The Wonder of the Ark

Alathea reached her hand to the rail. Her fingers hovered over the ancient wood. She breathed deeply of the earthy scent that seemed to emanate from the hull. Her fingers finally settled on the rough grain. She sighed. Looking up, she noted, “None of the other ships are crashing into this one.”

Jaraeden nodded, a contented smile on his face.

“Why not?”

He shrugged. “Respect?”

“This place is what I’m thinking, isn’t it?”

He repeated the shrugged with a slight nod.

“Wow.” She paced the deck, absorbing every sensation. “I want to just lay down and take it all in. This isn’t just history. I’ve been to so many of the places on my travels. I’ve stood where prophets stood. I’ve seen the hills they saw. But this!” She shook her head. She stopped. She looked at Jaraeden. “And you use it for a treasure depot.”

He raised a single finger and gestured with the other hand toward a closed hatch.

Alathea reached toward it and found it unfastened. She slid back the wood planking and peered into the darkness. “My sense of wonder doesn’t extend to things I can’t see, I’m afraid. Well, at least not things the Scriptures don’t tell me about.” She grinned.

Jaraeden gestured to her hands, his fingers popping open.

“Oh. I can’t just bring light on command. At least, I don’t control when it happens.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Look, I’m not like other paladins. They can ‘order’ their gods around because their gods are fakes. They can be bribed and bought, and the price is always too high. My God? He can’t be bribed. He does what he wants. I can’t pay him to have my way, no matter the price. But he gives what he gives freely. On his time.”

Jaraeden rolled his eyes.

“I thought you knew my God?”

The tall man pursed his lips before answering, “I know that whoever your god is, he answers prayers even here, beyond the edges of creation. No other paladin has done what you did. And now I find your god is, well.” He didn’t finish his statement. “Any god worth the worship would be able to light our way.”

“And he can. He chooses not to.” Alathea shrugged. “He’s bigger than my head. And I like it that way. If I could understand the way he worked, he’d be a pretty lousy god.”

“Other paladins don’t seem to mind.”

“Well. I’m not content for mediocre gods.” Alathea crouched beside the yawning pit. “I can’t smell whatever used to be in here. It’s just oils and metal now, isn’t it?”

Jaraeden shrugged.

“All right. I’m going in. How far down is the drop?”

“About two paces.”

“Easy.” She slipped in and landed in a crouch, peering into the darkness. Her feet landed on sturdy wood planking. Her hands brushed the floor. “They walked here,” she murmured. She stood, extended her hands to either side. One step. Two steps. She counted off until she reached a wall – forty steps. Nothing on the floor here she could detect with her feet. Her fingers brushed no walls until she nearly ran into this one with her nose.

Jaraeden lowered himself down behind her, his feet making soft scuffing sounds on the wood.

“This is the quietest place in the entire graveyard,” Alathea said as she felt the wall before her. More of the same dried out, ancient wood.

She felt more than heard Jaraeden nod.

“You must like it.”

She felt the nod again.

“Most people just get used to the clatter. Not you, though. You’re sick of the noise.”

Again the nod.

“Would it be better if I was quiet?”

He didn’t answer.

Alathea huffed a small giggle. “Well, let’s see here. A door somewhere?” She traced the wall with her fingertips, pacing the darkness. At last she found an opening. “And no torches in here at all?”

“The place is reserved for the paladin whose god does not need torches.”

“Well, my God doesn’t need torches. Or treasure. I’m not him, tough. I’m just me, and I still need light.” Alathea reached out into the black. “And I don’t have the power to light the darkness. That’s his job.” She wrinkled her nose. She looked up.

She closed her eyes and prayed.

An spark swelled to an orb of yellow light.

She looked over her shoulder. “Oh. And my God answers prayer, too. But notice? No payment needed. He gives what he gives.”

“Then your God is a fool to get nothing from you.”

Alathea shrugged. “Either that, or he’s better than every fake out there. Now, you have a glass shard for me to inspect?”

Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

The Long Road

Queen Tyasa rode alone. The black iron gate yawned open. The guards at the gate in their black armor snapped to attention one final tine as her horse stepped forward, his head bowed. Her people crowded the street. Somewhere a baby cried. Men in dark robes spread along the cobblestones, each bearing a single torch against the misty evening.

As her horse passed, those in robes fell behind her. The rest of her people followed.

