• 11 Sep - 17 Sep, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The one who cohabits with our brother.

Mountain doesn't like it when we talk out loud amongst ourselves anyway…

Don't change the subject, thought Holly.

I don't know what you want me to say. I didn't decide to have that daydream.

That utterly mortifying daydream!

Why won't you learn to sleep? Why won't you just leave me alone? despaired Crystal.

Holly flumphed onto the bed.

I didn't mean that, Crystal amended.

Yes you did. You wanted to be alone in our head, you wanted me gone.

But just for a second. I don't want you to leave. Its bad enough Book left.

It's just when I have opinions that it's…

What if it was you? What if you had a crush on Lightning?

I never would! thought Holly.

But what if you did, what if he was your type and what if he liked you enough that you sometimes thought maybe…

Then I wouldn't want you ranting, but what if I did something that made you want to rant?

You do that all the time, Crystal pointed out.

Holly groaned.

I'm not going to do anything about it, Crystal added. He'd probably think it was weird; too, I don't want people to think I'm weird. You I can't help, but...Good.

Are we going to have to agree on who we pair up with? Just because we can't quite sleep...?

I don't even want to pair up with anyone, Crystal.


You can do it if I'm not paying attention and it's not Book's face that you’re looking at, suggested Holly. Spending some time together, daydreaming, whatever.

Just don't accidentally think about me or I'll notice what's going on.


But avoid daydreaming when I'm noticing things.

I'll try, Crystal thought dubiously.


Holly was systematically scrubbing a relatively clean woodchip from the mouse cage all over her face. If they'd done a normal merge they'd certainly have gotten rid of the oily skin in the process, but here they were with what they'd been born with, and for the moment she was too relieved to be annoyed.

She scrubbed her fingertips into the wood. She got a splinter, and this was distracting enough that she paused to swap the splinter's color with a leaf so it would be easy to see and she could pick it out. When she proved unable to get ahold of the splinter even while it was clearly visible through her skin, she swapped its texture with the leaf, too, and then it was too soft to hurt much. She resumed working oil into the wood.

How much was enough? Better to keep at it until she was sure she had as much as she could collect. She didn't even know yet how she was going to set it on fire. She felt at her hair: no. Dry, reasonably clean, and too puffy to easily run a woodchip through for oil anyway. She went back to scraping it across her forehead.

When her face was raw and she had two more leaf-soft splinters in her fingers, she had an idea she thought might work for setting the chip on fire.

We'll freeze to the branch, thought Crystal.

"Do you have a better idea?"

Crystal didn't.

"Do you think either of us will come up with one if we wait?"

Crystal... didn't.

Holly put one of her splintered fingertips to the bark of the tree. She held the oiled woodchip in the palm of her hand. The demon circled below, chittering.

Most troports were swaps. If she swapped the warmth between the tree and the woodchip, they wouldn't change much. The tree might get a little warmer, because the woodchip was warmed by her hand and the tree was barely touching her relative to its size.

Some troports, like the one that had put Book's soul into Lightning's body, were transfers.

Transfers moved all of a property, not just an amount appropriate to the target object.

Holly moved all of the warmth in the tree into the tiny woodchip.

She was intensely uncomfortable, immediately, in too many ways to make clear sense of right away. The tree froze solid under her shoes; the branches stiffened and snapped. Including the one that was with her.

The woodchip burst into flames in her hand and she fell towards the demon and thrust the flaming thing at its lack of a face.

The fire caught. The demon's exoskeleton crackled and split; it leaked black sludge. The sludge burned.

The demon writhed.

Holly staggered away from it and the frozen tree, towards warmth, towards Book. She reached for her mice. There was only one that was definitely still alive. Several of her fingers on the hand that hadn't held the woodchip were numb. She didn't dare swap it her injuries or her cold. It might die; they were going to need to drowse it to make it home. She didn't dare try to swap her chill into a different tree - then she'd be the tree's temperature, all over, instead of frostbitten but basically intact from being too near the frozen wood. If she transferred instead she might well catch fire just like the woodchip.

Crystal probably wouldn't even be able to walk if she came forward, she'd just collapse, crying. Holly took another step, and another. Book. Where was Book?

Still in his tree.

"Holly - what happened?"

"I set it," she said through chattering teeth, "on fire."

Book climbed down and wrapped her up in his arms and tried to get warmth into her extremities. The tree had been so cold - Her finger was bleeding, where the tree had taken the splinter and a chunk of flesh with it. She leaned on Book.

Holly had all the mice. When Book's soul got tired, Lightning could take over. When their body got tired, they needed her mice - unless they could catch a wild animal alive while stuck in a tree. Book might be able to troport food; he had the samples and Holly was just the best troporter, not the only person in the party capable of it. Holly, if she had to, could kill and open up a mouse and turn tree bark into quantities of... raw meat (except Book had her checklist, but she didn't need her checklist). She dearly hoped it didn't come to that. She had no idea where Tiag had gotten to but the fox ought to be the least of their worries...

