Friday, 13 November 2015

Episode CXCVII - Noondeep

"Ellis, wake up.  I think we've arrived."

Siren's voice cut through a murky sea of dreamed half-logic and impossible continuities, dragging Ellis up to surface into hot, filtered daylight, a seatbelt strap cutting into his side and an ache in the small of his back.  He shifted into a more upright position, turned to face his fiancĂ©e and attempted a smile.  It felt lopsided and half-hearted, but Siren returned it with a glorious one of her own - a sunrise to his fading nightscape.

"It looks like you could have used a few hours more," she said, brushing a lock of hair away from his face, "but I think you'll do."  A quick kiss finished the magical resurrection and Ellis began to feel  human once more.

He peered out through the window of the sky-cab to see a vast, empty desert plain stretching off towards the horizon.  It was such a surreal sight on that world of endless streets that he had to do a double take.

"We're still on Shadow, right?" he asked, turning back to Siren.  Annabella, sitting opposite, let out a giggle.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Episode CXCVI - No Hiding Place

"So what do we do now?" Gulliver asked in the silence of the library as he stared around at his companions.  Less than an hour had passed since the Stoneskin siege of the Colony had ended and the vast majority of the angry Colonists had returned to their homes.  There was a palpable sense of relief but also - Gulliver was sure he wasn't the only one feeling it - of anti-climax.

"Research!" declared the Former Baron with confidence and enthusiasm.  "Lots and lots of research!"

"Oh," Gulliver replied gloomily, "wonderful."

"I don't suppose there's anything else for it," Siren observed, "after all, we really don't know very much about these ancients at all."

"We know a little more than I let on, Siren, my dear."

All eyes turned to the old Philosopher.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Episode CXCV - The Rock Cried Out

Sarah breathed a sigh of relief as the Former Baron began speaking, feeling the tension flood out of her so suddenly that, for just a moment, she was on the verge of tears.  She slid down until she was resting against the railing, swallowed hard and blinked away the burning sensation in her eyes.  Frostfire was staring at her.  He hadn't said a thing since she had begun talking to the crowd.

"Just who is this whose returning?" a voice from the crowd shouted.  Sarah didn't look to see who.  She was content enough to listen for the time being.  "Is it Lakhma, or something similar?"

"That's a very good question," Franck replied, "and I'm very glad you asked it, because it means you are at least partially ready to believe what I'm about to say."

Which is what all this has been about, hasn't it Franck? Sarah thought with just a hint of bitterness.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Episode CXCIV - Fire from Above

Sarah looked up the moment she realised that the noise had died down outside.  At first she wasn't sure what had happened, thought that maybe her prayers had been answered very directly indeed, but then she made out Siren's voice, reprimanding the crowd for their actions.

Is she defending me? she thought.

She closed her eyes again, uttered another prayer for guidance and understanding and then, suddenly, she realised what she had to do.

"I have to confront them," she said aloud, then, as the thought came to her, added, "but not on my own.  I still have work to do."

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Episode CXCIII - Mob Mentality

Sarah dashed out into the Sanctuary just in time to see the doors shake once more as whatever was on the other side tried to get in.  The bar which held the doors shut was, like the rest of the church, made from recovered wood from the debris of Shalereef and it wasn't really designed to take such abuse.  Sarah could already see a splintered crack forming in the middle.

Worse than that, much worse, was the sound which followed.  It was the sound of dozens of angry voices - the voices of those Sarah knew and had cared for in the Colony - calling her name and demanding that Frostfire be released to their justice.  Just when Sarah's life seemed like it couldn't get any more exciting and depressing at the same time, or any more like some early-twentieth century horror movie, it appeared that the church was surrounded by an angry, baying mob.

Oh hell, she thought, not even taking the time to correct her language, what am I supposed to do now?  I didn't think any of this through, I...

"We know you're in there, Sarah!" came a loud voice from just beyond the door, "come out, or we'll bash our way in!"

There was another bang against the door and Sarah watched as it shook in its frame, just like her hands were shaking as she drew them together, dropped to her knees and began to pray.  At last.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Episode CXCII - Undercroft Overview

 Ellis did not like to be woken early.  He liked to lie in bed as long as possible, dreaming whatever dreams would come, slipping in and out of lucidity to become master of his imaginary world.  To be interrupted was to lose control.  To be woken was to feel the bubble burst and find that what once was oil-sheen shimmering on the crystal surface, was now residue holding you down.  The sound of the door banging - an infuriating rhythm out of step with the music of a party just a few moments before - came again and Ellis rolled over.

Siren was stirring beside him, a look of confusion and anger forming slowly on her face, but even so it was a pleasing sight.  He rubbed his eyes, gave her the least energetic of smiles and then rolled out of bed to scrabble around for something half-decent to wear.

