The dress Callum designed was a lavender purple linen festooned with turquoise flowers and a skirt that reached Brona’s knees. It fit perfectly, so much so, that Brona wanted to start wearing it the moment she woke up despite Callum’s gala not starting until nightfall. The party would begin accepting guests when the lunar stone covered half the sun at quarter past eight. It was going to open with the reveal of Callum’s new dress, a must-see, he promised, and his introductory speech. The address would remind the Sunnish people of their mutual goal of finding the source of the Task Curse and eradicating it, at which point Callum would lead the conversation towards the intricate lie of the supposed person responsible in Dargun. Brona was to be present at the gala, dressed her best, to then come up on the patio with Callum as he yet again would show the Sunnish people how the Task Curse was not Brona’s fault by throwing a plate at her. Again. Simple but effective!
Brona was ecstatic. Tonight would be the starting point of a new age for her, one which was not bogged down by so many spoons, one where people would accept her and treat her as an equal, —and all thanks to Callum. Brona pushed against her bedroom door and tutted down the stairs in search of Grendt to pull up the dress’ back zipper.
“Grendt! Grendt! Grendt! Can you do my zipper?!” shouted Brona grabbing a loaf of cranberry bread off the counter. The house remained silent. Odd. Grendt was not the most attentive individual, but at the very least, she would always acknowledge Brona’s calls. Brona held the loaf between her teeth while she knelt looking for Grendt on the floor – likely she was pasted somewhere there.
But no, the floors were just covered in dust. Brona called upon Brian.
“Yes, Brona?” said Brian, smiling down at his host. She took a step back. Brian still weirded her out.
“Brian, have you seen Grendt? Or, wait, actually—,” she turned around exposing her bare back to him, “Can you do my zipper?”
Brian chuckled and zipped up the child’s dress. The fabric tightened around Brona’s ribs, but not uncomfortably so. When Brona tested her moveability, the material gave space to allow her to twist, feeling something like a snake encircling her body. Fancy fabric.
“Going somewhere, love?”
“It’s Callum’s party tonight! I am a guest,” punctuated Brona, pulling her voting receipt from the dress pockets. Brona had handed in her ballot weeks ago but held onto the receipt as her trophy of dedication to Callum. “Callum made this dress for me!”
“It’s very beautiful, indeed,” said Brian, his breath hitching when he saw Brona’s body start to wither from his presence. “Have a seat, dear—,” Brian pulled out a chair for Brona. “I’ll be off.”
Catching her breath at the kitchen table, Brona waved goodbye to Brian as he vanished. She had been with Brian for two days now, but his presence was not becoming any easier to manage. How was she supposed to utilize his ‘expertise’ if he could only speak two sentences before having to leave?
The metal skirt of the mail slot flipped-up as three deliveries fell through the wall. No one was seen passing by the window, meaning today’s mail was distributed by a Distortion instead of the daily-appointed carrier (who would usually throw in a spoon or two amidst the letters). Brona pushed off the table to sift through the items. Uncle, The Daily Black and White, and…
Brona’s name sparkled gleefully as contrasted to the spiteful black envelope. The Task Letter’s folded crease looked like a crooked smile contented at ruining Brona’s day. Brona tore it open through a string of swear words eager to get whatever menial task was assigned to her over with before the party. The silver words read in a cursive writing this time:
You’ve been smiling too much lately. You think you don’t need others support? Well think again, dumbfuck. You need to make one more friend before the Lunar Stone covers the Sun. It’s gotta be someone Sunnish, it can’t be that wood guy or whatever. I’ll hold onto Grendt until then.
The Task Curse.
PS – Your dress looks dumb.
The white noise of the kitchen felt like it was forcing itself down Brona’s throat and tugging at her stomach trying to lift the breakfast out of her body. Bouts of vertigo pulsed from the base of her skull, nodding her head forward with every strum.
As Callum had said, a mutation had indeed occurred, and what worse, was breaking the rules of modern Ouroborics. Before only having affected living people, it was now sewing itself into the fabric of Ouroborics and altering other peoples’ Distortions. Grendt was a Blood Projection, a person who only existed through the power of another living Distorter, but now she was somehow purged from Brona’s body and at the same time held hostage as her own entity.
