Saturday, December 31, 2016

19: Tales and Mysteries

Morning in the market and the blind man upon the mat with his staff upon his knees sensed the crowd was ripe.  “Tales!  Tales and mysteries!  Mysteries and wonders!  Wonders and tragedies!  Tragedies and folly!  Folly to bring your heart to tears and tear great rents in your faith!  Tragedies to keep you holy!  Tales of the terrors that come when one leans even one step to the left or to the right of righteousness!  Do not be afraid!  Come to me children and learn!  Educate yourselves!  Seek ye and find wisdom at the feet of Ch’Byartha!”

“Wisdom?  At’chor feet?  Hah!  Fungus more like as not, Son of Failure!”

“Fungus, aye, well born finder of flora!  A horticultural wealth have I as anyone with eyes can see.  Just as anyone with wisdom can see that a mocker’s eyes peer no deeper than skin!  Even to what lay upon the skin!  Failing even to penetrate the most diaphanous of armors!  Breathe easy fair maidens!  Were thy so distracted as to venture forth this glaring desert day in nothing more than thy translucent night shifts, no risk would thy feminine delights have of being lecherously oogled by this near sighted owl!” he heard suppressed laughter of a feminine variety. 

“Nor from a blind beggar, I reckon!”

He leapt to his feet.  “Wounds!  Insults!  False Witness!  Come near, Slanderer, and receive thy lumps from my staff or art thou a knave despising justice as well as a scoundrel farmer of falsehood?”

“Are you saying you’re not blind?”

“Blind I be!  Aye, and proud of it for in blindness I see farther than your myopic marbles have peered in seven lifetimes of sightless sight!  Blindness has opened my eyes!  In the Great Sea Fever took my life and I have been reborn!  Fever-blindness has fathered me!  Wisdom has mothered me!  In the darkness of her womb my eyes have seen the Light!”

“You’re mad.”

“Ho!  Again!  Insults!  Lies!  Fabrications!  Twice now I need demand righteous retribution!”  Ch’Byartha swung the staff a few times over the tittering children he could easily hear all around him.  This was a good crowd, well mixed, families, travelers and merchants.  Mo was playing his part well, they should earn a pretty penny.  “Sightless be my eyes now but the blindness methinks is yours!  Neither mad am I nor a beggar!  But a merchant!  Scion of an aristocratic tree!  Born a merchant prince of a merchant baron, patriarch of an ancient noble trading family!  A failure and a cause of eternal shame to them I have become, tis true and a madness may yet the future hold, Yah willing, but to this very day, never have my paws procured a penny without some goods or service rendered! 

A fair trade I offer.  Nay!  A bargain!  For a purveyor of Wisdom am I now!  A trader of Truth!  A seller of Insight!  What price wilt thou put upon Wisdom, Seeker?  What price the priceless?  What cost the incalculable?  What value the invaluable?”

“What is he prattling on about?”

“Ah, he’s an entertainer, can’t you see?  Street performer.  Give ‘im a coin or two and he spins a yarn.  Alright Merchant son of whatever, don’t rupture an organ, you haven’t much left to lose by the look of it.  Here you go, regale us!  What wisdom does a shoeless vagrant of a frontier port have?  By the smell of it, all we will learn is the best place to buy cheap bourbon!”

Ch’Byartha took the coins proffered by the audience and hefted them to gauge their worth.  Satisfied they would keep him in whiskey for the rest of the week even after giving Mo his cut, he rapped his staff for silence, cleared his throat and began, “What wisdom have I?  A yarn ye purchased and a yarn ye shall have!  And though thou malign my person and my honor, only the very best will I bring out of my storehouse for thee!  For I shall tell thee of not one but the tragic fates of two sons of that great shepherd of the people!  Steward of the vital emerald jewel of the continent!  Captain of the courageous!  Priest and Prophet of Yah and His Viceroy over the Great Western Pastureland!  Chofa the Benevolent!”

