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22/02/2018 / hbrowne4

Return of the Starchild Extract by Catriona Murphy


For a moment, none moved. An uneasy, anticipating silence settled over the courtyard. Something else came from the sky this time, something massive, bulky and black. A chunk of concrete smashed into one of the tower’s steps, crushing faeries beneath its hulking structure. Dust and debris spewed everywhere from the rocks implosion. Part of the tower disintegrated and collapsed into chunks. Some bounced outwards like footballs, crushing more faeries. They howled and trampled over one another to get away from the concrete’s terrible path that left more destruction and carnage in its wake.
Iliana looked at what had been thrown in.
It was the drawbridge, now leaning in a lopsided upright position against the tower. She could hear the cackling and crinkling of rock raining down amongst the smoke of dust, which rippled throughout the courtyard. It washed over Iliana’s skin, leaving a thin film of dust, making her look like a bomb attack victim.
Iliana looked down at her greyed hand, and turned it over into a fist.
All she had been doing her whole life was just surviving, surviving through the daily turbulence at home, surviving through school and exams and competitions. She felt done with living in the lowest tier of existence; living to just survive. Living out of fear.
Iliana ignored the soldiers pointing their weapons at her and stared at the Xinger. She stared at it the way she was told to stare at her opponent before sparring. It was to project fearlessness and strength. Old habits die hard.
From the crowd, a familiar face pushed his way through.
‘Out of my way!’ Sires exclaimed, as he broke into the circle. He gawked at Iliana and Clio like they were an apparition from the faerie forest.
‘Iliana! Great goddess, is that you? Where have you been?’
‘Not in the Black Spot with those slavers I can tell you that much,’ she responded. Her eyes stayed on the Xinger, whose head was now tilted in her direction. She knew it sensed her, and it doubled its efforts in bringing down the portcullis. Boom after boom echoed in the already cacophonous courtyard; the faeries squealing rose a few octaves.
Sires hugged her, catching Iliana off guard. ‘You have no idea how glad I am to see you girl.’
‘The Xinger,’ Iliana started.
Sires turned and gestured to the guards to lower their spears. His face was streaked with green blood and Iliana’s forefinger moved of its own accord to wipe it. A rage seeped into her bones that she didn’t know was there before.
‘It’s here for me.’
‘Aye,’ he said forlornly, ‘it came back through another arch before his majesty could stop it. Followed us here,’ he looked at her, ‘looking for you. Your timing is—’
‘Perfect.’ Iliana looked around slowly at the petrified faces of women and children, their large purple eyes filled with a fear they didn’t deserve. The unjustness of it pushed her rage higher.
‘Open the portcullis.’
Sires gaped at her. ‘What? Are you mad girl?’
‘These people are dying because of me – look at your face, Sires! It wants me, and if it wants me, it can have me.’
Clio roared in agreement, incisors and teeth showing wide enough for families to stare into his throat. The soldiers whipped their spears back up at the beast.
‘This ends now,’ she hissed. The words had more impact said aloud than merely echoing in the confines of her mind.
She pushed past Sires, who stared after her in dismay. A line parted like the Red Sea in the crowd for Iliana and Clio to reach the portcullis easily. She felt a thousand eyes on her, faerie and sprite alike. But her eyes were for one creature only. She glared up at the Xinger through the bars, and unbuttoned her coat to let it fall into the muddy, trampled snow.
And it saw her. She can’t say how she knew because it had no face, but a rush of black swam in her vision, and she knew it found her.
She raised her face to it in defiance; she wouldn’t run this time.
Faerie guards stood ready with spears and swords. At the very back were the archers, releasing round after round of arrows. Their green faces were solemn masks, hard and focused.
The Xinger through the portcullis had grown to nearly three times its original size. It loomed at the gate like a restless demon through the bars. Tentacles whipped lightly at the steel mesh, testing the gate.
Sprites teetered, squealing like a horde of locusts as hundreds of them crushed together to try and squeeze through the bars. Iliana wasn’t sure how the Xinger managed to get these creatures to help it storm Faerie Guard HQ, but she was getting irritated listening to their screeching.
Without a second thought, she began firing fire shots at them through the bars with her index finger. Glowing tennis balls hurled at them like speeding bullets.
They didn’t stand a chance and their tittering quickly fell to screeching as they fell back in fear. Soon, a lot of them were aflame in blue fire, and a steady stream spread down their ranks from the towered fortress and down the laneway where thousands shrilled in agony.