“…Grendt?” Brona whimpered looking over the empty room one more time for her mother. The room only reflected Brona’s silence. Pre-emptively gripping the counter for support, Brona called Brian once more. His body appeared before her, hands close to his chest. In a shaky but calculated movement, Brian’s hands found either side of Brona’s face.
“My dear, why are you upset?”
“Grendt… The Tasker took her, and I have to make a new friend, but everyone hates me…”
Brian gently pried the letter from Brona’s hand and read it over. “Have you any casual relations Brona, people you know who have neutral opinions of you?” Brona shook her head and pointed to the four kitchen cupboards spilling with the excess utensils bestowed upon her by her fellow people. Brian pursed his lips, “That fellow who was here the other day, Callum, has he any sway with the people here?”
It was safe to assume that Callum was busily preparing for his gala this evening and his last rally speech before final voting submissions. It would be difficult for him to find time for Brona today, but he would be a good person to consult at the very least. Out of every person in Late Sun, he would be the likeliest to know if someone was a desperate loner willing to befriend an unlikable child.
Seeing Brona slump to her knees in tiredness, Brian hurriedly made his last remarks, “Plan of action, my warrior. You will make the trip to Callum’s home in search of his aid, but not without at least attempting to befriend the people across your path. Agreed?” Brona held out her pinky to Brian who shakily bended his finger around her’s. “You are a fighter, Brona, more than you know it. You will not be losing your mother today.” Brian left the witchling to regain her energy. She unfolded herself from her slump and pushed open the metal swing door to her front yard. It was muggy and hot for a spring morning, the active opposite of Brona’s bodily environment of chilled veins and chalk-dry skin. The cicadas, however, were doing well to out-volume the static noise swishing about Brona’s mind, providing something of a tranquillity amidst her internal chaos. She put on her only pair of shoes and descended down the hill practicing her best smile showing teeth.
Just one friend.
That’s all she needed.
It was doable.
“Hi, my name is Brona, I live at the top of the hills on the East side, could I become your friend? I need to make one friend because the Tasker—,” before Brona could finish her sentence, the man sitting by the creek along the path to Callum’s manor turned and left.
Five people had crossed Brona’s path so far and none of them would make eye-contact, let alone appeared open to starting a relationship with the cursed child of Late Sun. Reels of cold sweat wet Brona’s face with the realization that if she could not develop a friendship with someone in the next ten hours, she would lose her mother forever. Grendt of East House only left two Revenis vials of her blood before her death, and Brona already drank from the first, leaving only one left in the growing world in what was likely to be some weird dungeon of personal embarrassment that was likely difficult to solve, and most definitely not in Late Sun. But she had to carry on. Brona wiped the sweat from her brow and continued her trek. She reached Callum’s manor just as the sun ripped through the skies.
As head valet, Donegal was in charge of organizing the Seltan staff to ensure the preparation and proper execution of the evening festivities. He stood like a rigid fixture in the centre of the courtyard, checking items off in his duo-tang with his brows fiercely locked in concentration as the staff moved about him in a twister of ceramic plates and outdoor seating. He appeared no more affable than the rest of the Sunnish citizens today, but he was the first Brona thought to approach regarding Callum’s whereabouts.
“Oh, hello, Brona,” said Donegal, having seen Brona near him from the corner of his eye but continuing to look at his notes. “You look great in the dress. Lavender is really your colour.”
“Thanks..” said Brona, thinking green was more her colour but what did she know about fashion. “Have you seen Callum? I need his help.”
“Callum is insanely busy today, Brona. He’s planned four hours of last-minute campaigning for this afternoon, and if memory serves, he’s currently meeting with several representatives from Dargun to help validate our ‘truth’ regarding the source of the Task Curse,” said Donegal using air quotes. Brona was astonished that Callum divulged those details to him. The two trusted each other more than she’d thought.
“I—um, so is Callum inside?” asked Brona.
Donegal shook his head and finally looked at Brona, “No, Brona, he’s on the East end using a conference hall. The Dargun meeting.”
