Memories and Maladies


14th of Triabra, 27AE

Dakrithel was a painter, thinly built, wavy brown hair, with an awkward affinity for the arts. Ember was, well, a number of things, finding each profession more loathsome than the last, but she found joy in simplicity and beauty. She had dark, curly hair, with a short, athletic build. The two had lived a happy life together, mostly.

Every year, on their anniversary, they held a tradition of buying each other a number of gifts. They tried not to go over the top with exorbitant and lavish purchases, but more often than not it became an expensive season. Tiny gifts would suffice, sometimes useful, other times funny, and oftentimes quite meaningless; it was the thought that counted most, and thoughts were what made gifts special.

You see, every gift comes with a story. Every gift involves some thought or intention. They would share the gifts and then laugh or reminisce about the thoughts behind their purchasing them. Sometimes the stories would involve how they thought the gift up, or how embarrassing their conversation was with the clerk upon purchasing certain items, or even about how difficult it was to hide the gifts from each other until the day of. She enjoyed wrapping the gifts, while he preferred merely pulling them out of a bag.

And each year they would weigh the value, both sentimentally and thoughtfully, of the combined bounty of their gifts, thus making contest of who could come up with the better surprise.

Not all gifts needed to be purchased, however. Some were crafted. Some were grown. One year Dakrithel’s only gift to Ember was a bouquet of flowers: firepetals, Aelin smiles, and lilypeons; all of her favorites. He won that year. The reason being he just wasn’t the type of man to ever get a girl flowers, saying it was too clichéd and meaningless, a point she argued and chided him over for many years to come. Upon their ninth anniversary, he had grown flowers for her, in secret, in a neighbor’s yard, and she loved them.

For their tenth anniversary Dakrithel chose to make something special for Ember’s final gift. He decided the story he wished to tell was one they had shared long ago. He pulled out his creation from the bag: a green crocodile, made from stiff cane fibers weaved and folded together. He painted it, gave it a face, and was quite happy with his construction.

“What’s this?” Ember asked excitedly.

“A crocodile,” he said. “Bring back any memories?”

“Uhh,” she said, racking her brain for memories of crocodiles. “No, not that I can think of.”

“Think way back,” he said, the grin on his face masking his growing disappointment.

“Okay,” Ember said. She looked up at the ceiling, twiddled her fingers, and bit her lower lip, all proof that she was thinking very hard. “I’ve got nothing.”

Dakrithel’s smile slipped. “Alright. D’you remember our first date?”

“At the Ruins of Velundane Museum?” She asked, now truly perplexed.

“No, no. Before that. Before we even knew we were courting.”

“Your mother seemed to know we were,” she added. “But I’m sorry, I honestly don’t remember what you’re talking about.”

“Enasembra the 8th?” Dakrithel asked. “The 15th year of the Second Age?” ‘This surely will jog her memory,’ he thought.

“Why do you even remember that?” she asked, now growing defensive about having no memory at all as to what he was referring.

“When you were a baker?” he said, growing desperate for a spark to light.

“I still bake!” Ember exclaimed, teasing him. “I baked you that cake, didn’t I?” she said, pointing out the half eaten cake on the table.

“When you were a baker at the Large Red Bakery,” he said at last. The Large Red Bakery was one of her many previous occupations over the years.

“Oh!” She said, finally getting it, sort of. “I just don’t see how that night has anything to with a crocodile.”

Dakrithel sighed. “Alright, I’ll start from the beginning.” And so he told his tale. She didn’t interrupt. She merely listened, smiled and laughed.

“This was back in Westriff. I had seen you only a few times prior. We met through friends and, after a brief correspondence, I learned you worked at the Large Red Bakery down on the corner of Hafalass and Steelboot.

“Well, after I finished work one day, I decided to visit you. I think we both had an understanding about our feelings towards one another at that point, so I wanted to finally voice my feelings to you. It turned out that I was very unceremonious with my timing. The owner of the bakery had just left and you had, just minutes prior to my arrival, closed up shop.

“I knocked on the window, and saw you jump with a start, broom in hand. You smiled and opened up for me. You were actually getting a head start on baking cookies for the next day, and you asked if I could help. I had never baked before, a point that seemed to amuse you. Needless to say, many cookies were burnt that night, and even more came out in odd shapes.

“But we talked. And we talked. And did I mention we did a lot of talking? Hours went by. We spoke of our lives, our hobbies, and our passions. We laughed and smiled, and got to know one another on a level we didn’t expect to so quickly. I brought up how, yes, my mother assumed we were a couple thanks to gossip through the bramblevine. We spoke in length of how you were planning a prolonged trip alone to Guyvara for a charity effort, something that stood out to me as quite brave for a young girl like you had been.

“Little did I know you were trying to get rid of me by saying, “I don’t know when I’ll be back, so maybe we shouldn’t start anything serious.” But by that point I had already realized I found my wife to be. I said simply, “I can wait.” I’ll never forget the look of speechlessness on your face.

“To make a long story short, at one point during the evening you made for me a miniature crocodile molded from parchment paper. I placed it atop the counter, next to a plate of cookies, thinking it playful and funny.

“I used the restroom in the back of the shop, which doubled as a storage closet – a fact I thought was really unsanitary for a bakery. At that highly inopportune time, the store owner walked in; do you remember her? She was furious at you for keeping the store open so late. We hadn’t known this until after the fact, but she had been watching us talking at length through the windows. She began shooing you out of the store so that she could lock up.

