Monday, 29 June 2015

The Oracle

Kennedy couldn't see the scratches on his boots anymore. They were covered in red dust, the same red dust that coated the end of his ankle length jacket. He was trying to keep that dust from his facial orifices with a neckerchief over his mouth and nose and a pair of well worn swimming goggles over his eyes. The old woman by the old stream had told him it would rip apart the inside of his lungs and force them out as blood. She quickly proved it by coughing a splatter of the Crimson stuff over his trousers.
In the distance, he could see the server stacks. They were so useless, so helpless. Just old black towers, as tall as Kennedy but twice as immobile. Kennedy's stiffening legs didn't quite believe it.
Some forgotten power source leant life to the servers, powering their blinking lights. Those that still had lights to blink, that was. Holes in the wire fence surrounding them let thieves into the complex, and those thieves took anything they could prise off the antiquated technologies. Some said those same thieves would strip a human down the same as old technologies. Kennedy was glad of the 1000 grams on his side, packed with 45. Colt bullets. He'd traded all of his remaining rations for it. He was glad though. He'd rather a gun than a quick procession of kicks and punches in return for his food.
Bodies littered the path towards the server complex. Not human bodies though. The beasts left nothing behind when they attacked a human, or found one's rotting corpse. No, the bodies on the floor were the carcasses of birds, hounds and old 'motor vehicles', decayed and wrecked almost beyond recognition. 
Kennedy found himself walking up the collapsed rib cage of an ancient "air-oh-plain." A street historian in Tove Port had told him of how they were called as such because they were the same size as natural plains, where the final hounds lived. Apparently the ancients had built massive theatres onto either side, with outwards growing wings. When Kennedy had asked what the ribs were, then, the street historian had been unable to answer. Kennedy found a can of "Beanz" in a ruined looking cupboards and silently thanked each God before pocketing them. He continued towards the cock pit, the site of ritualistic castration, according to the street historian. 
An eroded plastic slope led down to the ground and Kennedy strolled on, passing the server complex. Six hours of walking since he'd set off, Kennedy found himself on the peak of a red dust hill. Twenty miles away was a town. The first he'd seen for a fair few weeks. Bracing the muscles of his increasingly aching legs, Kennedy set off towards the town.

