s awful.  Tells me I’m not anything like family, I’m horrible.  We have a deal, where I don’t nag her about the smoking and stuff, and she doesn’t make me drink my milk or eat her cooking.”

“Sounds like a good arrangement.”

“It’s awful ’cause I’m there or I’m with Cherry or I’m with you.  It’s so boring and stuff.”

Avery smiled.

The people in the glade looked up.  Avery did as well.

The wind had stopped.

She had long legs, taller than the trees or the mountain.  A two-toed hoof touched the clearest patch of ground, a narrow leg extending straight up to the Alabaster’s form, a great pale deer.

A second hoof touched down, but it was more diffuse.  Both hooves were becoming transparent, bright.

Until they were like shafts of light with a solid core where they overlapped.

The light grew more and more diffused, flaking away like flower petals and dust motes.  The solid core remained.  A woman with white hair, draped in white furs with light grey freckles, and a few decorative antlers worn so the the points turned toward herself or were buried in the furs.

Avery felt like she should bow.  She didn’t.

“Your being was gentler, the first time you came,” the Alabaster told her.

“That’s fair,” Avery answered.  She thought for a second.  “I don’t think I’ve become unkind.  I’ve tried to respect your space, here.”

“The others will be along shortly.”

The Alabaster sat on a bend of wood that would only serve as a chair to someone of her size, which was a bit bigger than human.  The way it bent to fit her form, with armrests that exactly fit her arms, it could only really fit her.  Anyone else would slip off or fall through the gap between armrest and seat.

Two of the people in white approached.  She gave one a fond smile as they began putting gathered white feathers in her hair.

The Sable Prince’s footsteps were unnaturally loud and heavy, as he made his approach.  They felt out of place in this sanctuary.  The eerie man in the black suit, black dress shirt with no tie or buttons, hair and beard black and barely tamed.

There was a rasping sound, as centipede leg and segments rasped against trees and wood.  There was a young teen, about Avery’s age, atop its head, wearing what could have been a silk bathrobe from the way it hung on him, in glittering gold.  His hair was straight, fine, and black, his eyes peering through the curtain, his thin-lipped smile wide on the one side.

“Thank you for your audience,” Avery addressed them.

“What have you discovered?” the Sable Prince asked.

“We have a set of prime suspects.  We have reason to believe the Carmine Beast was taken to pieces.  We found the likely where, in what we call the Ruins.  We think the pieces were kept for the purposes of gaining her power at a later point.  We were able to identify the force driving the Hungry Choir, which led to it being bound.  We helped root it out as the weapon that was directed at the Carmine Beast.”

“Was it able to identify the people who used it?” the Aurum Coil asked.

Avery shook her head.  “It gave us suggestions, but those suggestions mostly ruled out people we’d already more or less cleared.  What it did tell us was that it was created nine years ago.  Everything seems to point to it being created then, with the intention of being that weapon against the Carmine Beast.”

“Explain,” the Sable Prince asked.

“Uhhhh… I’m not sure I’m great at explaining things.  But the Choir talked about everyone they dealt with in terms of who was there when they were created.  They were set on a path, and there’s no sign they were contacted or redirected to the Carmine Beast.  It seemed innate, or instinctive.”

“There’s no signs in the wind that they intend to come after us three,” the Alabaster Doe said.

“No,” Avery agreed.  “We don’t see anyone using power on the same scale as the Hungry Choir, and nobody seems especially agitated that the Hungry Choir is bound and out of their control.  If they wanted to come after you three, they’d be more bothered they lost their big weapon.”

“Then our concern is primarily with what the upheaval in the Carmine’s seat does to the rest of us.”

“Maybe,” Avery said.  “We’re worried that when we get closer, they may make their move.  That’s part of the reason we wanted to reach out.  So you wouldn’t be surprised.”

“What is the rest of the reason?” the woman in the bleached furs asked.

“You guys are the… we’ve been calling you judges.  You make some of the decisions on the broader stuff.  Karma, deals, minor things about power, or which Others get to appear or start to appear.”

“Yes,” the man in the black suit said.

“We’re working to serve you, kind of.”

“In the same way that we’re working to serve you,” the boy in the glittery bathrobe said.  “Practitioners curtail the affairs of the Other and Others often make the final judgments on Practitioners.  Do you have a favor to ask?”

Can I ask a favor?”

The boy leaned forward, the centipede lowering its head, until he was almost on a level with Avery.  “You may.  Karma is our currency, when judging you, your notions of fairness, and how well you cleave to the roles you assume.  Would you spend yours?  Or make demands on how it is directed?”

“I’d like to say we’ve done a pretty good job in our role.”

“Reasonably well.”

“We’re Kennet’s practitioners, we’ve made that our job, pretty much.”

“And in doing so, you make the area harder to penetrate.  With every action, you belong more to it, and it belongs more to you.”

“We’re anticipating going to the school.  We’re thinking we need to learn some things to make some of our critical moves against the culprit.  But we’re putting ourselves under the power of others, teachers and stuff.  We’re kind of seriously worried.”

“This is the domain of man, more than it is ours.”

“Is there a way to guarantee that we could return to our posts, or protect ourselves?”

“There are few guarantees.  Even in the way you speak, you hedge, and even in things that are certain, you call them maybes.”

“A lot of things are possible,” Avery said.

The Aurum Coil nodded, cocking his head to one side.  The long hair slipped from his shoulder, as did the shoulder of the simple, glittery robe he wore.  “If you wanted to make your position more secure, you could swear oaths.  To return home safe and sound.  Your karma, that propensity for being right and just, would help it happen, in the wake of that oath.”

“But if we were wrong in making that oath, we’d be…”

“Ruinously wrong,” the Sable Prince told her.

“You’re carrying out a duty,” the Alabaster reassured.  “You’re acting on Oaths made in your awakening.  That helps secure your position.  Keep your eyes and ears open.”

Avery nodded.  “We also wanted to ask… we need to know who the Carmine Beast was.  You said she didn’t have many friends.  But the Alabaster has these people in white.  Did the Carmine…?”

“She took nobody in.  Others like her in other areas do, taking in killers, monsters, heroes and villains.”

