Friday Flash: Shadow Pilgrim

So, I’m doing something a little different, this week, for T.S. Bazelli’s Author Aerobics: I’m telling a story set in the same world as the story I wrote last week.  It’s not a direct continuation, but the two tales are related.  Here was this week’s challenge:

Write a story (1000 words or less) that involves multiple layers of conflict. This week’s theme: “shadows”.

At 1,262 words, this one is longer than the first story set in this world.  And as with last week, this week I still feel like I’m touching on something that could be good, but I didn’t quite grasp it.  Anyway, I’ll let you all be the judge of:

Shadow Pilgrim

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

Marobi descended the dimly lit stairs into the heart of the Kaimbodi Shadow Shrine.  His bare feet flapped against the damp paving stones set loosely in the wet soil.  He reached out his hands to steady himself, brushing the earthen walls formed by the deep roots of Kaimbodi, the brightwood tree that sheltered the shadow shrine.  At irregular intervals the roots glowed faintly with a warm, yellow light that threw strange shadows down the long, narrow stairs.  Continue reading

Friday Flash: Bright Hands

I don’t know if this is my strongest piece ever, it was a little experimental (on my part) and a little rushed (under the circumstances, vis-a-vis having virus-interrupted access this week), but here’s my answer to this week’s Author Aerobics challenge:

This week’s challenge: Write an action scene (1000 words or less). The theme “light”.

I wasn’t really clear on my direction, in this story.  I was struck by the idea in the opening paragraph, so I just kind of ran with it.  Frankly, for an action scene, I could do better…

Bright Hands

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

Taruth reached out and grabbed a beam of light.  It pulsed and writhed in his hands, glowing warm and incandescent.  Around him, beams and shards of light were dancing, shimmering, exploding.  The battle was not going well.  He ducked, gripping the beam tightly, trying to find a little cover in the long grass.  His hands worked quickly.  He bent the beam of light in his hands, twisted it, weaving it into a long oval shape, nearly the length of his body.  A shield.  Another shaft of light became a long spear. Continue reading

Friday Flash: Kathryn’s Child

This week, T.S. Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” challenge is on internal monologues.  Here it is:

This week’s challenge: Write a piece of fiction (1000 words or less) that includes moments of internal dialogue. The theme: “fireworks”.

Well, after two straight epic-fantasy stories and a contemporary fantasy story, last week I decided I’d put up something a little more sci-fi for my next short story.  And thus, this story.  At first, I didn’t have any particular purpose to this story, but as I wrote it, I decided I wanted to set it in the space opera-themed world I had created several years ago that I called, at the time, “The Alchemist” (and that I don’t currently call anything, yet).  How this story fits in with that setting, I’m unsure.  Several elements in this story didn’t appear in my original write-ups.  Anyway, I’ll get out of the way, now, and let you read.  It’s a tiny bit shorter than what I’ve been doing lately – only 1,066 words – and I’m calling it:

Kathryn’s Child

By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.

“Time for the fireworks to begin.”  Kathryn gazed through the wide window at the tiny red, yellow and brown orb suspended in a sea of blackness beneath her.   In the distance, a pale red light glimmered, the shell of a dying star.  Doctor Vanwick shuffled his feet on the deck beside her. Continue reading

Flash Fantasy: From That Eternal Summer Isle

Okay, the theme of Bazelli’s “Author Aerobics” this week was a tad too irresistable.  As soon as I read her post, I had an opening line in mind.  Shortly thereafter followed the main character.  It took only a little longer to come up with the situation.  I’m still really busy with school and related challenges, so this is kind of cheating.   But the idea stuck, so here we are.

The challenge was thus:

“Show, don’t tell.” You hear it over and over again. It’s one of the most often quoted ‘rules of writing’, but pick any novel off your shelf, and you’ll find that the authors do not just show, they also tell. Perhaps the reason that we’re encouraged to “show” is because, in unskilled hands, telling can be badly done.

