And All the Foundation Shudders: Chapter Three

Hello, dear readers! Today’s news (technically, last night’s): I’ve added a page for my short stories and flash fiction as an extension of the My Books page. Right now it’s playing host to one short story I just completed yesterday, the 11,000 word piece “Threefold Damnation”, and the link to an ongoing Google Doc containing all my empty spaces flash fic and shorter short stories.

As to what empty spaces is, well… if you know, you know!~ :3

Now then, here’s the third chapter of And All the Foundation Shudders–in which Jamie, Synergy, and Tulameet take time to catch their bearings, process everything that just happened, and come to important decisions about their path forward and their relationships to each other.

At about 4200 words, this Chapter is more in line with the length I want to keep most of these entries to. Major climaxes and “pilot” chapters in the story arcs of new PoV characters, plus any other special occasions, may still end up being a lot longer if I feel the need.

In the meantime? Happy reading!~

And All The Foundation Shudders

A free weird fiction web serial of the Riven Earth, most uncouthly delivered in pure prose, by

Kairlina Saelvur Urwollust
Copyright © K.S. Urwollust 2022

Nine White Lilies Blossom Under the Barrow:
Cables Can’t Fasten a Wing of Stillborn Dreams

Tulameet putters around my study, gazing with wide-eyed wonder at the carefully-sculpted mushroom caps full of bookshelves, of spongy-skinned cabinets, of glass cases framed and fastened by translucent roots. Under normal circumstances I’d spare a moment to enjoy the sight of a pretty girl enraptured by something, but matters are quite abnormal.

“Right.” I scoot forward in my desk chair, fungal spores making green-tinted wakes like ghost-waterfalls down onto the black plastic mat beneath. “Let’s see what we can find. Synergy–should I call you something other than Synergy?”

Under the mask, Synergy is an alert, somewhat anxious round-faced young woman with delicate eye-lashes and a tousled sweep of silky black hair. “Not yet, thanks.” Synergy offers an apologetic smile. “We met yesterday, Jamie. And now that my head’s clear and I’m not using my persona to dissociate I’m a little, y’know,” her shoulders bob, “wary of you.”

“That’s fair enough,” I nod. “I am an otherworldly monstrosity who has long been party to many secrets you’ve only just begun to know. I could have all manner of long-game tricks stored up. All my friendliness could be but a ploy that I’ve all the luxury of eternal youth to invest in.”

Her smile turns wry. “That’s true, but I was talking about how white you are.”

I glance back at her. “Is that a joke?”

“Yeah,” she grins. “Just poking fun.”

“Right.” I swivel around in the chair. “Gonna be direct about something. Jokes are okay, in moderation, but I do wish to be clear. I’m not white and I’m not human. I’m fae. I’m an elf. I’m Jamie. If you want to say, well, white people–the queer ones, anyhow–are still going to process me as basically an upgraded white human, and there’s a degree of privilege in that, that’s fairly said, and sadly true.” I fight down the urge to roll my eyes, for that’s like to be misconstrued, and I don’t want to make this about my flair for the dramatic.

“But,” I continue, “I had no part in America’s systemic racism. I’ve neither been hurt by it nor benefited from it, previously. So I am asking you to please remember that just because Faerie had most of its entries to Earth in Europe doesn’t make us white.” I raise an autumn brow. “There’s no history of oppression, so I’d not call it racism, but it certainly feels a little weird to hear this implication that the fae ‘belong’ to white humans just because they’re the ones whose stories you know us through. Dangerous precedent, yes?”

Synergy grimaces. “Ooh. Yeah. Sorry, that was… that was pretty dumb of me.”

I shrug. “Think nothing further of it. As I said, I’ve never been enslaved or treated as less of a person according to constructs of race imposed by an oppressor class. There’s no history of trauma there. Just wanted to clear the air so we don’t start off in ways that’ll lead to me developing said history–especially as it seems clear I’ll be working with humans and other Earthers, and often at a disadvantage to their collective power.”

Synergy stares past me at the developing shape of new ideas. “That’s true. And I have superpowers now. I’m going to have to get used to thinking in terms of the power I have over others.” The superheroine frowns. “Hey, Tulameet. May I ask you–“

“I would rather not speak about the history of demons,” Tulameet says, with a sharp ring in her voice and a cold light in her slit-eyes, “for reasons I am sure you can very well understand.” She freezes. Shrinks. “I’m sorry, that was horrid–“

“No, no, it’s fine,” Synergy says. “I, uh… I’m pretty sure all of us are running at least a few personal traumas all our own. We’re going to be messy and put things in stupid ways. Like,” her grin wrinkles her nose, “we’re not a bunch of tenderqueers arguing on Twitter. We don’t have to destroy each other’s lives just for saying something that could be loosely interpretedto show bad faith. And heroes are supposed to be unrealistically forgiving.”

