December 2014


Some time later, a group of clurichauns who went by the name of the Caladbolg Bruisers gathered in a much seedier pub, MacSláinte’s Boozery, to spend their euros. Slothower Whelk, their longtime benefactor, paid them a pittance to waylay and rob hapless tourists in the Heights, especially clay from mundane Dublin or wealthy seelie fae from the Fayquay if they could.

“Oi,” said one, who went by the monicker of Wallopin’ Sam. “Ain’t that the berk what we nicked in th’ ‘Eights?” one said, cocking his bald head at a tall figure in off-white robes with an off-white beard.

“Nah,” said another clurichaun who insisted that his mates call him Berk-of-all-Trades. “We ‘ad a go a ‘im, but weren’t nothin’ in ‘is folds but gum wrappers an’ lint.”

“‘e don’t seem much broken up about it, th’ sod,” said Wallopin’ Sam. “Singin’ like a bleedin’ canary, ‘e is.”

“Oi, it’s me ears what’re bleedin'” Berk-of-all-Trades replied, a cry taken up heartily by his dozens of nearby mates. “Jim Morrison’s a-rollin’ in ‘is grave, ‘e is. If that berk ‘ad caterwauled like that in Whelk’s, we mighta dropped ‘im.”

The other clurichauns chortled their agreement before returning to the weak and watered-down Guinness, which was all they could afford on the pittance Whelk offered them as the only pawnbroker in the Heights crooked enough to buy stolen goods. The singer, though, seemed to have heard the clurichauns’ chortling and approached them.

“Hello there my hearty friends,” he said. “I couldn’t help but notice the poor quality of your libations. Might I do something about that?”

“Oy, you’d best keep walkin’, berk,” snarled Berk-of-all-Trades, showing his needle-sharp teeth. “Just ‘cos we ain’t found nothin’ worth pinchin’ on ya afore don’t mean me an’ me mates won’t ‘esitate to cut ya.”

“Oh, my dear sirs, you misunderstand me entirely,” said the man, laughing pleasantly. “I am bound by my oath to life of poverty, barditry, aid, and succor. The fact that you found nothing worth stealing was proof positive that I have succeeded in my vow.”

“Cor, throw yerself a bleedin’ bash then, an’ step off,” replied Wallopin’ Sam. “Me mates an’ I don’t give two shakes wot yer on about.”

“As a show of my gratitude,” the man continued as if Wallopin’ Sam hadn’t said a thing, “allow me to offer you some recompense. I’ve been building up a tab here at MacSláinte’s Boozery, and since my vow of poverty won’t allow me to keep any of the euros thus earned, allow to provide you and your mates with a round of drinks. It is a charity on my part, my very own Concert for Bangladesh but with spirits instead.”

That offer immediately softened the clurichauns’ attitude. “Well, me mates an’ I are always possessed o’ a powerful thirst,” allowed Berk-of-all-Trades. “An’ the swill old Whelk gives us coin what for to buy is powerful weak wot for clurichaun tastes.”

“Then it’s settled,” said the man, smiling. “Barkeep! A round of Irish-strength Riamh-Soiléir grain spirits for my mates here!”

A mighty cheer went up from the clurichauns as a host of bottles were brought out, each bearing the strongest spirits in the known world as acknowledged by the Guinness Book. The Fáidh took a step back so as not to be intoxicated by the fumes—which were potent enough even for someone who was a quarter fae on his mother’s side. The clurichauns drank greedily, and before long they were snoring loudly.

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Searching for an insult, shaking with every fiber of her being, all she could manage was “You blasted muffinseeker!”

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“Cooper, I want to have a word with you about your essay.”

“Yes, Mrs. Chandler.”

“As you know, the essay was about the causes of World War I, which began one hundred years ago this year.”

“Yes, Mrs. Chandler.”

“And yet you say here in your essay that the war began when the duck of peace was stolen and ended when it was reclaimed.”

“That’s right, Mrs. Chandler.”

“And you don’t see any problem with this? What about the Archduke Franz Ferdinand?”

