This is a Science Fantasy novella; it is complete and I will post it in parts over the next couple of months. I will forego my normal apology regarding quality and let those of you drunk enough to bother form your own opinions. Also, I will make a complete copy available once the entire thing is up. To head off confusion, I will be selling it, but, of course, you can read it here for free- for now. I have reopened comments so as you can get your troll on, or whatever, I'm into it. Note- the copy editing is far superior to what I normally post.
Beyond The Leaning City
Droon Comes Ashore
Vissel Droon, bearer of four sores, both holy and pristine, sailed for twenty days over seas calm and rough, clear and misted, in an open boat carved from a single tooth of the great Icyarch.
Droon came ashore in a crescent shaped bay lined with spires of amber stone and floored with a bed of whispering, green sand. He left the holy sloop to wallow in the jubilant froth of the four-moon tide, and proceeded inland, plunging deep into the purple vastness of Mordann Wood.
Not without purpose, Droon wandered the woodland for twenty days more, slowly making his way towards Xiang-Xiang, the leaning city.
Late the afternoon of the twenty-first day, barely five medspens from the leaning city, Droon, at last, found the object of his quest
Ignoring both instinct and experience, Kal eased across the wide clearing. Further away from the city, in the forest deep, he might well have exercised more caution, and skirted the edge of the open space, but so close now to his goal, he cared only for speed.
Sursha, and the rapture of their coming reunion occupied the whole of his thoughts. Once he reached the city, he would need to find the proper reunion gift; his hands clenched in agitation at the thought of the expense, but without a gift, there would be no reunion, or, at least, not one at which he would care to be in attendance.
Fording through the tall, azure grass, the late afternoon sun kissing his golden skin, Kal considered the possibilities. Xiang-Xiang's marketplace was a wondrous place, offering a vast assortment of precious items and minor treasures to the discerning buyer; and with the approach of the Five-moon festival it would only be more so-
A thrill ran along Kal's spine, and down the length of his tail.
Too quiet...being watched.
Without slowing his pace, he surreptitiously canted his head, gazing sidelong at the southern edge of the clearing.
Behind him, to the north, something huge exploded out of the bush. The noise and unexpected direction of the disturbance gave Kal a terrible start; he leapt straight up into the air, making a girlish noise of fright.
He came down, tail stiff and hair spiking away from his head in every direction. Turning towards the charging beast- a giant, purple sslaur- he let loose a second yelp of fright, and, without further hesitation, fled to the trees at the southern edge of the clearing, the beast fast on his heels.
Kal leapt for, and caught, a low branch; moving hand to hand to tail, he shot up into the trees. As he vanished into the bush, the giant sslaur trumpeted its hunger and frustration. Kal increased his pace.
Winded, and well away from the clearing and the danger, Kal paused on a branch, high above the forest floor, and breathed. Relieved, he laughed; but, as his heart slowed and the sweat of his exertion dried upon his skin, relief fast turned- as he thought of the squealing noise of fright he'd made- to humiliation, and then, more quickly still, to ire.
After a brief moment's angry consideration he turned back towards the clearing.
Once he reached the place, Kal looked out from the cover of the forest. The sslaur milled around the center of the meadow, blunt head rooting dejectedly through the long grass, sunlight glinting along the magenta scales of its dorsal ridge.
Kal reached into his side-pouch and drew forth a black, rubber glove. At his belt he wore a boxy little static caster; he unlimbered the weapon's crank and turned it three times; a high-pitched whine accompanied the action.
The sslaur raised its head at the noise, baring huge yellow teeth.
Kal stepped out from beneath the trees.
"Over here, you great stupid, smelly-"
The sslaur charged. The turf shook and the grass trembled. Drool streamed out behind the beast in long, viscous strings.
When the beast drew so close that Kal could make out the individual scales on its blunt ended snout, he raised his black-gloved hand. He held the 'caster's contact tine, which connected to the crank box via a long and silver cable. Waiting a heartbeat further, he flipped the release toggle.
Lightning seared the air.
Looking down at the clearing, Vissel Droon watched as the small, gold skinned creature walked away from the sslaur's smoking corpse.
The little one's initial flight had been nothing if not adept, but its return and subsequent reengagement of the giant predator could only be categorized as foolish. Very foolish.
Smiling, Droon withdrew the gleaming ovoid of the Lurr from his pouch. Looking into its shining surface, he said, seemingly to no one, "I have found what I have sought. Soon will commence the first sacrifice."
Rolling the Lurr in his open palm, Droon scanned the surrounding vegetation, sniffed the air, and tasted the coalescing moss-mist.
He detected nothing.
Certain he was alone and unthreatened, he lowered himself and sat bunch-limbed on the sod; chanting and rocking, he made the final preparations: sharpened all four of his sacred knives; brushed his head with the blessed membrane of permiance; and dropped the silver oval of the Lurr into the center of his quivering brain.
After giving final thanks to the Icyarch for the honor he was about to receive, Vissel Droon lifted himself from the ground and set out.