The tension eases, palpably, and three women exchange looks of the same spirit. Looks that say, Well, maybe I can trust her–just a little bit.

Tulameet clears her throat. “If you’re asking whether demons are a racially-oppressed group?” She glances away from skimming my copy of The Canterbury Tales. “Yes, we absolutely are. But,” she replaces it, “that doesn’t excuse…” A shudder runs down her body and quivers through her tail. “Well, as I said, I would rather not speak about it right now.”

“Probably going to be our best approach in general,” I muse, turning back to the monitor and the ongoing social media implosion. “Pacing ourselves, I mean. The three of us aren’t to solve all these questions in one conversation during a rest-break.”

“Also, probably shouldn’t wear ourselves down during what is supposed to be a rest-break,” Synergy points out. “These talks need to happen, but… they have a toll for me, you know?”

“Too true.” I pause. “Should I stop? Should we stop here?”

She considers. “Mmmm… no. Let’s keep going for a little while. We’re on the topic and so far it’s putting me at ease, so I’d like to.”

I nod. “Right. So… the power dynamics American social justice has used to anchor its theories have just been shot through with a baker’s butchery of tangled new threads.”

My accusing claw glitters, pressing lightly against Synergy’s nose. “If you make fun of the way I talk, you’re disrespecting my fae heritage.”

“Alright, now you’re being ridiculous,” Synergy snorts. “Also, if you haven’t experienced racial oppression, that does still give you a degree of privilege above me.”

I toss a grin back at her and retract my claw. “True. And either way, trauma’s trauma, so if I step over any lines please be sure to tell me.”

“You’re all good so far,” Synergy says. I hear the smirk in her voice as she adds, “You sparkly weirdo.”

“Sparkly, this one says,” I laugh. “Oh! Tulameet!” I make a cutting motion with my mouse-hand as I catch her gaze. “Not that one, okay? It’s, um…” It only takes a small measure of sheen from the color of my eyes to say, “it was an early gift from Shaenogh.”

Her name is pronounced ‘Show.’

Tulameet winces, nods, and replaces the black-hide book with its border-trim of glittering rubies–little gleaming beads making the outlines of leaves filled out by red, orange, and gold-lacquered plates of copper. My copy of the Silmarillion. In the softly-yellowed parchment of its first few pages there’s a sentence I will carry with me to the day death finds me: For the woman whose smile could turn the heart of Morgoth.

Maybe. Maybe there was a time when it could have.

“So… about that.” Synergy says, nodding. “The gems, your shelves, this whole manor–should I consider you wealthy?”

“Ooh, complicated.” Panicked tweets and poorly-composited pictures and shaky footage blur by with every slide of my finger over the mouse-wheel. “In Faerie? No. Scarcity as you understand it doesn’t exist here. Many fae don’t need to eat, and magic alone can see to the material needs of those who do. Take those rubies in that cover.”

I gesture to the black book on the shelf. “Shaenogh formed those right from raw skeins of her magic. She was a great one for shaping spells, for the magic of making things. A common gift in Faerie, though…” I clear my throat, “one I’ve never shared.”

“Oh.” Synergy gets that awkward look.

“Yes, by fae standards I’m disabled,” I say dryly. “Let’s not get too hung up on it, shall we? I don’t think on it too much. I prefer to look at myself through the lens of the things I’ve done, and the journeys I’ve had, and the things others have done to me.”

Limbs splay out as the energy leaves me. “Also… I’m guilty of some frightful deeds, so… I probably shouldn’t have been so mouthy about, ‘oh, I’m not white, don’t call me white–‘”

“Uh-uh.” Synergy claps a hand to my shoulder. “I may be a super but I’m no cop. Your personhood still deserves dignity. Your human…” she pauses. “Your sapient rights?”

“Good enough for now,” I agree.

“Yeah, your sapient rights don’t cease to exist just because you’ve done bad things,” she says. “I do want to know, though… when was this?”

I avert my eyes, ashamed. “About a hundred years.”

Her hand squeezes gently. “Then as far as I’m concerned, not even the same Jamie.” That reassuring grip eases, and lifts away. “Anything that’s gonna bite us in the ass in the near future? Aside from, presumably, other fae still holding grudges because when old age doesn’t exist, there’s no incentive not to?”

“That’s pretty well the extent of it,” I say.

