Rage of the Rattlehulk

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19th of Triabra, 1212AP

The events happened so quickly that May barely had enough time to process the information, let alone assess what her next move would be. She had run out of the level clearing and jumped back down the mountainside, into the trees, jerking her weight in midair to twist fully around and let loose the arrow in her grip. She watched it fly, wobbling from the various forces pushing and pulling against its minuscule, aerodynamic form. The bow string whipped the palm of her hand, breaking skin, but she payed it no mind. She watched the arrow arc in its flight, curving from the strange manner in which she released it. Finally it steadied towards its target’s thick brown coat.

May Aresha didn’t know if she hit her mark or not. Upon her aimless descent back into the forest’s thick brush, her back met bark. Hard. It pushed the wind out of her, twisting her fall around the trunk and throwing her into the leaves below, face first. Her momentum kept her plowing down the mountainside, the leaves beneath her making her slide ever more frictionless. She grabbed hold of her senses, and dug her boots and hands into the soil.

Finally she halted, kicking a tree and a boulder, and she let her momentum bring herself back to a standing position. A great rattling roar leapt from where she had been just moments before, like bones scraping and clattering against one another, fighting for freedom from the confines of such a terrible beast. The Rattlehulk had been hit.

May had no time to celebrate the incredible shot. She couldn’t breathe. The impact of the trunk had knocked her breathless. She struggled for air, groaning as pain shot through her torso. She leaned forward to grab her bow, but abandoned the idea as a new set of pangs began to surface. The strange pang of bones poking about where they weren’t supposed to. My ribs! The shock allowed her a brief relapse of air, and she choked in all she could manage.

The Rattlehulk only allowed her enough time for a few precious, painful gulps of air, before it blundered after her. As it hit the tree line, the great mass of fur and bone stopped its insane rattling roar, and began a purr-like hiss. It pushed itself furiously between the trees with its two mighty limbs, it’s long, girthy tail, wrapping and wriggling around the forest floor, kicking up leaves and dirt in its wake.

Oh hyll no.

May reached to grab another arrow, but the tumble had cost her nearly all of her quiver’s contents. Only one remained. The others must have been scattered about the mountainside. No time. Fire! FIRE! She dropped to her knees to pick up the bow, and pulling the string back fast (despite the searing pain in her back and chest) let the arrow free. The monster stumbled right into it.

The arrow glanced off the Rattlehulk’s face, which was without fur or skin. Black secretions oozed from the hulk’s fleshless eye-sockets and maw. It barreled forward, squeezing its way through the ranks of most of the trees, shattering the rest with its taloned fingers. The dual horns on its head removed branches and pockets of canopy that dared stand in its way. It needed May.

Just as May had needed to find her father, Burelik, just moments earlier. Her father, a trained hidehunter, had been gone for far too long from their hometown in Furmount. May had followed Burelik’s trail, only to find that they led straight to the Rattlehulk. The same Rattlehulk which was now dangerously close to trampling her, like the trees it chose not to maneuver around.

May slammed back to the present. She leapt and ran to her right, then up, and about, climbed up a tree, and swung off a branch. Instead of evading it, like the Rattlehulk had assumed she would try, May jumped onto the creatures back, cracking the wooden bow onto the flat of the monster’s neck (which thankfully wasn’t just bone). The wood splintered on contact, leaving behind two halves connected by rawhide string. May quickly stabbed one of the sharp splinters into the Rattlehulk’s shoulder, but before she could drive in the next stake she was thrown up by the tail, and swatted into a tree. The Rattlehulk wriggled and writhed in pain, pushing its back against tree branches to dislodge the object. All the while it gargled with bones and hatred.

May’s body throbbed all over. The tail had swatted her hip, and her leg hit the tree. Not to mention the bones she already suspected were broken. She rolled away from an incoming swipe from the Rattlehulk’s talons, which ripped a sleeve from her shirt.

She got to her feet and started moving down the mountainside, favoring her left. Am I sweating or am I crying? She thought about this only briefly, realizing there were more pressing questions to face, such as: how the hyll am I getting out of this alive? She hopped down a rock ridge, and found a small hole covered by rock she could easily hide in, before the monster could see her do so. And she waited.

May could hear the Rattlehulk’s labored breathing, even though it was still a ways off. She could feel the ground shake with every tree it snapped and step it stomped. And that horrible rattling. It drove her to tears, if nothing else, and she covered her mouth. She closed her eyes too, hoping to never see such a thing again. She also hoped the small, hidden shelter would be enough. Can it smell me? Unlikely, as the black goop also fell from its slitted nostrils. The creature slowed, clicked about a bit, and searched around other trees. And then it went silent.

“May?” A voice broke out from the woods. A strangely familiar voice. “May, is that you?” Now she was truly crying – a hushed sob, which hurt more than all her broken body did combined.

“May. Don’t be afraid.” It was the voice of her father… but it was muffled. Distorted. The voice crept closer. “May, come back out. The Rattlehulk. It won’t hurt you. I promise.” The last two words came out dark and satirical. A rattling chuckle permeated the forest then, seeming to echo about from all areas at once.

May stepped out of hiding, staring the thing in its face. It happened to be standing just outside her shelter, waiting. It’s thick brown pelt smelled like death and fecal matter. On the underside of its immensity, was a large patch of beige skin. May was terrified of the thing. But she forgot her fears entirely when it spoke with her father’s voice. Now she was just angry.

“How dare you use my father’s voice, foul beast!”

“I could use another, if it please you,” this time speaking with a little girl’s childlike innocence, which in some ways was more disconcerting. It just wagged its tail, left and right, rustling the leaves on grass.

“And what? You want my voice to add to the collection?” May pulled the knife slowly out of a hidden sheath on her thigh, without the Rattlehulk knowing.

“No dear. I only want your bones.” She recognized this voice as one of the other missing hidehunters from town, but her chance to put a name to the voice was cut to an abrupt halt as it opened its jaws wide and dove into her.

Before the Rattlehulk could sink any of its terrible teeth into May, she stabbed the hidden knife directly into its left eye-socket, producing a fresh spray of the black substance. Some got onto May’s wrist and immediately began to burn. The Rattlehulk forgot it’s human voices and whimpered like a wounded carabrin dog, recoiling and staggering back. It wailed anew a terrible cry.

May tried to wipe off the black ooze from her wrist as she ran, but she couldn’t remove it entirely. She limped up until she reached the red-tinged grass. Walking the last few steps, she turned around, stopping just before the large pit below. The trees here were different – tall and young, and old and small. The bark had warped into an unnatural curve. The air itself was thick and felt unsafe to breathe, but May didn’t see how she had any other choice. She waited, wiping the remainder of the black substance on her leggings.