The sand dune he was walking down broke away beneath his feet. He began to fall, sliding on his back. The black felt of his jacket began to turn cream with the colour of the sand. He could feel the sharp grains ripping through his battered trousers. A grain fell into his trouser leg and was soon followed by a steady stream of his own blood. He tried to move one booted foot out to steady his fall and quickly found himself rolling, tumbling down the sand face. 
Kennedy screwed his eyes and his mouth shut, praying silently to the various Gods that his neck chief and goggles would come away unscathed. The liquid inside his ears began to froth as he tumbled and then he hit the ground. He knew he had stopped and he knew he was still but his entire body convulsed as if it was still rolling. When a sense of solidity finally took back over him, Kennedy opened his mouth and his eyes, breathing in. He didn't breath out. No, instead be held his breath in trepidation at the sight in front of him. It wasn't like anything he'd seen before. It's fangs were dripping with slather, it's eyes empty sockets filled with the black of night. It was tracking Kennedy with it's nose, evidently, as it protruded towards him as he backed away. 
On all fours, Kennedy scrabbled backwards and then felt his long over grown hair full with slobber. There was another of the hunched up creatures behind him. Instinctively, his hand reached for the gun on his side but the creatures edged towards him quicker. Kennedy cursed under his breath and racked his brains for a solution. He needed to draw their attention away long enough to get up and start running. His hand was on his side, by his coat pocket. He had nothing in it but... No. He'd regret it in the long term. Hell, since when had he thought of the long term?
Kennedy grabbed the tin of "Beanz" from his pocket and threw it with all his might into the distance. The two creatures raced after it, dragging a single line through the dust floor with their tail. As soon as they were distracted, Kennedy sprang up and behsn to run. The muscles in his legs began to scream with agony, demanding sustenance, drink, blood, air. Anything. His dry lips sucked in a whistle of air but not nearly enough to even begin to help him. A disgusting carbon monoxide like taste flavoured his saliva and he found the need to spit filling his mind. No, he thought. He couldn't. Spit and he wouldn't make it easy for the red star to enter his throat. Instead, Kennedy swallowed the saliva and pushed on, ignoring the scream of his legs. 
He couldn't ignore the howl of the creatures behind him. Ploughing through the sand strewn plain, Kennedy risked looking over his shoulder and saw hundreds of the hounds approaching him. With his other hand beating through the air in a regular cycle in one hand, he used the other to grab the gun and fire a single shot into the crowd of creatures. A loud bang, none fell but they did retreat momentarily. Five bullets left loafed, now, with another eighteen in a pouch on his side. Reloading took time he didn't have. He'd have to conserve his fire. 
Kennedy continued to run and all the while his body screamed to stop. When he'd set out on this crusade, so long ago, his face would have poured sweat like petrol from an old pump. Now, he hadn't enough liquid in his body to water is eyes, never mind sweat. The only fluid oozing from him was the blood oozing from his leg. It supplied him with an unusual limp, slowing him down and making him lurch. Behind him, the thud of the creature's legs grew closer and louder, closer and louder. He risked a glance back over his shoulder and then felt his feet strike something. Once more he was tumbling, hitting the floor with an almighty bounce which shook his rib cage.  
His body shuddering with pain, Kennedy watched in horror as one of the creatures launched itself onto him. It's fangs, between two slabber coated jaws, snapped down at him, trying to tear away his eyes, nose, anything that would come loose. Kennedy used his hands to reach towards the creature's underside. His battered fingers found a leather expanse, warm with blood beating beneath. There seemed to be no breaks in the armour, no chips in the chain mail as it were, but then he found a single weak spot. With the joy of a newborn, Kennedy stabbed his finger into the weak spot.
It took repeated standings until Kennedy's finger slid through the leather and became coated in warm blood. The creature howled in pain but continued to snap at him. Kennedy pulled out his finger and slid two in, pulling to make the hole wider and wider. Quicker streams of blood began to pour out, a crimson river. Eventually, he managed to slide both hands in and, the fingers of each filled with the warm satisfaction with death. The creature jerked and roared as if Kennedy was it's mortal vequilotrist but his hands had a darker duty. The sharp caricatures of the creature's rib cage grazed Kennedy's hands, leaving his blood with it's, but he found what he was looking for. The increasingly slowly pumping heart. Screaming, Kennedy tore it out and felt the blood splatter as it came out. Then he kicked the creature off and stood up. The rest had backed off slightly but the leader was closest, roaring and bearing it's fangs. Kennedy drew his revolver and released a bullet through the creature's head. As it hit the floor, the others panted away. Kennedy slipped the gun back into the holster and then leant down, hauling the creature into a “fiah man’s” lift over his two top shoulders. It was heavy but he'd carried heavier. Wearily, he urged himself on.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Stephen King is a household name. He is the lord of horror and probably one of the best novelists you’ll ever come across. Not only do I believe this, but also do the majority of people who have read his books. If you were to ask a random person in the library to name some of his books, you’d probably hear the names of the greatest horror institutions of the last century. The Shining. The Tommy Knockers. Carrie. But, if you were to ask Stephen King, what might he say? Of course, The Shining and Carrie are amongst his most famous work, however what he describes as his best work, his magnum opus, is relatively unknown to the general public. It is, of course, the Dark Tower Saga. I found the second book in a coffee shop in Chester- it’s amazing, Cinderbox Coffee you must go!- and on reading the blurb instantly set out to find the first book. I’ve got to say, it’s one of the best decision I’ve made.
Book One, the subject of this review, is called the Gunslinger and it follows the eponymous character, known as Roland Deschaine, as he treks through the dangerous expanses of Mid World searching for the titular Dark Tower. The copy that I read was the heavily edited and improved copy of the original, however I’m sure the original is still a lot of fun. After all, the story will be overall the same and it is brilliant. The book is split into several stories, each one turning to a unique aspect of the classic Western genre. Story One, introducing the Gunslinger, is the archetypal Western. A small town in the middle of nowhere, a mysterious resurrection and the entrance of an enigmatic stranger. As well as an incredible mixture of fantasy and Western genre, along with brilliant dialogue and the vagueness of a severed outpost, King brings in the genre he excels at. Horror. Surely a resurrection should be a miracle, but King twists it to become a terrible curse. It is brilliantly entertaining and the significance of the number 19, which I’m sure you’ll discover when you read it, stays in the mind long after.
Story Two, called the Way Station, isn’t as memorable, however it’s story is still very interesting. It introduces the boy Jake, a young child who travels alongside Roland for the majority of this novel. We are introduced to his origin story, and by this also introduces us further to Roland’s nemesis: the Man in Black. This is the dark sorcerer that Roland is pursuing during the first book, and who meeting with will form the climax of the book. We are also told about the process by which Roland and his childish friends became Gunslingers. This story is one that many authors will have to write; appropriate for the story, even if not the most interesting.
We’re back on form with Story Three, the Oracle and the Mountains, however, and what an excellent story it is! Without going into the subject matter of this story, which isn’t completely appropriate for this blog, the Oracle and the Mountains deals with one of the archetypal plots of Westerns: greed and temptation. Jake, and later Roland, are both forced to face a tempting force. With an increase of psychological horror, written perfectly by Stephen King, this story is a turning point for the adventurers, where Jake must go from boy to man.
Story Four is the Slow Mutants. Even now, a year and a half after I finished reading the book in Luxembourg, I can see the glow of the Slow Mutants in my mind, and hear the ricocheting explosion of the Gunslinger’s revolvers. This story is one of the best in the entire book and, so far, the entire series. I absolutely love the way in which it so fantastically haunts me, even to this day. But perhaps better than this is the Gunslinger’s tale of his journey to manhood. The idea of this young hero, yet to prove his worth, outsmarting a formidable foe in such a brilliant way is one that will never leave me, and I feel privileged to read it. 
And so we come to the climatic showdown, the metaphorical gun fight between the Man in Black and Roland. This story answers many of the question we have started this story with, as well as creating a dozen more that set up the next six novels in the series. The story mixes together an incredible blend of science fiction, fantasy and, of course, horror. The concepts of the Dark Tower, as the Man in Black explains, have inspired me to create a new interest in Quantum Mechanics, and write my latest and longest novel. 

