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Cloud Dancing · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Steep Magics
I was drifting through a woes-garden, my wings flapping idly as I darted among the twisted flowers, each the perfect symbol for the wreck of a dream, a moment, a summer hope, a life. Some dripped with clear dew like tears, some ran blood red, some were yellow and ominous growths running out of control. But none of these problems were mine, at least at the moment. The Fae Queen had given me leave, I had an afternoon to idle away and I meant to waste every minute of it.

But as I swung around a shiny glinting patch of thorns, a familiar scent came to me, lemongrass and rosemary, and it reminded me of that one human witch who called upon me, brewing her personal tea blend in her sigil-painted pot. She’d always had kind words for me and her tasks were simple. I dithered as I made up my mind, but idling isn’t as fun as chasing down a stray serpent or binding the snout of a guard dog, so I decided to accept the summons. I hadn’t heard from the dear old girl for something like… a year, was it? I didn’t know and cared somewhat less. Human time was too regular and mean, measured out in tiny dabs via their ticking geared contrivances, or rushing choked and reedy through hourglass waists.

I let the scent fill the air around me, and the warmth of steam filled my senses until I could let myself merge, and then I was in the teapot again, coiling with the flow. The red clay inside was unglazed and permanently stained with the brown hues of decades of tea making. The pot was mostly dark but streams of light flowed in from the neck and around the lid and these lit the bubbling water below me. I gathered myself, then flowed with the steam out the neck and into the light of day!

I swirled in the steam cloud over the pot, trying to orient or occident myself, and having precious little luck. The old witch’s cottage had been austere and neat, simple in construction and furnished with handcrafted items she’d made from the trees in back of her house. This… This was a bright little room, one window, with glowing squares in the ceiling. The furniture was painfully square and rigid, with neat and perfectly angled corners, and the wood grain didn’t seem to penetrate into the wood very far, as if it was painted on. Who would bother to press sawdust into wood shapes and then paint wood designs on it? But the metal knobs on the cabinets were made with beautiful precision, and the glass in the outside window was perfectly smooth and clear, nary a bubble or ripple. This was advanced craftsmanship or a precision in magick that I had not yet encountered. I was certain the witch I’d known had nothing to do with this; was I dealing with her descendant?

Speaking of whom… There was a sound of rushing, gurgling water and a young woman walked slowly into the room. I could see hints of the old witch’s lineage in the jut of her chin and shape of her nares, and I thickened the mist that constituted my body in this realm, preparing to make my introductions and wondering for what purpose she had summoned me. If she had constructed all this, it was not likely she’d need my help for a trifling task.

She came to the table where the teapot rested, yawned, and reached out to take the teapot from where it rested, atop a hot glowing spiral of metal instead of a proper fire. She made as if to pour a cup of tea without even glancing in my direction, and I gave a bit of a cough and made myself more manifest before her. Suddenly her eyes focussed upon me, and she blinked hard. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed, reaching out to touch me. Did she not know this sort of thing was forbidden by compact? I jerked back just in time to avoid her solecism.

“Seek not to lay hands upon me; such is forbidden by the Queen’s Grace--” As I spoke, she pulled forth a little oblong glass mirror… or so I thought until the glass surface suddenly displayed images upon it. I caught but a glimpse of this before she pointed the other side of it at me and a bright dazzling light shot from it! I wavered and cursed. “What witchery do you think to practice upon me?”

“This is amazing! You talk, too! I can’t believe it! You’re so pretty and perfect like a little angel!” I rolled my eyes and started to explain the vast differences between the Fae and the Celestials when another flash left me squeezing my eyelids shut, wincing at the dancing motes! I gathered all my ire. “Heed me well, this needs to stop, or I--”

“Oh, god, is that too bright? Here, I’ll turn the flash off, would you pose with me?” She brought forth a silver rod with a pink handle on it, pulled the end and it stretched into a wand. I was puzzled as to what manner of sorcery she intended until she placed her magic mirror in a clamp at the end, then swiveled around in her chair to place her head near mine as she held up the wand. In the magic mirror, I could now see my image and hers, glowing with unusual light...

“Have you forgotten all etiquette! You may neither capture my name nor my image!” I spoke some terrible words, most of which were impolite, and my visage became clear as air to the sight of her enchantment. The brazen little chit looked puzzled as I disappeared from her little mirror, and she poked and prodded at it, bringing up colorful runes on it as she tried to make me appear within it again. I gave a shudder and a thanks to Titania for my narrow escape.

“Odd’s bodkins!” I shouted, interrupting her fiddling. “What manner of witch are you, that command such powers but have forgotten the respect due the Fae? I’ve half a mind to pull your nose out to a foot in length and grow a mushroom on the tip, and the Queen would back me!” Steam rose from my hair as she looked at me in astonishment.