The Rattlehulk charged forward, not parting for any tree in its path. It shoved through them, tackling them head on. It was going to rip May apart. The ooze in its eye bounced up and out, splattering across the entire left side of the bone-faced monster. It wasn’t slowing its speed; it would plow right into her, perhaps goring her with the horns on its head.

She dropped down the hole, catching herself on the ledge. The Rattlehulk fell for the trap, jumping forward, directly into the pit. Directly into the paradox.

It screamed with a sound she didn’t think it previously capable of. A sound of purest agony. Pulling herself back up, she turned to take in what was transpiring. The gyrating, shapeless, orb of pulsing red, spewing streams of light and darkness in equal measure, was pulling the Rattlehulk into its grasp. The beast used its limbs and talons to attempt to crawl to safety, while simultaneously swatting its large tail to disentangle, or to swim, or to fight the anomaly.

“May!” It screamed with her father’s voice. “May, come with me! Please! I’m so hungry. May. May. MAY!”

The paradox was folding in on itself, a shape enveloping another shape, while simultaneously also being both shapes. And the Rattlehulk continued to writhe and wail and… rattle. Until both the paradox and the hulk were gone in a puff of static and electricity, which too was soon gone. Forgotten.

May sat there for a bit, slack-jawed.

She had won.

But it certainly didn’t feel that way.

– – – – –

Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.6.

Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.

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Atop Riverdrop

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6th of Exibra, 1113AP

Kaleen gripped the damp rope tightly as she slipped off the rock face. She swung about, trying to regain her footing, her back smacking with a wet, painful slap on the mossy wall. She was drenched, frustrated, and throbbing with pain. The rest of the company had made it to the top already. The water fell in buckets over her shawl and tunic. Kaleen pushed back to where she needed to be, and found a route up the slick stone that offered some semblance of footing. She wrapped the rope around her hand, and took a quick glance down the cliff face behind her. The water crashed into the rocks and foaming lake below, which flowed downstream in rapids, in turn feeding River Atlúm.

She placed her left foot on a promising perch, tested the hold, and lifted herself up. She repeated with her right foot, and so on. All the while she made sure to keep a firm hold on the moldy, moss-slick rope.

Kaleen reached up to the top of Riverdrop, finding the rock where the old rope had been tied taut. She grabbed the girth of the knot and used the last of her depleted strength to lift her torso over the edge. A strong hand gripped her forearm and aided her to her feet. It belonged to a man she’d not met before, but Kaleen knew who he was.

“Hello, my dear,” Master Crayn greeted her with a wide grin under a full beard. He wore tattered rags of brown and red, and wore no shoes. “The others have already introduced themselves. My name is Crayn Akar, but, unless you fail me today, you’ll refer to me simply as Master.” He kept his joviality genuine, but Kaleen saw there was no jape in his words. She was still panting and he patted her shoulder. “Good work. I was watching you. You had a nasty slip near the top there, but you pulled through.”

He allowed Kaleen to compose herself, and in that short time she racked her brain for a response. By her nature she was a shy girl, only fifteen, and wary of most men. She couldn’t present herself as a shy teenager. That wasn’t becoming. Neither was her blunt attitude towards members of the opposite sex appropriate. Kaleen had never known her father, as he had died in battle when she was too young to remember. Since then her bitter mother had taught her not to trust in men, or their promises. No, she couldn’t be rude to the old man, as her mother might have. He compliments me, but I shouldn’t toot his horn either. She chose what felt simplest. “Thank you, Master.” She dipped into a reverent bow. She flinched as she felt the pain in her back rear up. From when I slipped, she grimaced. “My name is Kaleen Wood.”

Perhaps Crayn was aware of her indecision, but he seemed pleased with her response. If he noticed her flinch from the pain he didn’t make it apparent. He ushered her over with the others, standing by the shore of the river. She’d met them all at the bottom of the rapids earlier that day, and thought it best to follow them up. Each weekend, Crayn Akar welcomed any who wished to make the pilgrimage out to Riverdrop to test their skills – but very few were accepted as pupils underneath him. This test was infamously known as the interview, to those who were turned down.

“I have to admit, I don’t think I have ever had the opportunity to test five in one day!” He looked at them, arms crossed, feet in the water. “Best get started, I guess.” He waded through the current, which grew stronger as he went deeper, heading for the boulder that sat in the center of Riverdrop and split the waterfall asunder. He climbed up its mass with nimble ease. Atop it he yelled, “I will call you up one at a time and you are to cross the stream, climb atop, and ask me a single question, thus beginning our…” He paused to look for the right word. “Interview.” He grinned again and made a welcoming gesture. “We’ll hold our interviews in the order you climbed up. Use any tricks, weapons or skills you feel will aid you. But please note I do not allow the use of anomalurgy here, experienced or not.”

Kaleen took a seat behind the rest of them, shivering as a gust of wind seeped into her wet shawl. The rock she sat on was warmed in the sunlight, and this brought some small comfort to her. Despite the cold weather, she shook her tunic off her shoulders, wincing at the pain emanating from her back. She reached her fingers behind her and felt rigid muscles, stiffened and knotted from their impact on the side of the cliff. She worked at them, massaging them free, breathing heavily at the sharp pain.

“Wakeer Bajoor. Please come forward.” Master Crayn’s voice boomed over the river. The tall, muscular man slipped his pack off and walked into the river. He was rather stoic against the bitter cold of the water, pulling him to the cliff’s edge, but he pushed back at it. Wakeer’s skin was dark, like charred meat, his hair long and smooth, a gold ring in each ear. The water reached his waist, and it became difficult for him to keep on his path without getting pulled downstream. But eventually he made it to the rock. It took Wakeer quite a while longer to clamber up it than it had Master Crayn.

Wakeer Bajoor stood before Crayn, and for a brief moment all was quiet, except for the howl of the wind around them. Master Crayn’s hair and beard whipped about, and his smile never fell. When Wakeer finally spoke, his voice was deep and accented. “Master Crayn, thank you for allowing me to show you I am worthy. My question is this: where are you from?” Before letting him respond, Wakeer pulled the longsword on his back from its sheath and swung down at the man, brutal and graceless.

Master Crayn simply walked out of its path, the blade clanging on the stone where he had been standing. The sword came back around and he ducked as it swooped above his head. “I was born in a small town,” he paused, jumping back from another swipe, “that is called Candlelit.” The large blade glinted in the sunlight and came down frighteningly close to his face. The Master’s unperturbed demeanor clearly annoyed Wakeer and he yelled. As the sword swung down again, Crayn pushed one of his fists quickly into Wakeer’s forearm and his other fist pushed into flesh just above the opposite elbow. The sword dropped from his grasp, steel ringing as it clattered to the rock.