All in all, the Gunslinger is a completely memorable and completely brilliant novel. I believe, like the Drawing of the Three which I’ll discuss in the future, it boasts an excellent ability to seem fantastic when you’re reading it, but only grow better and better in the memory. It is when, a few months later on, that your immediate think of Roland Deschaine whenever someone mentions cowboys that you really realise how brilliant these books are, because they are more than just books. They are the Magnum Opus of one of the greatest living authors of today. They are the Dark Tower Saga by Stephen King.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Quest for Verdisc (part 10)

The Unexpected Morale towered over the Black Addison, leaking it's shadows like ink onto blotting paper. The men at the front pointed down their six barrelled machine guns and began to turn the crank shafts to their side, spinning the six barrels and drawing large holes into the metal plating of Nexelspire. "Get down!" Davelron screamed, running towards the rack of turbines at the Addison's rear.
Nexelspire's Sherifs were rolling down the windows of their offices, forcing cannons that spent most of the year lying dormant out into the snap of the crisp air. Marcus' ears shuddered as they exploded, driving the platoon the Sherif's office was floating on down slightly before it bobbed back up. The cannon balls made no indentation on the metal hull however, except to alert the powder monkeys inside the hull. They opened flaps in the hull, dislodging waiting barnacles, and revealing their own cannons. Except these didn't fire cannon balls.
"Oh my Thinker!" Emilia cried. "They're- they're-"
"Serpenmechs!" Davelron finished. "I haven't seen those monsters in decades!"
The Serpenmechs were fearsome mechanical dragons, forged from the reptilian clockwork of the Further Reaches. They were reputed to be able to rip open a building in the same manner as a human being: very easily. From bionic beaks, patterned with jagged metal fangs, were blown billowing clouds of furious bright orange fire. The clouds caught the sherif's office and ignited the barrels of gunpowder used to power the cannons. Large chunks of wooden debris propelled suddenly through the air, splattering the water and the deck of the Black Addison. A shard of metal sliced through the air towards Marcus but the Mechanical Wizard cast a forcefield spell, dissuading the shard away.
Screaming sea merchants and panicking shop vendors hurried from their floating wooden venues and began to wind the cranks which reeled in the anchors far beneath. The sound of creaking gears were loud against the howling winds but no louder than the explosions of cannons and guns on top of the Unexpected Morale.
The mass of Trident Holders who had been shopping in Nexelspire prior to the attack were now armed with crossbows and three barrelled machine guns. Bullets and bolts sliced through the air and bumped off metallic hull, but some hit the pin prick dots that were the Unexpected Morale's crew and the Morale's crew dropped. "Marcus, Emilia, arm yourself! It's our duty to protect these waters and we sure as Hell aren't going to run scared now!" Davelron cried, spinning the grand oak wheel and pointing the Black Addison away from the Unexpected Morale. There was a cluster of other Trident Holder vessels packing tightly together, allowing the blue coated guardians of the sea to run from one boat to another, rearming and reaiming their crossbows. Emilia leapt from the Black Addison and onto the Sky Tale, grabbing a cross bow and a leather quiver of bolts. Most of the Trident Holders were running from their ships and onto the Black Addison. As the newest ship to join the cluster, it was the closest to the Unexpected Morale, but it was becoming too crowded. She wasn't exactly talented with a bow but she knew she was going to need more space to fire if she was going to have any chance of winning.
There was a ship on the middle row of boats, equidistant from the Unexpected Morale and the docks of Nexelspire, and Emilia clambered up the drainpipe on the side of it's step covering shed and onto the roof. She stood on it and aimed the crossbow at one of the hatches on the side of the Morale. She pulled back the drawstring, winding a lever to stretch it back, and then loaded a stubby bolt from his back into the firing chamber. Her finger felt heavy against the trigger and she waited, pointing up at the hatch, ready to fire when she got the chance. Something unclear flickered in the hatch and her finger jerked at the trigger, releasing the bolt. It shot through the air, cutting a clean path, and then raced directly into the mouth of the flickering shape itself. It was a fully gas bellied Serpenmech and the bolt sliced directly through it's open mouth, smashing the igniter where a normal creature would have tonsils and erupting the gas tank in it's stomach in a grand ball of fire. Shards of metal raced through the air, propelled by a rippling cloud of orange flames.
"Good shot!" Cried a green jacket junior, watching in awe as Emilia ducked the burning wreckage of the Serpenmech.
"That was nothing." She replied. "I helped take down a real sea serpent a few months back."
"Duck!" The green jacket cried.
Emilia turned and saw another Serpenmech roaring towards her, it's metallic wings carving back and forth through the air. It opened it's mouth, a shrill bell screeching a shrill scream quickly followed by a ever flowing scream of orange flames. Emilia turned and leapt off the shed, rolling through the air. She hit the side of the ship as the Serpenmech's fire burst through the space she was only moments earlier stood in but before she could grab hold of something, she was in the water. It was shockingly cold, bubbling goosebumps across her arms and legs. She tried to ration the fleeting breath she'd taken before entering but it was beginning to choke her. A fraction of water was swelling her cheeks but she knew if she tried to spit it out, it'd only invite in more.
She tried to remember what Thaddeus had once taught her at the docks at the bottom of Vincent's Triple Helix. The water there had been so much warmer, so much inviting, except from when she'd begun to sink lower and lower beneath it.
"Push outwards with your arms." Thaddeus had lectured her. "Push inwards with you legs."
"That's not what the swimmers do up at the swimming events in the castle!" Emilia had shouted back, sinking beneath the water and then coming back out again, spouting water from her lips when it seeped into her mouth.
"You're a seven year old, Emilia! You're not a professional swimmer yet!"
Emilia said a quick prayer to the Blessed Thinker and then pushed her arms outwards, push inwards with her legs. She moved forwards and grinned with glee. It was working! The iron chains that were slowly pulling up the anchors beneath the platoons were getting closer and closer and then suddenly there was a gigantic explosion. Speckles of wood and iron raced into the water around her. Plumes of bubbles clung to her as she curled up in herself, avoiding the falling debris. It sunk around her as billowing clouds of orange flames curled through the air above the water. In front of her, the platoon collapsed down, the chain falling and the wooden building entering the water. Burning bodies fell from the sides, floating towards her. She closed her eyes and kicked them away, edging further and further towards the platoon. Her limited breath was beginning to run out, she needed to breathe soon.

