Dogleg Hinterland One

Madrigal had travelled the inner spirals of Cerebellum for longer than she could remember, dodging the bird shadows with their crow-skull heads and the hungry wolf spirits so that she could hawk her dream-spice to the Quiet Sleepers. She had seen more Inn Spires than most and she never tired of the mirror-spun magic and dew-laden threads that hung the small heads of the shrunken from their chameleon-shimmer walls. Her father had left three moons ago, evaporated like a lunar reflection stolen from a shattered pond by a cruel stone. Mother was one of the Whispergate Sentinels now ushering the Inbetweeners into ether-state. It was an interesting life held frozen at points in the daguerrotypes and blueprints of half-formed dreams that the awake called possibility.

She sat down, opened her pack, and removed the jerky she’d lifted from the one-eyed street vendor who looked at her like he wanted to eat her. She was a rare piece of girl candy that she wasn’t eaten by the Souled and the Buyers who shrugged themselves up out of concrete dust to bloom as cobweb-hued flowers that trapped the eyes.

She was hungry: she’d been travelling for three days now and not made a single sale, without a few more thefts she was going to starve and there were dancing skeletons spinning bad luck tales out of rumours stitching the edge of her vision like an horizon. She knew she had to reach the vanishing point and divest herself of these ghouls or that was going to be it. Vultures peeled the sky with their cries and told her she was carrion. She knew it was a lie, but how could she refute what they said when her ribs sang of her hunger?

The jerky tasted good, all her taste buds chattering to her of old times. She stowed the rest, put her pack back on, and started on her way. The sun was hot in the sky, a chromatic shift from lemon to copper made life cheap here. In the distance, where shadows dreamt fingers into their tides, the sound of the birds that had plagued her journey began to sing their cheesewire lament cutting through distance in a hot knife through butter instant. Time to move.

The Inn Spire she was due to arrive at tomorrow morning was owned by Bartolph Regrew, one of the lizardkind out of Midmire, he should be able to hook her straight into the Mara-Mirror trade that her father had been big in. That should be some serious action — feed her for ages. She had the Free-Key tongue-lock to allow her to speak the right language and the mirror-tricks were a cinch to pull off. No one would know that she was the daughter and not the mother. She’d pulled the trick off a thousand times and this would be no different. Still, she had to make it through the night and that was never an easy feat.

The ground was friable under foot, tinder-dry stealthgrass in sparse clumps easing her way slightly. She’d passed here before. A few more hours of travel and she could rest. There was a forest ahead — shelter and firewood. The birds might perch but the firelight and heat-dreams would deter them from attacking. Madrigal would be safe. She felt energetic and decided to run for a bit; at least that’s what she told herself … she most definitely wasn’t scared. Was she? The bird shadows screeched a resonant echo into her palpitating heart. She ran faster …

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