"Who do you suppose it could be at this hour?" Siren asked as she cinched the belt around the waist of her trousers and straightened up her loose assortment of blades.

"I have no idea," the knocks came again, even more insistent this time, "but it's clear that they aren't going away any time soon."

They opened the door together, staring out into the morning half-light to see a miserable-looking militiaman standing in the ashes at the bottom of their steps.

"Markus?" Siren demanded, "What in Lakhma's name are you doing here!?"

Ellis had to repress a shudder at Siren's loose use of the elder god's name.  He still wasn't sure they had really seen the last of it.

"The Former Baron sent me," the young guard said nervously, "he wants you over at Tentacle Lane immediately!"

"Whatever for?" Ellis asked.

"There's been an... incident," Markus replied sheepishly, "Sarah she... well... Frostfire is..."

"Oh no," Ellis moaned, "she's done something stupid, hasn't she... this is all our fault."

"Nonsense, Ellis," Siren reprimanded, "if Sarah has interfered with the prisoner then she has no one to blame but herself."

For some reason Markus appeared to stand up straighter as she said that.  Ellis had no idea how Siren managed it, but she really was a born leader.

"Anyway," she continued with a sigh, "we'd better hurry and see what Franck intends us to do about it.  Lead on, Markus!"

The militiaman saluted, something which seemed to surprise even him, then did a parade turn and marched off down the street toward the remains of Tentacle Lane and the Former Baron's ramshackle demesne.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Episode CXCI - The Darkest Hour

It had been two days.  Two long days and even longer nights of dread and anticipation, of anxiety and determination, of guilt and of righteous indignation.  Two days and nights of battle along the wall, of Stoneskin war cries echoing over the rooftops, of the sound of guns rattling away without end.  Two days since Frostfire was locked away 'for the good of the Colony'.  Two days since Sarah understood the depths of her friends' betrayal.

She had prayed about it, of course, seeking divine wisdom on how to proceed, asking for the strength to forgive, and when that seemed impossible, for mercy upon her own soul.  How many hours had she knelt by her window?  How many times had she  prayed, 'Father, help me!'?  How many times had her words run dry, only for her tears to take over?  Tepid drops of sorrow and grief turned into scalding tears of rage.

She had avoided the others as much as she could, going out of her way to do so if necessary.  At one point, not long after Frostfire had been incarcerated, Ellis had turned up at the church with those hateful words, "I can explain", spilling from his lips, but Sarah had just turned away.  She hadn't been ready to hear them, nor could she cope with the look of shame in his puppy eyes.  She knew that wasn't how it was supposed to be.  She knew that when someone came to her with genuine remorse, perhaps even with a genuine reason, she should be willing to listen and to forgive, but it didn't matter what she knew.  It was too much to ask.

Theophilus had tried to help, of course.  He had been with her for much of the first day, counselling, offer support, quoting bible verses from his daily readings.  Sarah thanked him for it, but she had not really listened.  In truth, she could not bear to hear it and, in the end, he had slithered away telling her that he would pray.

Well, Sarah had had enough of praying.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Episode CXC - Through Glass

The wind sang and Rockspark listened.  It was a strange melody: sad and low, yet interspersed with energetic trills; equal parts raw, howling fury and long, mournful sighs.  No two notes followed the same pattern, and in that sense it was chaotic, yet it seemed more the song of a disquiet soul than the cold music of a dispassionate and cruel universe.

The sun was setting, and as it did so the light was transformed to match the melody; refracted and diffracted, reflected and diffused to pierce the eye with spears of gold, yet drown the landscape in muted colours: jade, amber, violet.

The district of Purefeather.  It was once a paradise of crystalline towers and glass bridges soaring over canals of the clearest water, and yet there had been nothing sterile about it.  Instead it had been verdant, with shaded gardens on every rooftop, each pulsing with colour, so overflowing with life that more often than not it spilled over the sides to trail fluted flowers down towards the canal.  Dew-gemmed petals kissing shimmering glass, mirrored in waters mountain fresh: that was the Purefeather of Legend.

But no longer, indeed, Purefeather, like Blackfeather, Ashfeather and Frostfeather before it, had been a deserted district for several millennia.  Now its towers stood only as pinnacles of shattered glass, its gardens rotted away to nothing or desiccated into friable memories of their former selves.  The waterways had dried up, or become clogged with silt and debris and all that was left of the once-majestic district was a wasteland of crystal and dust.

And yet, it was still so beautiful.  Rockspark could not take his eyes off it from the moment he had crested the mountains that had hidden it from view.  The people who lived atop those peaks had eyed him with not-unexpected suspicion, but, as he gazed out across the glittering emptiness beneath, one had stood beside him for a time: an older man whose work-callused hands rubbed the small of his back as he took it all in.

“I never tire of it,” was all he had said, but it was enough.  Rockspark understood completely.