"Where's Emilia?" Marcus cried to the Mechanical Wizard over the roar of Trident Holders firing harpoons at the Unexpected Morale. The harpoons were grand iron hooks that cut through the air and grappled onto the top of the Morale, the ropes pulling taught. The Trident Holders pulled on the ropes and, happy that they weren't going to fall, began to climb up the hull towards the deck.
The Mechanical Wizard's vinyl disc hard drive ran through all the possible If Statements and decided that rather than print anything it would whir it's motors and shrug.
"Well, aren't you helpful?" Marcus muttered. His Trident was heavier in his hand but he carried it valiantly, locking it into the bottom of a six barrelled rifle. It was loaded and the Trident worked perfectly as a handle, a bar trigger releasing all six bullets at once. He looked up as a Trident Holder hit the water to the side of the Addison. The Morale's crew were using axes on the grappling hooks, releasing the chains and allowing the Trident Holders to fall. Marcus pointed his rifle up at the Morale and pulled the bar trigger and released the six bullets all at once. Only one hit one of the Pirates and only in the wrong shoulder. They were still able to swing their axe to the height of it's swing, scattering more Trident Holders. "Retreat!" Davelron screamed from his pose at the wheel. "Move back to a distance of tactical proportions. Blast them with the onboard artillery!"
The Trident Holders who hadn't already fallen jumped into the water and swam back to their own ships, and those on the Black Addison leapt from it and back onto their own ship. Marcus and the Mechanical Wizard joined Davelron and the previously drowning man at the wheel.
"Where's Emilia?" Marcus shouted over the roar of Trident Holder propellers.
"She went onto one of the other ships to get a better shot." Davelron cried. "Anyway, grab hold of something. Things are about to escalate."
The Drowning Man looked more alive than he had been before. "Hello." He said, offering his hand to Marcus. "My name is Pontsher."
"Marcus." The boy introduced himself. "What were you doing in the water, Mr Pontsher?"
"Drowning. I was meant to be escaping the Unexpected Morale but it didn't really work."
"Is it true what they say? About the Captain having-"
"Yes." Pontsher shivered. "It's disturbing to think about."
"Gentlemen, perhaps we can stop gabbing and pay attention to fighting the Unexpected Morale? I believe it's about to destroy another block of Nexelspire."
The Unexpected Morale careered into yet another platoon, but this one was still anchored to the others. The metal hull sliced through the platoons and the wooden buildings on top, sending showers of debris into the water. Serpenmechs continued to spout from either side, setting fire to the wooden shacks quicker than the closest Trident Holders and their massive pumps could put them out. Buildings collapsed on all sides, sinking and burning, whilst the Unexpected Morale continued it's path of destruction. A floating armourers- rare since the realisation that water can cause rust- suddenly detonated, every cask of gunpowder inside bursting at once and tearing the surrounding platoons apart. Pontsher, Marcus and the Mechanical Wizard all had to duck to avoid a cartwheeling slice of metal as it raced into the distance.
"This is chaos!" Marcus cried.
"Don't you see why it is so feared?" Pontsher cried.
The cluster of Trident Holder's boats began to part, realising the battle was lost. There was no stopping the Unexpected Morale, at least not with Nexelspire destroyed as it was.
"They'll be going to the Holder Court for backup." Davelron announced, turning the Addison around. "They won't let the Morale escape, not with the Holder blood which has been spilt. We would be best to follow them. I'm afraid our journey is going to have to be shortened."
"That doesn't matter." Marcus said. "Where's Emilia?"