Down, past The Crow’s Cry. No laughter shook its windows tonight as the queen passed. A single candle lit the highest window.

Down, past Portia’s Library. A cat exited its door as the horse passed. The bent its neck at the queen’s passing. None ever saw the cat again.

Down, past a house built with red bricks. A man with a great mustache wept as his queen passed. He flung a single purple rose onto the road before the horse. That began a blizzard of purple, as her people mourned, as they sought to show their love.

Down, past the temple. As the horse’s hooves struck the carpet of rose petals, the temple’s bells began their long, slow toll. Across the city, on every street, every temple joined the song.

Those in robes followed. The train grew ever longer. Four torches. Six. Eight. Soon twenty-four torches followed the dark horse as it made its way unbidden through the streets of the queen’s city.

A girl, her hair a mass of blonde curls, asked her father who it was. The father hushed her. Enough time for that later. Her mother, though, answered in a low, throaty tone. It rose suddenly and fell into an old, old song.

A dirge. Continue reading

Prayers in a Dying Graveyard

“I can’t do what you ask,” Alathea answered. “But the God I serve? If he chooses to use me to free you, I will do it.”

Jaraeden’s lips pressed together into a tight grin. Flames flickering from the nearby ship’s pyre lit his features. After a moment, he nodded and gestured behind him to an open door leading to a cabin.

Alathea glanced behind her. “I brought some associates. We should all come.”

The tall man shook his head ever so slightly and gestured to the door again.

Alathea shrugged and turned to Matt and Talon. “All right, guys, play nice.” She flashed her smile. “Talon, hope you’re ready to use your stuff.”

Talon offered his lopsided grin. “Always.”

Alathea turned away into the cabin. Jaraeden followed.

Inside lay a large stateroom. A simple cot leaned against broad windows. Shelves full of books and tattered pages lined the walls. A huge table took up most of the room. Papers filled with mathematical equations and other jottings piled on it here and there. Tiny model ships circled the outer edge of the table. Three glassed-in lanterns hung from hooks in the ceiling.

“What kind of ship did you come on?” Jaraeden asked.

“Hm? Oh. Three masts. Light on the water. We were going for speed.”

“Do you know what class? Or her weight in the water?”

Alathea shook her head.

“Where’s her home port?”

“I don’t know.”

Jaraeden cocked his head and shook it, drawing his eyebrows together. He turned and rummaged through a small crate, retrieving two tiny wooden boats about half a finger long. He raised his eyebrows and glanced from one to the other while showing Alathea.

“More like that one,” she said, pointing to his left.

He nodded, tossed the unchosen ship back in the crate, and set the chosen model carefully in the circle. Jaraeden plucked up a sheet of calculations and a charcoal stick, scribbling away.

Alathea wandered around the table, examining the models. Her eyes wandered onto a sheet of calculations. The numbers were nearly meaningless, but the text on the sheet was not:

“The waters will not hold our fleet of broken ships up much longer. More ships fall, and we slip farther from the light. How much longer can it support our weight? Dear Lord, do not forget us here.”

She scanned another sheet. And another.

Each held a brief prayer to an unnamed god.

The scratching of the charcoal stick had ceased. She looked up to find Jaraeden watching her.

She gulped. “We came looking for a certain ship.”

He nodded and pointed to the other side of the table. Alathea followed the gesture and found a tiny model of a ship with three triangular sails. She gasped. “How far?”

“Father than you can go. But…” He pointed to a ship far nearer. The thing was massive; the model nearly the length of Alathea’s hand. “Everything of worth we’ve stored here. Unless the boat itself if your prize, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. I know you seek no survivors; that boat fell long ago.”

Alathea nodded. “The Griffon sailed off the edge of the world before my grandparents sang at their first washing. But an artifact she carried, it would do much to aid us in the world above.”

Jaraeden raised an eyebrow.

“A single glass shard. It has been missing from the Glass Princess for hundreds of years. I believe that were she whole again, much bloodshed would be averted.”

He nodded. “Very well. You shall have your shard. You may take your men to the barge and find it, but touch nothing else. A little wealth tends to unbalance the tribes and lead to many problems here. And when you return, we shall discuss this God of yours. Because if he can answer prayers even here….” He gestured to the table. “Perhaps you and I have something in common.”