“Less than a hundred people in Candlelit back then.” Crayn looked past the sky and into his memory. Wakeer shook off the sting in his limbs, and turned to face him. He let the sword still and threw a barrage of punches, putting his full weight into each blow. “I moved at the age of ten to Westriff, a small city just south of Velundane. When I was of age I was accepted into the Akarian Scholaria.” As Master Crayn said this he continued to dodge and push away Wakeer’s heavy fists. “You’re a trained brawler, I see. Why do you wish to train under me?”

Wakeer’s punches, now quite labored, halted, as he realized it was all for naught. He stopped to pick up his sword, breathing heavily through his flared nostrils. “I want to be stronger, for my family.”

“I’m sorry. Strength you have in plenty. You will not train under me.” He gestured for Wakeer to leave. The look on the man’s dark face showed astonished embarrassment. He left without comment, crossing the stream, and exiting into the trees behind Kaleen, where a path took him back down the waterfall.

Wow. Kaleen didn’t know what to make of the old man. Or what to ask him when her interview began.

“Harry Smither!” The fat man in front of her could have been between 25 or 30. She couldn’t tell. He wore a large green leather outfit, richly made, but a smidgen too tight. He had a hard time sifting through the current, but he made it after some stumbling and splashing. After he found his way atop the rock, he didn’t even bother standing. Still on his knees, he asked loudly, “How many pupils do you take on each year?”

Master Crayn waited for his attack, but it didn’t come. “Five to six pupils a year usually,” he replied conversationally, but before he could finish, fat Harry tried to tackle into his legs. He scampered quickly across the rock, a motion that looked quite painful on his shins. Master Crayn jumped over him, and Kaleen laughed aloud. The man’s dancing style, if one could name it so, was absurd. “Why do you wish to train under me?” He wasn’t as amused as she was.

Again, Harry spun about on his knees, bull-like, and leapt to headbutt Master Crayn hard in the stomach. Crayn easily jerked out of his reach, while slapping his face. Harry lifted a hand to his reddening cheek and told him, “I need to learn how to become a better fighter!”

“First lesson.” Excitement lit Harry’s face, his eyes widening. “And also last lesson,” Master Crayn corrected himself. “Get off your knees, boy!” Master Crayn kicked him hard into the water, and the fat man paddled about for a bit. Eventually he made his way to shore and took the same path Wakeer had, tears in his eyes. Or was that just water from the river?

Kaleen thought it was all quite funny. She had finished massaging the knots out of her back and she moved up to her shoulders. Having gripped the rope as tightly as she had on her way up Riverdrop, her shoulders and neck were knotted together. She stretched and pried them loose.

A wet mist rolled over Riverdrop as the wind shifted directions and blew the falling water back upon Crayn Akar. The sight was magnificent in its own right. His white hair, unkempt and unruly, speckled with drops of water.

The freckled woman before Kaleen had red hair, tied into a braid. She was next and she knew it, removing her boots and gloves. “Moira Redly,” Master Crayn yelled joyously, stretching his arms about and catching the mist full on. She was already wading through the strong water towards the boulder. She was a tall woman, with a pretty face, and her gate through the stream was graceful, almost prideful.

Atop the rock Moira met Master Crayn’s eyes. “I train for many hours each day to become a fiercer martial dancer. Competing in tournaments is my means of livelihood. Only those that have trained under you I cannot best. Please take me on.” she said, bowing. And then she swung her arm quickly at the old man’s head. He caught her wrist. And her other wrist which snuck up from the other direction. He twisted her arms together, taut.

“I’m sorry, maybe you heard me wrong. You’re supposed to ask me a question first, and then I ask you why you wish to train under me.” He let her arms free. “Let’s begin again.”

Moira Redly’s face grew even redder in embarrassment, and then flashed with anger. “Why do you use Akar instead of your family name,” she asked in distaste. It became clear to Kaleen she had been raised to harbor hatred against Akarianites.

“Ahh, good question!” He smiled as Moira removed a knife and held it upside down. She threw a right hook, both the punch and the slice cutting only air and mist. She let her momentum twist her about and she kicked high, spray from her wet trousers flinging. He caught and pushed the ankle aside hard, and she let that momentum pull her into another punch – this time with her left fist – and Master Crayn blocked that as well. She was ridiculously fast. But he was faster. And so it went. “I’m not ashamed of my title as an Akarian. In fact, I learned much of my technique at the Scholaria. Not all of us were trained in the martial arts, but …” He caught a blow in the rib and allowed it to roll off him, unfazed. “Oh, good one. Not all of us were trained in the dance, but all of us are proud of the knowledge and skills we obtained there. I am well aware of the stigmas people hold against the academy and Akarianites like myself. Trust me when I tell you they are unfounded.”

Moira tried slicing him again, missing, and spat in his face. “Akarianites are all paradox meddling idiots!”

Master Crayn backhanded her, hard, and she staggered back. “Please leave. You will learn nothing from me here.” He was fuming with anger. Before she descended the rock he had already called out the next name. “Alexander Sunflood!”

Kaleen looked at the strange man, shrouded in a black cloak. Since she had met him earlier that day, he had not said a single word. He strode through the water, passing the dejected Moira, and climbed the wet rock as easily as he had climbed up the cliff. “I am not here to be interviewed,” he said. His voice was dry and deep.

This didn’t seem to surprise Master Crayn in the slightest. “No?” His tone was quiet, but piercing. “Then why do you waste my time?”

Alexander removed his hood, revealing bright yellow hair. “Ten years ago, my brother Jix died at the hands of a powerful anomalurgist. I am here for recompense.” With that he clapped his hands together once and pulled them apart slowly, as if through pudding, a distortion appearing between them. A space that couldn’t exist, but did. It coalesced into a sphere of unknowable, interchangeable, anomalurgical power. Paradox magic.

Random pockets of water and stone from the river about them forgot their purpose, spilling into the air. It whipped about, funneling, and forgot itself again as Alexander Sunflood shot his hand, which cradled the sphere, towards Master Crayn. Water and rock knocked into him, pushing him backward. Slapping him hard against the coarse ground below him.

Kaleen was standing now, terrified, and she yelled out for him to stop, for all the good it did. Alexander was going to kill the man that could teach her to defend herself. Around the boulder it became like night, pulsing darkness, water churning about endlessly, stars shining through the black. A great orb that was painful to behold – both very near and very far. Kaleen watched in horror. It flashed from day to night, pulsing like a beating heart at the end of eternity.