“Well, as I said in the essay, Mrs. Chandler, he had been given the duck of peace to hold onto and the assassins stole it from him.”

“But how could that be when Austria-Hungary was the first to declare war?”

“The Archduke had left the duck of peace to the King of England, so when he died whoever had it wasn’t the right person.”

“And I suppose that means that all future wars had something to do with this ridiculous duck of yours?”

“That’s right, Mrs. Chandler. World War II started when Germany stole the duck from Poland.”

“How in heaven’s name did it get to Poland?”

“It migrated. That’s what ducks do, after all, Mrs. Chandler!”

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People had noticed for some time that honey from the Graham Apiary had a rich, interesting color and a stimulating effect that most honeys did not. Their small batches, sold at local farmer’s markets and through artisanal honey distributors, gained serious indie cred and began to quickly sell out.

A minor scandal ensued when a suspicious honey aficionado from Sausalito ran chemical tests on Graham Apiary honey and discovered that it contained caffeine and traces of high-fructose corn syrup. The Grahams insisted that they didn’t add anything to their honey crop, and state inspectors making an on-site visit confirmed that the honey production met all the standards to be called both natural and organic. But in testing fresh batches, caffeine and HFCS were once again detected, much to the confusion of both the inspectors and the Grahams themselves.

Honey production was halted until the mystery could be resolved, and state officials attached RFID tags to a number of Graham Apiary bees to track their activity. Once the data was crunched, the mystery had a quick–if unusual–resolution.

99% of the Graham Apiary worker bees made a beeline to a large structure about a mile away: the Mid-Region Coca-Cola Bottling Plant.

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“Ha! As if Dad would let me do anything of the sort,” Myassa al-Thurayya laughed, racking the bolt on her sniper rifle. She lined up a shot and tore open the head of a Vyaeh who had peeked out of cover, spraying the area with ichor. “No, I had to learn all of this myself.”

“How, if I may ask, did you do that?” said Jai Chandrakant. He rattled off an accurate burst of suppressing fire to force the assaulting Vyaeh to keep down.

“Suitors.” Myassa aimed and fired, cursing loudly as she missed.

“Suitors?”

“Suitors.” Myassa adjusted her aim. “I had many of them–or more accurately, many of their parents wanted me to marry their sons. Only daughter of a well-off man from a good line and such. But, to his credit, Dad never forced me to do anything. He’d just chaperone me on dates with them. Actually, ‘dates’ is probably too strong a word. More like ‘activities.'”

“Sounds familiar,” winced Jai. “I wasn’t allowed to meet any girls without a chaperone too, only boys.”

“I always said that the practice of forcing ladies to only congregate with each other through adolescence is a recipe for unchecked lesbianism,” Myassa added. “But yes, I made a point of checking–thoroughly checking–the backgrounds of those suitors. If they had a skill I wanted to learn, I would practice it with them. Lots of Army men, naturally.”

“And your father was okay with that?” said Jai.

“Not really, but it was the closes to being obedient and submissive as I had ever been, so he took it. Once I’d learned all I wanted, I’d reject the suitor on some trumped-up pretext and choose another. I lost count of how many, but I learned how to shoot, how to do basic field medicine, how to strip and clean guns, and how to repair your simpler kinds of machines. Not bad for someone who was barely allowed to go out in public, eh?”

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The Fáidh nodded, but his affect grew serious—the most serious Jennie had ever seen him. “I am worried that the Zaar has deliberately left us a trail to follow,” he said. “The ease with which we tracked him to the Temple of the Orb, the trail of footprints, the way he mentioned his destination as if by chance…I think, young lass, that we need to be wary.”

“What, are you worried that the ridiculous ritual I looked up and we practiced won’t work?” Jennie said. “Don’t worry about it. I still have my very illegal pepper spray and the highly illegal pistol that Whelk was using. If it looks like things are going south faster than geese in the winter, I’ll use one of them.”