This week’s challenge: Write a piece of short fiction (1000 words or less) that involves ‘good’ telling. The theme for this week: “afterlife.”

That being the case, I present to you another little fantasy flash piece, clocking in at 1,076 words, entitled:

From That Eternal Summer Isle

By: Stephen Watkins

The sky was blue on the day I died.  That came as some surprise.  Not so much that the sky was blue, but that I died.  Or that I was able to remark on the color of the sky at all.

I’ve never  been one to believe in the afterlife.  Nor in the gods, or any of that other claptrap.  Maybe I’ve spent too much time with the humans. Continue reading

A Taste of Fantasy

I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to participate in these Author Aerobics exercises being posted by T. S. Bazelli on her blog, but I decided to participate this week, at least.  (I say I’m not sure because the situation on the home-front may evolve such that I might need to take a short break from regular daily blog updates, for a little while, to focus my attention on things there or for school.)

Anyway, this week’s challenge was a dialogue punctuation excercise, asking us to utilize a number of different dialogue tags and punctuation.  Which means, of course, that the story would largely involve a lot of talking.  Oh, and we were asked to touch on the theme of “spring” (with the sly suggestion at the end that this could mean “the season” or “the coil”… or something else, entirely).  I decided to pass on another shot at a steampunk (it’s too soon), as much as I enjoyed the last one, and go straight for a little mythology-inspired fantasy that actually arose from pondering both the word “Niflheim” and the antecedent of spring: winter.

So, a couple notes: yes the dialog is a little archaic and stilted.  It reflects the mood I was in after reading a few wikipedia entries on norse mythology.  I also struggled with adding “The End”, because this doesn’t really feel like the end of a story, but the end of a chapter.  I contemplated using the phrase “The End?” with a question mark, but decided that was a little silly looking.  I contemplated not putting “The End” at the end.  Ultimately, though, I’ve no idea if I’ll ever return to the world described in this short tale, so for now “The End” is appropriate.

I call this 1,004-word taste of fantasy (woohoo, almost in the word-limit!):

From the Farthest North

By: Stephen Watkins

“No,” he said.  “The law is the law.  I will not allow it to be broken, not even by you.”  Ingurd turned away from his impetuous son to gaze out at the thick banks of snow visible in the pale moonlight.

Hulfur Ingurdson would not be deterred.  “Do you want our village to die, father!  Our food will not last.  The spring has abandoned us, and we will all perish unless we do something!”

Ingurd turned on his son, a fire in his eye.  “Do not lecture me, boy!  Our laws have kept us safe for generations.  You cannot conceive of what is out there, of what I’ve—“

“Peace, Ingurd,” Snorri interrupted, holding his hand up in a gesture of conciliation.  “Allow me to speak to the boy, to explain again our law, so that he can understand.  The winter,” he said, turning his attention to Hulfur, “has always come.  And it has always ended.  And with the coming of the winter, there have always been the Niflurmur, who feed on men’s souls.  You have thought that they were legends, but there was a time when their attacks on Holdur Thyul were relentless. 

“That was before we built the wall.  And that was before the Law of Winter.  None can go outside the walls, as long as Winter’s claw grips the land.  Any who goes out is Lost, for we cannot risk the touch of the Worms of Nifhel here in Holdur Thyul.  When the spring thaw melts the mantel of winter, then we are safe, for the Niflurmur always retreat to Niflhimor with the retreat of winter.”

“But what if the winter will not retreat?” Hulfur pressed.  “It has been six turns of the moon since Deepwinter’s Night.  The spring is past due by at least two turns.  This winter…” He cast his glance over the wall toward the heavy drifts of snow, ghostly in the pallid light.  A raven settled at the peak of the wooden palisade and squawked once.  “This winter will not end…”

Ingurd turned again from his son, scowling, and shooed the raven away.  Snorri frowned momentarily before answering Hulfur.  “The winter always ends, Hulfur.  The spring always comes.  It has been thus ever since our people came out of Mitlhimor to this northern land.  The spring comes, and then we will plant.”

