Jump to content

Iron Quill - Feast - Overhead


Recommended Posts

Anything will burn when enough lost children add enough candle-ends to the rubbish barrel, and one child has the gift of flame. It won't burn sweet, it won't burn hot, but it will burn warm enough.

They clustered close, whimpering, looking sideways at each other. Their eyes were mostly too large or their faces were too shrunken for the eyes they were meant to frame. Most of them had rags tied around their heads, over their ears: they had survived the song and not danced off into the night not to be seen again. Whatever hair showed through the rags was cropped short and always dark, never lighter than red. None of the girls were old enough to sprout, and those who were close kept the most wary eye on the surrounding walls and ditches. Another older one slipped into the group and twitched and lost her grip on her burden, then whistled a low two-part note, over and over.

"Tawnee, shhh, stop. She's not here. Abner's thinkin'," said an older boy. Tawnee didn't stop whistling, until the boy snatched a bent iron rod from the pile of long objects near the fire and beat her across the shoulders with it. She folded up then, and quit whistling, and hugged her knees, and rocked back and forth, trembling. The boy leaped upon the bundle she'd dropped, unwrapped a moon-shaped heel of rounded bread, and crammed it into his mouth without pausing to scrape off the mold.

Abner was easy to spot. As it was with humans, so it was with gremlins and children: the one in charge wore the hat. It had begun life as a black hat, and while most of the dye was gone, a long braid of real hair dyed black had been tied around the crown to reassert style and authority. Tawnee hadn't wanted to cut it off, but a real leader got his way, or else. He stood up and commanded the crowd with his eyes.

"I've been thinking. We got a good fire tonight. Let's do a rat hunt!" Abner raised his voice to a shout. "Roast rat for dinner!"


The plan was simple. The children were to scatter in all directions, disturb the ruins, start a few rats running, and herd them back to the fire to be clubbed and roasted. The problem only came in the enthusiasm and the math. Shout as he might, Abner couldn't stop every child who was capable from grabbing one of the rods or sticks kept near the fire and racing off into the night, and think as he might, Abner would never have realized that while four children might be able to beat down one rat, a pack of rats could chew through any number of children.

And so, when the footsteps thudded overhead as heavy as human feet, and three separate escape routes suddenly came alive with surging leaping rats, Abner pissed himself. He screamed, leaped towards the only safe direction, darted forward again to grab his fallen hat, and snatched it back to the safety of the nearest windowsill just as the three swarms collided and swirled into something larger and toothier. Each of the hunting parties screamed with joy when they caught sight of the barrel's flickering light, only for the screams to turn panicked when they caught sight of the number of rats. Soon the children were all scrambling up the wall and whispering terrible stories of the knotted clumps of rats which prowled the Zone, but there weren't quite enough rats for that, honest.

Except that there were footsteps overhead still, getting closer, and heavier, and louder, and leaping, and not making the sounds of landing on another rooftop.

"Wahlaaaaaaaaau!" Feet flashed down from above, and skinny muscled legs, and flecked cotton fabric, and skinny blades. "Kena ah?" Without waiting for an answer the ronin dove laughing into the swarm, and rats soon were sprayed into the air in halves and pieces. Vermin screeched and sword-girls chattered, and slowly the children unpeeled from the windowsills and ventured a few steps closer to the weakening battle. Abner was first to pluck up courage and seize the back half of a rat and retreat with his prize.

That was enough. They surged forward, getting flecked with rat chum as they dug through the pile for meaty parts, and held them over the smoldering rubbish barrel for almost long enough to singe all the hair off before they stuffed their faces. The ronin with a topknot flicked her elbow towards the children between strikes. "Take loshee lah," she shouted to the other, and changed her attack angle. More rats got flicked up into the air for a decapitating strike and stabbed on the follow-through, dropping back to earth eviscerated and ready to be skewered.

When the last of the rats had fled or died, topknot ronin loaded up several skewers' worth of rats and built up piles on either side of the barrel to rest them across. The sword-girl with a bun slapped the hands of four young boys reaching for those rats. She sat by the fire, cleaned and sheathed her daito, and then hugged her knees and stared at the larger skewers. Now that she was not in motion, she could be seen to be as tiny and underfed as the children, just older.

Topknot, now that her sister was defending their dinner, took the time to tidy her sword, then stretched out the scabbard to tap the brim of Abner's hat and lift it half off his head. "You hat limpeh ah?..."

Abner glared back at her and settled it down on his head, with both hands.

She scowled and unsheathed the sword, then stretched it out again to touch the point to the braid, aimed right at his brain. "You not nice. Sword nicer leh. Smile."

He got the message then. He smiled. He lowered his hands off of his hat as though taking them off of a gun.

"W-welcome to our fire, ladies. Won't you join us for a feast? Roast rat for dinner."

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information