“NO!” A booming voice erupted through the chaos, ripping it apart. Master Crayn and Alexander came back into vision, the last of the anomalous substance seeping into Crayn’s outstretched fingers. The water and the rock fell back into the river. “You dare attack me with abilities you know nothing of? Idiot boy. It’s untrained fools like your brother and yourself that give the Scholaria a bad name.” Master Crayn kicked him in the center of his torso with an impossible strength and he fell off the rock, tumbling off the waterfall, his limbs flailing for purchase as he dropped. His screams were terrible, but they were eventually drowned out by the sound of crashing water on rock.

Master Crayn didn’t watch him fall. He sat on the rock, drenched, anger permeating each pore. Neither did he look at Kaleen when he called her name. Kaleen hadn’t even realized she had already made her way to the boulder. She didn’t feel the soaked chill that clung to her past her waist. She climbed up and, surprising both herself and her Master, she too sat down, crossing her legs beneath her. Crayn did not smile, all joy lost from him. He merely raised a scraggly eyebrow, waiting.

Kaleen waited there awhile, waiting for the right time. Waiting for the right question. Should I ask if he is alright? She removed the shawl from around her head, releasing thick brown hair. “Master Crayn. Will you help me?” She spoke it aloud before she knew what it meant. Great. What am I asking help for? Master Crayn was silent for a time. Perhaps he wasn’t sure about what to make of the request. Perhaps he was still reeling from the anomalurgy battle he’d just fought against Alexander. Perhaps he was awaiting her own attack. Steam rose of the boulder.

Crayn said, “Will you not spar with me?”

“I don’t really see the point. Even if I land a blow, that didn’t help Moira. And I’m not nearly as good as her. I might give you a better fight than Harry or Wakeer, but I don’t truly believe you’re looking for my skill in martial dancing.” Master Crayn looked at her blankly. She continued. “So no, I will not spar with you.” She didn’t know where she found the courage to speak so candidly.

The two sat there, looking at each other for a long while. And finally a smile cracked over his wrinkly face, pushing his beard ever so slightly. “Yes, Kaleen. Yes, I will help you.”

– – – – –

Prompt taken from Writing Excuses episode 10.4, Q&A on Ideas.

Writing Prompt: Take one of the ideas you’re excited about, and then audition five different characters for the lead role in that story. Make sure they’re all different from each other.

Furmount

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19th of Triabra, 1212AP

Furmount is, perhaps unsurprisingly, best known for its high traffic of fur trade. Situated 300 kiloters northeast of Etrikaf and 250 kiloters west of Kersol, the small town’s only visitors were traders passing through and selling their wares, pirates masquerading as traders, hidehunters, or other more reclusive vagabond types. Big game hidehunters had long recognized Furmount as the premier location for the Chase.

In recent years, the Chase had become less a feat of strength and more a rite of passage. Most everyone in Furmount engaged in it at some point or another, for food, for pelts, or just for the fun of the hunt. Although the term originated with the yearly pelt collecting tournament, the Chase is now widely used in reference to any form of hunting, in season or other. In Furmount, however, there was no such thing as hunting season.

Perhaps there should have been.

May clambered over the ridge ascending the mountain, her brown leather boots worn and sturdily gripping the mossy rock below her. She’d been no stranger to the Chase growing up. From a young age, her father had trained her in trapping, tracking, and in archery. Being small had aided her in learning to conceal herself in the brush, or to hide her own tracks. And as she had grown into her skin as an adult, her craft only became more impressive.

She brought home some of the town’s best hides: mountain cub, black bear, and even the occasional carabrin dog. But this was expected of her, and rarely ever did she get the praise she rightly deserved. Anything less would be disappointing, coming from the daughter of Burelik Aresha.

Her father Burelik was, indisputably, the greatest hidehunter in the past century. The amount of fur and hides he’d collected for trade in the annual Chase was staggering. In years past he would return to town early for sheer convenience. On his trip back into Furmount after the week’s endeavor, his colleagues would genuinely gape and comment at the state of his overladen mule. The poor thing collapsed so often under the weight of the Chase, her father had eventually just opted to set up camp with a few mules.

Burelik’s greatest claim to his skill was that he had felled Skalthog, Last of the White Elk. A legendary beast, made even more infamous for the fight it gave Burelik. All knew the tale. Skalthog’s immense spider-like antlers now rested above the doorpost to his home. Her home. May lived forever under the shadow of her father Burelik and the great Skalthog. And every time she left her house she felt the weight of their unrivaled legend.

But when she left her house this time, she barely noticed. Her father had been away for weeks, in search of several hidehunters that had gone missing. They had not been seen since last month’s Chase. It was a dangerous sport, no doubt, and many made mistakes. Many lost their lives even. But it was unlikely this group of hidehunters would all go missing however. Four of the town’s best. And now her father was missing too.

He has never gone missing before. It can’t be possible. She played these words over and over in her head, as silly and useless as they were. May pulled herself up the steep incline, using the outstretched roots and tree trunks to her advantage. She had found that the best way to climb was to distribute her weight (minimal as it was) between her lower and upper body. The implied inconvenience of the innumerable small trees that littered the mountainside, each located less than a yard from the next, was a personal convenience for May. She lifted herself up and through the tangled mess as much with the tree limbs as she did with the ground itself, making her tracks nigh indistinguishable. But years of traversing the thick brush as deliberately as she did made her climb swift and agile. A relentless shifting of body and leather and hair.

She didn’t bother stopping for the deer she passed, or the rabbits, or the treerags – she barely noticed. May could think of nothing other than the task at hand. She followed the familiar tracks of her father’s boots as they ascended. She had found the prints only yesterday, after she had almost given up the last of her hope. There was no mistaking the curve of the boot’s edge, or the way her father favored the balls of his feet. Other, older trails also rode up the path parallel to her father’s footprints, but they had mostly been worn away. Most likely the path he had been following himself.

She thought back to what the merchant traders in town had told her earlier in the week. “I’m sorry to tell you, dear. If your father hasn’t brought them back by now, no one will. No one can. And if he hasn’t come back himself… Well. It doesn’t bode well.” She knew they implied that they believed he’d befallen the same fate as those that had gone before him. Traders? Traitors more like. The lot of them. She kept on.

She knew they would avoid the paradox hole just ahead, by the tip of the eastern rock ridge, and they had – the prints in the mossy soil diverged from that path. The unnatural place. Even the game knew better than to go near it. The grass grew red-tinged and long, and the growth cycles of the trees was sped up and warped. No. Her father, the other hidehunters, they wouldn’t have lost their way there.