Emilia had clambered through the burnt remains of Nexelspire's Sherif's Office and climbed onto the next platoon. As the Trident Holders had lain war on the Unexpected Morale, Emilia had run through the various platoons, clamping and unclamping. Whenever she got a chance she'd take a chance to fire at the approaching Serpenmechs, doing all she could to assist the Trident Holder's struggle.
She'd been taking a final shot when she felt the platoon shake under her. "They're disanchoring." She whispered to herself. "I need to get off before they float away."
Emilia raced towards the door and out onto the parting streets but then she saw that the platoons weren't disconnecting of their own accord. They were being ripped apart by the cutting brow of the Unexpected Morale. It tour through the centre of the pavement and Emilia began to run away from it as it scattered wooden debris towards her. She got to the furtherest point she could and found herself staring down into the sea. She could jump in and swim or- no. She couldn't, could she? She'd heard that story about the Captain, she shivered, she didn't want to become the subject of another.
The Unexpected Morale loomed further over her and in that moment she decided. It would be better than nothing.
There was a ladder on the front, as there were on all boats, known as the target's escape. Climb up it of your own free will and you admitted yourself one of their victims. If you didn't, you were admitting yourself a dead man walking. Emilia ran and jumped onto it, using her bony fingers to pulling herself up the cold metal bars, lumbering herself onto the deck. It took her ten minutes to get to the top. When she did, she was met with swords, pistols and sneers of distaste. "Great." She muttered to herself.

Little did she know that a green jacket junior Trident Holder was watching the events through a telescope, prepared to risk his honour to protect the girl with the amazing shot.

To be continued...

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Quest for Verdisc (part 9)

Marcus and Emilia hadn't been on dry land- well, sort of- in a fair few months. It was a strange feeling against their feet, a floor that was anchored by iron suspension cables to the ocean floor as to keep it from swaying. In the majority, the system worked, but when large waves crashed against the outer tiers of the suspended platoons, the whole port shook.
Large wooden buildings careered up from the platoons as Marcus and Emilia walked further into Nexelspire. Not one of them was connected, but in fact they all floated on separate platoons chained together loosely. Davelron had explained it once by the logic that, Qamatha forbid, pirates attacked the port, the ships could be easily freed and allowed to escape via outboard motors connected to their rears. Docking platoons, like grand weaving H's made from metal, acted as the walkways between buildings, but they were as useless as just leaving the buildings to congregate naturally, due to the level of crowding on them. Emilia grabbed Marcus' hand like she used to when they were little and had first travelled to Vincent. So many people, it would be easy to lose him amongst them. Emilia cast an eye over the crowd around them. Motley bunches of handsome Trident Holders marched through the streets, swag bags of fresh food and drink slung over their shoulders. She saw one junior Trident Holder, he was wearing a shorter green jacket unlike the others, who was handing out freshly picked bouquets of flowers to those he passed. He gave one to Emilia and she confessed her heart fluttered a bit, not because of any interest in the Trident Holder but instead because of the thorns left remaining in the stalks of the flowers.
"Emilia, look!" Marcus cried, pulling her back and to a halt in the centre of the busy street. As people hustled around them, telling them to mind their way, Marcus pointed at the roughly illuminated sign on one of the buildings, next to a painted green cross. "Look! A Gqirha!"
"Good spot!" Emilia said. "We'll come back to that when we've got everything else we need. Now, come on!"
They hustled through the crowd, dropping pardons to the people they shouldered out of the way. They followed the streams of moving people, around various corners of constructs and bobbing facades, plastered with wanted posters for infamous pirate vessels. The Bloody Rug Rat, was one that Marcus had heard of in stories Thaddeus had told him. The Holy Kevin and The Wrecking Decker were the lesser known ones, but the ship with the highest reward presented was renowned throughout the Quadratic Seas. The Unexpected Morale. Some said the Captain had- no. It wasn't worth thinking about. Some of those stories were too horrible to recall!
There seemed to be three individual groups of people in the crowds, with a fourth sub-faction. There were the sea faring Trident Holders, resplendent in their long blue jackets. They tipped their stubbled faces towards Marcus and Emilia as they passed, before muttering to each other, "They're a bit young for blue jackets, right?"
The second group were the fisherman, rugged blokes and women who towered over everyone else, but seemed to push people away with the stink of their flesh. Emilia, glancing at them until they stared back, noticed that they all seemed to head down the thinner metal platoons which acted as alleyways, cast in a mysterious red glow.
The third group of people, to whom the sub-faction belonged, were the Sea Merchants and their smaller relatives the rich Water Holidayers. They were the, relatively, normally dressed people who paraded up and down the streets as if they owned the place, knowing everyone and everything with their strange customs and habits. The majority of them, as the Merchants, knew the best places to get a bargain and those were the places that Marcus and Emilia eventually got around to filling cloth sacks at.
They were large wooden shacks that bobbed if you jumped into them- an action that was absolutely hilarious to do but irritating to experience if you sat behind the counter. They were filled with rows of shelves stacked high with the freshest fruit and vegetables- from all four corners of the Quadratic Sea- and large makeshift freezers that buffed your face with clouds of cold when opened. They held piles and piles of meat, chicken and pork and duck. "We're not getting any duck." Marcus said, defiantly. "It's completely inhumane."
"What's inhumane is us starving!" Emilia cried.
"Then get some bananas or something!" Marcus replied.
After a few hours of wandering around Nexelspire, the two wandering Black Addison crew members began to return to the ship the way they'd come. Food sacks were slung over their shoulders, lolling quietly like the platoons beneath their feet. Marcus saw the Gqirha sign again and they bobbed in, asking the main physician for his assistance. He told them he'd come to the Black Addison in a hour, if it was still there, and that service fees would be arranged then. Marcus and Emilia thanked him and then continued their wary hike towards the Addison. It was still waiting where it had been before they set off, bobbing slightly in the water that lapped against it's hull. Davelron was sat on the raised platform at the ship's rear, the Mechanical Wizard sat next to him. He stood when he saw them approaching. "Emilia! Marcus! Welcome back on board, let me help you with that shopping. You've evidently been busy." He cried, helping them. He seemed happier than usual, easily explained by the manner in which he hadn't been fined for mooring where he had.
"Where's the Gqirha?" He asked as they carried the bags below board and dumped them on the round wooden table.
"He should be along in an hour." Marcus said. "Too busy right now, dealing with some lady with multiple contusions, or something like that."
"Completely understandable." Davelron said. "The sleeping man doesn't look too bad, though. Come have a look."
They walked over towards the sleeping quarter's doorway. It swung open at a nudge from Davelron's foot and they walked in. Inside were the familiar four beds arranged in two selections of bunk beds, two on either wall and then a shared bathroom at the bottom that was merely a sink, a foggy mirror and a toilet. Davelron's bed was the top bunk on the right, a bag at the bottom. Beneath that was Marcus' bunk, decorated with the picture of his parents, Thaddeus and the man they were looking for: Demetrius Mist. The bottom bunk to the left was Emilia's, adorned with stickers from previous deck hand's stays aboard the Addison. The top bunk was the drowning man's. And it was empty.
"Where is he?" Emilia exclaimed.
"He must be on deck!" Davelron exclaimed. "All the other doors are locked! Quick!"
They all leapt from where they stood and raced towards the stair case leading up, jumping from the steps and onto the deck. The Mechanical Wizard was stood, one of the illuminating arrows on it's front pointing towards the brow of the ship. They raced around the shed that sat strangely in the centre of the deck and towards the front, where the previously drowning man was balancing dangerously on the figure head, staring out into the open sea. "This is terrible. This can't be."
There was merely a wall of fog ahead, nothing more.
"Sir, you need to come down now. Please, sir." Emilia said, stepping forwards.
"No. You don't see! They've found me! They've found me! Oh my Thinker, they're going to kill me!"
"Who are?" Emilia asked. "Who's going to kill you?"
And then she saw. The wall of fog broke apart and from it exploded a massive ship, it's hull blazing with barnacles, a group of angry looking pirates screaming from it's brow. They were waving swords and firing pistols, and that was when Marcus noticed the words stencilled into it's front.
"Good Thinker." He muttered. "It's the Unexpected Morale!"

