Nightfall In The Glade

By Doug Langille

(This story is a follow up to Artemis’ Nightrise, which is included in Dark Futures Annual 1)

Legato and Mezzo flew as if their wings were aflame, knocking baskets of gathered berries to the forest floor far below. The twins corkscrewed their way up and around the ancient tree to the canopy of the Glade. They landed on the Great Chamber’s platform at a sprint. Chancellor Fortissima of the Faie waited for her couriers to catch their breath.

“But Milady, we have to share these foul tidings,” insisted Mezzo.

She dismissed his concerns with a subtle nod. “I need clear words, young Mezzo. Take some nectar and bring your thoughts to order.”

Legato rubbed the salve brought him by the Chancellor’s handmaiden. His wings ached and the paste cooled his shoulders. He knew the young girl from his youth, but her name eluded him.

The elder Legato always carried himself more reserved than his slightly younger brother. He understood that whether in the role of leader or Auntie, the Chancellor was more often right than wrong. So he placed a hand on Mezzo’s shoulder and offered the bowl of medicine. Mezzo nodded, traded with the nectar, and they refreshed themselves.

Fortissima waited with patient grace before taking away the bowls; she handed them to her handmaiden and bade the boys to sit.

“Now, what news of South Farthing? Has it fallen?”

Legato spoke up. “Yes, Auntie– I mean, Chancellor. The Night-Seekers breeched the forest gates a few hours ago. Bravura insisted on us joining the fight. She wouldn’t abandon them.”

Mezzo voice shook. “She screamed while they fed. They plucked her wings and sucked them dry. We couldn’t save her. We couldn’t. We tried but there were so many.”

Legato hung his head and murmured, “We fled, Auntie.”

“How many of the aliens did you see?” asked Fortissima. The last reports were that they hunted in small patrols, organized yet nimble.

Legato raised his head and looked up at the beautiful Chancellor, her translucent wings reflecting flickers of torchlight. She stood painfully regal and misplaced amidst this garish interruption, her eyes sparkling wide in curious fascination.

Legato flushed with anger and frustration. “This wasn’t a hunting party, Chancellor. There were hundreds, an army, just like Spinto warned. They are headed here, to the North.”

Fortissima’s features shimmered and shifted as she assumed a warrior’s poise. “Your Uncle Spinto isn’t here, is he?” she responded sharply. “The coward fled, like so many. We will not.”

Legato fell silent, chastised.

“There’s more, Auntie,” said Mezzo.

“Oh?”

“The invaders numbered too many to match the skyship we saw them land in.”

Legato interrupted. “Some of the Night-Seekers had wings too, like us.”

“I don’t think all of us Faie are food,” said Mezzo, shuddering.

“This does not bode well, children. I know who these creatures are. They’ve found us. I don’t know how, but they have. But worry not, I’ve called for help.”

A thunderous crack ended the conversation as a large branch fell from above, knocking over the torches and setting the platform ablaze.

Shouts of pain and surprise surrounded the Great Chamber as the Chancellor’s Guardians greeted the invaders, yet fell one by one. Ever protective, Fortissima stood in front of her brethren as the company of Night-Seekers clambered on the platform. She marveled numbly that the aliens’ backs didn’t sprout wings but they nonetheless moved with acrobatic ease and uncommon swiftness.

The smallish handmaiden, caught on the far side of the platform closest to the newcomers, flitted and bounced awkwardly, trying to crawl away; her right wing hung at a queer angle, preventing her flight. A larger Night-Seeker broke rank and grabbed her by the back. Fortissima blanched in horror, watching as the brute snapped her tiny body, drank from her midsection and passed the remains back through the throng.

“Oh, Aria!” cried Fortissima. Legato’s knees weakened at the mention of the forgotten name. Mezzo steadied him as the noise and chaos rose to a frenzied crescendo.

“Enough,” shouted a strong feminine voice from within the ranks and the party fell silent. Only the crackling fire below and the rapid breathing of the Night-Seekers could be heard over the racing hearts of the Faie. The company parted as a lone female Night-Seeker came forward and stood in front, facing the Great Chamber.

Legato and Mezzo took wing and assumed flanking positions on each side of Fortissima. The Chancellor felt small but not altogether powerless; not all specie of Faie were small and flighted. Even in this place, there were secrets. But where were the Lamia? Why didn’t they answer? She straightened her back and regarded the woman approaching.

