Mother of Crow
By jenny K Brennan
This Sundered World, book 2
A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don’t know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.
Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K Brennan – All rights reserved.
The choices of butterflies
A voice like velvet, like chill wind over frozen forest floor, of sand over water. It was all of those sounds in one gentle plea. Perhaps the tender tone was a trick of the acoustics in the bare stone room with its unforgiving surfaces and odd architecture throwing the sound in strange ways. It could easily be explained that way if one wished. And perhaps not. Maybe these sweet whispers were honest enough, halting and insecure as they were. The truth was somewhere in between. Deception was the work of the room; the honesty was real. ,And the force of will could not be denied. The man speaking urged and encouraged with soft gestures and careful movements of face and hands. “Come now, Little one. Don’t be shy with me. Come on, Sweets. You only need to do this once. A little bit closer now. Oh, that’s right. Just a little bit. ” Frederico’s Urging whispers spread out in the room and as the sound hit the stone it seemed to grow rather than fade. Gentle words of encouragements turned into a harsh echo of hissing that lingered. Frederico stood leaning forward in a painful posture that left his back constantly aching. His natural hand poked through the aluminum mesh and he held it palm up as close to the newly formed insect he dared to. The butterfly quivered a little as it stretched its newly formed wings in the warm air. Brand new wings spread out proudly, exposing their marvel of colour and form. A still damp pattern in luminous yellow and black somewhere between hot charcoal and pitch quickly dried as it slowly moved the wings against its new world.
Beautiful. Yes, you are.” Frederico breathed almost soundlessly with that familiar feeling of awe. It was an amazement that never got old. But this time however, it came adorned with an aching sense of dread.; A feeling long expected and not really a surprise. He moved the hand slowly, and with practiced smoothness in his approach to his ward, He moved it a barely measurable closer to the being beyond the barrier. A single drop of Frederico’s carefully concocted phantomgenic mixture sat ready on the very tip of his middle finger. A clear drop of liquid that would be the first, and last meal the butterfly would get. On the butterflies wings yellow and black appeared to move within their individual shades until one became the other, without a visible change. This was the critical phase. Where the insect was still in flux and could decide to be one of three things. It could finish the process of becoming what it really was meant to be. By letting the colours and shape settle into a normal creature in the world. A butterfly destined to live out its life in a futile hunt for sustenance until it starved and died . A quick and natural death in this unnatural world where butterflies could not survive .
“We don’t want that do we, darling. No we certainly do not.” Among the nonsense words had crept in a dissonance of desperation that the Butterfly tending monk didn’t like. Barely breathing, he let his mind stray no more. The butterfly was still but for the slow movement of wings where the colours were not quite solid, not quite there. Frederico’s mind stilled but not without effort as the butterfly started moving toward the glittering drop on the human’s finger. Slowly, hesitatingly, curiously turning toward it. The monk held his breath. Would this be the one? Would this time be different? Yes, this time they would finally be able to deliver on their promise to their benefactors. The butterfly trembled but calmed just as quickly and moved closer. Frederico’s equilibrium, threatened by his sudden hope, held for another moment where he kept his thoughts strictly on the image of the creature coming to him. He needed to hope, then believe, then be in utter and complete knowing that the insect would come to him. He needed more than endless patience. Patience alone couldn’t bring the creature to him. the butterfly had to decide to come. He was almost depleted of patience. He had the hope. He also had a sliver of belief in his craft. But it was the lack of knowing that had on previous attempts failed him. He had rarely been able to see reality as something different than what was in front of him. But this time he felt it. That rare alignment of wanting and being came over him as the butterfly crept even closer . It would take the plunge and become what he needed it to be. What they all needed this one to make the right decision. Finally. Frederic’s vision shifted and he saw it. Saw the transformation take place. layered with what his eyes saw, he saw what he believed and the future was clear and decided.
Just another moment. Just a single second, a held breath. This time it would come to him. What felt like a lifetime of responsability, of threats, fear, and doubt lifted and he could breathe. Frederico exhale into the endless still moment. The butterfly came for its meal. It flexed, reached. And that was when someone decided it was a nice time to visit. The silent butterfly sanctuary held in a silent reverie rarely broken, shattered with a bang. dissonant shriek of uncoiled hinges and the sudden crash of a door slamming the wall shattered the fragile image and Frederico reeled, suddenly dizzy and disoriented. His perfectly placed fingers shook and his heart jumped into a jolting ra-ta-ta against the insides of his ribs. A loud clamber followed, the unmistakeable sound of a fully suited metal monk making his way across the stone floor but Frederico didn’t hear. He struggled to remain still, to keep calm. He desperately fought to pull back the image and the belief. ”No. don’t listen. That didn’t just happen.” He keened and begged the butterfly. It took him a split second to make his hand go still again even if his racing heart couldn’t be slowed that easily and his mind would not be eased. He stared at the insect in dismay. He knew what was happening and he couldn’t stop it.