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Quest for Verdisc (part 8)

Davelron burst up the stairs of the Black Addison and out onto the deck, his always booted feet slapping against the deck. Marcus and Emilia quickly pulled on their boots and their borrowed Trident Holder jackets and followed him out. The night air was refreshingly cool, compared to the usual heat of the day, and the moon was out in it's full disc, resplendent in the sky.
Marcus, Emilia and Davelron didn't notice the moon though. They were too distracted by the flailing body in the water. "Marcus, drop the barnacle swing!" Davelron called.
"Aye aye!" Marcus replied, running to the oak chest which sat patiently on the raised platform just in front of the propellers at the rear of the ship. He flipped it open and pulled out the plank of wood which acted as the barnacle swing. Large extents of knotted rope connected the plank to the interior of the case, and so it was thrown overboard. It clattered down the side of the wooden hull and stopped, just above the lapping waves. Davelron swung one foot over the edge of the deck and began to climb down the planks that made up the ladder towards the swing. When he got to the bottom he sat down, but rather than facing the hull as intended, he looked out to sea.
The Mechanical Wizard's message of the man over board rung loud and clear in their heads. If there was a man over board, there were two scenarios that were possible. Scenario 1: A creature called the Man Whale might be attempting to kill them. Davelron had told them of it one night, as waves crashed to either side of the ship, knocking them from one side to the other. There'd been the mating call of a Man Whale in the far distance and Davelron had grinned, telling them of it. They were colossal creatures, seemingly made of endless cold fat, that would destroy boats with flaps of their massive fins. As the boat began to sink, the whale would digest all but one member of the crew. The one person they didn't digest, they'd connect their tentacles to and then leave to bob up and down on the surface, until a good doer boat approached.  And then the Man Whale would strike again.
Scenario 2 was that the man over board was an actual man, and that begged the question of where he was from. On the off chance that there was pirate vessel nearby, Emilia slid a new round of bullets into one of the gattling guns.
Davelron leant away from his barnacle swing and reached a hand out for the body in the water. It was dripping wet and cold as his rugged fingers graced it. He managed to grasp one finger, but as a splash of water drenched him he moved back, letting go. He took another grab at the hand and caught it, pulling it in. The body floated over to him and he attempted to lift it up. However, another wild splash of the black water nearly dragged him from the swing. Davelron used one hand to grip tightly onto the swing and the other to hold onto the man's hand, whilst turning his head to face upwards to Marcus and Emilia. "Bring me up!"
Marcus rushed to the side of the wooden case where a bicycle wheel with a handle protruding from the rim waited. Marcus grabbed the handle and began to spin it in grand circular rotations. The wheel turned another and then another which spun pulleys and various other overly complicated systems which began to haul up the swing. At first it was hard to turn it, but it became easier and easier until eventually Davelron's head was pointing up over the side. "Emilia, come help me will you?"
Davelron's hand, turned white from the muscles it must have been requiring, pulled the drowning man up slightly more and Emilia helped him to pull it over. Davelron pulled himself onto the deck and then Marcus packed up the barnacle swing, joining the others to stare at the body.
"I'm surprised he didn't drown." Marcus laughed. The body was quite large, with a significant swell around his sides. He was wearing chain mail, too, which was evidently weighing him down.
"Don't be rude, the man may be dead." Emilia said.
Davelron's index and middle finger slid around the man's wrist. "I don't think so. Merely comatose."
He stood up. "Emilia, set course for the nearest floating port. We'll seek a Gqirha there."
Marcus still hadn't got use to the speak of the Trident Holders, and it's own unique language.
"It's not a unique language, Marcus." Davelron told him. "It's a variant on some old Earth tone. A Gqirha is what you would call a doctor."
"Oh!" Marcus replied, helping the Trident Holder pull him below board. They put him onto one of the beds in the four person bedroom. It was decided that Emilia and Marcus would sleep in the main crew's quarters, at least until the morning. Davelron wasn't planning to sleep anywhere, but instead stand with the Mechanical Wizard on the deck all day as they ploughed on towards the Floating Port.