And so we learn a touch more about the quest Alathea set out on… and fifteen minutes more of writing, another chapter done! 

And thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

Crossing the Darkness

She kept yammering away about her God. Every single one of them listened. Every. Single. One.

Except the one who had run ahead, of course.

Matt grunted, wished he could have followed. Fool runners were always too fast for him to keep up. Kids, that’s what happens when you take an arrow to the knee. And the back. And pretty much everywhere.

At least Alathea’s God knew a thing or two about healing. He still had the arthritis on damp days, but it wasn’t so bad most of the time.

Unless he wanted to keep up with a runner.

He and Talon trailed behind the main group as they made their way through the shuddering graveyard of ships. Matt kept a weather eye on the horizon, trying to spot the ship with three triangular sails. Really, it wasn’t exactly a common design, but you’d think there’d be something more down here.

Talon skidded to a stop on yet another heaving deck. This one was a little oar-powered number. How it ever got to the edge of the world must have been some story. White chalk tally marks lined the inside, along with some foreign tongue Matt didn’t recognize.

“She said we weren’t taking anything but what we came for,” Matt rumbled. No one hiding in this boat. He sheathed his blades and readied himself for another jump.

“Sure. She came for one thing. I came for more.” Talon shrugged. “She knows I’m a thief. That’s why she hired me.”

Matt made ready to leap to the next boat and took off with a grunt, catching the side railing in the gut. He heaved himself over and flipped to standing, blades out. No one hiding in these shadows either. Talon leaped right over him and slid to a stop. This one was a bit roomier. Alathea and the entourage were getting farther ahead.

Talon scanned the deck. “Come on, old man. I can’t steal anything, anyway. All these boats of have been stripped bare of anything I could pocket.”

“Of course they were. Pirates above, pirates below. If anyone survived, they’d still need currency for whatever kingdoms they set up down here.”

“I don’t think so. Those archers? Not one had a wallet, a purse, a necklace. Nothing.”

“You were going to pickpocket them while they were worshiping Alathea.”

“Well, yeah.” Talon sprinted, grabbed a line from the rigging, and sailed into the air between ships. As they got closer and closer to that spurt of flame over yonder, it got brighter. “Anyway, you’d think there’d be more survivors down here. No one on our boat got more than a broken bone on the way down. This many boats?”

“Maybe they starved. Hard to grow anything without the sun,” Matt answered as he attempted to match pace.

He landed heavily. No one moving in the open hold. Safe again, for now.

“I don’t think so. I noticed something else about the archers. Something that I’m sure Alathea noticed, too.”

Matt landed on the deck with a loud grunt. “You mean the cuts.”

“Every one of them tried to kill themselves. Most of them not long ago either, I’d wager.”

“When you’re cut off from your gods, there’s not much reason to live.”

Talon shook his head. “I don’t get it, Matt. I don’t live with a god. Doesn’t mean I want to die.”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Really? If no one down here has any money, how long do you think you’ll make it?”

The younger man frowned in answer.

A few more boats. Matt pressed his hand against his side as he landed heavily. Alathea and her entourage waited. “They say it’s the next boat,” she said. “Someone named Jaraeden. He’s been all over down here. He should be able to help us.”

Matt nodded. “What’s his price?”

One of the archers answered, “He only takes what doesn’t matter.”

“See? That’s where all the money went,” Matt muttered to Talon.

The thief shuddered.

Alathea grinned. The nearby flames lit her face. “Come on. This should be fun.”

They made the final leap onto the deck of the next boat. It was one of the larger ones; at least three decks below and a raised deck above. Matt made sure to land in a defensive stance, blades out. Three men on the deck waited, all lightly armed, none of them reaching for their weapons.

A tall, thin man stood looking over them. He lowered himself down a steep set of stairs to their deck. He approached Alathea with a whisper of movement, offering his hands.

Matt bristled but let the tall man pass.

She took the offered hands with a smile. “Hello. I’m Alathea. Are you Jeraeden?”

The man offered a courtly bow and a stiff smile.

“Are you…. are you crying?” Alathea asked.

The man darted a quick nod.

“Why?”

He licked his lips and spoke, “Because you have come to take us all home.”

Not much plot advancement in these fifteen minutes of writing… but we got to know more about Matt! And Talon! 

Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

Silencing the Graveyard

The flames devoured the sails first, of course, ripping through them with a contented sigh, before settling in to chew the marrow of the mast and working down to the deck and hull. Boat after boat. The graveyard needed thinning, after all. The clamor of the hulls, that cacophony of ships ramming each other into eternity, it needed to die down.

Jaraeden breathed deeply of the scent of burning, wet wood. The hiss of the flames was almost enough to drown out the crashing of ships. Almost.

Voices called over the fire. He drank in the sight one more time before turning to face his men. He raised an eyebrow.

Brath, a man in dark clothes and a dark beard, bobbed his head in respect. “The new-fallen. They’re refusing to leave their ship.”

Jaraeden shrugged.

“Should we board her?”

He repeated the shrug and turned his head to absorb the heat with his face. Brath always spoke so loudly. Must he?

One more ship down. The hull itself sang as heat escaped between the boards. Soon it would collapse into the dank abyss. This one had been the Griffon. A majestic ship in her day, but rats had taken her years ago. Squeaking, skittering, chittering rats. And a ship whose only voice was vermin’s was better destroyed, anyway.

“Burn her then?”

Jaraeden turned back at the grating suggestion. He scowled.

“Very well. We’ll keep watch but leave her alone.”

He offered a contented smile at Brath’s suggestion before turning back to the flames. More ships had to be purged. There were too many. Far, far too many. Soon they would outbalance the lifting efforts of the watercycle, and everyone would slip below to endless darkness. If they thought they were beyond the reach of their gods now, how much worse would that be?

His eyes caught a figure – one of the runners from another tribe. One of the scavenger tribes, by the look of the clothes. Useless clods. Arathyn, by the long gait and confident leaps from deck to deck. At least he had some gumption to him. He skirted the edge of the fire as close as he could. A daring boy, that one. He used a stray rigging line to swing to Jaraeden’s ship and slid into a boy. “News!” His voice sang loud and clear over the racket of hulls smashing together.

Jaraeden raised an eyebrow.

The boy didn’t respond.

He raised both eyebrows to get the point across.

Arathyn gasped. “Oh! We found some of the new-fallen. They were wandering. Looking for a special ship. We thought you might be able to help them.”

He pressed his lips together and offered a tight nod.

“Jaraeden, they have a paladin!”

He rolled his eyes and turned away.

“No! She called on her god, and he answered!”

He whirled back to the boy, eyes wide.

“We’re not forgotten! And they need your help!”

Jaraeden ran a hand through his long, black mane of hair. He glanced at the boy, glanced away, glanced back.

This deserved his voice. He spoke, “Bring them here. I will see them.”

A god that heard them beyond the edge of creation? That paid attention to their voices? That almost made it worth it to say something.

This changed everything.

Another fifteen-minute write… wanted to see someone other than Alathea but still advance the narrative a bit. So, someone new! 

Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.

To Catch a Prince

Her hair kept catching in her teeth. Worst part of never cutting your hair.

Rapunzel crouched over the flames, careful to keep her hair as far back as she could. The clearing still held not a few drifts of snow, but spring had melted clear a few patches of ground. She stirred the pot of sew. Nearby a small pile of wood and a well-sharpened axe lay.

Cooking: Not the easiest thing in the world, either. Or pretty much anything involving any sort of movement. Or fire. And kissing was right out. No prince ever enjoyed pulling three-feet strands of hair out from between his teeth either.

The wolves howled in the distance.

Rapunzel smiled.

She lifted a spoon of broth to her lips, blowing on it. A taste. She reached into her bag for some dried basil. Stirred the pot again.

The wolves stood at the edge of the clearing. The fire reflected in their eyes.

“Come, my friends. I have food aplenty for you,” she sang.

“We reject your offer, Woman of the Blood. We would drink your blood and use your bones for games.”

“Oh, you don’t mean that,” she answered, standing. Her head pulled back under the weight. She rubbed the sore spot on her back. “My bones are far too small and brittle after a lifetime in the tower. And you always enjoyed my singing.”

“Music is worth less than food.”

“Hm. And yet you’re not attacking. Scared of a frail little princess?”

It growled. “We smell the hair packed around the clearing. It makes my pack nervous.”

“Hair? Oh, and what would it do to you? A single hair can be snapped so easily. And you eat enough of it, don’t you? Rabbit? Beaver? Rather hairy beasts, those. But if you distrust my hair, come, enjoy this stew.” She bent to snatch up the spoon. “Quite tasty.”