“She tried to recruit a Faerie in our town, allegedly.  And a Dog of War, and a Goblin.”

“She did not try very hard,” the Sable Prince said.  “If she truly willed it, she could have made it happen.  It would cost her power and position, but those things would recover over time.  It was an effort for her to even broach the subject, because she was the type to weigh the options before her, and inevitably decide that she could do the job best if she did it herself.  It kept her busy, and it kept her work consistent.”

“What was she before?” Avery asked.

The Sable Prince and the Aurum Coil looked at the Alabaster.

“And why are you looking to her to answer?”

“The Carmine Beast predated us,” the Aurum said.  “But not the Alabaster Doe.”

“She was an Animus, a walking intent,” the Alabaster said.  “Much as your Dog of War is one.”

“I- I’m not familiar with that.”

“Forces between spirit and incarnation that exist for purpose.  Often malign, but not always.  Physical.  They are defined by the task they accomplish.  The Swordbearer animus exists to find the noble and heroic, equip them, and send them on their path.  The Dog of War exists to perpetuate the senselessness of war.  Muses inspire art.”

“What did she do?”

“Before she was the Carmine Beast, she reminded civilized men who had come here why their ancestors were so afraid of the deep night,” the Alabaster said.  “Henhouses emptied, livestock slaughtered.  Howling that shook hearts, and fangs that took the lives of people who were in the midst of discovering just how dark a forest can be without the torches, candles and lamps of a nearby city.”

“Was she evil?  I know we asked, but- before?”

“She wasn’t good or evil so much as she simply was.  Just as she was the Carmine Beast.  The role precedes all.”

“Is that the last of your questions?” the Aurum asked.

“Probably not,” Avery said.  “I have more, but I can’t put all of them to words.  We were asked to do this job, but the more we do it, the more it feels like they really don’t want us to actually succeed.”

“Who is ‘they’?” the Alabaster asked.

“That’s a good question.  I don’t know.  I don’t know if it’s the culprits being subtle or if it’s the others.  I know we have to be really careful because if we rush this, then Alexander Belanger may start interfering with Kennet.”

“You can secure your own positions.”

“Oaths and stuff?  With a higher chance of being forsworn.”

“Sometimes.  He secured his own position at the school with one such oath.”

“Ah,” Avery said.  “The… what’s the word?  Sounds like domain?”

“Demesne,” the Alabaster said.

Domain with a deh- instead of a doh.

“Familiars too?  And implements?”


“Okay.  Okay.  That’s definitely a thing to think about.”

“Many wait until they are older.  At the very least, one should try to know themselves before they decide.”

Avery frowned.

She didn’t really know herself.  She’d thought she had, at least as someone sporty, someone who knew what she wanted out of life… wanted something not all that different from this, with the stability, security, the family, found or otherwise…

“Knowing yourself can be pretty tricky,” Avery said.

“Yes,” the Sable Prince said.

“I know you suck something awful,” Snowdrop murmured to Avery.

“Thanks, Snowdrop,” Avery said.

“If you’ve no more questions,” the Aurum Coil said, “don’t you have somewhere to be?”

Avery frowned.  She didn’t.  She’d specifically made the time to come out this far.

She glanced off in the direction of the way she’d come, where the path led out of this glade, this sanctuary the Alabaster had made.  A girl lounged by the door, eating blueberries she’d picked.

If she didn’t want that, then process of elimination gave her a few other directions to go.

She couldn’t think of much else to ask.

“No more questions.  Thank you for your time,” she said.

“Give John Stiles our best.”

“No other candidates?”

The Alabaster shook her head.  “None worth serious discussion.”

“We expect to force the decision about the Carmine seat at summer’s end,” the Sable Prince told her.  “Let the Kennet Others know, please.”

Avery nodded.  Then she departed, Snowdrop walking beside her.

John was the candidate for the next Carmine Beast.  The Hungry Choir was bound, and while Brie had that power, she’d sworn oaths to be silent and not to use that power to take the seat.

Which more or less took the Choir out of the running.

It was now between John and whoever had the furs of the Carmine Beast.

If they couldn’t figure something out, then John would be asked to apply for the seat.  He would probably cooperate.  The lesser candidates who didn’t have a shot would probably come after him, in hopes of crab-bucketing their way into the position, and whoever had the furs would step in to deliver the master-stroke.

It would be next to impossible to really argue against the woman or the guy who actually wore the fur of the Carmine Beast, and whatever else.  Then John would be obliterated.

And someone untrustworthy would get the power and the responsibility the role afforded.  Someone who thought nothing of using the Choir as a weapon, with hundreds of lives ruined in the wake of it.

Edith, Charles, Maricica, and the Choir.  One of the four had been removed.  Edith and Maricica remained as puzzles to be unraveled, and Charles was a big question mark.

Avery walked down the path until she reached an area not that far from where the woman had been setting flowers into the water.  It was flat enough.

“Huh?” Snowdrop asked.

“I’ve decided I want to get home tonight, instead of tomorrow.”

“If you’re taking the shortcut, you’re taking it alone, loser.”

“I’ll ask, first,” Avery said.

She set her bag down, which was a bit of a relief.  Then she got her phone out.

done talking with white, black & gold.
I think I’ll hurry back


no.  but I decided I want to come
or I’m less sure I want to live the kind of life where I avoid all this
I’m not making sense

Lucy (A):
Come.  That’s good.  If you’re sure you’re okay with this.

ouchie wa wa in exchange for access?
we all ok with that?

I don’t think we can use it.  I’m more concerned about how safe this is.  How unsafe.

I like having more things to mess with but I dont mind.

gonna see about heading over
I shouldn’t be long

She swiped over to her contact list.  Some basic ‘ok’ messages came through at the top of the phone as she searched.

Snowdrop dug in her bag, pulling out a bag of chips, and then a bag that clattered pretty violently.  A toy car fell out and tumbled down the slope.  The opossum girl went after it.


“I’m an acquaintance of Zed,” Avery said.  “We had a deal where he wanted a tape, he gave me a ritual, but not the steps to complete-”

“Yes.  Yes.  I remember.  My hands are a little bit full with a god parasite.  Can I get back to you?  I’ll see who I can send.”