“Then you can tell me the rest if you ever want to.” Synergy goes to get a chair of her own. “Okay… yeah, I’m starting to see the threads you meant…” She ticks off on her fingers. “We’ve got otherkin rights, supernatural disabilities, relative power balances changing between cultures that don’t have any kind of binary like white imperialism to simplify things, the question of at what point, exactly, the privilege of being human in a human-dominated society begins to outweigh the privilege of perceived proximity to whiteness as the perceived proximity to humanity of the white-coded individual decreases…”

She clicks her tongue. “Okay, yeah, let’s just try to focus on not being weird to each other, and stopping fascists or groups like whatever the hell Seven Spirals are from stomping on little people who are just trying to survive… whatever’s going on.”

“Seven Spirals are fascists,” I say flatly. “I say that with less malice than I normally would, but you heard that Shockwave woman talking. She all but openly accused me of being a fae elite, which is laughable, projecting all of her frustrations with the world onto an imagined nemesis.” I gesture to the blog post I’ve found. “See, look at this? Same rhetoric from this woman. Talking about world domination and the institution of a conditioning-enforced, hypnosis-driven mono-culture organized around this boss of theirs, the… the Archmander?” I trail off, too offended at the word-salad before me to muster words.

Which, I suppose, the Spirals would interpret to mean I’m just helpless to argue at their brilliant points. I bet somewhere there’s some over-preened colleen of a schoolgirl who gets the power to change the world with her wishes and a sexually-charged feud with an ancient demon queen. Well… sinners can’t be choosers, I suppose.

Synergy bites her knuckles as she speaks. “Yeah, I had a pretty good chance to listen to Shockwave talk while my muscles were seizing too hard to move. Let’s see… impoverished speech, ‘cuz I wouldn’t exactly call her answers to your concerns mature and nuanced. Action for action’s sake, because they were pushing for a fight from minute one. Fear of difference and selective populism in how damn fast she fixed on your faeness as a wedge to separate you from that other speaker, undertones of contempt for the weak, like… God… I was on the ground, you were having a supernatural trauma response…”

She shudders. Shakes her head. “You’re right. I’ve been trying to rationalize it, but you’re right. Seven Spirals are fascists. It doesn’t matter what the rank-and-file might want or think. From everything we’ve seen, people like Shockwave are the ones deciding their direction.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised.” I pinch my nose. “Hypnosis has a lot of good applications, don’t misunderstand me, but the desire to escape from uncomfortable thoughts and emotions is the single biggest psychological factor leading to the embrace of fascism. Like…” I can’t help but laugh at the madness of it. “I understand matters are desperate, but if their trauma’s intense enough they need external control to manage it for them, they really shouldn’t be trying to do anything except heal themselves!”

“Well… they’re queer,” Tulameet says. “That’s good, right?”

Synergy and I share deeply uncomfortable glances.

“Tulameet… sweetheart…” I look to her. “I don’t know about your sexual or romantic preferences, but being queer by itself does not make someone a good person. That’s…” A leaf falls from my hair and explodes into black dust. Yes. This conversation’s taking a toll on me, too. “That’s so naive it’s more terrifying than cute.”

“Oh.” Tulameet wraps her wings around herself. “I, um… I’m quite new. To mortals. To Earth. I thought… it being their world and all… I should trust them to tell me what’s right.”

“Never do that,” Synergy says, shaking her head. “Trust other people to tell you what they want you to believe. But you can’t go letting them teach you to ignore your own experiences. I don’t know how things are for demons, but humans can only give so much ground to compromise before we lose ourselves.”

“Ah.” The demon’s tail thumps the floor to the same rhythm as her tapping foot. “Then… then I suppose I should’ve listened to my instincts. I thought I was being unfair, being paranoid, imagining power games where they didn’t exist because I was traumatized or… you know…” she winces, “a bigot.”

“Even if all that’s true,” Synergy says, “you should still take the time on your own to sort it out. Heal the trauma first. Once you do that, and it’s not clouding your judgment, you’ll be able to self-examine your faults way better.”

“So…” Tulameet looks between us. “That’s not just an excuse I thought of clinging to? That’s what I actually should’ve done from the start?”

“Of course it is!” I blurt, a little too forcefully. “Who told you otherwise?”

The demoness sighs, grinding her fangs and lashing her tail in anger. “I did. And I’ve been a fool.” She bows. “I thank you so much for your hospitality, Jamie. Synergy, it’s been good to meet you.” She rises. “I hope our paths cross again, and I am able to aid you both. But for now, I need…” She quivers. “I need to do the thing I’m most afraid of. I need to find somewhere to be alone, and I need to confront myself.”

