"Can I have my tea back now?" asked a plaintive voice.
"No," answered a firm one.
There was a pause.
"Oh, come on!"
The second voice sighed. "Look, Chandri; we said we'd do this all the way through. You're the one who wanted to know if you could get through an entire fic without any tea."
"Or Tim Tams?"
"Or Tim Tams."
"Well, I was wrong, and I'm tired. Now give me my tea, or I'll be short one Muse."
"In a second. Tea."
Tris grudgingly surrendered the mug of extremely sweet tea to her Writer, who drank it gratefully. She was visibly restored, and turned back to the keyboard. "See? Never should have tried to muck with nature." She retreived the packet of smuggled Tim Tams out of their hiding place and opened it, taking out one Tim Tam and dipping it into the tea. "Where were we?"
"Page five dialogue between Brennen and Vynna."
"Oh; right. By the way, I've been meaning to ask you..."
"What?" The plum-skinned Muse looked over her Writer's shoulder.
"How did your field trip with Anisha go?"
"We got her license without any apocalyptic mishaps, if that's what you mean; though she did manage to trample one of the prize flowerbeds."
"Is that bad?"
"Well, yes. The Collegium grounds are tended by a Barnaby fictive...you know, the Starfleet Academy gardener?"
"He tends to be somewhat protective of his flowers."
The Writer covered her mouth with one hand, apparently trying not to laugh. "Has she still got all her limbs?"
Tris nodded. "Too bad. A little loss of limb might have taught her a lesson."
Chandri shrugged. "She's not that bad."
Tris looked at her askance. "You don't have to practically babysit the two of them! Remember? I don't know where they got off assigning a child with a child-Muse, anyway."
Chandri shrugged again. "Look at it this way...Lily could have been more like me, when I was little...you'd be getting a lot more exercise, then."
Tris made a face. "That's not funny."
"Are you sure about this, Ani?" Lily asked of her Muse, who was far ahead of her.
"I'm sure! Come on!"
Lily continued to pick through brambles and mud while Anisha virtually skipped over them. Somewhat farther in the distance, a very tall tree marked their destination.
Anisha came back to stand slightly in front of her Writer, who was making slower and slower progress as the brambles became thicker. "Are you coming?"
"Yeah, yeah...I'm coming...these thorns keep grabbing me..."
"Well...they are kind of grabby..."
Lily paused. "You mean they're actually grabbing me?"
Anisha shrugged. "Well, yeah; they're semi-conscious."
"They're what?" Lily squeaked.
"Oh, don't worry, catling. They only actually hurt people who mean harm. You don't, do you?"
Lily glared significantly. "Not to the thorns."
"Well, come on then."
Ten minutes later, Anisha emerged from the bramble patch, pristine and untouched, with Lily close behind her, somewhat scratched, muddy, and otherwise the worse for wear.
Anisha turned proudly to her Writer and swept one arm upwards to indicate the grandiose white building that protruded from the thorny mire. It vaguely resembled a small castle, towers and all. It had two wide windows, one on each side of the front doors. The whole structure was choked in ivy and morning glory vines, and was strangely unweathered for a building in such an environment. Swamp and mire stretched out in all directions, ending only in a line of trees on one side, and the beginning of tall, black mountains on another. The area was modelled after a Mercedes Lackey-esque concept, though not having read the books, Lily hadn't known that. Water shone between the places where brambles and thorns were visible, making it a virtually uniform -- and therefore, treacherous; being full of sink-holes and quicksand where one least expected it -- landscape, with the exception of the winding path between clusters of tall, pale blue flowers that Anisha and Lily had just passed through. The path was the only safe way across the mire, and often, following what seemed to be a drier path ended in a patch of quicksand or a sink-hole, or even the breeding grounds of some particularly unpleasant water-creatures.
So, they had stayed on the otherwise uncomfortable path, as Anisha had insisted, and had made it safely to the doorstep. The Muse had only now chosen to inform Lily of the possibilities, had she strayed from the path. Lily had gone quite white, and was about to say something when the front doors of the "house" opened.
"Hello," said a smooth, pleasant voice. Lily looked up and saw, standing in the door, what looked like a very large, very human lizard.
She was smiling pleasantly down at the two girls, her large, pale blue eyes warm. Eyes, noticed Lily, that were startlingly similar to Anisha's. She was quite humanoid, but where skin would have been was dark, faintly shimmery green, and smoothly scaled. Her eyebrows were fine and arched, her hair black, thick, shining, and long. She wore it in one long braid, which was currently pulled over her right shoulder in a way that reminded Lily strangely of Chandri. Her sleeveless, floor-length robes were sky-blue and mauve.
Her age was indeterminable, at least in human terms; which, unfortunately, were the only frame of reference Lily was presently accustomed to working under.
"Hello, Mother," Anisha grinned, walking into her mother's open arms. Lily stood back, feeling somewhat bedraggled and out of place and looking it.
"I believe your Writer is trying to decide whether to interrupt or melt into the paving-stones, Anisha," the lizard-woman said to the top of her daughter's head.