What did stop was the moving butterfly. Its world changed immediately and it went from being curious, to puzzled, to frightened at the sudden change around it. It instantly had the knowledge it needed to make its choice. For the briefest of moments, thanks to the phantomgenic infusion during development, it knew too much of the future it was expected to enter. It was in that briefest of seconds that most butterflies made their choice. To live the one day, to evolve and scatter through the world as communicator, or simply to choose not to. This butterfly saw enough of its own destiny and its place in the world to decide on the not. The insect froze and stilled. Frederico swore and he knew it was too late. Still, hoping against the horror filling his body with numbing cold that it wasn’t so. In a last frantic action, he thrust his finger toward it. It could be forced. If he could just get the transforming liquid close enough. If he could just…
The butterfly had finally dried completely which made what happened next so much easier. It decided to break and so it broke. Minuscule cracks spread from the body throughout the velvety colourful expanse of its wings to the fragile edge, breaking the glorious coloured surfaces into pieces. One by one the divided sections of wing turned to dust. The body imploded and all the pieces of the once magnificent beast slowly and soundlessly fell through the air in a rain of soft dust to settle on the worn granite floor below.
Frederico stared in disbelief at the empty branch, then at the finger with it’s uneaten drop of magic brew. Its glittering seemed to mock him. His failure. His weakness of faith. He pulled his hand out and turned from the now empty breeding cage. He shook his hand but the stubborn drop still clung to the skin. He brought it up close to his face and glared at it. To his horror, his eyes burned and he fought against the choking sensation at the top of his throat. He ground his teeth against the emotion he didn’t quite know what to call. He had been so close. So close. He closed his eyes and took a moment to consider the consequences. But only a second.
“Oh, sorry, Brother. Didn’t realize you were in here.” Said a not too concerned voice followed by more metallic noises.
the familiar voice ripped Frederico out of his thoughts and he turned around. Where else would I be? What else would I be doing? The words stuck in Frederico’s throat and the choked gurgle he emitted fell on nothing but an empty doorway and a dim corridor.
Brother John had moved and stood at the table, peering down at the bottle of useless butterfly food, scratching his chin thoughtfully. Frederico glared at the man and absently put his finger in his mouth and sucked off the sticky drop and grimaced at the bitter taste. He turned away from Brother John and sighed. His mind returned to the situation at hand. It was what it was. And what was didn’t look good at all. Oh dear Mother of Crow, Save me.” He groaned at the empty cage with its layer of failed attempts to breed another communicator. The fresh sprinkling of dead insect clearly visible on top of all the others that had crumpled, shattered, or just fallen down deaden silent protest against their destiny.
John creaked, groaned, and clanked to stand at Frederico’s side. “Fred?” He pointed into the empty; cage.
“Am I seeing things or is that thing empty?” Frederico’s fellow monk spoke with a surprisingly high pitched voice as his eyes roamed the remnants of dead insects.
Frederico sighed. “If you were finally starting to see things, my dear idiot, what would you be seeing, pray tell?”
“Um.” John nlinked.
Frederico turned toward the door, attempting to leave John in his usual puzzlement. He could stay that way for hours if no one came along to poke him out of his revery of some random thing he had found. This seemed like a good time to leave the man undisturbed.
Frederico paused and let his gaze roamed the rest of the room in a second of indecision. The breeding cage covered one full wall of Frederic’s breeding lab. The rest of the cramped space was taken up by two large tables hosting the phantomgenic still, an incomprehensible compilation of burners and pipes, coloured glass bottles and all the tools. At the very edge of the largest table, on a spot hastily wiped clean merely hours ago, stood a single carefully sealed vial; the result of months of preparation for the last living specimen. Useless now. Frederico tore his eyes from the bottle and hurried over to the tall cupboard standing alone against the opposite wall. He pulled open the double doors and stared at the contents for a long moment before closing it again. He drew a calming breath that left him ready to throw up and started toward the door. He would admit his latest defeat. He would speak to the abbot and explain. He would understand. Surely. He cringed at the memory of his own words, his promise.
John’s squeek jolted Frederico and he stopped with a hand on the open door, and waited. “Yes, john?”
“Um, I was supposed to tell you something.”
Brother John had turned to Frederico and the normal puzzlement was gone, replaced with a look of fear. John was fighting to say something, damp lips flapping soundlessly. No words came. The sudden intensity in the monks eyes gave Frederico pause and he stepped to John and put a hand on the metal clad shoulder. John spat the words he had been struggling with. “Don’t go. Fred. They’re coming.” He faltered and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as if the rest of his words were up there. He Finding them at last, he sputtered. “To look at butterfly.” John smiled, happy. He nodded as to confirm his message and then he frowned. “They’re coming for inspection. But Fred. He glanced anxiously at the cage. “Fred? where are the butterflies?”
next up: Chapter 3 – To panic or not to panic
Wordy, again. 🙂 Thoughts?