With her wings extended, Fortissima spoke. “How dare you defile our Glade, Night-Seeker?”

The woman walked forward, removed her gauntlet and offered her hand. She spoke slowly and evenly. “Chancellor Fortissima, I presume? My name is Evie. We did not expect to find Faie this far out. Extraordinary.”

Fortissima stood fuming and silent, her wings swirling in deep greens and blues.

Evie smiled and dropped her hand. “No matter. My father will be pleased.”

“Tell Artemis I’ll be awaiting his visit.”

Car Wrecks

By Roy C. Booth and Nicholas Johnson

In the wastes of the once great United States of America, in the ash fields of what was once called Kansas – in the rubble of what was once a town with a name and was now a collection of crumbling bricks, burnt out car frames, and doll heads with their dirty matted hair and their unblinking eyes – the little amount of life that kept on in these parts collected on what people might have once said was a regular basis for a brief moment in their pitiful existence and scrapped together what food and unkilling water they had for the celebration that was what had came to be known as the Great Last Race. Pox marked peoples, universally suffering from malnutrition, skin diseases, oral cancers, and sexually transmitted aliments, came to the skeleton town carrying bits and pieces of the past and, in two great piles at what would have been the edge of town, they dropped the pieces and then found some place to hunker down until the time of drawing was upon them. There was nothing that marked the time of drawing. There was just a sense of when the two piles were big enough, and then the lasts of humanity pooled together around the piles – one by one they made their mark in the dirt in a square the length and breath of a man lying on his side. When the marks had been made and everyone had stepped away, the chosen one was brought out and the chant went up from the mass of dregs.

“Co-Ka-Cola! Calvin Klein! Ex-lax! DOR-EE-TOES!”

The chosen one this time was a blind man with a gimp arm and open sores on both of his legs. Two of those assembled pulled him along and forced him to his knees before the drawn dirt square as the crowd continued the holy proclamation.

“Jiffy Lube! Captain Crunch! Say No to Dish!”

The chanting built and as collected bodies shouted and threw their withered limbs into the air there was a sense of something that came upon them. A learned man of the now dead world, of the world before, might have thought it some kind of genetic memory or psychic residue, but for those that gathered, for those that chanted and thrust and gyrated, they could hear more than just what their raspy voices could produce. They could see more than just the desolate waste in which they found themselves slowly dying. For those that partook in this Last Great Race, they were part of something greater.

“Tampax! Cool-Aid! Chevrolet! Unlimited Texting!” they called to the barren world, and around them a great phantom world replied. A great stadium of people with its Klieg lights and bountiful food stuffs on sticks, in paper wraps, and plastic cups answered their call. Like an echo, the old world could be heard cheering them on. The ghosts and specters of sportsmanship called up in the rush of their blood surrounded, infusing them and promising them: “Instant relief from burning sensations! A good night’s sleep! All you can eat!” they screamed and thrashed and wailed around the two great piles until, when all their prayers were in the wind and something shifted in them, a call from the ether that said, “Let’s have a clean fight!” or “They’ve won the flip!” and en masse they fell upon the Chosen One. Their chant having changed, they now shouted randomly: “Home of the Free! Rocket’s Red Glare! The Last Gleaming!” – scrambling over one another to find a piece of the Chosen One to bite off. He died horribly, like he lived, and when he was dead and everyone had bitten from him, they would look across the dirt square with their mark scratched in it and they would see what team they played for. If their mark was wiped away or covered by the blood of the Chosen One they would play for Team Blood. If they could still see all or a part of their mark the played for Team Dirt.

Split into their teams they would work without rest until the sun rose again and in that time they would build themselves into the Dream. Taken from their great pile of parts they would use wire or strapping and bind the pieces to themselves. Rocker panels and rear view mirrors. Hub caps and steering wheels. Through the night the teams would pull the pieces onto themselves and bind themselves to it and to each other, until, when the unforgiving sun would crest the horizon of the barren ash wastes, they would begin to race. Off towards the sun the two teams carried themselves and their Dream until, one of them, the Blood or the Dirt, would crash in a pile degraded bodies and rusted American steel, a spent thing that had lived briefly and then ran itself into the ground, sacrificed to the Gods of Consumption.

Then, if the other team had the mind to do so, they would eat them and wait for the next race to begin.