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The Courier's Tale

by Rudi Dornemann

It's still early when Eyve Aerial enters the abandoned district. The sun is bright and low, so that the spidery petals of snowflake roses cast shadows like clutching hands on the edge of the road.

An invocation, chalked on the bowed metal of a cellar door in careful phonetics, is a line of bubble-round glyphs that might be cartoons. Eyve forces herself not to read, lest she sound them out in her head and activate something.

An emperor centipede blurs across the pavement, a quick zig just when it would have scurried over the toe of her boot, and it's away into the safety of the rose-thicket shadows. From the clacking clatter of its segments, the mineralizing's irreversible -- it'll be dead in a week, a statue, a monument to its final moment. Eyve shivers; Medusa syndrome! And it almost touched her.

She's carrying a jar full of oracular candies, imported and expensive: fruity fizzing omen-jellies, licorice-centered maybes, sugar-powdered harbingers. As bad for your teeth as your soul -- that's what the Central Square Sorceress said when she paid Eyve the first half of the courier fee. She sounded stern and all-knowing, like she always sounded.

Eyve's been resisting the temptation to taste one all the blocks and blocks she's been walking. With all the miles she has to go, she won't be able to hold out. The Blue Magus of the Western Suburbs will never know if she has one. Just one. This is the only part of her route where there won't be anyone around to see her.

Eyve reaches without looking, pops a minty-sour something into her mouth. The taste is acid and too-sweet. She spits it out on the asphalt, but flavor is still unfolding on her tongue, rich and disgusting. She sees herself, not much older, hobbling and rust-furred, clanking into her final pose. The jar slips from her hands, shatters. Candy blobs and glass splinters cover the road.

After a frozen moment, she picks up a squashed harbinger, and licks it, hoping for a glimpse of a different, less terminal, future. Just a lick shouldn't be too bad for her, and if it's promising, she can eat the whole thing. It tastes like yesterday's stewed cabbage, and shows her the whole city turned to a charred crater.

She sets the harbinger aside and reaches for a pink-frosted portent nougat. Maybe this one will be better.

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