Hulfur sighed.  Snorri was a skaald.  He was the keeper of the history and the laws of Holdur Thyul.  These were things he would know.  He glanced at Ingurd, who kept stoic watch over the winter-gripped forest beyond the palisade walls of Holdur Thyul.

“You would be wise to listen to the boy.” 

Ingurd started at the sudden voice.  He gazed over the heavy drifts, from which the voice had sounded.  “Who… who dares—“

A figure stepped from the shadows of the woods, covered in a long dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat.  Ingurd swore a curse.  “By the din of Vyolnir!”  He turned to sound the alarm.

The stranger raised his hand in a gesture of peace, striding toward the walls.  “Hold your alarm, I am no Worm of Nifhel.”

Ingurd growled. “Hold yourself, stranger.  Whether you be Niflurmur or no, I cannot tell, but you’ll not cross the gates of Holdur Thyul this night.”

The stranger smiled, and his hand disappeared into his cloak.  “I will wait here, then, in the shadows of your walls, until my message is heard.”

“What message is worth hearing in the cold of winter?”

“You fool, Ingurd Baldurson.  You cower behind your wall as the reach of Nifhel grows longer and tighter over Mitlhimor.  Do you think your walls can hold back the ravages of winter?  Do you think that you can hide from Nifhel’s gaze here, at the very steps to Nifhel’s Gate?  The boy is right.  The time for bold action has come.”

Ingurd eyed the stranger, wondering how the man knew his name.  “Who are you, stranger, that you come here and speak so, that you walk about in the depths of winter as though you have no fear of Nifhel?”

The raven settled on the stranger’s left shoulder as he produced a deep chuckle.  “A fool only has no fear of Nifhel’s might, but a fool also who goes about in winter unequipped to deal with Nifhel’s minions.”   The raven on his shoulder squawked again.  “I am called Gylfar, and I will deliver my message.

“Know this, Ingurd Baldurson, and Snorri Sturlungson, and all you of Holdur Thyul: the Twilight is at hand, and the Ashur move again in the Middle Realms.  The Bane of Turun stirs in the deep, and the Fell Fang is abroad, wreaking death and havoc.  You, Snorri, know that these are the signs of the Twilight. 

“But the Lords of the Ashur, the Ragna, will not let the long night fall without sending their might against Lukur and his consort, Nifhel.  The call has gone forth to gather the armies of men against that dark day.  Vyolnir, the Hammer of Turun, has been raised in the city of Fallsgard.  There, the princes of all of Mitlhimor wait for the sound of the horn, and for the Nine to come down from the Farthest North.”

“The Nine from the Farthest North?” Snorri interrupted.  “All these things are spoken of in the Elder Songs.  But surely you don’t mean—“

“Holdur Thyul,” Gylfar nodded, “is the Farthest North.  The last village of men before the Gates of Nifhel.”  He pulled his hand from the depths of his cloak.  The raven took flight, cawing loudly, as he held up a small, shining object.  “Behold the Eye of Othar!”

Hulfur gazed in awe as the stranger was engulfed in an intense light that made the night as day.  An Ashling!  One who had been touched by the Ashur, and carried their power.  Hulfur turned to his father, who looked humbled by this display. 

The stranger spoke again.  “Eight you must send forth, lead by Hulfur Ingurdson.  I will be the Ninth.”

The End.

Some Steampunk Fiction

Fellow writer-in-training T.S. Bazelli, over on her blog, has started up an occassional fiction writing prompt meant to excercise certain fundamental writing skills that’s called “Author Aerobics”.  I’ve decided to participate when I can, so in accordance with that, here’s the first dose of genuine fiction written by your’s truly.

The assignment was this:

In 1000 words or less, write a piece of fiction that includes all the elements of the 3 act structure, including at least one crisis in the rising action. To make things more interesting use the word “zeppelin” somewhere in the story…

…There’s only one rule: set a time limit.

