Baleria Brite

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(Artwork provided by The Pale Prince)

13th of Octobra, 750AP

Through the snow, drifting slow and thick, and the gray clouds, who’s silver-lined edges curled into a crude frown, Sol’Enasé shone through, bright and welcoming. It was the briefest of kindnesses; a pitying visit from the oldest of friends on a dismal day. It waved it’s great rays across Baleria’s exposed head, warming her tanned cheeks and lips. Not even the snow that rested on her face and melted there could have ruined the moment. The warmth was intoxicating, and it reminded her of home, on Rowalli.

It seemed she was the only one to notice the brief spit of sunlight, the only one taking in its undeniable magnificence. And then it was gone, shaking her back to the present.

She stood on a stage under Aelin’s Arch with her husband Ashayr, and his old colleague, Jary Miggon. A crowd gathered around it, wearing their blue-trimmed brown cloaks – celebrators and mourners alike, impossible to distinguish between them. Aelin’s Rest was a strange revelday, and less than a decade old at that. It had only been ten years to the day that Jary Miggon found poor Aelin murdered in front of the tavern, but the crowd seemed eager to participate in its festivities.

Although Aelin meant nothing to Baleria, she saw the necessity for such an event. It was a tale that gripped the hearts of the people. To learn, after having wed Ashayr Brite, that it was his actions, indirect as they were, that led to her demise all those years ago had broken Baleria’s heart. How could such a noble man as her’ Ashayr ever be capable of such heartless schemes. It didn’t make any sense. The man that had come to free her from her water-locked hell on Rowalli could never have been the same man as he had been a decade ago. He was pure and handsome and loving, his vast wealth notwithstanding.

On Rowalli, an island where the woman are eligible to be married off on their 14th bornday, the longer it took one to get married off the less likely it seemed they ever would. Baleria was almost 17 when Ashayr saved her. 17! Had she not been married off by her 18th bornday she would have been sent to the breeding camps. Not that it wouldn’t be a noble calling, but it isn’t mine. She remembered feeling ashamed as younger peers and siblings were chosen for a binding, leaving her behind to continue waiting, to dread the day they’d remove that option from her and put her in a camp to marry a pre-selected Rowalli male for breeding. To believe oneself inadequate, as she had for nearly 3 years, wasn’t something she would wish on anyone.

Ashayr Brite had saved her from that, which made it all the harder to accept his previous failures. But then she learned at how he humbled into the man she saw before her now. It took Baleria some time to come to terms with it, but she came to realize it had all been mistakes he’d made long before she had come into the picture. He was a far better man now than he had ever been. She couldn’t help but feel that by his side, she’d shape him to be the best he could be, and after a year and a half of marriage she could already see that marked difference.

Ashayr had been addressing the crowd for several moments now. He turned about and raised his arm to point at the now-built aqueduct. “After discovering how she had paid the ultimate sacrifice for her city, for her neighbors, friends, and family, I had the plans scrapped and redone entirely, so her death would not be in vain and your homes would stay untouched.” Baleria smiled with adoration at the man, golden hair dancing before his eyes in the breeze. “Aelin’s Arch is a testament to that sacrifice, the largest of the 89 arches. I can think of no better way to celebrate the life of someone lost so young than by honoring her with such a monument.”

The throngs of people began cheering. It was well deserved, and Baleria couldn’t have been more proud of her husband at that moment. She embraced him in a quick hug and placed a savory peck on his cheek. The crowd appeared to enjoy that too. He blushed, but regained his composure in short order.

He turned to Baleria, and to Jary, introducing them to the crowd. “I’ve brought with me two very important people today, for the tenth anniversary. My lovely wife, Baleria.”

She bowed low, the customary bow she had been taught as young girl, keeping eye contact with the crowd, her left hand behind her back, and her right in front of her pronouncing a flourished gesture. Her cloak had been tailor-made to fit like a dress, buttoned nearly all the way down past her knees and it hugged her tightly as she was bent forward. The buttons seemed ready to burst if she had gone any lower, so she released them of their strain and stood upright again. The crowd cheered at her, some men even going so far as to whistle.