-Being watched again.
Kal looked behind him. Seeing nothing beyond the packed market, he shook off the feeling and returned his attention to the jeweler and his wares.
"How much for this one?" Kal said, shouting to make himself heard. The sky of the approaching evening would hold only four moons, but already revelers packed every street in narrow laned Xiang-Xiang. Their presence overwhelmed his senses; body stink and crowd noise both hovered over the street, held tight and close, by slouching walls and leaning, garland draped archways.
The afternoon was on the wane; Kal had entered the city less than an hour before. Exhausted, he wished only to make his way home, but dared not without a reunion gift for Sursha...
The jewelry seller, a purple scaled, crag faced, swollen lipped cephalopod, looked at him, slit-eyed, and then at the pendant. He seemed to sense Kal's desperation.
"For you- Twenty Zorms."
"Twenty, I'll give you-hey-" Kal was jostled from behind by the pulsing crowd. "Ten," he said, fighting the press. He flashed all his fingers twice, and then held up the additional two.
The dealer released a short and wet chortling sound.
Kal tossed the pendant onto the counter; he had something fresh and full of stinging wit to say; something that would scathe the shopkeeper, perhaps enough to garner a lower price. Smirking, his tail held in an attitude of patronizing, comic irreverence, he said "My good-"
Hands grasped at his shoulders and waist; there followed a flurry of motion. Hauled away from the jeweler’s booth and out onto the Boulevard of One Thousand Flowers, Kal thrashed and struggled.
After a frantic, kicking, and writhing instant Kal broke free and rolled away from his assailant. Beings scrambled, scuttled, crawled, and hopped away from him.
Still off balance, Kal tumbled into the jewelry stall, knocking it over. He pushed away from the wreckage. Ringed by a shocked and silent crowd, he stood alone in the center of the street.
Something howled. Above. Kal looked up.
The creature balanced on the rail of a second story walkpath was, discounting the length of its lashing tail, twice Kal's size. Sticky fluid seeped over clacking mandibles set beneath a huge and shimmering, transparent skull. Four ugly welts stood out on the thing's naked and slime slick chest. Knives gleamed in four hands. Two venous and corded legs bunched to jump.
The crowd dispersed in a panicked rush.
The creature pounced. Kal jumped away. Knife points scraped and sparked, stone chips sliced the air. Kal dodged a second, slashing assault, rolled under a merchant's cart, and scrambling away from the street, thrust a questing hand into his belt pouch.
The creature wheeled and stamped around the plaza, tail snapping the air and lashing the stones. It slashed out at the frightened remnants of the crowd with its curved knives. Sticky, glistening fluid coursed from its mouthparts and pooled on the street. Terrified, shoppers and costermongers stampeded, smashing stalls and carts, and one another, in a frenzied effort to escape. Coins and goods rolled, bounced and smashed into the street.
Kal found the glove, pulled it on and rolled out from under the cart.
The creature whipped around to face him; its shimmering head jiggled like a disease-swollen teat. It screamed; ropy drool spooled out its mouth.
Kal spun the caster's crank with his bare hand, uncoiling the cable with black wrapped fingers.
The jellyhead hurled its knives aside and leapt, arms outstretched, talons scintillating in the dusty light of late afternoon.
Kal extended his arm out from his body, aimed the two tined contact, turned his eyes away, and flipped the activation toggle.
A bolt of white light leapt from the contact points and scorched the air; transfixed, the jellyhead jerked and twitched; blue fire raged beneath its skin; joints popped, bones ruptured; the creature tumbled to the ground; its transparent head exploded, transformed into a dazzling gout of smoking mucus.
The bolt flickered out.
Steaming-wet, silver and egg-shaped, something rolled to a stop at Kal's feet. Without hesitation he scooped up the thing and dropped it into his side-pouch.
The remnants of the crowd stood still and quiet, staring, attempting to understand.
Several shop awnings had been set alight by the discharge of the static caster. For many seconds the only noise on the street was the crackle of-
The crowd came awake, screaming, far louder than before.
Smoke was thick on the street. Beings of every sort dashed about, locked onto courses of frenzied panic. The chime of the city's fire-gong cut across the noise of their frenzy.
"Who's going to fix? To pay?" The jewelry dealer stood amongst the ruins of his booth.
He looked at Kal and took a step forward.
Kal noted a sufficiently theatrical swirl of smoke, stepped into it, and disappeared.
He paused on a rooftop a few blocks away, and examined the silver artifact. It was covered with glyphs and inlaid with round jewels. Whatever else it might be, it would make the perfect reunion gift for Sursha, and at no cost beyond an inconsequential, little scuffle. For what more could one ask?
He dropped the object back into his pouch; and after watching, distracted, as several fire brigades hurried past on the avenue below, made his way down to Troublecox Landing, where he boarded the late-day ferry for Zimtur Isle. During the crossing, he idly watched the smoke from the market fire as it puffed and wandered into the darkening sky.