Throwing the word “zeppelin” up there to get the creative juices rolling got me this little story.  The only problem is that I totally blew the word-count limit (it clocks in at almost exactly 2,000 words), and it took me a bit more than just one lunch break sitting to type it up – more time than I’d set for myself.

It’s a highly flawed piece – the characterization is weak, the ending is not particularly satisfying, and it’s not especially original.  As such, I have no immediate plans to spruce it up into something more publishable.  But, so that you can get a taste of my writing (albeit not at my peak), here is your first sample of my work, a little steampunk tale I call:

The Last Flight of the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance

By: Stephen Watkins

Leda watched as Captain Davney Ellory took the telescope from Saxwith and peered through it out the central window of the bridge.  Leda was done fixing the Engine Order Telegraph, but she was still tinkering with the controls, to give her a reason to stay on the bridge.  She liked being on the bridge; this was where the real action was!  Captain Ellory harrumphed, and lowered the telescope.  Leda followed his gaze to the horizon, where three black dots chugged on a course toward the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.  The Lord Winstead’s Vigilance was a dirigible, an aging battlecruiser stationed out on the frontiers of the United Principalities of Alberot, patrolling the demilitarized zone.  It was a rust bucket, yeah, but Leda was proud to serve on it.  It was her rust bucket.

“An armored cruiser,” the captain confirmed, “And two destroyers.  Markovian marks.  They’re no more than a dozen aeronauts from the demilitarized zone.  They’re flirting with breaking the armistice.”

“They’re no match for the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance, sir.” Saxwith pulled herself up haughtily.

“Individually, no, Leftenant Saxwith.  Together, they’d easily overpower us.  Put the ship on alert.” 

Saxwith nodded and  starting barking into the voicetubes, sounding general quarters.

“Captain,” Leftenant Arbery warned, “They’re signaling.”  The Markovian ships were closer, now.  Leda could just make out their profile.  And she could see the flashes of light, blinking in a pattern unknown to her, coming from the lead vessel.

“Take it down, Leftenant Arbery.”

Arbery confirmed the order, and pulled out a sheet of paper and began taking down the complex pattern.  As it began to repeat, he went back and translated, then gasped.

“Captain, they’re demanding our surrender!”

Ellory swore, and swiped up the telescope again.  “Damn, they’ve crossed into the demilitarized zone.”  He glanced back at Saxwith.  “Hold course steady, but ready the guns.”  Saxwith nodded, and grabbed the handle of the Engine Order Telegraph.  At that moment, a whistle sounded from the voice tubes, then a garbled voice.  “Crumwell to bridge.  Trouble in the engine room.  We’ve blown a gasket on the main boiler.  Send Tensbit to engineering, on the double.”

Saxwith glanced at Leda to ensure she’d heard the command, and Leda nodded before turning to the portside.  Leda raced down the ladder into the engineering hold, in the bowels of the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.  As soon as she passed the bulkhead door, she was confronted with a wall of steam, smoke, ash and soot clogging the engine room.  She waded into the thick miasma, coughing and trying to clear her path by waving her arm.  She could see the bright orange glow from the furnace, and there were Haddock and Whir, the stokers, still shoveling coal.

“What in the name of burning Tarshish do you think you’re doing?”  Leda was Engineer’s Assistant, so she could pull rank on the stokers.

“What’s it bloody look like we’re doing?” barked Haddock.  “We shovel coal, that’s our job!”

“Shoveling coal when the main boiler’s blown a gasket?  You want this rig to explode?”

