This is an on-going art project by Sean-Michael Argo and SJ Tucker.
Will this be a book? An album? A film? A hybrid of all three?
Time will tell…
Enjoy the Story…
A Mythpunk Fairy Tale
There must always be a wilderness for the city, and a wolf for lost lambs.
Hail traveler! No doubt adventure calls you to these fringes of the world. My own deeds are long done and rest only in memory. Join me at the fire, if you would sit with a goblin and hear his tale. There lies beyond the boundaries of the Werewood a place called Rust City, a metropolis of metal, concrete, and steam. Sky-pirates, with their dirgible ships, muskets menancing, and swords on their hips. Paupers with dirty nails and rags for clothes. Merchants and Tradesmen in their halls. Nobles in their finest silks. All rub shoulders in the grand markets and crowded moorings.
In years past the city had a different name, one now forgotten, all for one man’s craven pursuit of power. This man looked upon the city, and coveted it for himself. He used the mirrors, spoke the words, and made a deal with the goblin known as Rumpelstiltskin to turn him from a simple merchant into the most elite of nobleman, setting his rule above all others. Like the city he conquered, his old name was set aside for the new, and he became Count Brass.
His glory was at its zenith, the city bent to his will, and for a time he ruled in peace. Alas… no magic, be it ancient or new, comes without a price. One day the goblin appeared, and reminded this great lord of the oath he had sworn. In exchange for his ascension every full moon the Count must send one child beyond the walls of the city as a sacrifice to Fenris of the Wastes, the great wolf who dwells in the Werewood. So long as Count Brass sits upon his clockwork throne, the magic of a bargain struck demands its compensation.
Fathers may rage and mothers may weep, yet the children are taken all the same. No family is safe, no home untouched, as the rich and the poor alike are held to their great lord’s word. The child chosen must “wear the red” and go into the wilderness to meet Fenris, so that his bloodlust can be satisfied, else he will come to destroy the Count’s kingdom. In roughspun cloaks of bright red they go, alone and afraid, to meet their fate in the forest.
And so it has been for many years, a hard tithe of life and limb. This metropolis once so resplendent, a marvel of craft and cunning, is now whispered as Rust City. Still magnificent in size and scope, though its innovation and steam-driven dreams now give way to the burning black oil and the clatter of coin. It bears the blight of its sins upon the facades of its buildings and the soot that blackens the sky.
Slyph was her name, a sky pirate by trade, it was she who stood as a hero in these darkest of times. Many a tavern tale was told of her beauty, the flash of her sword, the report of her musket, and how freely the coin fell from her hands into the pockets of those in need. She was a brigand sure as sure, but kept her raiding to the outer kingdoms, and always set foot in her home-port of Rust City as a friend and sister.
Slyph had a particular reputation in the outer kingdoms, known to most as the Maiden of Loaves, as the targets of her raids were often food suppliers. While most pirates, especially those borne upon the sky, gold was the key. For her it was feeding her people back home, and even if she never turned a fortune out of those loves, she and her sister Zara always had gold enough. Shame that dark days and wicked deeds fall upon sinners and saints alike.
Some say that the Count betrayed her out to make peace with the outer kingdoms, others say it was Slyph and Zara’s happiness that drew the wolf’s gaze. The Count’s agent came in the night, a Huntsman who once tracked the forests wild, now turned to the purpose of his great lord, and a stealer of children in the night. Zara was strong, daughter to the Maiden of Loaves, and she did not weep as he fastened the cloak about her throat.
The Huntsman waits in an empty home, his duty done though his heart grown heavy with the sin of his deeds. Slyph returns from her raiding afar, and finds Zara gone with the red, in her place a Huntsman and his vorpal blade. The duel is set to without a word, the truth spoken plain by his presence.
Her sword now wet and her foe slain at her feet, only then does she pause to shed her tears. Inside her the spirit burns darkly, and with his own blood she dyes the Huntsman’s cloak, swearing that now she will wear the red. She takes up gun and sword and goes into the wilderness to reclaim her sister, or at the dire turn have her vengeance upon Fenris of the Wastes.
Slyph, swift of sword and sure of shot. Sky-pirate, corsair, and Maiden of Loaves. She wears the red and thinks herself the hunter, all thoughts bent towards her quarry. Yet this be the Werewood, and the line between beasts and men grows thin. These are his trees. Fenris of the Wastes. Clockwork Wolf. Bane of Brass, and there is no mercy left in him.