“Okay.  Thank you.”

“Set up.  Be ready.  I keep my sons and daughters busy.”


Zed had given them everything Brie had had on her, when they’d released Brie back to him, as part of the deal where they gave him information on the Choir.  But there were things from among the stuff that Brie had had that he wanted back, and he’d asked.

They’d listed off a few things they’d be willing to trade for, and had probably given Zed a few too many ideas about who they were and what they wanted, in the process.

Avery wanted to walk the Paths, and Zed knew a city mage named Edward, who knew finders who walked the Paths, as well as delving into the Abyss.

In the dizzying series of trades and whatnot, the deal was that if Zed got the tape back, Avery could have more information on the Paths, including one trial-walk that proved they knew what they were talking about.

Avery opened the drawstring on the bag Snowdrop had opened, and began to pull out toy racecars, a toy racetrack, and simple, painted wooden blocks that had last been used by Kerry.

She connected the toy racetrack in a circle, then arranged the racecars, so they were in a circle of equal size, about two feet across, sitting upside-down in the dirt with tires pointed skyward.  She balanced the track over top of them, the bottom of the plastic track with its narrow lip resting on the tiny wheels.  She gave it an experimental spin.

Snowdrop returned, the fallen car in hand, and found a place for it.

Together, they built.  Square blocks balanced on the track.  They were fatter than the track was, which meant they had to sit at diagonals, which made balancing harder.

Triangles on top of some of the squares.

The phone call came in.

“Hello?” she answered.

“I’m sending my youngest.  They’re building the entrance now.  Enter, if they aren’t there when you arrive, they’ll be there shortly after, or I’ll take a break to ensure it works.”

“Okay.  Good luck with your parasite god.”

“God parasite, not parasite god.  But thank you.”

She hung up.

Her first time walking a Path since the Forest Ribbon Trail.

“We’re going to fuck this up,” Snowdrop said.

“I- I really do understand that you have to talk that way, but it’s really unnerving when you’re saying stuff so close to that anxious voice in my head,” Avery said.

Snowdrop reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze.

Together, they stepped over the carefully arranged blocks.  Snowdrop became an opossum, because there wasn’t much room.

Avery knelt, surrounded by the plastic track and the precariously perched houses.

It was hot out, the air heavy in her lungs, now that she wasn’t in the glade.  Her track pants had accumulated sweat in her day-long hike, and it made it feel abrasive at the knees, despite the material being meant not to do that.

“Hustle and bustle and hustle,” she began, and she gave the track an experimental push, expecting it all to fall over.  “And bustle and hustle and bustle and hustle-”

The track span, heavy with the blocks on it, barely moving in response to the push.  But it moved.

“-and bustle and hustle and bustle and hustle-” She pushed again.

It moved again.  It moved more.

“-and bustle and hustle and bustle and hustle-”

She span again.  It completed almost one full circuit.

“And bustle and hustle and bustle and hustle and bustle-”

She span again.  The blocks weren’t falling, like they were glued into place, and the track was moving easily.

“-and hustle and bustle and hustle-”

The track completed three revolutions.  Each push now got it to move faster.

She looked back, and the blocks painted in primary colors had risen higher behind her.  She looked forward, and they’d risen more.

“-and bustle and hustle and bustle-”

The cars below shifted, wheels screeching, and pressing against the connection parts of the track, adding traction.

It didn’t slow in its rotation, but a smoke with a plastic smell filled the air.

Snowdrop sneezed.

“-and hustle and bustle-”

Buildings shook, rattled, and tumbled, in the midst of the smoke.  Buildings, not building blocks.  Where one bit of a building fell, it found root somewhere behind.  There were multiple rows of buildings moving at different speeds.

“-and hustle and bustle-”

She reached for the track to keep it spinning, and found nothing.

She stood, smoke flowing around her, buildings moving.

She exhaled, clenched her fists and relaxed them.

While she was thinking about it, she pulled her mask on, and grabbed her cape.

The smoke cleared, and she stood on a flat rooftop.  Snowdrop hopped down.

The horizon had an intensity to it like it was sunset, but it was teal and seafoam.  Between her and the horizon, in every direction, were buildings.  They were arranged in a perfect grid, all uniform in height, but some were peaked and others were flat.  All were brightly colored.  Reds, blues, bright yellows, green.

She walked to the roof’s edge, looked down, and saw traffic, about ten floors below.  The cars were racing, kicking up exhaust and the smoke of tires.  They didn’t stop at intersections, but wove past one another.  All on one-way streets.  The gaps between buildings weren’t far.

There was a crash and a clatter, a plume of smoke, like something had collapsed.

It was a guy, fifteen or so, with a wispy mustache, goggles, and a bunch of gear.  He had a tank at his hip, a bag, some rope, some climbing stuff, and what looked like headphones.

It was the headphones that he pulled up away from his ears.  “Jude.”


“That your familiar?”

“Boon companion, from the Forest Ribbon Trail.  Snowdrop.”

“I hope you get my friend here killed,” Snowdrop said, solemn.

“She doesn’t,” Avery said.  “She can’t help but say the opposite of what she means.”

“That’s not something I’ve seen before.  Companion off the Trail.  The liar thing is annoyingly common in some places.”

“I could tell you how, tell you about a detour, trade info for info,” she said.  “I want to keep walking the trail.  You guys are apparently the ones to ask.”

“I’ll tell my dad.  Speaking of, he didn’t give me much time.  School’s over and he’s really on my case about the non-school stuff.  I’m supposed to pay him back for losing this stupid paper airplane of his.”

“Sounds rough,” she said.

“Working all summer.  I’m going to spend more time on the Paths and in the Abyss than I do in reality.”

“The Abyss is like the Ruins, right?”


“I’ve been to the Ruins.”

“Is being on land like being underwater?”


“Do you have ear protection?”

Avery shook her head.

“It’s going to get loud,” he said.  He pulled off his headphones, handing them to her.

“Are you going to be okay?” Avery asked.  “Is Snowdrop?”

“I’m super wimpy,” Snowdrop said, looking up at the kid.

