Ever the subtle one, thought Brona.
She crumpled the letter into her pants pocket. The task was doable. As it was,
she'd wanted to collect some ingredients to attempt the erasure chutney again with
Grendt of course. She could map out a stone-stepping route that would lead her
to the entrance of the grass fields upon completion.
Grendt finished her coffee and went to the stove. She shut off the heat and fixed Brona some porridge mixed with dried dates, cinnamon, mixed seeds, and a grated apple. The food flittered across the kitchen island towards Brona and landed with the sound of ceramic hitting wood, with a spoon landing in the bowl with a clink. Grendt placed the glass milk bottle separately so Brona could help herself. Grendt also brought a sleek hardcover volume to the table.
"Here," she said, gesturing to the walls and ceiling, “Let’s get rid of this stuff." Grendt opened the book and flipped hundreds of pages over to a page somewhere near the end. The page had very few words, it was mostly pictures of hand gestures. The words were upside down and written in Circric, the language of Ouroborics, which Brona was still learning, but the page also showed an illustrated image of flecks of dirt separating from a square cloth which Brona felt explained the Distortion. Grendt mimicked the hand shapes in the book, then pressed her hands against the house walls (under the table, Brona also gestured her hands to mirror Grendt’s). She then pulled up a chair, stood on it, and pressed her hands to the ceiling. The tangles of mold went rigid and began to sift off the walls like powder onto the floor. To help the process a bit, Grendt kicked the walls to shake them, causing the mold to fall faster (as well as the naturally collected dust over the years). The mess was now on the floor, which Brona thought was no improvement, but Grendt seemed to be satisfied.
"You don't have that book memorized? I thought you were a great Distorter." mocked Brona with her mouth full.
"I had only the important ones memorized and the ones I made up myself," said Grendt coolly. "When you're employed by an entire country, they don't ask you to wash their clothes for them." Grendt pressed her lips, "But here I am making breakfast for a four-year old."
"Well when you're a great Distorter, make sure you hide your blood better than I did. Teaching kids is way more stressful than working for millions." Then Grendt muttered something about how the dead should be resting.
The dim light seeping through the kitchen sink window indicated that the time was close to 7:30AM. If Brona was to accomplish anything today, she would have to first humiliate herself per the letter’s wishes. Brona swallowed the lumpy remains of her porridge breakfast and put her shoes on to begin the day the Task Curse had laid out for her.
Five thousand six hundred and twenty-six stones so far, only maybe eighty more to go? Brona guessed. There were probably more interlocked stones on the upside of the half-bridges which led into Late Sun, but there was no way for Brona to reach the tops of the bridges to check – and the curse was so young itself, it probably didn’t know either. Brona wedged charcoal lumps into the grooves of her shoe soles to mark every stone, effectively debasing public property, making people just a bit angrier with her than usual. She didn't lift her head up often to look around, not only because people glared at her, but also because missing a single stone would mean her uncle would die. Possibly.
She only looked up when something was out of place and making a scene, which happened to be the other two people who received letters today; One, a man, was making a ruckus patting the walls of every building he walked by. The other, a woman, had to place two books behind her and one in front for every step she took, rotating the order of the books for every step. Brona didn’t understand why the woman didn’t just stay home that day.
The tasks almost seemed comical at times, which was curious considering the curse took no pleasure in it at all. In fact, the Task Curse didn't feel anything. Just like Brona's buckets, it wasn't actually alive. The only reason why people said, 'the Tasker feels lazy today', or 'The Tasker has a cruel sense of humour' was because Ouroborics tended to take shape of human personality once it was around long enough. If a Distortion was performed by wild animals, eventually you'd see the magic acting in such a way that it would be forging for nuts like a squirrel, or attacking rabbits for their meat. Humans identify strongly with their inner character, and so Ouroborics performed by them tended to develop a personality. Brona wasn't prepared for the sass that her buckets were likely to give her one day.
Five thousand seven hundred and fifty-three... Five thousand seven hundred and fifty-four... Five thousand seven hundred and fifty-five! Brona twisted her shoe with a zealous fervour as the tightness in her chest eased. The last stone cemented in the ground of Late Sun was caked in crushed charcoal, saving her uncle from his fate.