Marcus was awoken by the clap of a mooring rope slapping against the deck of the Black Addison.
"Emilia!" He said, nudging her on the sofa from the floor where he lay. "Emilia, wake up!"
Emilia stirred slightly in her sleep, moaning sleepily, and then rolling over, falling off the sofa onto him.
"Ow!" Marcus complained.
Emilia burst out laughing. "Oh my sweet Thinker! Your face!"
"You've been doing that since Uncle Thaddeus got us a bunkbed."
"And yet you continue to fall for it!"
"I think you're the one falling." He laughed.
"Oh, shut up." Emilia replied, climbing up. "You always have to make such bad jokes."
"At least I make jokes."
"You wouldn't realise." Emilia laughed, pulling on her heavy Trident Holder's jacket. "Anyway, why were you in such desperate want of waking me up?"
"Because we've arrived at the Floating Port!"
They both climbed out and walked up the stairs back to the deck. Davelron was on a small jetty, discussing something with a port hand. Beyond him was the Floating City of- according to a large sign welcoming Floating Merchants- Nexelspire. Beyond an armada of moored ships was a large silhouette of wooden buildings projecting out from the wooden platoons. Davelron saw they'd woken and waved.
They waved back and went over to the Mechanical Wizard. When it's gas lit eyes spotted them, the familiar tickering of it's inbuilt typewriter began and it announced several more long pieces of paper. It rolled out of the silver hatch on the front and Emilia took it, reading, "I am currently running low on supplies. Whilst you are in this section of the Quadrant Seas, I require a selection of new Ink Ribbons, at least ten rolls of circular parchment-" She stopped and looked up from the paper. "Good Thinker! This list goes on and on and on!"
"I can imagine." Marcus replied. "Uncle Thaddeus had a penchant for creating things that needed a hell of a lot of material to keep running!"
Davelron leapt back onto the Black Addison and padded over to them. "You two!" He cried. "It looks as if I'm going to have to stay with the boat. Due to being acting Kapteni, I'm not entitled to the boat itself, thus meaning I can't sign the insurance. Wait, I'm boring you. Anyway, long story cut short, I'll have t stay with the old girl. Can you go into Nexelspire to find a Gqirha for me? As well as getting food supplies and anything you two need. Nothing fresh, nothing that can't be preserved easily outside of a fridge. So on, so on. Think you can manage it?"
They both nodded excitedly, took some money and then the crew of the Black Addison strolled into Nexelspire.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Quest for Veridic (part 7)

"You see anything, boy?" First Mate Octavius Davelron shouted, leaning against the side of the ship. His beard, normally rugged and ever flowing, was freshly shaved off with one of the previously lost razor's he'd found in one of the old crew's jacket.
"Not yet." Replied Marcus. He was screwed up into a ball beneath the racks of fans that made up the rear of the boat. There was a thin track beneath that had been designed for a machine to roll along. Two weeks ago, the Black Addison had begun to suffer from technical difficulties and that machine had been the first to stop. "Typical." Emilia had sighed. "The mechanic is always the first thing to break." It had taken them the entirety of those two weeks to pull the fixing machine out, and then they'd given Marcus a spanner and ask him to go in instead, to check for any failure with the fans.
"Keep looking, lad." Davelron replied. "And be quick about it. We can't move until you're out."
"I appreciate that fact." Marcus said, shivering at a story the First Mate had told him. Apparently they'd invented the mechanic device because a young man had attempted to fix a fan whilst they were on and was shredded. "You won't turn it on until I'm out, will you?"
"Depends on how quick you are." Davelron laughed, standing up and making his way down from the raised platform where the wheel was. There was a small shed in the centre of the ship that concealed the stairs down to the crew's quarters, and on the other side they'd set up a table where Emilia was studying a selection of maps.
"Made head or tails of them yet, Emilia?" Davelron asked.
"Sort of." Emilia said. "I can see Vincent, which is here," she prodded a finger out at the island that had once been their home, "and I can tell that the beginning of the central continent is here. But I don't know where we are."
"The location diviner is broken, unfortunately, so we won't know for certain, but I expect we're about half way between."
"That would put us here." She said, pointing at it. "However, that would mean we should be able to see the floating ports."
"But we can't." Davelron said, looking over the side of the boats. There were countless nautical miles of clean, blue water, completely calm, completely still, but no floating port. He turned away as a cloud moved above, allowing the mid day sun to glare against the water.
Tick tick tick tick tick ding! Emilia and Davelron turned to the Mechanical Wizard, a robotic magician who could communicate only by the means of a type writer in it's torso. The ticker tape sentences poured out of the slot on it's front and Davelron pulled it off, reading, "There may be an obscuring mirage."
"I hope so, because I want to step on dry land soon."
Davelron didn't remind her that she wouldn't be doing that anytime soon, seeing that the port was floating and so was, in itself, a massive boat. He simply smiled and then jumped around, his ear's surprised at the sound of the scream from the rear of the boat.
"Help!" Marcus cried and they all raced to the end of the boat, to find him stuck beneath the fans.
"What's wrong?" Davelron cried.
"I've got my leg stuck in between a few of the fans!" Marcus replied.
"Then pull it out." Davelron replied, disappointed. He'd expected something exciting to have happened.
"I can't. It's stuck!"
Emilia sighed. "I told you I should have gone in, rather than him."
"Aye, it would have been a better idea." Davelron replied. "Alas, your shoulders are too broad. Now, think you can knock him loose?"
From the opening toolbox on the deck, Emilia pulled a hammer and grinned. "I don't see why not."