“A witch?” quoth she. “I’m not really a witch, I mean, I’ve joined Hands of Change and I’ve been to a dumbfeast or two, but I know Great Great Grandma had a reputation. This was her teapot and I found a box of her tea, I thought I would make a cup, I was going to try an ink scrying tonight…”

Too many questions were rising to my tongue and I wanted to bite it instead. “Not… really a witch,” I repeated, sinking down to settle on the teapot knob and folding up my wings. The old witch must be long gone, mortals were never very good at evading time for long. “You command a wand and a magic mirror, you brewed the lemongrass and rosemary tea in the proper teapot, you summon light without candles or glowmoss and everything around you shimmers with opulence, yet you are not a witch. Well, I am not of the Fae, but an ordinary damselfly, if I believe a word of that!”

“Magic mirror? You mean my phone?” She waved her glittering device, which uttered a very unbirdlike chirp. “This isn’t magic, I mean, real magic. Uhm. I can call people and take pictures and movies and share them? I can’t turn people into newts and stuff. Maybe a dog?” She touched the mirror again, and suddenly the image of her face took on a dog’s snout and ears, rendered very childishly. Her own face changed not at all.

Outwardly I was calm; inside, my soul roiled like the bubbles deep in the teawater. I sighed and pinched my nose as if I meant to use it as a handle to pull my head off. “If you please… show me what else your magic mirror can do…” I groaned.

Over the course of an hour, she displayed its wonders as the sun rose and climbed in the sky, beaming sunlight through the window in a square that crept slowly across the floor. It was well for my peace of mind that some things remained the same.

“So...” I said to sum up. “You can speak via clairvoyance with any of your acquaintances, sharing their sights and thoughts though they be on the other side of the world. You can speak with a familiar, or ‘personal assistant,’ who will answer any question you care to put to it. You may track the stars in the heavens, distract yourself with endless amusements, forecast the weather, perform intricate mathematical calculations, and the knowledge of the ancients is supposedly at your fingertips.”

She nodded.

“But you are not a witch, you say.” I gazed about me at the incense burners, the wall hangings with pentagrams and unicorns, the drums for the ritual circles, the animal skulls, and other suggestive paraphernalia.

She shook her head. “I’m a liberal arts major. I can’t speak with the dead or cure diseases. I can’t place a curse on people and expect it to actually inconvenience them. I can’t use magical potions to peer into alternate realities--well, uhm…” her eyes flicked to an intricately carved box kept near the incense. “Maybe I technically can, but it doesn’t do much good. I can’t ride a broom or subvert the natural laws of physics.”

I shook my head and spun around on the knob of the teapot. “In sooth, I do not think your Great Great Grandmother could do half of the things that you mentioned. I think you have both a limited and an exaggerated idea of what the properly instructed mind may accomplish with the use of the deeper magicks.” I came to a slow stop, engaged in lecture mode. “There is so much potential for action in the world, so many agents at work, that in truth you have immense power if you can only work by subtle influences. A gentle word here, a small bit of persuasion there, are most of what you require.”

“That’s just social engineering, isn’t it? Look, I’ve never even seen a-- a member of the Fae before tonight. I don’t think anyone else in my coven has really seen one either, though they sure talk a good game. I know this probably isn’t what you signed up for, and I don’t know what covenant you made with Great Great Grandma, but… is there any way you could sort of get me started?”

I pondered this. There was so much that this tender innocent didn’t know, and absent a conscientious teacher would never learn. I spied some of the ancient books on her shelf, but there was so much more that her ancestor had known from years of experience. “It is a good question, whether an investment of my time is likely to give you any meaningful assistance… Could you even, say, tell me the Latin name for mugwort?”

She sighed, spoke into her magic mirror, then read, “Mugwort is a common name for several species of aromatic flowering plants in the genus Artemisia…”

“That’s enough.” I’d worked with worse material in the past, and this mortal might wind up owing me enough favors to make it worth my while. They do not well understand what benefit the Fae may draw from their company, which was for the best in the long run. I was fairly confident that the Queen would approve. And should we gain greater understanding of this mortal magic mirror in the process, that could return stunning dividends.

“Very well,” I said. “We may give things a trial and see what sort of student you are. May I start by getting your name?”

“Oh!” She grinned eagerly. “I’m Maribeth. Maribeth Amling. And you are…?”

How trusting. “Pleased to meet you. You may call me Puck. It’s been a while…”
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#1 ·
Hm, redefining Puck as a winged fairy? Maybe I'm relying on an inaccurate mental picture of him as a satyr.

Anyway, some comma splices and one instance of saying the same thing twice in the same sentence, but mechanically pretty clean.

I know I won't get the quote exactly right, but this is basically a "any sufficiently advanced technology will appear as magic" story, but it's a fun one. I'd think Puck would be old enough to have seen the pace of technological advancement before and be prepared to re-evaluate what he considers to be magic. Or maybe he's never been away for this length of time before, so it's a jump larger than he has experience with? True, he never mentions any other human collaborator prior to Maribeth's one ancestor, so maybe he's only had the one. Fun and cute story.