Soon, the driveway was engulfed; becoming a river of flame and the night air was jarred with the despairing wails of the sprites as they burned alive and charred.
It took several minutes for them all to die. And even when a disturbing, ghostly quiet overcame the lane like a cemetery, and the odd sprite’s finger or head twitched in the mounds of incinerated bodies with the wind rustling through the still courtyard, soldiers and families stiff to the bone in shock, the Xinger’s and Iliana’s gazes were still locked.
‘Open,’ she whispered, ‘the portcullis’.
A faerie soldier scurried away and yanked on a large lever to one side.
The sound of a clunk and a bolt sliding into place, and the portcullis slowly creaked upwards. Everyone apart from Iliana, Clio and a handful of soldiers moved back.
Clio, I don’t want you—
I’m not. Moving. He growled.
He roared defiantly at the Xinger, daring it to enter the courtyard.
In the background, the bubbles continued to hover down and ferry families out, they pressed their faces against the glass to stare down even as they disappeared above.
The hush continued in the courtyard, in the grip of a vice called dread that imposed a kind of deadly silence. It created the kind of space where you were so stiff that you forgot to breath.
Tentacles slithered forward, feeling along the sides of the courtyard like growing vines bursting forth from an infectious seed.
A few whimpers escaped the trembling bodies of faerie children, and Iliana watched as some brave soldiers regrouped and charged at the tentacles, even as they were being tossed away like toys.
I am the heart of the star.
Iliana jumped as the words whispered in her ear, like the soft murmurings of a new mother to her baby. Or had it been in her head? Had that been her voice?
I am the heart of the star.
Iliana looked around, but all she saw was the familiar sight of distress, faces streaked in despair.
Another tentacle whipped out and this time, caught a few soldiers in one lash. They were crushed against the courtyard’s interior wall. The Xinger hovered forward with murderous intent and spat out acidic saliva.
She took a step forward.
I am the heart of the star.
Iliana stretched her senses to hit a line of low thrumming energy from somewhere beneath her feet, like a pulsating tree root. Frowning in concentration, it whooshed up to her stomach. It now felt like she stood waist deep in water, lapping around her gently.
The moons were out, just barely, behind some clouds. She looked to them and felt rather than saw herself draw in its light, whatever little it was giving off. There was a sense of wrongness, like she was stealing something that wasn’t hers.
The light soaked through her face to run down and meet with the root energy from the earth. They met in a chemical combustion, and combined to make something together that Iliana grasped hold of.
For a moment, the courtyard and the clamour that came with it faded, like the moment when a film finishes in the cinema before the lights glare on. She was floating amidst a cosmic background of nebula, lights and galaxies, arms outspread, feeling a oneness with all that existed. Feeling the pulse of the very universe pump through her; there was no difference between her and it.
Then the courtyard rushed back.
Shaking herself, the energy recipe she had fused was ready and pounding. She took in a deep breath and when she exhaled it moved up to her chest, like a waterfall flowing upwards. It started to pulsate with a quickening power. She could feel the strength of the energy searing in her chest, like a power engine purring before flight.
A tentacle caught a faerie by the ankle and pulled it upside down. It arms flailed uselessly.
The heat pressed in Iliana’s chest, sizzling like the heart of a star, burning for release.
Instinctively, she raised her arms up, palms facing forward, as if she were about to practice one of her Tai Chi movements.
What happened next, none could agree on. There was too much uproar and chaos for anyone to recall accurately how the Xinger was destroyed.
First came the blast. A white pristine light blinded everyone in the courtyard, as though a hydrogen bomb had gone off. Everything turned to a comic strip of black and white, and shadows were thrown on the walls, flickering like lightening.
A high pitch screech cut into the night, dying screams making eardrums nearly explode everywhere. This part, everyone could agree on.
When most of the people in the courtyard blinked their vision back, the Xinger was gone, and there was only the cadence of confused squeaky voices, dazed and inexplicably drained.
Iliana stood within a snow melted crater, the earth blackened at her feet. A single, curtain fold of aurora light shimmered an inch above her skin, the last tenderly wisps of an energy long gone.
A familiar figure emerged stumbling from the pressed crowd.
He staggered in front of Iliana, while faeries in the background began vomiting and convulsing.
He looked at her not like he was seeing the sun this time, but something more elusive and dark; a black hole.
Iliana rasped, ‘Hello Terrence.’


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