That night, they sat below board, the hatches firmly battened down. A thunderstorm had picked up, driving howling winds through the whirring fans. It sounded slightly like a robot was whistling, a sound that was strangely therapeutic. The sound that was therapeutic, however, was the crash of waves and frothing water against the oak sides of the boat. The Black Addison shook from time to time, but not enough to disrupt it's crew, safely huddled around the bolted down oak table.
The Mechanical Wizard standing sentinel to their side, Davelron handed around small coconut shell bowls of freshly spoiled pasta and sea weed.
"I remember when this was exotic." Emilia said, using a recently found penknife to place another curl of pasta into her mouth.
"Yeah!" Marcus said, smiling reminiscently. "How long ago is that now?"
"Three turns of the moon." Davelron said, then noticed the bemused faces of the rest of the crew. "That's about three months."
"Thank you." Emilia said. "Three months, wow! It doesn't feel like it."
"It feels much longer!" Marcus cried.
"No it doesn't." Emilia protested.
"It does if you suffer from sea sickness."
"I can't remember when I took up the trident." Davelron said, leaning back in his chair. They'd found an armchair floating one day, and so had heaved it aboard and dried it off, taking it below board. Now, every night, Davelron would lean back at the same time and begin to tell some old story about his day as the first mate of the Black Addison. From his belt he pulled a pipe and filled it with leaves from some far off plant called the "Camellia sinensis." Once he'd managed to light a match from his small pouch, he'd sit back and inhale thoughtfully. With the exhale, he'd begin.
"It was a good twenty years ago, or so I seem to remember. I was a merchant's son, living in his Narrow Boat tied loosely to a floating port. Me and my brother Gaius used to scribe the names of all the boats that passed into the port into a remarkably thick note book. We continued the tradition into the latter years of our third decade, by which time our parent's were both dead and we'd renamed the Narrow 'The Free Davelron.'" There was no remorse in his eyes, simply fondness for a time gone by. "One day, a boat like no other entered the port." This man who was so often restrained and quiet in his story telling suddenly leapt from his chair, throwing his arms around. "It was quite brilliant! As large as any barge we'd seen, but on it were the mightiest guns this side of the central continent, but I wasn't interested by them. I was interested by the racks and racks of fans and propellers on the back, pushing the boat through the water. The idea of the engines such as those needed to power the fans," his eyes glazed over with amazement, "well, it was quite inspiring. Me and my brother Gaius decided in an incident that we needed to join the crew. But we were untalented, not natural boat hands beyond the basics. So, what would we do? Well, only one thing. Stow away, of course!
"We got aboard the Black Addison whilst the rest of the crew were searching for food on the floating port."
Tentatively, Marcus raised his hand. "What's a floating port?"
"I've mentioned them in the past." Davelron waved it away as if it meant nothing. "Big cities built aboard buoyant slabs, left to float freely on the ocean. Traders, like my father, would tie themselves to them and then seafaring adventures can pull up at them and buy essentials on the move. Brilliant places. Anyway, we climbed on board the ship and hid in the cell room. The Black Addison spurred into life about two hours later, but the sudden movement trapped the door and locked us in. When the crew eventually found us, we'd starved for a month. They'd laughed, more than anything else. Found it hilarious! Gregory Defaut swearing he'd never have thought it so easy to stowaway aboard his own ship! George Izalathio wondering why nobody had been in the cell for so long! I remember, vividly, Zachary Forsooth complaining that he'd never seen mice so big!" And as usual, the story would end with Davelron on the verge of tears, remembering his old friends.
But there was something different this time, because their sentinel interrupted. Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick ding! They all turned to the Mechanical Wizard and Emilia took the ticker tape words and read them in her head. "That can't be right."
"What?" Davelron asked.
"He's detected life outside."
The First Mate grabbed his trident and kicked open the door and began to charge up the staircase, out onto the deck whilst the other's followed them. He raced to the side and faced his trident to the side of the boat. "Blazing Hell Torrent!" He cried. "There's a man over board!"