Their battle is legend. Claws flash, sword bites, teeth rend, and musket shot wounds. Strike for strike and blood for blood, until Slyph drives him into the shadows. She breathes deep, the battle hard-won, and tracks him through the wood. Across field and stream, mountain and ford, to a small cottage resting in a valley.
No tale told by bard or herald spoke of such a place, and her sky-pirate’s instincts sets her teeth on edge. Wary she be of this holdfast deep in the Werewood, when no sane man cared to dwell. Slyph calls the mirrors and Rumplestiltskin appears at her side, trapped by powers of reflection and speech until he grants her request.
Rumplestiltskin the goblin, made of riddles and rags, sharp with his wits and wise as a hag. Dangerous company he be, and yet she has called him still. He smiles and sharpens his needles as Slyph bargains information and aide for this goblin’s freedom. And so it is that Rumplestilstkin then tells the Maiden of Loaves the truth about Count Brass and the wolf at his gates.
A common merchant was he, this man who would be a great lord. His bargain with the goblin was that the new-made Count had to murder his own brother, the only man in the city of steam who knew the touch of true love upon his heart. The Root Woman she was called, as such who learn the craft must give up their birth names.
When the grisly deed was close to done Count Brass lost his nerve, and left his brother a bloody ruin. Rumplestiltskin now betrayed, returned to the Root Woman her lover near dead. With her cunning and craft she returned him to half-life in the body of a clockwork wolf, and every full moon she sets the wolf against Rust City. The Count sends children on the full moon to feed the beast, to keep it from finding him in his kingly chambers.
Rumblestiltskin leads Slyph to the Tree of Keys, where upon the branches many keys sway in the breeze, some of iron, some of bronze, some of wood and some of bone. She must choose one he says, but beyond mere grasping she must keep a purposeful mind. Ambition and desire is the water for the roots, but only with sacrifice can a key be bought from the branches.
To slay the wolf she must set aside her hunger for vengeance, and fill her spirit with a different vintage. Like the goblin bargains this tree is filled with ancient magic, and the keys unlock many a secret door, though like all magics ancient and terrible the cost is steep. Slyph hardens her heart, thinks of all the sorrow the wolf has endured, and chooses.
Slyph steals into the small cottage camp, watching from the shadows as the Root Woman cleans her healing tools and douses her fire. The red hunter waits, silent and still, until the wind carries the scent. She takes up her weapons and tracks the wolf to its den.
Horror awaits in the dark places of the earth. A mother’s saying to scare children possessed of too much curiosity. Now, in the rotten bowels of the wolf’s lair, the truth of such warnings takes hold. Bones and scraps are piled aplenty beside discarded weapons and shattered armor. Slyph discovers the remains of her Zara, then her scream of sorrowful rage is long and loud, not unlike the beast itself.
The legends collide once more, this wolf and the red hunter.
At the end of it her dagger strikes true, and the wolf is hers. Slyph defeats the hated Fenris of the Wastes, unlocks the cage in his chest, and pulls from it his furious heart.
The great lord of Rust City sits silently, hands steepled, brooding upon his ill-gained throne. His new Huntsman attends him, and tells of the arrival of a red hunter dressed in pirate garb. Thus granted audience Slyph places the now still heart at the feet of Count Brass. No words need be spoken, her cloak plain to see, and the blood of his blood lying on the floor at his feet. The wolf-slayer strides boldly from the gilded hall, and never looks back.
Count Brass has sent his Huntsman away, and sits staring at the ruined heart before him. Placed upon a bronze platter, with candles and smoke, a modest funeral for his kin and greatest foe. When Rumplestiltskin sets the hood over the Count’s head the great lord does not struggle, thinking his time well-ended, so little of true justice does he know.
A grim raider looks out at the horizon as she leaves Rusty City in the wake of her dirgible. The world has changed, yet the world remains the same. Zara is gone, as is her sister Slyph, both gone to grass in the Werewood. The Maiden of Loaves and Fenris of the Wastes, two legends brought to a bloody end. She knows not what name she will take, nor for what port she will make, only that the horizon calls and she answers.
Deep in the wilderness the Count awakens inside the body of the clockwork wolf. Prophesies and curses fall from her lips, as the Root Woman binds him to the beast of metal and steam. For him that slew her love there shall be no rest, and for the city that sent its children in red there shall be no peace when the full moon shines.
The Root Woman locks his heart in place with the iron key. The new wolf howls in agony. His mind of ambitions and plans is lost to the wolf who only knows the red of tooth and claw.
There must always be a wilderness for the city, and a wolf for lost lambs.