“It’s loud, but it shouldn’t destroy my ears, or hers.  It’s good to have certain things.  Oxygen, protection for the eyes and ears.  Spare clothes you can pull on to cover every bit of your skin.”

She nodded.

“Over there,” he said.  He pointed.

She squinted.  Off in the distance, in the haze of the sunset, there was an archway, like the entryway onto a massive suspension bridge.

“This path is low-occupancy, low reward, at least boonwise.  But getting through it comes with a perk.  Slight drawback, too.  Well… two.  Three.”

Avery raised her eyebrows.

“Two of them aren’t really drawbacks, exactly.  More stuff to be cautious of.”

“What perk?”

“You’ll find you’re really good at racing through incoming traffic.  I’m talking driving on the wrong side of the road, driving through a red with cars in the way… running and biking too.”

“That sounds like the stupidest thing ever,” Snowdrop said.

“It sounds pretty cool… and niche,” Avery said.  “I have a hard time imagining myself using that.”

“It’s a niche path.  Drawback one is that you’ll be kind of annoyed when you’re not the one driving.”

“I’m thirteen.  I won’t be able to do my own driving for a while.”

Jude frowned.

“That could be a bigger drawback, when my parents have to drive me places a lot.”

“We could back off.  I can show you how to exit.”

Avery frowned.  “What are the other not-quite drawbacks?”

“This is a path that can get you from one place to another, but every time you do it, it gets harder.  I’ll have to follow you, or I’ll get in your way.”

Avery nodded.  A good thing to be aware of.

“And that perk?  It doesn’t make you perfect at driving into incoming traffic.  It makes you really good, but if you lean too heavily into it, you will end up smeared on the pavement eventually.”

Avery made a face behind her deer mask.

“You can back down.  I won’t think less of you,” he said.

“What you think of me isn’t really part of it.  Just…”

She had to dwell on it for a second.

Did this feel right?  Closing doors.

It felt more right than what she’d been assuming was what she really wanted.  That safe, comfortable, cuddly, and accepting environment.

She looked down at Snowdrop.

“Team Roadkill!” Snowdrop cheered.

“No.  Not that,” Avery said.  “How do we do this?”

“To start with, you promise that on successful delivery to the other side, you’ll hand over the tape.  I swear I’ll pass it on to Zed, to the best of my ability, to bring the deal to a close.”

“I promise, unless something unanticipated happens, I’ll hand over the tape.  If I can’t, I’ll make a good faith attempt to make things square.”

“Good, cool.  Then we need to go from house to house, ideally by a pattern.  We’ll be using the best pattern we’ve figured out.  I’ll shout out the instructions.  Blue house with a pointed roof first, then a red house, then any blue.  Do not, under any circumstances, touch a yellow house.  The third house is one we ride to the horizon.  It’s going to feel like we’re taking too long.  Don’t freak out, and don’t panic-jump.  If you start shouting at me you might miss the signal.  It’s spooky enough without distracting yourself.”

Avery nodded.

“The seven-eight bridge is one we haven’t figured out.  We’re trying to brute force it.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Every time we pass through, we try a new possibility, until we work out a way through Zoomtown.  Today we’ll do one I’m reasonably sure we know what will happen.  There’ll be an Other on house eight.  Minor.  They range from mind-screws to aggressive types that don’t really have much going for them in the flight department.  Stay safe, fend them off, I’ll shoot them when I’m close enough.”

“Okay,” Avery said.

“And don’t miss the jump to the destination.”

Avery nodded.

“Let me know when you’re ready to start.  Then blue house, pointed roof, pause, then red house.  I’ll tell you the next color or house when the time comes.”

“And if something happens to you?”

“Guess.  Fight like hell if you touch the wrong house.  Others and crap will pop up.  Don’t touch yellow houses.”

Avery nodded.

“There’s no other plan that works,” Snowdrop said.  “This is the only way.”

“You have an idea?” Avery asked.

“I’m not about to swear to keep any letters with instructions unopened.  That’s a fool’s game,” Snowdrop said.  “This is the only way.”

Avery looked over at Jude.

“That works too, I guess.”

“Please,” Avery said, laying a hand on Snowdrop’s shoulder.

Jude spent a minute scribbling on paper.

Avery whipped out her hockey stick to full size.  She wrapped her black rope around her hand, and drew up runes for her shoes.

Jude held out a piece of paper, folded into a square.

“I swear not to unfold this unless something happens to you or it’s a legitimate accident,” she said.  “If something happens to you, I’ll still try and get the tape to zed.”

He nodded.  He looked at the rope.  “What’s that?”

“Movement trick I picked up from the Forest Ribbon Trail.”

“Be careful with those.  These places might look like they’re made up of things like our world, like cities and forested trails, but they have their own rules.  There’s places where trying to fly will get you killed in about two seconds, or tear open the sky.”

Avery nodded.

“Go.  Just give your all and jump.”

Avery ran, then leaped.

There wasn’t as much gravity here, and the higher she went, the less there was.  She cleared the fifteen or twenty feet with ease.  Her feet slid on shingles, and she was glad she had the earlier practice.  Snowdrop landed beside her.

The house moved under her, making her slide a bit down the side.

“Go, go, go!”

The entire street of houses was now moving like it was on a treadmill.  Every second that passed, it picked up more speed, racing to the right.

“Go, Avery!”

She found her footing, and ran along the side of the roof.

“Wait, go!”

The next red ‘house’ with the flat roof zoomed toward her.  She and Snowdrop jumped at the same time.  She was very aware of how long a fall it was.

The house had a gravel bed at the top, and the entire street began moving forward, in the general direction of the destination.  She looked back, and saw that the gaps between the buildings were enough that they could just barely sweep past one another without colliding, even with the different speeds.

Jude jumped, and on his landing, the speed of the street picked up violently.  He had something like ice climbers used, hooking onto the roof to help give him traction.

Any blue.

She waited, then jumped.  She didn’t even need the air shoes, like this.

Even with the ear protection on, the crash almost made her lose her footing and land on her face.

The first street that had started moving was now reaching the end of the line.  It wasn’t infinite, and the buildings were slamming one by one into a body of water.  Each subsequent crash made the splash larger.