Anisha twirled about and fixed Lily in an unflinching, smiling stare. "Sorry, Lil," she said, reaching out to catch her Writer by the hand and pull her over to the door. "Come on."
The inside of the house was something that Lily would have been totally unprepared for, had she not recently read the Harry Potter books; the inside was quite substantially bigger than the outside would seem to indicate. Hallways went off in three directions from the front door, and Lily could see the ending of none of them.
She was distracted from oggling her surroundings when Anisha none-too-delicately cleared her throat. Lily looked at her, then again realised how muddy and bedraggled she was, after the trip through the brambles. She patted her pockets, looking for her pen, but could only find the stub of a pencil in one of her cargo pockets.
::I've got to start remembering to carry a pen,:: she thought. ::Maybe one of those ones with the cord that Chan wears around her neck...:: She scribbled quickly on a bit of paper, and her appearance was quickly presentable again; as tidy as Lily ever really got. Her navy blue cargo pants were no longer dripping at the cuffs, and her sneakers were no longer making squishing noises as she walked. Her t-shirt and dark blue knitted sweater were no longer riddled with miniscule tears, and that was a good thing, since she'd "borrowed" the sweater from Chandri. At the very least, she no longer looked as though she'd just climbed out of a bog; which she had.
"Lily, this is my mother, Valarakaria Erinel Theron, of the House of Talei of the Third Parallel." The Muse grinned impishly. "Mother, this is Lily."
"Is that all I get?" Lily was about to ask, but the calculating look on Valarakaria's face stopped her.
"It's nothing, dear," the lizard-woman said, waving her hand dismissively. 'It's just that we get so few pure humans here...it's a treat, I assure you."
Talei...Third Parallel... Lily tried to place those words in her head, failing several times before her brain settled on "Buffy References" and started to shuffle through the limited vocabulary she'd acquired from watching all of four episodes.
Third Parallel meant another Reality...but probably connected to the Real Universe...and other-realities from Earth that came immediately to mind included the Underworld, Hades, and several others. But Parallel seemed to mean something specific...
::It's the place demons come from. That's right. So...she's a demon?::
"Ah...I don't mean to sound rude, but...are you a demon?" Lily asked.
"Why, yes, of course," Valarakaria answered, smiling.
"We're good demons," Anisha supplied, grinning again.
"Don't look so surprised, Lil," the young Muse chided. "There are lots of demons in our family, you know. Auntie Tris and my dad are half-demon. That makes me...uhm..."
"Three-quarters, dear," her mother supplied. "But in any case, it's nearly time for tea. So why don't you give your Writer as long a tour as you can manage, and come down when you're ready?"
Anisha nodded, and, catching Lily by the hand again, all but dragged her off down the nearest, endless corridor. This one proved to be lined with pictures. Huge portraits hung on both walls at even intervals.
"Who's this?" Lily asked, stopping and pointing at one, an old woman, apparently human, with long, black tresses piled atop her head. She wore a dress from the nineteenth century, and wore stern expression, glaring down at the two girls.
"My great-grandmother, on my dad's side," Anisha said, coming back to look. "She was a suffragette; on Earth, the name she used was Milly Harold. She helped get women the vote in England."
"Cool," Lily said. "The closest we've got to greatness is a distant relation to Mary Queen of Scots. By, oh, a dozen generations. I lose count."
"Yeah..." Anisha pulled her Writer along the hallway to the next portrait, this one of a man in his early twenties, with sparse, light blond hair and brilliant green eyes. It was the eyes that clued Lily in to his identity.
"Your grandpa?" she guessed. Anisha nodded.
"Auntie Tris and my dad's dad; Calam fa Toren. Their mum..." she pulled Lily along to the next portrait, this one of a woman with skin of a less serpentine texture but with a plum tone like Tris's, and vivid red hair. "...was a demon, like mine. Rosaranne Tasaret. Grampa was a mage, and he met her in Scotland during a peasant uprising in the Scottish highlands...I think thirteenth century. I might be off by a few hundred years...anyway, she was trying to calm the peasants, because they were doing the whole insane torches-and-pitchforks mob-thing against a pagan family; she was an empath, so she was trying to convince them they had better things to do. She had to do it without anyone seeing her, of course, which was how grampa found her; perching up on a rooftop above the street, concentrating with all her might. No one below could see her, but grampa was an Adept, so he sort of crept up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She was really tired and, well, she fainted. When she woke up, he'd cleared out the mob, evacuated the family, and carted her off to his house in the countryside, so none of the villagers would see her and think the wrong thing. The predictable thing happened...and we ended up with Auntie Tris and my dad."
"So...how old is Tris, then?"
Anisha shrugged. "Same age as my dad, I guess. I think they're about three hundred or a bit more, though I could be wrong. That's really pretty young, for a Muse. I, on the other hand, am exactly as old as I look."
"Good to know," Lily grinned. "I'd hate to think you'd been around during Arthurian times and hadn't told me. I'd be offended."