Her tail lashes one last time. “Goodbye.”

An oval of fire expands from behind her, blips forward, and transmutes her silhouette to a haze of glowing ash. A moment later the last ember has ebbed, and Tulameet’s gone.

I give the silence a moment to settle.

“Well…” I scratch behind my ears. “Glad she’s reached the mature choice. It’s, uh… it’s less heartening to think it’s just the two of us again.”

“We’re getting some stuff figured out, and we’re not dead,” Synergy says. “Final verdict on Seven Spirals: are we going to start moving to take them down?”

I shake my head. “No. Because by ourselves, it’s hopeless. They’ve clearly got way more resources and power than we do. And as Tulameet just proved, as I’m guessing is also true of that catgirl whose name we didn’t get, some of the Spirals have their hearts in the right place. The sort of people we can try to reach.”

“There are multiple cells, right?” Synergy asks. “It’s probable that some of them are actual leftists.”

“Probably,” I agree. “But if so, they’re leftists who are willfully blind to the fascists in their midst by virtue of nothing more than shared queerness and a common aesthetic. I do want to open their eyes, if we can, which is another good reason not to pick a fight right from the off, but let’s assume for the sake of our safety that all of the…” I smack my lips. “All of the SS are Fash until proven otherwise.”

It takes everything I’ve got not to burst out laughing at those words.

Synergy nods. “Good and done. Let’s move on. And no more talking about this until we have new information to consider, hm?”

“Of course!” I agree.

Synergy grins, sheepish. “That one, um… that’s more for me, to tell you the truth. I used to have a really bad habit of just venting non-stop, stoking my emotions over and over to chase that brief hit of catharsis.”

“Wasn’t that disproven to the tune of, oh… forty years ago?” I ask.

“Yeah, but the lie’s still tempting today,” Synergy says. “Okay. So. What’s the other scrolling turned up?”

“Well,” I click through a number of articles, highlighting text as I go. “You’ll notice there’s a common thread going: massive amount of disappearances.”

“Not deaths?” Synergy asks.

“So far, nobody’s been tossed back through any portals,” I confirm.

“Thank God the Merciful.” She slumps over, hanging sideways on one arm of her chair. “So my parents are probably okay.”

“No reason to think otherwise,” I agree. “Are you religious, miss Synergy?”

“I’m a Muslim, yes,” she agrees. “Not super devout, not like my father, but I believe.”

I nod. “So ’tis.”

“Do the fae have gods of their own?” she asks.

I’m feeling steady enough that the spike of my nerves doesn’t carry to my fingers or the set of my face. “We do. A…” I grin, “fair number.”

Synergy groans. “Ohhh, that was awful. Good work! Getting your sidekick audition in?”

“Ha!” I snort-laugh. “You’d bid your firstborn’s britches for that, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” she giggles. “That’s a pretty cheap price to have a gorgeous elf follow me around and fight by my side.”

“Gorgeous, am I?” I grin wider. “Careful, little mortal. It’s talk like that as gets little human girls gobbled. Right. Up.”

“Oh yeah?” she matches me, pearly-whites for clashing brambles and thorns. “Do you like the taste of human girls, oh Lady Underhill?”

I turn my eyes back to the screen, smirking. “I like the taste of all girls, little heroine.”

The chair creaks as she gathers her legs into it. “Is that so? It seems the legends are true. The fae are fearsome predators, indeed.”

Fun bit of banter. I can’t tell if she’s flirting with me, though.

Over the course of the next few hours we take a single break for lunch, a wild spread of cheeses, crackers, and specially-grown mushrooms I’ve perfected over the years to simulate the taste and texture of this meat or that.

Synergy considers a few slices of my imitation salami with an intense look. “You promise this doesn’t contain actual pork?” she asks.

“Sworn upon my honor,” I agree. “And if it did, your God couldn’t hold a little fae trickery against you, could he?”

“Probably not.” She slips the slice and a bit of Swiss cheese between a pair of crunchy wheat crackers and bites in. She is, indeed, very cute when she’s melting with happiness. “Oh, fuck, that’s so good…” She blinks. Swallows nervously. “Uh… what about the cheese?”

“Eh?” I listen closely while she explains about rennet and its role in cheese-making. “Oh, no worries, then.” I tap the Swiss with clear pride. “Produced with one hundred percent fungus-derived compounds. No animals involved.”

Understandably, she needs a moment to mull that over. “Well, I couldn’t taste any difference,” she decides, loading up another cracker. “So, you grow all this yourself?”