It was almost a mile away, but the first water droplets were now touching Avery’s skin.  The violent series of crashes and the expansion of the splash filled up one whole side of her peripheral vision, taking over the horizon.

Jude was on the row behind her, and moving faster.  He caught up, and landed on her roof.

It immediately doubled in speed.

They were racing toward the same horizon where the crash was happening.  The droplets became a drenching.  Flecks of wood bounced off of her.

Snowdrop whooped.

Jude shouted something.  She almost thought it was the signal, but he grabbed her, stopped her.

She pulled her ear protection away.  The roar of about a thousand houses crashing into water was enough to rattle her brain in her skull.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” Jude asked.

Avery looked at him, eyes wide.  She let the ear protection snap back into place over her ear.


“Gay!” she called out.  Probably too loud, considering.

He said something that might have been a swear.

She didn’t want to be the wimp here, and he wasn’t freaking out – at least, not about the trip.

But they were getting really close to the point where they would slam into… it looked like a hillside.  The first houses collided with it.  The shattered buildings mingled with the slow-roll explosion of the splash, like a tsunami suspended in time, waiting to happen.

Jude held out a hand, holding it up in a stop motion, not aimed at her.

She reminded herself again that he wasn’t freaked out.

About ten houses down, a house crashed into the rock.  A second later, ninth through sixth had.

Every single house that was waiting for them was yellow.


“Now!” Jude shouted.

They leaped.

A piece of shattered roof flew through the air, slamming into a ‘house’ not far from the big rock.  Right beneath them.  Avery hooked it with the end of her hockey stick to help secure her landing.  She caught Snowdrop’s hand.

They raced away from the ongoing collapse, a metal beam from an annihilated building slammed through the yellow building right next to them.

Jude tapped her shoulder.

She moved the ear protection.

“Blue, blue, red!  Easy until house eight!  Go!  I catch up!”

Snowdrop became an opossum, and clung to her as she timed her leap.

Her landing was rough, and she was glad she’d worn the track pants.  Gravel dug into the side of her leg, even with the fabric in the way.  The heel of her wrist took a bit of a beating, but nothing worse than she’d suffered in soccer.

Now that she was into the swing of it, the first hard part done, she could experience the thrill.

Riding a row of buildings at about two hundred kilometers an hour.

She whooped.  Snowdrop sneezed.

Blue.  Sloped rooftop.  She threw herself forward so she’d land with the slope waiting for her, rather than land on the slope and keep going.  Her feet skidded, runes flaring hot against the sides of her feet, with dust exploding out from around shingles.  It made the landing softer.

Momentum still carried her, and since it couldn’t carry her left, with the slope to brace against, it became more forward momentum.

Snowdrop went human, grabbed a chimney, and grabbed her wrist.

“You’re the best!” Avery shouted.

“I don’t know about that!”

Red.  They made the jump.  Jude followed, coming from another set of buildings.  His landing was rougher, but he was dressed for it.  No skinned palms.

“House eight is supposed to be peaked red, for this run!”

Avery nodded.

They waited until peaked red showed up, then made the jump onto the pointed roof.

By the time Avery stopped skidding, a woman had emerged from a window set into the roof.

“You’ve killed me,” the woman said, eyes wide.  “You set them moving and now I’m going to crash into water and die.  What have you done!?”

“Ignore her!” Jude called out.

“Do you know how many thousands live in these buildings?  How many you’ve murdered?” the woman asked.

“Yes!” Snowdrop answered.

The woman seemed disconcerted by that.  She found her bearings.  “Senseless, you don’t think about what you’re doing.  You humans leave destruction in your wake.”

Avery hated this, as she backed away, stick held out, and avoided the woman who crawled across the roof.

It wasn’t that the woman was really getting to her, even though she kind of was.  But that unhinged tone, the strange atmosphere…


“Please!  Save me!  Don’t let me die!” the woman begged.  “Do one good thing in all of this senseless killing!”

“Jumping soon,” Jude said.  He had a gun out.  “Watch yourself!  Blue, now!”

They made the jump.  The speed they were moving and the impacts seemed disconnected.  Rough, but it felt more like dream logic than reality.

They kicked into movement, moving parallel to the prior house.

“I almost had you!” the woman on the house shouted, before laughing maniacally.  “You believed me for a second, hahahahaha!”

Avery backed away a bit more.  Snowdrop grabbed her hand.

The woman hopped over to another house, then hopped to the house adjacent to their own.  She bared her teeth, face stretching into something at the very limits of humanity, and then she jumped.

Jude shot, putting a bullet in the woman’s face.  It took most of the face and head off.

She hit the roof, went limp, then immediately started moving again, scrambling forward, mostly headless.

Jude aimed, but Avery was quicker, swatting the woman with the hockey stick.  Off the roof and down to the street below, where cars were somehow not all crashing and burning as the streets moved erratically.

He gave her the thumbs up, then tapped his ear.  She removed her ear protection, and winced.

About seventy-five percent of the buildings had gone splat against the horizon, and the noise was still working on reaching them.  A deafening rumble.

“Red, green, green, then goal.  Make sure you get the timing right, it’s deceptive!  If you’re not sure, go back to green, go forward to green, then try again!  Go ahead!”

She went, glad to get away from the woman, and the place she’d felt that uneasiness.

Red, green, green.  Easy enough.

The arch zoomed her way.

She waited, judged, and then leaped.

She landed, rolling with the landing, even with a backpack on, and lay there, arms spread, huffing.

Snowdrop went human, and mimed the posture, lying with her head resting on Avery’s wrist.

The crashing in the distance continued.

Her mind was so geared into the movement of the streets that it was hard to put down, like phantom images on the back of her eyelids.  She just caught her breath, and felt her brain sort out that information, putting it tidily into place.

The crashing went quiet.  She raised her head, looking for Jude, and saw him at the edge of the bridge, lowering his hands from his ears.

Watching the scenery.

She removed her ear protection.

“That was Zoomtown,” Jude said.  “I had a trinket to help you if you fell, I was so sure I’d get to use it and be the hero.”

“Sorry,” Avery said.  She sat up, pulled her bag around to her front, and dug for the casette, which she’d put in a protective case.  She handed it to him along with the folded up paper.