Haddock blinked.  Leda growled, then jerked her hand in a get-thee-behind-me gesture.  “Come on, let’s find Rubet and get this turbine rolling again.”  Leda swam deeper into the Engine room, and found the main shut-off valve on the central boiler.  She could feel the heat from the furnace through her leather work gloves as she grabbed the valve.  It was stuck, but she threw her shoulder into it, and Whir came up to help.  In a moment, they’d thrown the valve, and the steam began to clear.  As it cleared, she could see Rubet Crumwell’s legs sticking out of a hole in the side of the central turbine, wiggling.  He pushed himself up and out of the hole and settled his heavy frame on the deck, tapping the side of his head with a massive wrench.

“About got this problem figured out, no thanks to you, Tensbit.”  He looked back toward the gaping hole, then stuffed his wrench back in.  “You’re late by the way.  You were due back a half hour ago.”

Leda suppressed a blush, but offered no explanation.   “See here,” Crumwell ordered, “Tighten down that clamp on the boiler.  We’ve got to get this turbine spinning, else we’re dead in the air.”

As Leda headed over back to the boiler, the Engine Order Telegraph sounded with three loud rings.  The reader read “All Ahead Full”.

“See now!” Crumwell barked, “Hurry with the gasket on that boiler.  Cap’n wants power!”  Haddock and Whir hopped to help Leda pull out the broken piece of piping and replace the damaged gasket.  Before she got it sealed, the E.O.T. rang again, reading “Back Emergency”.

“Cap’n’s ordering evasive maneuvers!” Crumwell shouted.  “What’s going on up there?”

“Three Markovy ships bearing down on us!” Leda shouted back as she finished tightening the clamps.  She pointed and Haddock and Whir threw open the main valve as Crumwell set the turbine in reverse.    The zeppelin lurched as the turbine roared to life. “Looks bad!  Cap’n says we’re outgunned!” 

To punctuate her remarks, the armored zeppelin began to shake as artillery shells started exploding all around.  Then there was the deafening thump, thump of return fire.  Crumwell swore as the artillery barrage continued.  With each detonation, the engine room rattled.  Loose tools and materials started clanging to the floor, and Leda’s newly replaced gasket groaned.  “We can’t take much of this!” Crumwell yelled, “She’s falling apart!”  The look in his eyes said much more. He’d served on the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance since her maiden voyage.  For all Leda was proud to serve on her, this rig really was Crumwell’s.  But he’d not had the engineering staff he’d needed to maintain the venerable old ship since the armistice.  It was killing him to watch the Lord Winstead suffering so.

Leda ducked in time to dodge the blown rivets as her gasket job shook loose after a near-impact. The engine room began filling with steam again.

Then, as quickly as the barrage began, everything fell silent, except for the straining of the turbine and the whistling of the steam.  Then a voice sounded from outside the hull, in thickly accented Albish, ordering the vessel to prepare for boarding.  A moment later, the Lord Winstead shuddered as the boarding gangplank made contact.

“Hurry,” Crumwell waved Leda, Haddock, and Whir toward the back of the engine room.  “Into the air ducts.  They try to take the Engine, I’ll hold them off, here!”  Leda nodded as she climbed onto the back of an equipment bin and lead Haddock and Whir into the ducts.  As he lowered the vent cover, Leda watched for a moment as Rubet Crumwell dashed back to the furnace and started stoking the coal hot and high.  Leda turned on all fours and lead the way down the duct pipes.

“Where we going?” asked Whir.

“To the armory.”  Said Leda.  “We won’t let them have this ship without a fight!”  There were soldiers on board, of course, but Leda’d be damned if she let them be the only thing standing between the Markovian shock troops and mastery of the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.

The ducts were like a maze, but Leda’d done enough work on them to know her way.  She’d inspected nearly every inch of them in her time on the Lord Winstead.  Within minutes she’d lead Haddock and Whir to the armory, where she opened the vent and took a glance around.    As she’d hoped, the coast was clear.  The Lord Winsead’s armory was in an unconventional place for an Alberot battlecruiser, she had been drawn up on an experimental design that never caught on during the Albo-Markovy war, so Leda reasoned it would take the Markovian troops a while to find and secure it. She dropped lithely into the armory, followed by the loud klumps of Haddock and Whir.

