“Mayflies” by Veljo Runnel is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Harvest Moon; the leaves are turning and the tigerflies are hatching. They will live until the Cold Moon, then die again, rise again when another summer’s passed. Mother used to say that the tigerflies are the only thing in the world that is like us. And now she is dead, and I am alone with only the black and gray mountain to hear my stories.

Sunset came early today, or maybe it didn’t and I am beginning to imagine things. Why of all the wicked families did I have to be born into one of proud traders? And why did we have to move to this most cursed of all places? Why would anyone want to live in a city that is haunted by millions of tigerflies when the sun is up, a city where all life has been banished from sunshine to be carried out by moonlight? Yeah, I for one do not understand. Father tells me our silks shine better when the moon is up. Certainly, good for ballroom light, but we could have gone anywhere.

Yet we are here.

Hunter’s Moon; the tigerflies are here, and I am happy when they bring their light into the lonely nights here at the black and gray mountain. I have been traveling for the past days — there are things I need before the Cold Moon, food for the long sleep, roots to dig up, boil, and eat whole. Mother taught me how to measure the amounts of what I need by how much I can carry — do not take more than what you need, so rings her spirit voice in my ears. The black and gray mountain echoes with the wings of tigerflies. When I sleep, they come to be my living blanket. When I dream, sometimes, I think I can hear them dream as well.

Our new neighbors (mirrorbird traders with an amazingly long lineage that they presume to track all the way back to Calopia, the home of the manticore trade) told us that the first two or three weeks would be the hardest. You have to get used to staying indoors, get used to living at night. True, don enough protective gear to make sure that these damn tigerflies cannot work their way through it, and you can go out there by day, but who would want to risk that? Even back home in Beleros we had heard what tigerflies can do to a pig, I would not want to find out what they do to a human, not that there aren’t stories. Oh, the Trader’s Round is full of stories! They say when this city was built, it was done so with great purpose, the most beautiful city of the North it was supposed to be, or so the settlers intended.

And now, what is it? A place your family drags you to just because of a minor scandal. Pah!

Beaver Moon; colder still, but I am warm. The tigerflies are humming like my thoughts. I have seen strange folk these past days. They have not ever been to the black and gray mountain before. I look at them and can see that they do not know the land. They look different, their eyes are smaller, their ears are smaller, and both are strangely shaped. The cloth they wear was not made here, and none of it — not a single thread — was dyed with blood wort. But strangest, strangest of them all is a man who seems to know Bending and Weaving. None of what he can do is what my mother and her mother and all the mothers before her taught me though. He is weak in what he does, like a fading fire in rain almost. This is why he has not noticed me watching them I think. The tigerflies, without my telling them to do so, are hiding from the strangers. When they go to hunt, they fly away from them, up the black and gray mountain at my back.

The Trader’s Round is a sad little spectacle if you are used to the splendor of the market squares of Beleros. I am used to splendor; I do find it sad here. And even all the artful illumination loses its romantic flair when it’s the only thing romantic about being here.

Gods and devils, I am the sole heir! Why does it not matter that I am not ashamed of my ‘escapade?’ Let the entire city of Beleros talk about it, I said to my father, but no. A true trader mints his coin by the value of his name, says father, what a boring old man.

And I also miss my…escapade. We were lovers without being in love, true and true, but first and foremost, Atanas was the truest friend I ever called my own, he was devoted.

I thought of him today when the most curious thing happened to me. I left father at the Round, under what pretext I cannot even recall. The city was built to be big, huge even, but due to its infamity, much of it is uninhabited. I did not pay attention to where I was going, I was lost in thought of home and of Atanas, but my dreaminess was suddenly — violently! — interrupted when my left foot caught on a loose paving stone and I landed headfirst on the dirty street of one of those uninhabited quarters. I scraped my hands, but through some minor miracle, my robe is merely dirty now, not torn. However, when I inspected the offending pavement stone, I discovered that there was something under it. The thing under the stone was a bundle of cloth. I unwrapped it then and there — too curious, I know.

And it was a scroll that I found under the stone, who would have thought to find buried words instead of buried treasure. The scroll is made from a material I have never seen before, some plant, finely worked, and it does seem old. I cannot read it, but there is a familiarity to it: some of the writing is similar to the rune letters Atanas showed me. He told me — and of course by centaur law he shouldn’t have! — that the runes have been theirs for many generations, but that before — a long, long time ago — they were imported to centaur lands.

A random thought: would father disinherit me and adopt an urchin off the street if I told him I was going off to the Academy of Natural Philosophy to become an explorer or even an alchemist I wonder?

Cold Moon; the strangers are no longer unaware. One of them saw a tigerfly one night, a foolish little thing, late-hatched I’m sure. He went and followed it, and what happened was most likely bound to happen. Mother would have said it is like the turn of the moon, something that you cannot stop. The tigerflies ate him right at the foot of the black and gray mountain. I have not seen it, but I understood what happened from the tigerflies’ nervousness, and I knew it from the sharp and sour voices of the strangers even if I do not know their words. One night later, a few hours before dawn, they must have decided to go tigerfly hunting, a foolish thing. They had torches and nets and what else they thought useful. They spotted me asleep, covered by the tigerflies, and when they came closer, it was the flies that woke me.

I rose, and the tigerflies hummed their light into the air all around me. Unprovoked, the tigerflies did not attack, and they only stayed because I was not moving, and maybe because they knew no fear of anything now that they were so close to the end of their cycle. At first, the strangers seemed to show awe on their funny looking faces. Then, the balance of their expressions shifted, and even in those small eyes unlike my own, I could read the anger forged from fear.