“You did about twice as well as I was expecting you to,” he said.  “There’s more to this than just getting to the end, though.  If you want to explore new paths, there’s some problem solving, you’ve got to work out the logic of how these places are put together… there’s that brute forcing I mentioned, but only when we have to, or when we have a pretty good idea of the outcomes.  For all that stuff, it’s good to have help.”

“Makes sense,” she said.

“I can recommend you to my dad.  If you want to do more of these.”

“I think I might stick to established paths for a while,” she said.  “The Forest Ribbon Trail was rough on me.  Doing this, with help-”

Snowdrop cleared her throat.

“With two people helping, I’m getting back on the bike, I guess?”

“Sure,” Jude said.

“But, uh… Do you think you could give me a better deal than your dad?”

“What do you mean?”

“I need the basics.  I want a few good, easy paths.  Each path we do makes the rest a bit easier, right?”

Jude nodded.

“I want basic Finder info, like I’d get if your family taught me, but without anything too complicated.  I can tell you about a side path off the Forest Ribbon Trail, and you can try convincing your dad you laid on the charm and convinced me, or something.  Maybe he won’t be so mad about the paper airplane.”

“I did charm you a bit, didn’t I?”

“I’m super gay, Jude.  So not like that.  But you were nice enough.”

“I’ll take it.  I could take that last bit and say it to my dad, but I dunno…”

“She really likes you in that romantic way,” Snowdrop said.

“Tell your dad my boon companion said that, maybe,” Avery said.

Snowdrop gave him a thumbs up.

“Okay, that works,” Jude said.  “Give me your phone number.  I’ll contact you, you can give me the info on the Trail.”

Avery recited her phone number.  Their phones didn’t work here, so he wrote it down on his hand.

Jude smiled.  “Come on.  This is your exit.  Mine is another two paths away.”

The exit was a ladder, leading down from the side of the bridge into the mist.

“It’s safe?”


Avery grabbed a rung, then stared climbing down.  Snowdrop followed.


The bright blue-green horizon had turned to black.  The black, she’d thought, would become the night sky in Kennet.  It didn’t.  As it happened, the ladder took her into a storm drain.

The first thing she did was to text her friends to let them know she was okay.

She had to whack the drain cover with her hockey stick to remove it.

She got her bearings, figuring out where she was, and then walked home.

She was a block from home when she saw herself, wearing a short dress with red sequins all over it, standing at the corner.

“Oh, it’s a hand-me-down from Sheridan,” Avery said.  “I never liked wearing red while having red hair.  I thought it made my face look red, too.  But apparently not.”

“It looks so red,” Snowdrop said.

“I did some makeup.”

“You’re way better at it than me.  Were you going to go to the party as me?” Avery asked.

The other ‘Avery’ shook her head, then shook it more vigorously.  The glamour came away.  It was Lucy, and Lucy looked stellar in the red sequin dress with red sandals.

“I thought about it,” Lucy said.  “But I tried to imagine what I’d end up doing and I couldn’t imagine doing much of the stuff you’d do at a party without feeling like I was betraying you.”

Avery nodded.  “But you wanted to?”

“I was morbidly curious if people would look at me differently,” Lucy said.  “It would’ve been an experiment.  I’ll go as me.”

“And I’ll go as me.  But first I need to have a quick-fast shower and pick something to wear.”

“I’m just surprised.  You sounded so down on the idea before.”

Avery had hated the idea of attending, after weeks of lead-up, hearing about the games that were planned, the anticipation of boys talking about girls and girls talking about boys.  Ian and Noah were partnering up, and it really did feel like she was the odd one out.

So when they’d talked about trying to fit in a meeting with the judges, Avery had volunteered.  Lucy and Verona were covering for her for the forty-eight hour round trip, which was really only a thing now that school was done and report cards were out.

Avery had kind of wanted to get away from it all, and weirdly, it felt like she’d found her way back to ‘it all’, a little bit.

Walking in the forest without freaking out.  Dealing with a freaky person Lost.  Walking a Path.

Now a party.

“I had a few little wake-up calls,” Avery said.  “It was good for me.  The Zoomtown Path was…”

“Snoozefest,” Snowdrop said.

“…So fun,” Avery decided.  “And scary, but fun.”

“Scary for us too, you know.”

Avery smiled.  It felt awful to think it, but she really was glad that she wasn’t totally alone in being so spooked by the way things had gone with the Trail.

“Come on.  We need to figure out what you’re wearing.  And if you can’t do your makeup and hair, I want to try,” Lucy said.  “It’s got to be easier than my hair.”

Lucy’s hair was down to her shoulders, wavy and glossy.  She had hoop earrings in, which looked great against the dark hair.  Avery hadn’t even noticed the earrings when Lucy had worn her face.

“I was just going to run a comb through it.  And not do a ponytail.”

“Oh my god.  No, Avery,” Lucy said.

“Want to come, Snow?” Avery asked.

“Yeah, sorta,” Snowdrop said.  “Instead of hanging out with Cherry?”

“You miss your friend?” Lucy asked.

“Nah,” Snowdrop said.

“Go, then,” Avery said.  “Oh, wait, take the snacks we didn’t finish.”

“Terrible.  Making me be a mule for you.”

Avery gave Snowdrop the chips, the last of the milk, the protein bars, and the last half-sandwich.  The kid ran off.

“I won’t be at Louise’s or anything!” Snowdrop called out.

“The Louise thing is a minor issue,” Lucy murmured.

Avery raised an eyebrow.

“But that’s not for tonight.  We’ll talk about it after, and the judges and everything else, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Avery said, smiling.

“For now, you should hurry through your shower, I’ll dig through your stuff to find stuff for you to wear.  Verona’s going to meet us.”

“Did my family see ‘me’ leave the house in that dress?  Because if they did and you walk in wearing that dress, and I’m here, covered in debris, soaking wet, that’s going to raise a lot of questions.”

Lucy laughed.

“What are they going to think happened?  That you mugged me for my dress?”

Lucy laughed again.

“We’re still walking toward my house, and this isn’t answered.”