The shine on the wolves’ eyes moved as they surveyed the scene. “What do you want with us, Woman of the Blood?”

“I would have your allegiance.”

“No female leads the pack.”

“Of course not. I do not wish to challenge you. I wish to work with you. I have access to many things you would enjoy.”

“Oh?”

“My enemies are all around. I want you to hunt them for me. I will tell you where they are. Oh, such a hunt it would be. You would fell so many brave warriors and add their souls to your pelts. Imagine, my fine alpha, how it would be to have such a prize as that!” She dipped the spoon into the pot again, tasting. She pulled a hair from her mouth.

The wolves growled to one another in their guttural tongue. Rapunzel waited and stirred her stew.

The alpha stepped into the clearing, followed by three smaller wolves. Their gray pelts shone in the moonlight. “We would eat of your stew, Woman of the Blood. And we would hunt.”

Rapunzel smirked. “Very well.” She picked up a bowl and dipped it into the pot, filling it with savory contents. She stepped forward.

The mass of hair followed her and fell into the fire’s embers. The hair burst into sudden flames.

Rapunzel spun, snatching up the axe and chopping it through the hair near her head. The sharpened edge cut through, leaving her free. The fire raced around the clearing, following the path of her hair.

The alpha growled. “What have you done?”

“Gone hunting.” She flung the axe at the alpha. “You cowards always run. Had to find some way of keeping you nearby.”

The wolves backed away from the flames to the center of the clearing.

A horses hooves thudded against the cold ground. An armored steed leaped through the flames. “My lady!” A man in armor reached out his hand. “What has happened?”

“Oh! My prince!” Rapunzel ran to the man. “Save me from these beasts and flames!”

The prince plucked her from the ground and set her behind him on the horse.

Well, it was one way of getting around the hair in the mouth. She needed to get close to the prince somehow. How else would she finish the job she was hired to do?

Fifteen minutes of writing… I think this one is a little better for quality. It actually has a story, which is a plus! 

Cat on the Fritz

Calibrating the cat isn’t as easy it sounds.

All right, I know, it doesn’t sound that easy. I mean, really, trying to do anything to a cat is pretty much impossible, unless you’re trying to get a cat to hate your guts. That’s their factory setting, after all.

But the cat was on the fritz. Someone had clearly messed with Bitsy’s software. She rubbed up against everyone, played fetch, and never got in the way. Not like normal. I guessed it was a magnet mishap scrambling the controls. Marsha posited it was a virus uploaded from the net, but cat software and humantech rarely interacted well. Usually it ended up in fried organics, if you know what I mean.

Marsha scolded me. “You tried upgrading her firmware again, didn’t you?”

I didn’t answer.

She threw a shoe at me.

Bitsy fetched it.

Marsha threw the shoe again and proposed that perhaps we didn’t need to fix Bitsy.

I grabbed the Philips head scalpel, grabbed Bitsy, and flipped her over to get to the access panel.

Oh, you never realized? Yeah, that’s why cats hate being on their backs. They know that you can mess with all their programming if you can just pop open the access panel. Not everyone realizes cats are just organic self-replicating computers from another planet, but hey, I suppose we all have our own madness to deal with. Yours is thinking cats are from this planet. Seriously, anything that completely egotistical must be on the top of the food chain, and humans already have that egotistical thing down pretty good.

Anyway, Bitsy drew first blood, but I popped her open and ran an antiviral, just to be safe.

Marsha scowled. “I liked that she fetched.”

“It’s not an upgrade.”

“You could call it a system feature.”

I looked up from my work as Bitsy continued to yowl. “Really? You know that the bug could spread to other cats, and then we’d have a planet-wide feline failure. What would happen then?”

“The dog people would win.”

“Yeah. We can’t have that.” I went back to work.

Twenty minutes later, I found the glitch. Pretty fast work, all things considered. Except, just like Marsha had proposed, it came from my upgrade of her firmware.

I didn’t tell Marsha.

Just took her back to factory settings, closed the access panel, and let her go. She hissed at me and ran.

Ah, it’s good to have the old Bitsy back.

Fifteen minutes of writing, five minutes of editing. Getting better at just getting into it… now I need to not just get faster, but really work on quality!