Indeed their tracks led north, away from the paradox. She was now reaching the top of the mountain. The trees were slowly becoming more and more spread apart, the tips of their green frosted over by the cold damp of the morning. She reached a large clearing eventually, and allowed herself a breather. Inhaling was difficult at this altitude, but living on a mountain herself came with some adaptive perks. The tracks were fading now, as the dew that covered them had flaked into a thin layer of ice in the days since.

A cloud rolled over the mountain, enveloping May in thick fog. And for a moment all was tranquil. And then she heard a branch break. She looked about but could see only the things a few yards around her. What was that? This altitude lent very little opportunity for animals to graze. But here she was, at a place where, clearly, several hidehunters had made their way, for Chase or other.

The rattled breathing of… something could be heard, if she craned her ears a certain way. “Father?” No response. “Papa. Is that you?”

She inched towards the noise, gradually. It made no response other than continuing its rattled breathing. She held her emotions in check, not giving herself the time to process what it could mean. It sounded like a man who’s lungs had collapsed, but she had quickly abandoned the idea as too pessimistic. And still it shook. And it grew louder as she came nearer.

She felt the ground shake ever so slightly as another twig was tripped. May stopped moving abruptly. How could anything make this… this noise? Collapsed lungs or not. The fog dissipated then, slowly as if in a dream. Whatever had made the hoarse sounds silenced, ever so briefly, as it allowed May to visualize itself for the first time.

She felt sick at the sight. Not solely from the disgust she felt at the shape of the figure before her. She felt sick for what had befallen the unprepared hidehunters. And sickness at what the thing had likely done with her father. She took a staggered step backward as the rattling wheeze began again, the thing starting forward. A creature such as this had never been seen near Furmount as far as she was aware, but she knew exactly what it must be.

Turning to run, she bellowed “RATTLEHULK!” May notched an arrow, and while taking a leap into the trees behind her, spun to let it fly.

– – – – –

Writing prompt taken from the Writing Excuses podcast, episode 10.3: Lovecraftian Horror.

Writing Prompt: Take a character, and from that character’s point of view, describe their reaction to something horrific and awful, but do so without describing the thing itself.

A Blueprint and a Storm

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13th of Octobra, 740AP

“The latest insight in modern intellectual understanding is being referred to by members of the Akarian Scholaria as the Lifespan Conundrum. Although it is currently only proposed as a theory, the past half century has seen a widespread increase in naturally occurring deaths under the expected lifespan of 150 years. Scholars and record keepers alike are claiming we may be seeing a sudden drop of nearly 30 years off the average human life cycle, and they have as yet reached no conclusions as to why this would be occurring. On average it appears women live roughly 3-4 years longer than men. One Akar (who has asked to remain anonymous) states that the diminishing lifespan may not be an entirely new concept. Some, including our source, believe it likely that those who experienced the Purge could have lived as long as 200 years or more.”

Ashayr Cannifury Brite shook his head and chuckled as he finally understood. He dropped the satirical tabloid onto his nightstand. The Strand is finally taking potshots at those paradox addled fools of the Scholaria. For such self proclamation of collegiate prowess, Ashayr couldn’t fathom how the Akarianites could still profess their belief in a Purge ever actually happening. Absolutely no proof!

He looked about him, rising. The previous night was an unbelievable success, both as parties go and as a fundraising event. It was dishevelment in the extreme. Ashayr was extremely proud of himself. As only a minor lord, this project would forever stamp his name on the annals of history, (and it would bring water more readily to the people). Lord Sarnichor and his wife had promised a generous loan, and old Lady Marley Crondy is officially recognizing a portion of her will towards the financing of the, tentatively titled, Brite Aqueduct.

He left the room, silently bidding the two youthful beauties unbothered rest under the sheets. The hallways seemed intact, ferns unruffled and paintings leveled. He ascended the stairway, several goblets and a bottle of 20-year aged Marnvalley Red empty and abandoned on the bottom step. They found their way into my cellar, he thought with exasperation.

Ashayr stopped when he hit the next floor, staring at the open door in front of him. Exasperation drained from him, anxiety filling the gaps. No, no no… No, the room was locked. Locked? Surely, I locked it. He moved forward, entering his workspace. It was remarkably clean opposed to the rest of the manor’s appearance. No party entered through here. The papers on his table sat untouched. Precious heirlooms, weapons, and other valuables remained where they had been positioned. Maps of Atelinor draped magnificently on the wall, each town marked, and landmark pinned.

And then he realized, looking back to his work table. “Where is it,” he asked in a low fury. “Where is the blueprint!?” He had shown nobody the most updated layout. If this gets into the wrong hands… He collapsed into the chair, hands shaking. The document contained more than a few confidential details he hoped would remain a secret, including how much he would personally pocket from the project’s proceeds. If this gets into the wrong hands, I’m finished.

– – –

Aelin kept the rolled up blueprint hidden beneath the folds of her cloak, anger and determination warming her from the inside out. From Brite’s boastful speech last night she had realized the location of the water duct system to be dubious. It was worse than that though. Oh, how papa needs to see this.

It had begun snowing on her way back home. It was so sudden. No snow all season long and now it falls in buckets! She furiously blew the snowy hair out of her eyes, unwilling to tuck it back inside her hood for fear of numbing her fingertips. Her walk was endless and lonely. All had shuffled their way indoors at the onset of the snowfall, and she walked the streets by herself. The sky was ominously dark; relentless.

The overwhelming silence would have been considered soothing. The white flakes falling slow and deliberate could have been inspiration for song. The soft crunch under her boots should have reminded Aelin of her youth. But she was upset and her mind was elsewhere. The sketched plans under her cloak foretold the doom of her father’s house.

Wind picked up, buffeting more snow against her course. The layers of snow under her feet piled higher, each inch making it harder and harder to budge forward. What I’d give for a horse right now, she thought grudgingly. She hugged to the walls at her left, where the snow fell less feverishly. It was becoming increasingly dangerous. I’ll have to stop at Duree’s Harper, until I warm.

She turned under a wooden archway, accented by a hanging plank with an embossed harp, and pulled open the heavy door. It was a breath of fresh air, entering the building. Not quite the breath she hoped for though. Duree’s Harper Tavern was an old establishment, and Aelin had been coming here for some time. Her father’s line of work wasn’t something she could follow in the footsteps of exactly; that’s what her brother was for. She had been training under a minstrel, coming here twice a week generally. Her tutor, a reclusive master, would be absent today, she was aware.

Since she set out to earn her minstrel certificates Aelin found that only one thing truly peeved her – being mistaken for a bard or a mere singer. Master Davad’s first lesson stuck with her after all these long months. “The road to becoming a celebrated minstrel is elusive. If you ever find it, let me know. And make no mistake, being celebrated and being successful are two very different things. There are many celebrated bards with more poems to their name than coin. There are many successful singers or musicians with more coin to their name than talent. As a minstrel, you must blend deft fingers, a trained voice, and a honed wit if you ever plan on attaining success. Once you attain that, celebrate.”