“All this while I was stuck waiting for an appropriate time to come out of the closet/bathroom. There was none. Eventually I had to come out, attempt an explanation and an apology, but nearly got kicked, literally, out of the shop. It was incredibly embarrassing, for both of us. And she kept going off about the “stupid crocodile” on display.

“That night, we got to know more of each other than any other single night, well, save for our wedding night. But you know what I mean. It’s one of my fondest memories. It’s also the night I got you fired.”

“I was thinking,” said Dakrithel, “that we should name this crocodile Malady, for all the trouble it caused.”

“I think that’s a great name. Thank you.” She kissed him deeply, remembering all too well the night he told tale of.

Ember had a similar gift up her sleeve though. When it was her turn to share her final surprise, she pulled out an old coin, with a deep groove down its face. She smiled, knowing it was a good one.

“A coin?” he asked.

Her smile faltered. “Don’t you remember?”

Prompt taken from the Daily Fantasy Writing Prompt, March 14, 2016.

Assent of the Whale


4th of Enasembra, 1219AP

The man and the boy pushed the boat into the bay, ankles deep in the Shattrasi. When the water came up past their knees they knew, without a word between them, it was time to jump in. It rocked, but held their weight, and the momentum carried them past the breaking waves. The water was rougher than usual today.

The two had done this many times prior. In the boy’s young life, he knew he had been out at sea more days than not with the older man. Their suncharred skin vouched for that. Many in their small village would starve if not for their work in the Shattrasi.

Two sets of oars were knotted to the boat’s sides, one set in the front and the other towards the rear. The man took the bow, and the boy took the stern. They pushed on, the boy keeping stride with the man’s rowing. He watched the rhythmic rippling of the muscles on the man’s back as he pulled, tugged, and pushed his oars into the water. They shifted underneath his agemark tattoos. Each new agemark was awarded at the start of the year, just after Prime Zenith. The boy saw the latest mark, denoting the man was now in his 31st year, was still red around the ink. The boy’s own back stung under Sol’Enasé’s light, just under his left shoulder. He was proud of the sensation it brought him. It was his first large agemark, awarded for his 10th year.

Behind them the Shattrakani shores shrunk as they went further out, its blue canopies becoming but a blue line over light sand.

The boat’s white paint had begun chipping away, revealing more of the pronounced blue wood they so revered in Shattrakan. It was far more buoyant than other varieties, which other peoples of Atelinor chose to favor.

The man stopped his rowing, as did the boy. The boy knew to fully remove the oars from the water while the man performed a calming. He pushed the butt of his oars all the way down to the bottom of the deck, and locked them in place under his legs. The last time he let one slip while the man performed a calming the oar had snapped in half. He wouldn’t let that happen again. The waves were choppy, an issue common on windy days such as this. It would not be an easy calming.

The man leaned forward, over the bow, and placed both hands in the water. Long ago the man had taught himself to use the knowledge unlocked by a Fumarin, a large red paradox he had found deep within the Shattrakani Forest. The man wasn’t the best anomalurgist the boy had ever known, but one who used his abilities to reach his end the best. With it he pushed out to calm the waters beneath the boat. The man understood water to a degree infinitesimally greater than your average man, when he opened his mind to it. He knew the water. But on days such as today, where water chose to be disagreeable, calming wasn’t quite so simple.

Minutes passed and the man grew tired. He arms shook, the calming taking much of his strength. But at last, the rough waves around the boat quelled. Soon even the ripples silenced. Placid waters circled them, not giving way to the heave of the waves outside of the circle. The man removed his hands and the boy pulled him in, asking if he was alright. The man nodded, not letting his concentration waver, even slightly.

Several more minutes passed of silent waiting for the boy and intense concentration for the man. The man’s eyes were shut, and he shook as more and more of his strength was relegated to the calming. The boy leaned over the starboard side of the boat, peering into the smooth depths.

Eventually it came. A shadow passed beneath the boat, large and ominous. He called to the man, deep in his concentration, to hold the calm a while longer. The shape beneath the water appeared again, much closer this time, stopping just underneath the ship. It wouldn’t be able to break through the calm, but it was still a threatening site to behold. A large eye stared up at the boy, who nodded, before the eye blinked and the beast left.

The great whales ruled the Shattrasi and all seas, and it was by their blessing alone to allow men the right of fishing within them. The calming was only a formality.

The boy patted the man on the back, allowing him to close his mind to the anomaly. He was glad to do so, and the boy saw the tension fade from his muscles and ease from his mind. Slowly he opened his eyes, and the circle of still water became like it previously was. The man held up a fist, in wait once more.

A large tail kicked up out of the water some distance from them, spraying the air with a salty white mist. If the whale agreed to their fishing today, it would wave them forward, or simply sink its tail back into the water with no splash. If it decided not to allow them to fish today, it would let them know, slapping its tail on the surface of the Shattrasi. It hovered there for a moment, before making its decision. Whether for dramatics or for true consideration, the boy never knew, but he readied the nets regardless.

The whale waved its tail forward, and let its flukes sink into the depths without a splash. The man yelled for him to drop the nets, but the boy knew well enough already. He dropped the net, and he saw the shadow of the whale pass below them again. Behind the whale, a school of comparatively tiny fish swam after it. And the small net caught what it could manage with those fish swimming nearest the surface.

This is a brief tale I chose to write today. I just watched the Star Wars Rebels episode, ‘The Call,’ which had space whales in it. Inspiring, I know. Afterward I learned that it was World Whale Day today, so I decided to make this brief piece. It’s only 1000 words. Hope you enjoyed. I haven’t got to explore the more tribal life of those southern Shattrakani yet, so this is a start.

Rage of the Rattlehulk


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.

Atop Riverdrop


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.