Anisha shook her head. "Nope, but ask my gran about that some time. She's a great storyteller."
At that moment, they both heard the tinkling of a bell from somewhere down the hallway. "Teatime," Anisha supplied, and Lily followed her down the corridor.
Teatime in the fa Toren household turned out to be a far less auspicious affair than Lily would have suspected. They sat down to a plain, rectangular table covered with a lace cloth. There was a vase of the long-stemmed blue swamp-flowers that lined the path outside sitting in the middle of the table. Valarakaria was sitting at the table's head when the two girls entered, sipping from a delicate-looking china cup with red flowers painted around the rim. She set the cup down as Lily and Anisha sat down, and regarded both with a contemplating look. Both Writer and Muse were halfway through a plate of sandwiches before either noticed the demon woman's scrutiny. Anisha swallowed noisily and cocked her head at her mother.
"What?" she asked.
"I've received some interesting news," she told her daughter, folding her hands in front of her. "Your father tells me that you and some others have been driving your dear aunt to her wits' end."
"And enjoying it," muttered Lily, quickly averting her eyes and smiling into her teacup.
"Anisha, we discussed this..."
The young Muse sighed loudly and crossed her arMs. "Yes, I know. "We have to keep my identity concealed from the Writers, because nobody's particularly fond of demons, and Auntie Tris would probably flip out if she found out whose daughter I was, since her and dad haven't spoken in a century, and no one needs the stress right now, because of the Muse shortage, and Calliope might re-assign me if she thinks there's a conflict, and my father had to go through a lot of trouble to even get me admitted into the Collegium, and I should be grateful and not cause trouble..."
"That's quite enough, Anisha," Valarakaria said, cutting off her daughter's tirade with a look that brooked no disagreement. Anisha went silent, glaring sullenly at the tablecloth.
"Your father and I both understand your frustration, Anisha--" she raised a hand to forestall any argument Anisha was about to make. "--because we share it. It is a pity that your aunt would not so readily adapt to the idea that she now has a niece; but she would not, and it is as simple as that. And in any case, there is too much going on right now on a grander scale to add to Tris's worries. Believe me; I am sure that your father misses his sister very much. He has told you as much, several times. It is the only reason he allowed you to become a Muse in the first place."
Anisha said nothing.
"All right," the Muse finally conceded.
"All right what?"
"I'll be good...well, more so, anyway. Don't want Lil getting bored."
Valarakaria smiled. "That's all I ask, dear. Now, Lily, would you like a cucumber sandwich?"
Lily blinked. "What's a cucumber sandwich?"
Anisha, rather predictably, facepalmed.
Disclaimer: Subreality is Kielle's...or vice versa. Depends on your POV, I guess. :) She gets auto-posting-permission; anyone else, ask first.
Tris is my Muse, 'nuff said.
Anisha is Lily's Muse. Lily is a real life person, and a Writer. Who belongs to whom in that particular arrangement is a subject of some debate.
Valarakaria and Anden belong to each other. The former is Anisha's mum, and Tris's sister-in-law. The latter is, obviously, my dear Muse's twin brother. Tris knows not that she has a sister-in-law, or a niece...so don't tell her. It's a secret.
The Mercedes Lackey story mentioned is anything from the Mage Winds trilogy concerning hertasi villages.
Third Parallel I think I heard on Buffy, and Lil thinks so too...we're not absolutely certain. Don't know who came up with the original idea, but research rights probably belong to Joss Whedon, who also owns Buffy.
Milly Harold is...old. Dead. I'm not sure. I'm also not sure I spelled suffragette right, but my dictionary was at a loss for words. Sorry bout that. Bad joke. Bad, bad joke. Bad Chandri. No more 3 a.m. postings...for at least a week.
Rosaranne Antrisel Tasaret and Calam Alexander fa Toren are Tris and Anden's parents, and Anisha's grandparents. They belong respectively to themselves, and/or each other.
The meeting of the original fa Torens may, indeed, be off by a century or two. I'm not sure.
Tim Tams are made by Arnott's (and I don't know why they don't sell them in Canada, but it's a grave injustice...).
The joke about melting into paving-stones is also c/o Mercedes Lackey, from "Arrow's Fall," about Skif.
Calliope is, obviously and absolutely under no circumstances, not mine. Can't say I'm upset about it.
Harry Potter and all concerning him belongs to J.K. Rowling.
Barnaby and Starfleet belong to Gene Roddenbery.
Brennen and Vynna are from an original story of mine, the same Andri Kiln came from, called Key to the Iyanil. It's as of yet unfinished.
Whew. I think that's it. I didn't realise until now how far this is starting to reach...oh well.
Feedback eagerly hoarded at firstname.lastname@example.org. Flames will be put out with a Very Large Fire Extinguisher (tm) and fed to my three dogs.
"Spandex was the greatest threat to Western Civilisation during the 20th century?"
"Funny. I always thought it was communism."
-- Erinel to Dea, Chibi Mash