Sharp pains pin-pricked Brona’s skin when she realized she just wasted the last four hours making the trip to Callum’s home. Grendt’s very existence hinged on Brona’s ability to be social and charming— one of her greatest challenges, and she disadvantaged herself by not attempting a simple phone call to Callum beforehand. For getting caught up in her emotions rather than thinking through her situation logically, Brona pinched herself in punishment.
“Ey—whoa, whoa. Stop that, honey,” said Donegal, putting down his duo-tang and pen and really focusing on Brona now. “What’s up? Why do you need Callum?”
“I need help ’cause… if I don’t make a friend before nighttime, the Task Curse is going to take my mom’s…” Brona produced the letter detailing her plight.
Donegal took the letter and read it. “Oh my… Brona, that ghost of yours, the one that drinks our best liquor, she’s your mother?”
Brona sniffled, “Well, technically she’s her Blood Projection..”
“But you care for her.”
A deep sigh exited the cavities of Donegal’s lungs as he looked from his duo-tang to Brona seemingly inspecting both. He stepped away from her for a moment, grabbing the arm of a passing maid. They exchanged some words inaudible to Brona from her distance, but Donegal promptly returned, taking off his worker’s vest and shoes, folding them neatly on a table to Brona’s side, and cracked his back and several other body parts.
A familiar Basset hound bowed his head to Brona and offered his back. Donegal lay still in his animal form while Brona stood equally frozen. Donegal barked eliciting a squeak from Brona, stooping even lower.
“O-Oh, you’re going to take me…somewhere?” asked Brona scrunching her fists into the fabric of her dress nervously.
Donegal barked again.
Using that vague answer as confirmation, Brona put two hands against the dog’s back and attempted to hoist one leg over. Immediately, Brona lost her purchase when Donegal’s dog skin slid over the muscles of his back, toppling Brona stomach-first over his back. She attempted to salvage the ungraceful movement by pivoting her chest further inwards and rotating. Finally, with fists full of loose skin, Brona had one leg on either side of the dog.
She tapped his back. “I’m, um— on.”
The back legs were the first to lift as Brona felt herself pushed into the short, greasy fur on the back of Donegal’s neck. A soft wind began blowing at her hair, then becoming a strong breeze throwing her hair in all directions as Donegal began his run. He flew past the crooked exit gates of Callum’s mansion and bolted towards the Eastern foot path where he bullied every passer-by into the road’s side ditches with his roaring barks. Each lift of Donegal’s front legs would introduce a new wall of air to slap Brona in the face, the movement creating a rippling wave down Donegal’s spine which hit Brona painfully between her legs and then the top of her head as the wave of movement reached Donegal’s tail whipping the top of her skull. As unpleasant as the method of travel was, Donegal shrank the distance between the Tenefrit manor and Late Sun’s main settlement significantly, making a four-hour trip into one.
The front of the meeting hall was painted in a dull grey light as Late Sun’s direct sunlight fell behind its invisible curtain once again, and the town centre returned to its usual muted colours. Pulling on the glass doors, Brona entered the conference building scanning each room as she passed them in the halls calling for Callum with her loudest voice. “Callum! CALLUM!” screamed Brona. The returned silence made her heart rate increase with every cry of her friend’s name. A human hand appeared on Brona’s shoulder turning her around forcefully.
“Honey, I don’t think anyone is here,” said a sweat-drenched Donegal.
Each conference hall was occupied by a large wooden desk and ageing seats arranged around it meant to host a large number of people. Most people didn’t have a need for the rooms, as most people in the growing world didn’t have ‘roles’ like Leavers did, but they had been used to serve as game rooms for Distorters to host their roleplaying games as evidenced by the D20 that rolled under Brona’s heel.
“Ow, fuck!” cursed Brona grabbing the D20 and throwing it across the room. Donegal crossed the room to fetch the die and placed it calmly on the table.
“Bad attitude never solves anything, sweetheart. Let’s go look towards the border. Callum might be walking the representatives back to the landmass corridors.”
That was one option, for Brona to continue her search for Callum and hope that he would know of someone who would be willing to be her friend, and then take the time further to track down that person, or…
“I know someone who might be my friend. Thanks for helping me though, Donegal,” said Brona turning to leave the valet and the conference building towards her forest home.