“We’ll glamour our way into your room.  Sheridan’s watching TV and Kerry’s at Kinley’s house.  The moon’s out, we can become moonlight,” Lucy said.  “Easy.”

“Just saying that like it’s the most normal thing in the world.  Easy, become moonlight, easy.”

“Says the girl who just traveled through racing car town or whatever it was.”

“Racing buildings.  The buildings moved.  It was crazy, and not easy, but…”

They kept chattering until they had to be quiet to sneak in, and then picked up right where they left off.

Previous Chapter

 Next Chapter

35 thoughts on “Leaving a Mark – 4.1

  1. Well, Zoomtown was definitely something. I wonder if you need to finish one Path before you move on to the next?

    I also find it really interesting that both of the Paths we’ve seen are entered by creating metaphorical representations using physical objects. I wonder if that’s true for all Paths? Can you create a new Path be inventing a new entry ritual?

    Liked by 3 people

    • A ritual, a small part of the world sacrificed, tied to a shared dreamscape to give it weight across the world, and with enough hollow space that it can suck in high entropy spirits (powerful, complex but undefined) to give them roles and start the ball rolling.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Do you mean, can you go down one Path while still on another, e.g. set up a Zoomtown gate halfway through the Forest Ribbon Trail? (Seems more practical than the opposite—most prey animals don’t like jumping around on moving buildings.) That sounds like a good way to have two sets of arbitrary rules clashing with one another unpredictably. Maybe if you really needed an emergency escape hatch?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It makes me wonder… Spirits are old and traditional, but Zoomtown as we see it is something that couldn’t have been created before streets full of motor vehicle traffic became a pattern that could be recognized.

    Technomancy is interesting in a similar manner. Is it possible that the spirits are less set in their ways than we assumed, and that they are a lot more adaptable than we think? Or conversely, is human civilization perhaps forcing spirits and the spirit world along certain paths? I suppose another possibility is that the spirits keep up with the appearance of the times (maybe with a couple decades of lag) but behind the modern facade they’re still anchored to the common threads that tie together the whole of human history.

    But if Zoomtown and Technomancy really are something comparatively new, then I would imagine that new paths could possibly be created by a practitioner with enough wits and focus.

    Liked by 3 people

    • IIRC, human beliefs and focuses are a big part of what gets into the magical world. In America, at least, automobiles have been an integral part of daily life for longer than anyone can remember, so it would be weird if there wasn’t anything automotive in the spirits’ vocabulary. (And with Zoomtown specifically, I get the feeling that the Paths obey their own internal logic more than any external laws.)

      That doesn’t explain technomancy, of course. My best guess is that technomancers try to adapt traditional techniques to modern media—maybe using ofuda-ing techniques with tape instead of paper, for instance. I’d love to find out more. Here’s hoping Zed is a student at the Blue Heron Institute and not just friends with a bunch of students!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just want to point out that the zoom town path is basically a layman’s understanding of the reality of driving in a car.

        As you’re driving, it looks like the buildings are moving and you’re standing still, so what better way for the collective unconscious to incorporate the hustle and bustle than frogger on houses because the cars aren’t moving, the world around them is.

        Kinda like scotty “the ships aren’t moving, the universe is!” Mccoy.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Spirits are traditional as a rule, but the universe is made of spirits. Modern things are still necessarily going to have spirits associated with them, and those spirits can be manipulated.
      Humans are definitely forcing spirits into a particular mould. That’s pretty much their main thing. I don’t think a lone practitioner could do anything like that, though. Cities are new, but there’s a lot of people living in them, walking or driving on streets every day of their lives. Doing little rituals like looking left and right before crossing streets. That’s a lot of weight, even without the pressure of tradition, and most practitioner groups just don’t have that kind of power.
      I’m sure there’s special cases, though. Snlfny Najne perngrq cnguf. Maybe lesser spirits could be tapped for that too, if you just had enough of them.


  3. I’ve had my fair share of Judes before. He seems nice enough, so I’m just hoping he doesn’t try to pressure Avery more about any sort of relationship in the future. It sucks to have to deal with one of those “You just haven’t met the right guy.” types.

    Snowdrop is incredibly charming as always, and I absolutely adore her. Zoomtown was pretty fun, all things considered. I’m curious about what would have happened if they had touched a yellow house.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I wonder what troubled Avery’s greeter so, that she went to the Alabaster at the tender age of twelve.

    Snowdrop is a horrible, useless wretch. The only thing I liked about her is how she resisted the temptation of the apples. I’m not even slightly curious if she was able to steal an additional Zoomtown boon for herself, because there’s no way an opossum would need to dodge traffic.

    Finally, I suspect that something tragic and/or awkward will happen at the party.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Typo thread:
    no. but I decided I want to come” (and rest of message)
    Misalignmed compared to her other messages.

    “the trail. You”
    “tape to zed.”

    “for the casette, which”

    “then stared climbing”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The woman was maybe around eighteen, wearing a white dress thinner than Avery’s t-shirt, and had flowers in dark hair braided loosely enough that there were evenly spaced gaps between the locks. She was curvy, in a healthy way.

    What is it with Avery and women who are too old for her? Are there just not many curvy girls her age in Kennet?

    The woman offered Avery one of the apples, biting into the other.
    “No, but it seems nice of you to offer,” Avery said. She could remember what they’d been told about Faerie, and not eating things while visiting the Faerie. This wasn’t the Faerie, but maybe the same rules applied.

    And even if not…an apple is the biggest symbol of temptation since…actually, I can’t think of a bigger symbol of temptation. Except maybe the word ENTICING written in blinking neon.

    “I think I’ve been conditioned to think there’s a horrible catch or something,” Avery said.

    Good instinct to have, in this world and the Other. Offers which sound too good to be true usually aren’t.

    “I can get you something after.”
    “It’s terrible for me. Bad. Probably tastes awful.”
    “After, Snow.”
    “They don’t even look that juicy.”
    “I want to leave.”
    Avery sighed.

    Normally, Snowdrop’s conversations sound like collections of non sequiters to outsiders. Right now, she sounds like an ordinary bratty kid who happens to be an animorph.

    “[The Carmine Beast] took nobody in. Others like her in other areas do, taking in killers, monsters, heroes and villains.”