The warmth of the room was jolting. Fire licked up from the large rectangular pit in the center of the room. Aelin allowed her hands to heat up, feeling the ache in her bones slowly return as she thawed. The room smelled of roasted pork and ale, and it’s scattered attendants joined the crackling fire with idle chatter and mirth.

She needed to look at it again. She sat at the nearest empty table, fumbling the flattened roll out of her cloak. A key dropped out of the cloak with it. Despite it all, it rolled out easily. The parchment was likely a fine goatskin, not coiling back up as most scrolls would.

She traced where the water system led, a gigantic snake across the page. She did not question that the people would need the water, or doubt that this would make it easier for them. It was a brilliant plan. But there. Just there. Her finger traced where her home would be. Several piers and walls would need to come down directly on the people of her neighborhood. If Lord Brite gets the funding to go through with this… Her home. Her father’s shop. Neighbors she had known all her life. All would need be uprooted for this… Brite Aqueduct. The words were stained across the top of the magnificent parchment.

At the time she stole the plans from Brite she knew she had to stop him any way she could, but just now she had no idea how to go about such a daunting task. What would her father think, being sacrificed to the wellbeing of the future? What was she thinking, even attempting to interfere in the games of lords?

A harpist and a lutist began to play on the raised platform closest to the window. Aelin recognized it as a private class, the harpist being the less experienced of the two.

– – –

“What the hyll is that?” Stann stood over a young woman’s shoulder looking down upon the parchment on the table.

“Oh,” the girl exclaimed, clearly flustered. She was very pretty. Olive skin. Brown hair. But the parchment was… “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you standing there.” She noticed Stann’s eyes scanning the map of sorts. “It’s nothing. None of your business.”

She attempted to half-heartedly cover up the page before her, outstretching her palms across it. “Doesn’ look like noffin’, love. Wha’s that say then? Briiite Aqueeeduct…” Stann knew his letters. Not well. But he knew them. He took the seat beside her and she recoiled. Whether she drew back because of the intimacy or the smell of alcohol wasn’t certain. He studied the parchment. The map in front of him detailed plans to build a monumental structure. A blueprint. To the right people this would be worth it’s weight. And it didn’t belong to the beauty that sat beside him.

Recognition hit the girl’s face and she quirked her features. “I know you,” she said. “You’re A Journey of Storms, aren’t you?” He hated himself at that moment for not skinmasking before confronting her. Course she knows who I am.

“The name’s Stann. An’ yeah, part of the company.” He pointed over his shoulder at the table near the alley exit. “There’s the rest of em.” Several members raised their mugs at the gesture. “Now. This wouldn’ be little Lordling Brite’s would it?” The color drained from her face. “I thought it might be. He had that big party of his last night. Suppose’ to unveil some big project of his.” She said nothing, but guilt and fear weighed heavy on her features. “Why don’ you hand that over, I slide a little coin your way, and our lord never finds out who took it?”

She stammered her words out. “N-no. It was given to me by Lord Brite himself. A message of sorts to-to the people of my locality.” Her lies were as large as her eyes. “I do not think he would much appreciate a band of thieving troubadours intercepting it for their own gain.” She found her courage and rolled up the blueprint, tucking it under her cloak. She got up and stood by the fire.

“Eh, we’ll see,” Stann mumbled, returning to his table. He recounted what he’d seen to the others present. They were 8 in total.

One of them, a woman named Jaspona piped in. “We need that Parchment, Stann. You know the pale one will pay.”

He shot her a glance. He knew whom they would sell it to. He did not need reminding. “I’ll skinmask and exit out the side door,” he stated, pointing at the alley.

“Well, get on with it then! That one looks ready to leave.” Jaspona pointed at the girl, tapping her boots rhythmically by the fire. “Jus’ be quiet this time!”

Stann glanced about the tavern making sure no eyes were watching, took a deep swig from the mug in front of him, and let all the air in his lungs fall out. The man sitting next to him scooted out of elbow range. Stann opened his mind to impossible things.

– – –

A harp string broke and Jorl swore under his breath. The B string swatted his finger. He shouldn’t have been plucking as hard as he was, but it wasn’t nearly the same as playing the lute. It took his tutor some time to realize that he had stopped playing. Carin frowned and placed her palm over the strings of the lute. “You’re plucking too hard.” Carin was his betrothed, as well as his tutor. Even her rebukes were soft-edged. Even so, it shamed him that she so outstripped him in age and skill.

“I know. I know.” Jorl proffered the harp out to her, letting his disappointment hide the jealousy. “The lute is my instrument, dear. Can not I work with that tonight?”

Carin sighed. “Of course, but you’ll have to learn the harp eventually.” They traded instruments. “Same tune?”

Jorl nodded, and as he settled back into his seat he noticed a women with brown hair exit out the way she had come. But then he noticed a young girl, no older than eleven years of age leave out the alley exit. Odd. I don’t remember seeing any children enter. He shrugged the thought away as his betrothed began to strum on her harp. He too fell back into the rhythm.

– – – – –

Writing prompt/exercise taken from Writing Excuses episode 10.2.

Using last week’s five story ideas (or five new ones):

Take two of them and combine them into one story.
Take one and change the genre underneath it.
Take one and change the ages and genders of everybody you had in mind for it
Take the last one and have a character make the opposite choice.

The Dry Season

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13th of Octobra, 740AP

It had been an impressively mild winter. Two months in and only now had the season released its first snowfall. The flakes fell thick outside the window, the pane frosting around the edges. Jary Miggon watched in fascinated distaste. He pulled the blanket closed around his torso, tight around the neck, and eased back from the window. Closed as it was, the chill seeped in slowly. He threw another log in the fire and watched it catch.

Jary truly hated the cold. He’d never been able to stomach it since his family had moved up from Brambletang when he was very young. He had hoped this winter would be different. And it had. But now it seemed to need to compensate for its absence.

The flames licked around the log and Jary sat back satisfied. He pulled in his writing station and dipped the pen in ink. He had nothing. The paper would go out three days hence and he had nothing to show for it. The paper heading had been calligraphed in earlier that week. VELUNDANE PERIODICAL stretched out atop the top left portion of the paper. It would be folded four ways after it had been written and sent to the press.