“I do.” I nod. “As I said, I can’t shape things with magic. I had to learn how to work with the essences that already grow free in Faerie. Fortunately, I don’t actually need to eat–I can survive for a year on, say, the auras of a single hillside’s collapse in a rainstorm–so between that and not needing to age, I’ve had ample time to learn.”

“So, why make food?” Synergy asks.

“Well, firstly, there’s not always a source of decay for me to feed on,” I say. “Secondly… food still tastes lovely, does it not? An elf such as I can live quite comfortably on either, but of course, a good balance of both makes for a much fuller life.”

“And that’s how I wind up using the mansion of a fae vegetarian for my base of operations,” she muses. “Good times.”

“They can be.” I wink. For some reason, that makes her turn shy and duck away.

Once we’ve fed and my human guest takes advantage of a long-disused watercloset–which, mercifully, still works–it’s back to our search for information.

“Okay, so…” Synergy ties her hair back, taking her turn at the computer. “From what I’ve read so far, it’s looking pretty similar all over the world. Everyone’s trying to compare notes while social media still works. It’s probably not some kind of attack, since nobody’s showed up yet. A lot of people have transformed, and not just into magical creatures. Demons, fae, androids, anthropomorphs, even a couple of angels… you name it, someone’s turned into it. Those, um…”

“Anomalies?” I ask. “If you meant the big breakdown in reality a certain someone got herself mangled by trying to punch?”

“Yes, the anomalies,” Synergy says. “And, look, I’m sorry. You were right. That was dumb and impatient. Could you, um…” she shivers. “Could you not rub that in? The flashbacks and the shakes have that taken care of.”

“Oh…” I snap myself out of my shame. That’s not helping. “I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted… since I did deserve that, just a little,” she mutters. She takes a few seconds to steady herself before continuing. “Anyway. Yes. Those are popping up everywhere. So far, only in limited numbers? And it doesn’t seem like all of them are dangerous.” She clicks through Twitter until she finds her way to another video accompanying a tweet that’s trying far too hard to be upbeat. We watch a pair of drunken teenagers throw stones into an anomaly that coats them all with neon rainbow stripes.

One sticks his arm in, pulling it out to reveal his very own sleeve of over-bright colors. His fingers still work, though the lack of any shading and texture to them makes them exceptionally unpleasant to watch moving, in contrast to his still-normal body.

“Of course I had to throw myself into one of the dangerous ones,” Synergy sighs.

“Seems you and I share the same sort of luck,” I say.

“Mhm.” She pulls up a number of sloppily-edited, rush-published articles: this leader, that official, this business magnate gone missing. “So, major point: every world leader has disappeared, along with enough of their cabinet members–or nearest equivalent–that central government has effectively ceased to exist overnight. Same goes for all the candidates who’ve been running in the 2024 elections. But a lot of the wealthiest business owners are actually still here, it just seems like everyone they most need to keep their corporations running is gone.”

“So, it really is a free-for-all?” I ask. “No one’s in charge?”

“No one at all,” Synergy says. She shakes her head. “A lot of people are celebrating, and I sympathize, but I’m not sure this is a good thing. Yeah, sure, the U.S. government’s always been fascist, but there’s no leftist blocs in a position to fill that power vacuum. Having the Fed looming over us did, at least, guarantee a common direction. And it seems like that’s going to be the case world-wide.”

“So, we’re looking at total chaos?” I ask. “Everyone just doing whatever?”

‘Yep,” Synergy agrees. “And, um… the disappearances go right down through every level of society. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Some towns or villages haven’t lost anyone at all, some places it’s just one or two, other’s it’s half of every family or whole villages gone. I’ve seen all kinds of estimates flying around. Too early to tell, but, uh…” she nods, shakily, convincing herself to put the words out, “the upper level guesses are it could be anywhere from half to eighty percent of humanity.”

I stare at the image of a man brandishing a rough flag–one with nothing upon it but a crudely-stitched skull–over an empty car with racist slurs spray-painted all over it.

“Syn,” I murmur, “this is going to be a massacre.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “That’s why, tomorrow, you and I are going back to Grand Rapids. We’ll move slow at first. We’re going to figure out where people are organizing and try to fit ourselves into a community that already exists, but we’re going to hold down the fort. I’m not saying we save the whole world, but…” she shrugs. “We can manage one city, right?”

“Yeah.” I rise. “Yeah, I think we can manage that. I’ll go get started on dinner.”

That night I dream of kaleidoscopic scythes and sprays of ethereal blue dancing above the hazy atmosphere, glows that bloom so quick and fade so soon. Blooms that descend to Earth, becoming angry and red as they plummet, and turn spindly cityscapes to black ash.

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