“Viceroy?  Chofa?  Bah!” a voice complained, “Give me back my coins, imposter!  I will not pay for wisdom which has gone sour upon the shelf!”

Ch’Byartha stopped.  Took two steps toward the voice and reached out to find the owner’s hand.  Grasping it firmly he pressed money into it and said, “Here they are and consider them payment or refund and call me a beggar if you like for it seems instead it is you who has a tale I beg you to tell!”

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

18: an Effective Clutch

CRISIS! FEAR! PARALYSIS!  The worst of all possible outcomes! 

The Factor sent three.  Follow the meat animals.  See where the animals den.  Find the animals’ hive.  Report.  The Factor sent three, an effective clutch, successful in many sendings.  The Clutch rode upon the meat animal’s windboat.  Underneath.  Out of sight.  Crawling out in darkness to feed on the animals.  Lightly.  Sparingly.  Not to drain but to quench the Need.  To silence.  To survive.  To continue the sending. 

Fever took the animals one by one.  Feeding became easier.  Less eyes to notice the Clutch.  Less attentive.  More sickened.  Less drove the boat.  Slower it went.  Could a windboat die?  Was it an animal too?  Did it feed off the meat animals?  The Clutch discussed this.  The Clutch wondered what to do if the windboat stopped when the last of the animals ceased to be vital.  The mission would fail.  The Clutch would fail.  The Factor would …

One must not picture what the Factor would do.  To die in one’s mind before dying in one’s body.  One would screamcast.  One would become ineffective.  The Factor sent three.  Two now held down one as it screamcast its fear.  It wished to leap upon the burning windboat.  It wished to risk exposure to the meat animals upon the skyboat.  It wished to gather precious bloated corpses, full of ichor, full of vitality for drinking.  It wished to fill its crop before the flames turned all to ash and useless vapor.  It must not.  The animals upon the skyboat would have hornets.  Buzzing, cracking, crackling weapons which though small, could sting.  Some stings just made holes.  Some turned harvesters to ash and vapor.  Others struck like the lightning of sandstorms.  The hornets were a plague the meat animals alone possessed.  Skyboats were ghastly effective at using these weapons.  One must never let one’s self be seen.  Two sat upon one.  The windboat burned.  The skyboat grew smaller and smaller toward where the sun rose. 

Just before it disappeared completely, One’s clutchmate inquired if One could subdue the third alone.  One chopped.  The clutchmate pulled two pieces of debris from the burning wreckage and then carefully set one in the sand.  Then it crawled as far from the burning windboat as it dared and planted the second stick.  It buried itself into the sand and took many sightings over it’s stick.  It moved it slightly, took more sightings and then watched without moving until the skyboat was beyond seeing.

The danger of being observed passed and One let up the panicked third kin.  It leapt upon the burning windboat, not much more than a skeleton, black and crumbling.  The kin dragged two partially burned corpses out, all three of them still on fire.  The two fell upon the precious corpses, rolling them in the sand and putting out the flames.  Then the two attended to the one.  It was damaged but serviceable.  All three harvested the corpses, draining them.  There was much less than one would have hoped.  There was no way to know how much, the Need subsided but a harvester had no sense of one’s own crop.  It could be full or empty.  One could only guess from other data.  The drinking had not been long.  Movement was not heavy or sluggish.  One guessed the crops of the Clutch were closer to empty than full. 