Perhaps I could attempt to allocate a section of the piece to my interview with lordling Brite…‘ The prospect was a drudgery. Jary contacted the minor lord at his estate in Eastings during a pretentious fundraising event only yesterday. ‘While it was still warm out,‘ he noted. Brite opined that Eastings was an advantageous location for real estate in the city, situated snug against the carved out cliff face, because water flowed straight from River Atlúm to their doorstep. He proposed they build a duct system that carried the water directly from Atlúm to the center of Velundane.

Naturally this brought a huge round of applause from the sycophants and fawners in attendance, but Jary was a far more practical man. This project wouldn’t happen any time soon. The money needed just couldn’t be obtained. And as selfless an idea as it was, Jary hardly suspected Brite’s motives wholly altruistic.

Jary’s father Bart Miggon passed away nearly 5 years prior, leaving him the reins to the fortnightly periodical. And on occasion, now particularly, Jary felt it more of a burden than a blessing. But most days he relished the idea of writing articles for the VP. It was in his blood, and since the paper became his, its readership too seemed to escalate. He took pride in that. This was, after all, the very first periodical in existence, dating back over 50 years.

But now, just after its half-century anniversary, the creativity well began to dry up, along with any worthy news.

A knock at the door preceded the door’s slow opening. A woman shuffled in. Beautiful. Short blonde curly hair. Very pregnant. She carried with her a tray with kettle and tea. Brambletang black. ‘She knows me too well.‘ “Perfect timing. I’m freezing.”

Her face soured at the empty page, but she poured out two cups regardless. “You’ve still not come up with anything?” Her tone was equal parts annoyance and pity. She took a generous helping of milk and sugar. Jary took it straight.

“I’m sorry Lyla. Give me a bit more time. I’ll be sure to have it out by deadline. Thank you for the tea, though. You’re my favorite.”

“Yeah, yeah. I better be.” She gave him a devilish grin and shuffled off to the window. The phrase “you’re my favorite” was a small nothing they’d repeated to each other since they were young and had begun courting. Jary knew it would continue to bring a smile to her face for many years to come.

He went back to his notes. ‘There’s always the lifespan conundrum.‘ This was a new theory being thrown around by supposed intellectuals based on data they’d been collecting over hundreds of years. ‘Akarianites,‘ he thought with more than a tinge of prejudice. The theory explains that the average lifespan of humans on Atelinor had drastically decreased in the past century, from about 150 years to as low as 120.

This was published as a factual piece in The Strand, known best in the community for their questionable sources, or lack thereof. The theory is believed by some however. It goes on to propose that there might be some basis to believe that those who passed through the Purge could have had a lifespan closer to 200 years. However nobody, including the propagators of the theories, have any definitive proof, or an answer as to why the lifespan would be diminishing…

Jary rubbed his eyes, jotted down both the idea of including a section for lordling Brite’s water duct system, and addressing the validity of the lifespan conundrum. Both were alarmingly hypothetical topics. One might never happen and the other might be simply unprovable for years to come. And hypothetical topics like these were something he and the Velundane Periodical stayed far away from, if only to distinguish itself and its quality from its competitors. Perhaps the day had arrived when he’d need to rely more heavily on articles of a hypothetical nature.

He pushed his writing station aside and stood to stretch. Getting the blood flowing was an integral part of his work. He paced in front of the fireplace, still quite chilled to his bones. His wife ignored his movements, sitting on the stool by the window. “Where do you think she’s off to?”

Jary braced himself for the cold as he left the warmth of his hearth behind. In the street, bundled tight in cloak and shawl was a young woman, wading slowly but confidently through the snow. “Who do you think it is?” asked Jary.

“I can’t tell just yet.” The figure got closer, her footprints small but heavy in the powder beneath her. The wind blew in her hood, the flakes attaching themselves to her hair. Brown hair. Her nose was pointy and her features long and pale. “I think it’s… Aelin. Where could she possibly be going in this weather, you think?”

“Aelin,” Jary pondered. “Aelin the butcher’s daughter?”

“Well she can’t stay ‘the butcher’s daughter’ forever. She’s training for bardship, see.” Lyla pointed to the brick building Aelin was entering. A stylized harp carved into a plank hung above the door.

“Terrible weather for practice,” Jary said incredulously. He went back to the warm spot on his chair, by the fire. There had to be a story in there. ‘Bardship. I had no idea.

An entertainment column might not be a bad idea, come to think on it.‘ Jary scribbled down the name of the traveling group he had seen pass through Velundane a week past. ‘A Journey of Storms‘ they called themselves. Odd name, but they put on a marvelous show. The man and woman who led the troupe were likely surnamed Storm or other. The troupe themselves weren’t particularly pleasant on the eyes, and Jary wouldn’t have been surprised had they also been unpleasant to the nose, but he hadn’t gotten that close.

A Journey of Storms boasted their ability to play by memory a hundred shows, and three times as many songs. They played a game of song naming, where they had the audience take turns telling them to play certain songs, and if they weren’t familiar with one, they’d buy the individual a drink. They knew their art well. Afterwards they put on a show of Carus and Carrion, a dark comedy.

Music began to play then. It took Jary out of his concentration. The sound came from outside – no. From across the street. It must be from the music tavern Aelin had entered. He closed his eyes and let himself relax. Harp? It sounded like a harp. But it also sounded more or less like a lute. ‘Ah I see. Two instruments in tandem.‘ It was a slow melody. Just gentle plucking of strings in truth, but in the right order… The harp faltered. A short pause followed and then it started up once more. ‘I guess she is getting a lesson.

Lyla hummed along, as she tidied up the study. Books were lain out on the table in stacks, and she placed these back on the shelf. Jary took a sip of his tea. He’d nearly forgotten it was there. ‘Still warm enough to drink,‘ he thought happily. The dulcet melody was oddly fitting for an afternoon as bitter chill as this.

Lyla made a startled exclamation, breaking the mystique of the song. “Jary! Jary, come look!” She stood by the window looking upon the snowy street below. Her voice was urgent. And frightened.

A body lay in the snow, facing the oncoming blizzard. A young woman, Aelin. The butcher’s daughter. Red stained the white around her. Lyla screamed as Jary threw his cloak on. The music continued unabated.

———

Writing prompt/exercise taken from the Writing Excuses podcast episode 10.1.

Writing Prompt: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

From an interview or conversation you’ve had
From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
From observation (go for a walk!)
From a piece of media (watch a movie)
From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

I’d like feedback if you have any, critical or other.

The Akarian Calendar

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As a preface, Tales from Atelinor is a side project to my main blog Geekritique. A way to help me hone my skills as a writer of fiction. I’ve been writing short fiction on and off for most of my young life, and the past few years I’ve been rather slack in productivity. But since I’ve focused more of my time reading and reviewing genre fiction in the past year, I’ve learned a lot about what makes fictional settings tick, how character arcs can and should be carried, and most importantly I’ve learned what I want to see in a story.