How dare they! She allowed a shocked expression to dart across her face for a brief instant, but they hardly seemed to notice. She never had to deal with the jeering and leering of men on Rowalli, but here on the mainland it seemed inescapable. She was well aware that she was bred for the adoration and desire of the people, but this was overly crass.

“And of course, the man who made this all possible. The man who tracked, found, and brought to justice the one who felled poor Aelin, all those years ago. Sir Jary Miggon!”

Baleria beamed at the man, still young in his middle age. Nearly 65 years of age now, and he doesn’t look a day past 30. His wife Lyla hadn’t held up quite as well, beginning to show signs of wrinkling and the occasional white hair intermingled within her blonde curls, but she was still stunning. She stood at the front lines of the crowd, her hands resting on the platform, eyes only for Jary. Their son stood with her, smiling broadly.

Ashayr brought the cone forward and handed it to Jary, who began his brief speech. He seemed nervous, stuttering in his start, but he pulled out of it. Looking into the crowd, Baleria saw his wife Lyla mouthing the words along with him, clearly well rehearsed.

She watched how the crowd ate every word, hoping to hear more precious details of how he and others had hunted down several members of A Journey of Storms, the band of traveling musicians who’d murdered Aelin to retrieve the blueprints of the aqueduct, but he held his story and his speech close to his chest; short and sweet. Whether they wished to supplant themselves as the head of the project, or knew someone who would, or wished to bribe Lord Brite, was never discovered. To this day, no one quite knew why they wanted the intel on the aqueduct in the first place.

And then Baleria saw something odd. A brief flashing of blue feathers in the crowd. She looked in its direction but saw nothing. It looked like the fletching on the butt of an arrow, but… in this setting that made little sense. She saw nothing now, at any rate, but she could feel that something wasn’t altogether right. She looked at her husband, and he seemed wholly oblivious to any of the unease she felt. She decided to let it drop.

There it was again. Sol’Enasé peeked out from behind a heavy cloud, piercing through the chill and the snow, and landing on the crowd. She saw it crest over the silhouetted shape of the city, each spire and tower, each home and building, doused out in its brilliance. The palace in the distance looked especially splendid.

A buzzing whistle briefly whisked through the air, resounding in a soft thud. Baleria turned to see Jary Miggon staggering backward. It took him some time before he realized there was a shaft of wood protruding from his torso, and he gave a comical, exasperated gasp. Somehow she was mortified than anything to note the blue fletching feathers, the same blue she had seen briefly in the crowd just moments before.

She had forewarning. But Baleria had chosen to ignore it.

A second arrow ripped through the sky, narrowly missing her. She spun to Ashayr’s aid, hoping he wouldn’t need it this day. He had barely registered the commotion when a woman screamed out a life-ending cry. “NO!” It could only have been Lyla.

Baleria saw it coming before he did, before anyone else did. It was fired from somewhere behind them, near the casks of ale. She ran to him, leapt to him, pushed to him – but it wasn’t nearly enough. Finally, though only footsteps away, she reached him. The arrow seemed already on top of him, but still she pushed Ashayr out of its path, out of its deathly grip. All she truly managed was to shift him slightly, pushing his heart directly into the arrow’s path.

It struck him, and he fell instantly to his knees, letting out a gargled cry. Baleria couldn’t believe it. I just pushed.. Ashayr just… Not his heart, let it have missed his heart! Tears streamed down her face before the true significance hit her. She dropped to her knees, buttons pulling taut around the calf and knee. She felt around the wound, bloodied and mutilated by the impact. “Please please please,” she repeated in intervals of three, as she attempted to stroke his hair. Red smeared into his golden locks. He was choking, and she too was choking on her sorrow.

She looked briefly behind her, at a dying Jary and his wife. They held each other’s gaze, locked, unblinking. The knowledge of life and love and memories past between them. Something she would never get to experience.

Baleria Brite looked back towards her husband, as Sol’Enasé went back into hiding. He was already dead.

Guards dragged the screaming widows off the platform as they broke up the crowd.

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Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.7: Who are all these people?

Writing Prompt: Pick one of the dead-drop characters from the exercise two weeks ago, and turn them into a secondary character. Now take one of the characters with whom they interacted, and write the same scene again, but from this new character’s POV.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”