"Oh, shit!" exclaimed Brona, as she reached for her pants pocket to take out the letter. But her pocket was empty, aside from the ash that the letter had turned to when she completed the task. That was just another pocket in a line of pants that was going to be sticky and smelling of smoke for a long time.
Sunlight split through the skies with an unnatural influx. Alarming to outsiders, but a perfectly accepted happening in Late Sun when the sun’s rays appeared, marking the end of the seven-hour dawn. The landscape brightened to reveal the vast historical architecture of the town, such as the hundred-foot-tall bridges which spurred out from the province but led to nowhere, ending somewhere over the chasm which surrounded the landmass. The fog which hung just below ground level of Late Sun’s lowest altitude cleared and the greenery which grew on the sides of the walls of people’s homes unfurled and revealed the full span of their leaves, producing an almost artificial, green-coloured glow to the surroundings. From the corner of her eye, the sunlight exposed a figure near Brona.
Carrying a stack of items was a man outfitted in a sea green dress, with matching flats, and elbow-length gloves. His ash brown hair had a soft matte glow in the sunlight as well. He appeared to be attempting a balancing act with a cake wrapped in wax paper, two dresses and a large binder.
“Hey witch!” the man exclaimed. Brona walked over to the young gentleman. A crowd of people had turned their heads towards the commotion until they saw who the ‘witch’ in question was and encouraged the forthcoming harassment. The man pushed all his belongings into Brona’s waiting arms, which stacked above her head and blocked her eyesight.
“Follow my voice,” said the man straightening from a crouch. Brona listened and followed as the man continued to shout: “Please everyone, remember to vote in the next few days! Polling closes three nights from now! We cannot enter infinite without Tenefrit!” Brona rolled her eyes at the slogan but continued to follow the man until the interlocked stone beneath her feet became a familiar dirt road.
The man clicked his tongue, which Brona knew meant ‘hold on, we’re not in the clear yet’. The light walking of two girls passed them by, then two hands descended on either side of the stack, regaining Brona’s sight.
“What’s the stuff for, Callum?” asked Brona eyeing Callum as he resumed his awkward balancing act. “I can keep holding something for you.”
“This dress is for my rally speech two days from now,” he said, lifting a full-length gown with flowers blossoming from the bosom, “Then this one is an old one that I got a hole in that Mr. Glen offered to sew up, and the cake—,” said Callum puckishly, “The cake was supposed to be for a private dinner tomorrow with myself and the Northern Environmental Lead —but a street witch confronted me and took it for herself and her careless caretaker.” He dumped the cake back into Brona’s arms.
Brona blushed accepting the gift, “Thanks, Callum.”
“Oh this doesn’t come without payment, witchling. A politician is only as good as his speech. You just agreed to listen to me practice all night and provide careful, constructive criticism.”
For a moment, Brona considered dropping the cake and running back to Grendt, but it was rare for Brona to have time with Callum lately, since the election campaign demanded his full attention: garnering a positive public opinion and reminding people to vote, so she conceded that a boring evening practicing boring speeches was better than no time with her friend at all.
Callum of the West Estate Tenefrit was one of Late Sun’s few political figures, having helped reinstate the Sunnish electoral system after thousands of years as a self-regulating province. He’d won the bi-yearly elections three times in a row since his sixteenth birthday. His winning platform was his rigor to free the Sunnish of the Task Curse and help Late Sun regain its status as a functioning dominion in the growing world with valuable insights. With the Task Curse, the outside world largely ignored the province where the people were unable to leave. As Callum saw it, being a part of a political system which aligned with the neighbouring provinces would help him gain access to the contacts necessary to receive expert council on rogue Ouroborics, which would hopefully help him find the source of the blight.