Leda quickly secured a couple Prowith rifles and armed the stokers, then rummaged around a bit for the proper size shot.  She found a small pistol and tucked in her tool belt.  She grabbed another Prowith for herself, then shouldered up to the armory bulkhead door.  She threw the latch slowly, and peered out into the hall.  She signaled quiet to Haddock and Whir as she caught site of a dozen Markovian troops marching Captain Ellory, his Leftenants, and a few disarmed ship’s guard away from the quarterdeck.  She cocked the rifle, then stepped carefully out into the hall, behind the Markovian soldiers.  She didn’t wait to see if the stokers followed her.  She’d only handled a rifle a few times in her career.  But all hands on an Alberot aeronautical vessel are required to take training in marksmanship, and Leda found the memory of what to do rushing back to her.  She took aim and fired into the backs of the Markovy men.  Honor be damned!  They’d broken the armistice and boarded her ship!

The corridor quickly filled with smoke as Leda and the stokers fired off another round and the surviving Markovians  turned and opened fire.  Leda dropped to the deck floor, pulling out her pistol as the captured Alberot men turned on the Markovian and wrestled their rifles away.

The firefight was over as quickly as it began.  Leda pushed herself up from the deck, then saluted sharply as Ellory broke away from his officers to inspect her and the stokers.

“Fine work, Tensbit.” He complimented her.

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’m afraid, though, that the Markovians have us at a disadvantage.  We’re heavily damaged, and escape will be difficult, perhaps impossible.”  The look on his face was grave.

“Of course sir.”

Then Ellory grinned fiercely.  “But we’re Alberot people, in His Majesty’s service.  Never let a little thing like certain failure get in the way of our service!  Let’s see if we can regain control of my ship!”

“Yes sir!” Leda smiled as she saluted again then fell in alongside Ellory’s officers.  Ellory lead the way back down the corridor, while Arbery and Saxwith stopped off to gather more rifles at the armory.

The deck groaned as Ellory and Leda marched toward the crew quarters, then a loud crack shook the whole ship.  An explosive boom reverberated against the bulkheads, and the armloads of rifles Arbery and Saxwith had collected clattered to the deck floor.  Another explosion sounded, followed by another crack.  Leda lost her balance and fell as Ellory, Haddock, and Whir collided against the bulkheads.

“No!” shouted Leda.  “By Tarshish!  Rubet’s overstoked the furnace!  He’s going to blow up the whole ship!”

“Damn!” snarled Ellory.  A klaxon warning sounded, and a frank Markovian voice began yelling orders.  Though Leda didn’t speak Markovian, she knew enough to recognize a general order to abandon ship.

Ellory turned about and led the group down a side-hall.  “Looks like the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance is going down.  We’ll make for the escape skiffs.”

They passed another patrol of Markovian troops, but they hurried on without a second glance.  Smaller explosions continued to wrack the body of the dying zeppelin.  Ellory held the hatch as Leda, Saxwith, Arbery, Haddock, Whir, and the guards trundled into the small escape skiff.  Ellory was last to enter the skiff before pulling the hatch closed.  Leda climbed to the aft to start loosing the rigging tying the skiff to the Lord Winstead, while Arbery started loosing the rigging on the bow.  Ellory ordered the aerosail deployed, and in moments the skiff was away from shuddering dirigible.  Leda glanced out the starboard porthole.  The Lord Winstead’s Vigilance was engulfed in flames, and the Markovian ships were now moving to put daylight between them and the burning ship.  Nobody moved to give chase to the escaping skiff.

“That’s that,” sighed Ellory, “So much for the Versadian Accord.  So much for the armistice.”  He turned to the remnants of his crew.  “We’ll land the skiff comfortably in Alberot territory, where we’ll be picked up by His Majesty’s Army.  I want to thank you each for your faithful service on the Lord Winstead’s Vigilance.”

The end.