Monday, November 16, 2009

Maria and I bond or something

Dante and Avalon excused themselves to handle the reporting of the former city of London missing. I’m left with Maria to wait for their return. We’ve retraced our route to the steps of the art museum. I can feel the cement through my jeans. Cool like my latte. Only the ceramic mug retains any lingering warmth.

I can’t remember how to make the coffee inside warm again. Stuff just happens because Matt tells it to, so I’m trying that. But the liquid is feeling wholly uncooperative. Means I’m not saying it like I mean it harm if it doesn’t obey. Or the city guardians still have wards up throughout this city to disperse powers before they make things happen. It helps maintain the order of things.

“Fine,” I say. “Don’t be warm. I’ll still drink you.”

Maria looks at me, but it’s not one of fear. Just mild concern. “Is it your fault?”

“Yes. I should have drank it sooner.”

“No.” She almost smiles. I see her mouth twitch. “Whatever happened to London. The scone seems to think you’re to blame.”

“Most people think I’m to blame for most things,” I reply. “I’m the only one of my people who can do what I do. Makes me an easy target.”

“So you can transform cities?”

“No. I can change probabilities.” I frown. “I didn’t have anything to do with what happened to London. At least, I don’t remember having anything to do with it.”

I always do. Remember. Like I’m not capable of forgetting. I didn’t cause whatever happened to London. I know that. What I don’t know is why I’m telling her any of this. She thinks what I can do is relevant. I’m not so convinced.

“So that’s what a Twilight King does.” Maria rubs her feet.

Oh. We have a miscommunication. Failure of understanding. One that should be clarified.

“I’m not the Twilight King.” I try giving the mug a little hug with my hands. Maybe it just needs to feel appreciated. “That’s my brother. I’m the Twilight Prince.”

She blinks. Looks at me like she’s really seeing me. Maybe for the first time. “You’re a prince?”

“It’s not a big deal.” I shrug. “Lots of my people are.”

Vancouver people pass the museum. They’re far enough away that it doesn’t matter. They can’t hear us. Up on the steps is its own place. Part of but not part of what happens on the sidewalk.

We watch them in silence. If the mother or any of her toddler entourage think I stick out, they don’t comment. Probably because the city guardians have trained people to observe but not to notice things. Makes it almost like Vancouver was still on your side of the glass.

Mom and Tots cross the street at the corner. No Art for them. Fine by me. I don’t like young children. They seem unnatural.

“So where are you a prince of?” Maria asks. “Is Twilight the name of a city?”

Depending on when you are, you might think this is a stupid question. You might be wondering how Maria could not know that cities don’t have princes. Kingdoms do. There aren’t any kingdoms when Maria’s from.

“Twilight is the name of our tribe,” I say. “Tribes are like families you’re related to through power instead of genetics.”

She shakes her head. “This is such a weird place.”

“Where you’re from communities are where groups of people live. Here communities are those groups of people.” I abandon my mug on the step between us. “You would say ‘I’m from Emerald.’ Location is what links you and everyone else who lives there together. Mutual geography. Here you would say ‘I’m from the Beauty tribe.’ It’s the power that identifies you.”

Except it isn’t power that identifies her. Her tribe didn’t want her. She doesn’t belong to them. Doesn’t understand why this is such a bad thing. Most of the others like her, the ones who refuse to belong to anyone, are in Vancouver. They had the choice. They could have joined tribes. But, like Maria, they were too used to belonging to a place.

“Each tribe has a prince or a princess. Maybe Both. Maybe more. Depends on the tribe is.” I shrug. “Means your second-in-command to the King and Queen.”

She isn’t following. I can see it in how she’s poised, her mouth slightly open, to argue with me.

“How can you not have cities?” she settles on, finally. “Are you all nomads?”

“No. We have cities. We just don’t use them the same way.”

She’s quiet for a few heartbeats. I watch the family disappear into the distance.

“Do you think that’s what happened to London, Ethan?”

My name has changed. There’s a kindness to the way she says. Not the same as how she says Andy. But she’s finally saying Ethan like it doesn’t frighten her.

“What do you mean, Maria?” I glance at her. “I didn’t have anything to do with that. It got swallowed by the dream fields. Spat out as something else. It happens. No one’s responsible for it.”

“That’s what I mean.” She shifts on the step. Faces me. “What if London isn’t wrong—what if neglect is what caused the city to be eaten by the dream fields?”

She sits back. Crosses her arms. Looks damn pleased with herself. She deserves to. I know that places move without Old Ones and tribes to keep them in place. Never mind we couldn’t find London to keep it from becoming forgotten. History is made by those telling it. Easy-peasey for Stellina to make history include the Twilight King decreeing that the city be abandoned.

“That is exactly what happened.” I lean forward. Slip on my headphones. Listen as hard as I can. Straining for strands of Stellina’s easily recognizable refrain.

Avalon’s not wrong about us needing to speak to London. But he’s not right about us not needing to speak to Stellina. Of course, there’s a trap waiting for us wherever she is. All we can do is be aware and hope the element of surprise will better serve us.

This is twice we’ve been pointed in Stellina’s direction. Got a feeling if we don’t take the hint, we’ll see a third reminder and I’m not risking a waffle showing up.

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