Callum’s search for the source of the Task Curse naturally led him to Brona early on. Following rumours and a trail of spoons, he found Brona’s house situated directly opposite of his home, on the Eastern side of Late Sun. Brona was only three at the time, but through some simple tests which involved throwing objects at the child to see how she would react to stress, Callum quickly deduced that the child being raised by her uncle and Blood Projection was not the source of the curse. Brona exhibited a clear aptitude for Ouroborics, having shattered the plates before they hit her, but not without a willing exchange. Callum remembered seeing Brona bite her arm to self-inflict pain as the trade to flip the table to protect herself. The Task Curse was wild, without a will dictating its course, so the originator had to be unwillingly using Ouroborics, perhaps even unknowingly. Despite putting the evidence before his fellow citizens that Brona was not the cause of the curse, the people ignored the reality and continued to hold their suspicions. As Brona had rationalized many times before, she was their coping mechanism, but as long as no one turned violent against her, she could manage her fortune in spoons. It wasn’t like she needed their friendship to survive.
“Did you see that green lightening last week?” asked Brona. “It was so freaky, Grendt didn’t let me go outside, but we watched from my bedroom and I took notes and I have some theories.”
Callum grimaced. “Not lightening, actually— I may have had a part in that. One of my connections from Dargun secured a vile of Donacchium for me, a polarized metal which is attracted to Ouroboric Strings.”
“Me and Grendt are Braided with those Strings! Is that why some of that light came towards our house?”
“I’m not surprised that Grendt didn’t let you outside. Donacchium burns upon contact with any Distorter, but don’t worry, I only used a small amount. The worst that would have happened if it found itself to you would be akin to a static shock. She probably saw it used in past wars against people like herself, so I understand her apprehension.” Some anger swelled inside Brona as she realized Grendt withheld useful information from her once again. “You see, before I can tackle dismantling the Tasker I need to find the origin and find a path that will lead me to it. I’ve been conducting some tests to see if the curse is bound to the same restrictions as conventional Ouroborics.”
Brona cocked her head to the side. “Restrictions? Why do you care about what the Tasker can’t do? That stuff won’t hurt us.”
“The limitations of a construct tells you equally as much about it as knowing what it can do. It all comes down to the basic principles of Ouroborics, really. We know that for every take, there needs to be an equal give –which tracks with physics, that for every action there is a reaction. Furthermore, we know the main limitations of Ouroborics: no control over other autonomies, no flesh healing, no artificial maturation, and no time distortion— if there even is such a thing as time. Based on those principles, we can reasonably believe that everything in between those limitations is manifestable.
“So… what did the not-lightening tell you about the Tasker?” asked Brona, not fully following Callum’s rant.
“The Tasker either follows the rules, or it doesn’t. If its orthodox, then the Donacchium metal will follow the path of the strongest String, burning until it either spends itself, or it reaches the source and continues to burn there, ultimately revealing a path.”
“And if the Task Curse isn’t Or-po-dops?”
Callum chuckled, “The Donacchium never landed. It shot over the forest and faded in the air hanging over it. At the very least, I thought I had enough Donacchium shavings to reach end-to-end of our province but using anymore of it would have been a hazard to you and the rest of the Sunnish. Either way, the results left me with two assertations: There is a powerful source of Ouroborics in the forest which is possibly the source of the curse, or the Tasker has mutated and is undetectable by Donacchium, and the forest is unrelated. In either case, we are dealing with a very powerful force, or an unpredictable one.”
Brona looked to the crescent shaped forest that crowded the confines of Late Sun. It was seldom explored despite the Late Sun settlement having brought people to the area thousands of years ago. There were hardly any paths, let alone any paths which delved more than a few kilometres into the depths of the forest. Brona frequented the woods on a near daily basis, usually to harvest materials for Ouroborics or to practice a Distortion away from Grendt’s line of sight so she wouldn’t laugh at her when it failed. “I’ve been scouring the forest this past week looking for someone or something imbued with Strings. I’ve even been using some Donacchium to help me find a path, but when I’m in the forest’s midst, the Donacchium just fizzles out into all directions. Very curious,” expressed Callum.
“That probably happens cause of all the Wood Folke. You might have been standing in the centre of their thicket.” Said Brona as-a-matter-of-factly.
Callum perked, “That’s right— You’re well acquainted with their sort, aren’t you?”
Brona’s expression flattened, “I wouldn’t say we’re on great terms— We just have a mutually beneficial relationship. They help me find parts for Distortions, I give them cool-looking rocks. It’s shallow.”