Book, quite reasonably, was staying up in his tree, presumably not wanting to be caught off guard by the reappearance of the demon, but if he could hear her, she couldn't hear his replies.

Holly started evaluating her ability to get from her tree to an adjacent one without falling straight into the demon's claws. If she could even get a few trees over, close enough for Book to hear her, she could tell him where the demon was and he could have freedom of movement while it was busy cornering her.

She'd come from that direction. The next tree over had bad handholds or she'd have climbed it instead, but its upper branches looked plausible.

It might be that he could hear her and she couldn't hear him. Before she risked it, she hollered,


There. Now to follow through.

I'm scared.

"Me too, Crystal," Holly muttered, "me too."

Her time sense was okay, but Crystal's was better. Crystal faded forward to count rapid heartbeats and watch shadows of the quickest nearby sun (low, blue, and fast) lean from hubward to rimward.

It's been about a tenth of sand. But - but wait - I'm…

"I'm scared too," said Holly, and she inched along the branch towards the other tree.


Holly was tempted - and urged by Crystal - to creep to the edge of the branch, crouching and holding onto another branch overhead, ready to back up in a hurry if something creaked, and then creep from the edge of her destination branch to the trunk of the new tree.

Holly thought that if she was going to fall she'd rather be in more control of her momentum than that, and was about to try to jump the distance.

Crystal shoved her back. "No, absolutely not, no."

If I jump then if we fall it's on our feet and we can run…

"You'd break an ankle." Inch, inch, inch.

I'll do it holding a mouse-tail in my teeth?

"That's disgusting, Holly. And you can't troport a broken ankle fast enough, the demon is right there."

It was, indeed, right there, right under them. They might not even break an ankle if Crystal slipped; they might just fall directly into its waiting claws and be torn to shreds.

Crystal didn't slip. She got onto the branch of the next tree. She shuffled as best she could towards the trunk, and hugged it. She'd gone just a few meters, no more, but…



How many times were they going to have to do this to get within shouting distance?

If they stayed put, how long would it take the demon to lose interest?


Silence apart from demonic chittering.

Crystal maneuvered around the trunk to look for a way closer to the way she'd come.

And then she heard Book's voice, terribly faint.

"Can you hear me?"

"I CAN JUST BARELY HEAR YOU," Crystal hollered back.

"…to me," called Book.

"Fire and…." Something.

"A pragsuu…" something.


"- yes -" something "Fire and…."


"Fire and oil…"




"That's all," Holly thought she heard.


Holly looked at the tree she was in. If it didn't have any oil she could extract, she was likely out of luck. She also wasn't sure how to start a fire. Why wasn't she carrying the food? She could really use a peanut. And yes, also a match.

Okay, great….!


It doesn't matter if I like him, Book thought. It's better if I don’t; afterwards I never get to talk to him again,

We'll miss you.

I'll still be around. We'll hang out all the time! But I - I can't do this anymore, I want to be him,

I want people to look at me and see that, please understand.

"Do not false-sleep on me,"

he hissed. "Drowse a…."

"They're dead. Except one. We need it or I'd have given it my burn and my frostbite and…" She hiccuped.

"I see two moving around."

"We have to go home."

"Yes. Drowse a mouse and give it your injuries so you can walk. You'll slow us down if I carry you and Crystal's going to have to take over sooner or later."

Where's Tiag? wondered Crystal.

"Where's Tiag?"

Holly asked for her.

"Not far, I think. She'll catch up. I can drowse her if I have to."

Holly nodded and reached with creaking frigid joints for the mouse cage. Book had to open it for her. She tapped one with her bleeding finger and drowsed it and got rid of her injuries and her cold. The mouse died under her hand and she released a held breath.

"Better?" asked Book.

"Yeah. We need to go home. Tiag! Tiag!"

A distant bark.

That was good enough for Holly. She turned rimward and started walking.

"We didn't get any treasure,"

Holly said.

"Nope," agreed Book.

"And I'm going to have a hell of a time convincing any of you to come out again."

"Next time, you might not be the one who gets hurt. If the demon had touched you…"

Or if it'd treed Book - he knows how demons work but he can't troport as well, put in Crystal. Lightning even worse!

"Well," sighed Holly. "We had an adventure,

I guess."

They walked. Eventually Crystal came forward. Book noted the change in his sisters' posture but didn't say anything.

Tiag caught up and slept in Crystal's arms.

They went home, nervously trading off the last mouse until they could buy more past the Barricade, following a high white rimward sun. -Anonymous