“All I meant, young lass, is that Zaars are tricky spirits that draw strength and succor from the misery of others and the chaos of a world unglued. As Jim Morrison said, ‘some are born to sweet delight, some are born to the endless night’ and Zaars are the blackest and most unpredictable part of that endless midnight, I’ve heard.”

“Again, that wasn’t Morrison,” Jennie said. “It was William Blake, that lovable nutjob, in ‘Auguries of Innocence.’ And don’t worry. I know that the Zaar is dangerous, but if we keep our heads and think logically through things, we’ll be fine.”

The Fáidh nodded, brightening as he did so. “You’re right, young lass. Let us onward and look for clues of our quarry’s whereabouts or a place to set a trap.”

Treading softly over mossy stones, Jennie caught up with her other companions. The sky was overcast with a rather more sinister level of shadow than was usual even for Dublin, and the walkway was offset by stone sentinels ever few feet, each bearing the name (and, presumably, likeness) of a High King of old. Ard Rí Mac Ercéni…Ard Ri Óengarb…Ard Ri Aíd Olláin…Ari Ri Diermait…

“Oi, Cary!” barked Syke, gesturing at a well-preserved statue of Ard Ri Snechta Fína. “I think I’ve found you a fellow. You think he’s your type?”

“Ohmigawd, Syke,” Cary giggled, holding up a hand and smearing the makeup and lipstick on her face into a positively Picasso smear. “That is totes funny. But I never could.”

“Cor, why not?” Syke patted the statue on his shoulder. “He’s well-built, you can’t argue that.”

“I totally prefer guys who are more limber,” said Cary. “And I could never, like, marry so totally far above my social station.”

“What that, then?” said Syke, cocking his head. “Social station?”

“As Ard Ri, King Snechta Fína is totally royalty,” Cary continued, “while I’m like landed gentry without even a hereditary title or stuff.”

Syke shook his head. “The stuff that comes out of this one’s mouth, I tell you…”

“Well, how about this one?” said Cary, rushing a little ahead and losing the sunglasses from her stony eyes as she did so. She stopped in front of an imposing female statue, the only such on the Causeway that Jennie could see, which bore the inscription of Ard Ri Macha Mong Ruad. “Ohmigawd, she’s totally your type, Syke. She was like a friend to all the trees and was able to totally kill her rivals for the throne by like tracking them down in the wilds of Connacht, and she ruled even after her husband died of the plague, and on top of all that she’s the only female Ard Ri, or High King (or is that Ard Banríon, or High Queen) in the centuries-long history of Ireland, and-”

“Cor, it’s like squeezing a sponge with this one sometimes,” said Syke as Jennie quietly giggled behind him. “How do you know all this sodding trivia, Cary? I’m a natural-born son of this soil, and I don’t even know it. Fáidh, do you?”

“Well, I knew that there was a High Queen of a sort,” the Fáidh said, “I am, after all, a quarter fae on my mother’s side. But other than that-”

“Ohmigawd! Would you like me to ask her if she likes figs, Syke? I totally will.” Cary did an excited little hop, the weight of which was enough to ruin both of the charity shop shoes Jennie had her in.

“What?” Syke yelped.

“It’s totally true, I can,” said Cary. “Every statue can see and hear just by like virtue of being of anthropomorphic shape and affect, y’know? They’re not animate like me or probably even conscious—but you never know, Syke!—but if you speak to ’em in the Stonetongue they totally will spill like all their beans.”

Syke looked helplessly to Jennie. “Why not?” said she. “Go for it, Cary. You’re probably just instinctively reading lichen patterns, heat signitures, or pheromones, but if it helps us, whatever you want to call it is just fine with me.”

Cary bent over the statue and made a noise that sounded like two cement blocks being rubbed together irregularly. She got what could have been either a stony scraping in return of just an echo, though of course Jennie immediately pronounced it to be the latter.

“The statue of Ard Ri Macha Mong Ruad totally says that a man…no, like a thing in a mannish shape passed by here not long ago,” Cary said. “He took the left fork in the tomb-path ahead.”

“Well done, Cary,” said the Fáidh. “Let us press forward.”

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