    That makes it sound like there are universal, predefined red/white/black/yellow roles (possibly with the same adjectives, possibly not), and that all areas not under the jurisdiction of a Lord have one of each (when in balance). Interesting.
    There are two bits of trivia that I happen to know about that set of color. First, they are one of two typical color sets in a language with only four color words (the other replaces yellow with green). If we see another domain with RWB and green roles, that will indicate that this is the primary symbolism.
    However, thanks to a really interesting /r/RWBY post, I also know that there are allegedly four steps in the process of creating a philosopher’s stone—nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, and rubedo. Without going into extensive detail, someone with a decent knowledge of Latin can probably figure out the connection between those four terms and the four colors of RWBY’s title characters the four Roles. If this is the primary symbolism, then it raises the question of what Roles there are in regions where Western culture (and its alchemy) don’t hold so much influence…
    Or I’m overanalyzing things and those are just four awe-inspiring colors for four awe-inspiring beings. But, to quote another occult web serial, nothing is ever a coincidence.

    “Many wait until they are older. At the very least, one should try to know themselves before they decide.”

    Gee, I wonder why the Others of Kennet decided to recruit Practitioners too young to know themselves.

    “We’re going to fuck this up,” Snowdrop said.
    “I- I really do understand that you have to talk that way, but it’s really unnerving when you’re saying stuff so close to that anxious voice in my head,” Avery said.

    Snowdrop is kind, talented, and has impeccable style, but having her as your buddy does come with some downsides.

    “The Abyss is like the Ruins, right?”
    “Is being on land like being underwater?”

    Depends on your reference point. They’re arguably more like one another than either is like being on the Moon.
    Though it’s interesting that Finders apparently know ways to get into the Abyss naq trg fnsryl onpx gb ernyvgl, engure guna whfg snyyvat naq trggvat fghpx gurer yvxr Oynxr naq (cerfhznoyl) bgure obtrlzra.

    “Do you have a boyfriend?” Jude asked.

    You couldn’t at least wait until after you lead the fair damsel to safety from the toy block town of doom?

    “Do you know how many thousands live in these buildings? How many you’ve murdered?” the woman asked.
    “Yes!” Snowdrop answered.
    The woman seemed disconcerted by that.

    Snowdrop continues to be the best.

    The racebuildings town was awesome and insane, somehow unifying the peril of Pverse magic with a child-novel sense of whimsy. (If it wasn’t for the PTSD, child abuse, and cannibalism I’d recommend Pale to my little cousins, who love Harry Potter. Or at least send it to my aunt and have her introduce it to them.) Jude seems nice, if comically forward; the fact that he still wants to hang out with and help Avery after finding out that she’s “super gay” suggests that he’s an actual nice guy and not just a Nice Guy™.

    I look forward to the party. It sounds like it’ll be a blast—either the Kennet coven will have a ton of fun, or it’ll blow up in their faces.

    Liked by 4 people

      • We’re not dealing with the people running a major city or a town full of rivals. Most of these sympathetic Practitioners are at the bottom of the pecking order, kinda like the sympathetic Practitioners from Pact (ie, Blake and Maggie).

        The way that people with power consistently abuse that power to protect or advance their position, while people without power are freer to try and support each other (if they can be bothered), seems reasonably consistent in the Pverse. And most of Wildbow’s novels, for that matter.


    • What is it with Avery and women who are too old for her? Are there just not many curvy girls her age in Kennet?

      It’s a very small town. We know that there are no other lesbian girls in her class, and we’ve been told by Others that there is nobody in Kennet that can be Avery’s girlfriend as things stand right now.

      Also, being a 13-year-old means that anyone mature enough to be an object of desire is almost guaranteed to be older than Avery.


    • [blockquote]And even if not…an apple is the biggest symbol of temptation since…actually, I can’t think of a bigger symbol of temptation. Except maybe the word ENTICING written in blinking neon.[/blockquote]

      Maybe a big red button and a “Do not touch” sign.


  7. Avery thought Snowdrop looked eight when we first met her. Now she looks eleven. I wonder if her apparent age is variable, or if she’s growing up at possum-speed before our eyes. Or maybe it relates to Avery’s personal growth.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I brought that up with a friend, showing him that possums reach adulthood at about five-ish months.
      He didn’t like the idea of Snowdrop being 20something in a few months, but I think it’s perfectly uncanny and I love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The liar thing is annoyingly common in some places.

    Heh. I guess Pathfinders run into a lot of weird labyrinth guardians and whatnot. It looks like a pretty cool type of Practice overall.
    Zoomtown seems a bit garish, though. I hope the next magical realm Avery visits is a bit calmer.


    • Ah yes, the Placid Bone ocean; an infinite expanse of white milky fluid that is traveled not through distance but through pain which can never truly be left without suffering an exact amount; not too little nor too much :p

      In all seriousness the idea of heroes journeys (doing the extraordinary but being changed by it through both gifts and lasting scars) is probably my favorite aspect of pathfinders, and I love how this could go horribly – I mean, complement things like Avery having “best self” glamour that’s also fundamentally about becoming someone different through overcoming


  9. Awesome chapter! I think that Avery and Jude (and other finders in Zoomtown) are like car chasers in that game which a lot of children play on car journeys.

    The idea being that you’re In a car, and you look out the window and imagine a wolf, or a ninja, or whatever else is running over the top of buildings keeping up with the car. Often you’d invent nonsense rules like “the chaser cant touch yellow houses!” or similar. I think it connects a lot of dots! The houses are moving because when you’re in the car it’s as though the houses are racing past, the playset portal implies a connection to a childs game.

    The boon also makes sense, the idea being that the chaser (being imaginary) would never be in any real danger running along buildings, and the kid would imagine them easily evading traffic and similar. Also the frustration at not driving seems like the kind of immature impulse that would be common amongst bored young passengers.

    I really like the thread that these paths are brought about through the incidental shared imaginings of humans, be they common fantastical story beats like in the Forest Ribbon Trail, or common childrens games like I’m supposing Zoomtown is like.

    Liked by 4 people

Reply - No Pact spoilers!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s