“PUZZLEMENT”  One cast to it’s mates.  It danced the familiar dance of the collective, ‘Harvester, where hast thou found food?’  The kin knew what was meant.  What must the Clutch do?
The effective Clutch sat on its haunches and waited.
The windboat burned out.
One used resin to repair damage to the burned kin.
One slept.
The sun set.  The wind cooled.
The stars came out from hiding.  The undamaged kin took new sightings along it’s planted sticks at the lights.  One saw the kin’s plan now.  Guidance by star was well known among them.  The sticks had allowed one to keep track of the skyboat’s course.
“FOLLOW.” it cast and the effective Clutch set out.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

17: the Pale Green Pennant

Thom made up his mind at last but it didn’t mean he had to tell the whole crew.  He climbed up the mast, through the well and onto the deck and that alone caught the first mate’s interest.  
“Mr. Doggel, is there a problem?”
“No, er, aye, or rather, was wondering the mate’s opinion on a matter.”
“And I’m wondering why you thought it important enough to abandon your post.  Yet here we are.”
“Aye sir, when ye has a moment.  Be needing yer expertise in the tees.”  Thom slid back to his perch as lookout.  Mr. Kirakiray did not come down straight away, though it was doubtful he had anything real to attend on decks.  The heavy freighter practically sailed itself.  Maintain altitude and there was nothing out here to hit or see for days.  
Or so Thom had thought.
At last the first mate lowered himself down to Thom’s perch beneath the great airship and between breaths and oaths asked what was of such fiery import.  “That,” Thom pointed, “four points offa north there, just skirtin’ the horizon.”  Lt. Kirakiray trained his glass in the direction and took a moment to focus.  Thom knew from the low curse exactly when he recognized it for what it was.  There was no missing that long pale green pennant.  The Lieutenant studied it a bit longer then lowered the glass as though it had gained the weight of the knowledge they now shared in pounds.  “You gunna tell ‘im?”  
“He’ll want to know.”
“But if he didn’t know, then he wouldn’t know, y’know?”  The first mate just looked at him.  He knew.  “We could just keep on sailin’.  Maybe even make port in a week.  Hale and hearty as you ever are right here’n now.  Jes’ sayin’.”  The first mate still didn’t say anything, his heavy brows in close council with each other and Thom allowed himself to hope.  
“He’ll want to know,” he repeated.
Thom let go the breath he had been holding.  “Aye sir, reckon he will,” and under his breath, “Reckon ‘e won’t wanna lead the boarding party though.”

He, being the captain, did not want to lead the boarding party.  Technically, with his suckered feet dropping onto the plague ship’s deck first, Thom led the boarding party.  Though Kirakiray was the officer in charge.  In full chemsuits, he and the other two took a might bit longer to descend the rope ladder.  Thom secured the dangling end of the boarding ladder, poked through the whole catamaran and secreted a few baubles and doohickeys that might fetch a penny in port before they plopped onto the deck.
“Yer a fool, Thom Doggel,” said Bodhi.  “Scamperin’ aboot with no coverin’.”
Thom shrugged.  “Those suits are for nasties and acids in the hold.  No proof or provin’ against fever.  Though the respirator mighta helped with the smell.  Some of these poor bastards ain’t been dead a week.”
“You’ve been through the whole boat, they’re all dead then?” Kirakiray asked.
“Aye sir, all dead.”  A ‘dead’ body lashed to the mast above their heads moaned.  Thom rolled his eyes.  It just couldn’t keep quiet a couple of moments longer, could it?  “All save one.  Appears one is clingin’ to a wee bit o’ life yet.”
“Well, Thom, seein’ as yer fond of climbing and are unencumbered, you can have the pleasure of retrieving the not-quite-dead.”  They made a pile in a lowered cargo net of anything useful, gathered the ships logs and markers while Thom laced a harness to the dying panthera hanging from the ship’s yard like a crucified criminal.  
“Nng, leave me, ‘m cursed!” it hissed through cracked lips.
 “No argument from me, m’raka.  Reckon you’ll get your chance to kill our ship same as yours afore you kick.  Up to me, i’d cut yer throat and burn yer filthy kindlin’ around you.”  He drew his hooked blade and one of the panthera’s eyes bulged at him, yellow and wet like a hard boiled egg.  “Lucky fer you, t’aint up to me.”  He slashed the lashings cutting the wretch free of the doomed boat to swing upwards into the clear sky and waiting airship.  “And may God have mercy on’er souls.”