I’ve always envisioned myself creating a sprawling world of fantasy and legend and beauty, with many characters. Old, young, feeble, strong. It is my belief that for a fantasy setting to come alive, it need be a place I can see myself wanting to explore. And more poignantly, the characters involved must be engaging both in the extreme and the mundane. I want each character involved in my world to take a life of his/her own. There are many voices I’ve kept bottled inside, many ideas I’ve let grow in my mind, and I feel now is the time I let them free.

The short tales I post here likely won’t involve the true epic I wish to convey. When it’s time I let that take flight, I’ll know, and you will also. Instead I wish to build my world around some characters I never truly planned to incorporate, be they tertiary, on a different continent or landmass, or from a different time altogether. It is my hope that by spending the time needed exploring my world to its fullest degree, the true tale I wish to tell will be all the better for it. The Akarian Calendar is perhaps one of the farthest tales I wish to visit in Atelinor’s past, and it does tease quite a bit about the nature of the world.

———–

1st of Enasembra, 7AP

His calculations were less than a day off. Again. But he had finished. 2522 days have passed since the Beginning, and his work was near completion. Sol’Enasé sat at nearly the same Zenith it had all those many days ago. No, years. 6 years ago. Any moment now…

Bellar Akar adjusted his assessment. Not 420 days. No, it wasn’t quite so simple. It took just over that amount for the planet to fully orbit Sol’Enasé. 420.166 days. ‘But how could we note that? Perhaps… we add an intercalary day at the end of every sixth year? So a 31st day in Fourteembra? It’ll work…‘ Any moment now.

Bellar took down his final notes and put his pencil aside. He felt the weight of six years settle off his shoulders. ‘We have a calendar!‘ He smiled, which soon turned to laughter. ‘Had She not decreed we destroy all records and books, we’d have figured this out ages ago. And then She commissioned this calendar.’ He continued laughing, relief flooding him. He didn’t care about Her right now. He completed the calendar for himself. He stood up and walked outside.

Any moment now and Sol’Enasé would hit Prime Zenith, marking the new year. “Four hundred twenty days,” he spoke aloud. “And then some.” Sol’Enasé hit it’s peak, beginning a new day. Beginning a new year. The seventh year After Purge. The sky distorted in waves of color. No longer just the pale blue, but purple, and red, and corin, and green, and more. At Zenith each day the sky distorts to some degree, but at Prime Zenith it’s truly triumphant fanfare. The sound of revelry erupted from all around Bellar, as the masses welcomed in the new year with their clamor. ‘And now we have months to break up the year,‘ he thought with a grin.

Bellar waited a moment until Prime Zenith passed. ‘I must learn why it causes such a magnificent distortion some day.‘ He went back inside, collected his work in his pack, and exited again, back into town.

The town of Velundane was new, as were all towns. Only six years had passed since the Purge and there was nothing from before to build upon. Much of the homes were shoddy, not much more than huts or shacks. But some individuals still held memory of masonry, and tended homes of brick and stone. Streets were paved with nothing more than the trampling of foot on dirt. That would change eventually. Bellar strode down the end of the main street towards a large stone house, the greatest establishment yet built, commissioned by the Woman within.

Bellar paused before knocking. He was always unsettled by Her appearance, strikingly beautiful as she was. He raised his hand to the door, but it opened before he could do anything further. “Oh, I’m sorry my Lady… I…” Bellar struggled to find the correct words, and dropped his raised arm.

She beheld him without a hint of amusement, her pitch black eyes gleaming. “It’s alright. I saw you from the window.” She pointed to her left, and Bellar nodded curtly. “What brings you? Do you have news?”

“Better than news, my Lady.”

“Right, come in, please.” She turned back inside with her usual eery grace, and sat down by the fire. Bellar noted the metal strip atop the back of her head, attaching itself down her neck and following her spine just past her shoulder blades. Seven conical spikes of bright silver, each decreasing in size as the piece descended, sent awed chills down the backs of all who looked upon her. It was beautifully wrought and menacingly cold. It parted her pearly white hair, which fell down low on her back and draped over a dress which managed to be impressively whiter still.

“I’ve finished the solar calendar!” He said, spitting the words out faster than he would have preferred. She made him nervous, and with good reason. He splayed out the notes on the desk in front of her. The pages were littered with sketches, calculations, scribblings, crossing outs and other nonsense, but she saw where it came together after some perusal.

She smiled then. Bellar let out a breath he had not known he was withholding. “You’re a genius, Akar!” She jumped up to hug him, quite unlike her usual self. She straightened up then. Looking back to the notes, she mused “so today would be the first day of… Enasembra, year 7.” Bellar nodded. She hadn’t noticed. She continued. “You’ve split the year up by increments of 30. And…” She flipped over one of the sheets. “The lunar cycles don’t necessarily match up, but that’s well enough.” She looked up at him with a glint in her eye. “This is impeccable timing, Akar.”

“Please, my Lady, call me Bellar. And yes, my calculations finally made sense after Prime Zenith failed to occur yesterday. I knew it couldn’t have been exactly four hundred twenty days but just over that amount.” Bellar was oozing with pride. He knew no masonry, no carpentry. He was no fisher or farmer. He was born an intellectual.

Her demeanor slipped back into cool pensiveness. “Fantastic. We’ll make the announcement soon. You’ll be compensated handsomely for your brilliance, I hope you know.” She walked over to her window, looking out at the merrymaking. “However, let me be clear: your work for me is far from complete. The amount of satisfaction we’ll collectively receive from the knowledge of a finished Solar calendar will be overwhelming, but fleeting. We know little else about anything. And our people need educating. Our people need laws, order. We need maps, genealogies, histories.”

Bellar felt the heat rising in him then. He had finished his task. He raised his voice, saying “had we not burned all our pre-Purge records we’d know far more about our situation than…” She cut him off.

Silence!” She spat the word out, spinning to face him. “From this day forth we are not to speak of the Purge.” Her voice became more level, calculating. “I’m afraid we must change the era you’ve chosen for your calendar.” Walking back over to the table, she rifled through the notes until she found it. “After Purge. No, this will not do.” Her spikes moved threateningly as she crossed out the titling. “It should be After Prime, be it that each year starts after Prime Zenith, according to your calendar.”

All Bellar could do was nod his agreement. He couldn’t understand her fascination with starting everything entirely anew. ‘After Prime it was.

“Good. Now. Your next task will take a while longer. I have arranged plans to build a school. I need you to be at the heart of the project. You’ve made your mark on the world with this…” She paused to consider. “…Akarian Calendar. Now I need you to take it a step further.”