The strangers came at me. I knew that if I stayed, they would die almost certainly, because a tigerfly will fight to the death if attacked. I knew also that possibly, I might die as well, so I ran to find cover in the shadow of the black and gray mountain. That night, I managed to escape and hide. The strangers have been looking for me ever since. The tigerflies are beginning their dying now, and while I have been avoiding the strangers (there are so many of them to avoid now) I have not had the time to gather all I should have gathered by now for my own long sleep.

It is not just the tigerflies dying that makes me feel something shift in my blood, and it is not just the Blue Moon approaching either. I notice that there seem to be more strangers here almost every day, hordes of them, and they are building a home for themselves here by the black and gray mountain it seems.

The mountain has always been my home, and it has been my mother’s home and her mother’s home, and the long line of mothers before her.

When the Cold Moon is at its highest, I will ask the runes for what to do, because I do not have the wisdom to know.

Of course I will not be going to the Academy. Not that it would not be fun. It most certainly would be very much more interesting than here, and the educated people there would most certainly find an affair with a centaur less offensive than the self proclaimed elite of Beleros. Not that centaur society is any better, being branded — literally branded! — and being sent away to seek redemption in his travels? Just because he was with a human? Where is the logic in that I wonder? And then he risks meeting me to tell me all that and has the audacity to ask me to be with him come life or death — just as if love had snuck up on me like a thief and stolen my heart too; silly notion that, trader blood is a good guard against thieves, I’ll give it that.

I keep the scroll with me. I’m not quite sure why… it just seems like the right thing to do. During the day, I look at it. Yesterday, I think I only ever managed to sleep an hour at most, I was just so…well, fascinated with the scroll and the script and with…with its history? I looked at the writing until the point where I thought I saw these strange letters moving on that strange paper. I heard the tigerflies humming outside, or I thought I did. Their humming seemed so loud, drowningly loud, but then I hadn’t really slept, so there is a very real possibility that I just hallucinated all that.

Cold Moon; the moon is high in the sky, and the runes have spoken to me. How clear their voice is this time of the year, even though their message is harsh, I will marvel still at that. The strangers are come to stay, and stay they will. I will die at their hands, will die before the long sleep can take me. I write it down now, because in the great ocean that is everything that has ever been and will yet be, some things need to be explained. I will die by their hands. I will not have a long sleep. I will not have a daughter of my own. I will die, and with me, all the mothers before me. In death, I will be alone. I know the Bending and Weaving. It is as much part of me as it was part of my mother and of hers, and of all mothers before. I will use the Bending and the Weaving once, just one time more, before I die. I will give them, because they take and do not even understand what they are taking. I will give them the tigerflies. I will give them my life and all the lives that never will be when I die, inscribed in the wings of the tigerflies. I will give them the daylight to know the tigerflies, and in death I will take with me the light the tigerflies gave to the darkness. This and this and all of this is my last Bending, my last Weaving, here by the black and gray mountain, between the Cold Moon and the Blue one.

I hear the humming all the time now. Father keeps asking me how I am feeling — I think he thinks that I am missing Atanas. He must think we were in love just like Atanas did? Silly man, silly father, silly is a word that sounds like wings on your tongue. Last day, I was at the door. I mean, I was not in bed, I cannot sleep with the humming so loud. I was at the door, and I was ready to go out there. I realized what I was doing with my hand already on the key and ready to turn.

Gods and devils! I should have never come here! I should have done something to get disinherited — anything to not come here! I cannot let go of the scroll. I keep it hidden, true, like it was under the stone, but it has to touch my skin always, if it doesn’t, I feel all dizzy and raw and…I think that I will turn that key and walk out to those forsaken flies, soon. Do I want to do this? Why would I want to? I am not heartbroken, I am just not happy with who I am, but then, who except the chimeras ever are? Maybe Atanas was before we met, but then I guess if he had been he would have never fallen in love with me. Oh, yes he did, that silly horse-man, silly on my tongue, and I knew all along as it was happening!

One day soon, I will grab the key and turn turn turn and pull the door open. And then I will walk out there to the burning, humming tigerflies. Will they eat the flesh off my bones I wonder like it goes in the stories? Or will they carve me, strip away my family and blood ties and all the lies of love forever that I told a friend to make him useful to me and my curiosity? Or will they carve me like a stone fresh broken from the black and gray mountain, carve me into something that was never here before, yet maybe was, but in a different shape?

I can hear the humming, I can hear the humming now. It is still dark out, and the tigerflies are sleeping, but light is seeping in from the horizon already, that gaping, bleeding wound in the sky stitched with the suns. Oh yes remember, last of my line I am, bury my bones or what the day leaves of them under a stone and write on the stone: here sleeps a trader’s daughter that never loved a single soul but hers alone, here sleeps a daughter that killed her mother when she came into the world, here sleeps a trader’s daughter that heard tigerflies speak at night because she stumbled and fell and never bled when she deserved it — not once — before she died.

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Alexandra Seidel
Alexandra Seidel is a lover of black coffee, a wearer of black shirts, and a writer of black letters on white paper. Her writing is waiting for you to read it at places like Mythic Delirium, Lackington's, Strange Horizons, and others. Connect with Alexa on Facebook, tweet her @Alexa_Seidel, and read her rabid blog: http://tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com.