Friday, June 28, 2013

Beyond the Leaning City: Part 4

Well my wife came home from her vacation and helped me figure out how the days of the week work again so I now know that Friday only happens on Friday.

Actually, I had some crazy bad hay fever last week and wrote a shit ton of stuff for the in progress novel. I literally lost a day somewhere in the anaphylactic/antihistamine/writing/caffeine/thc/ yard work haze, which is why I posted last week's chapter two days late, accompanied by an apology for being one day late. Making shit, it will fuck you up.

Anyway, among other things, I'm working on a 30th century space setting for ICONS, I'll throw some of that up this week, once some of the art (there is a ton already, somehow) is cleaned and colored, and maybe some more Black Smoke Sea stuff as well.

And now...





Financing at first seemed an insurmountable problem, but Kal came up with a solution almost immediately. Early the next morning, he went into Xiang-Xiang.

He took a cab from Troublecox landing to Fish Street. The morning's first hours he spent sitting in a greasy, little cafe drinking green tea; two cups was all he could stomach, and after nursing them as long as he was able, Kal paid the score and left. Outside, he mingled with the growing crowd and walked the neighborhood.

He made one short stop, after which he turned east and ascended onto the High Palisade. Shortly before noon, he crossed the channel and made his way back to the bungalow. He found Thront on the rear patio, basking in the sun and reading a tattered copy of Snobig's "Sassina".

"What do you think?" Thront lowered the lurid tome and lifted his sunglass.

Kal nodded. "Easy enough."

Two more days passed. On the morning of the fourth day following the theft of the memory egg, anxious to make last minute preparations, Thront departed the bungalow in the early morning, headed for the pier.

Kal stayed behind and indulged in a breakfast both leisurely and decadent.

Not long after Thront's departure, before, in fact, Kal had even dipped a spoon into the trinnx jelly, Sursha stepped over the threshold.

She looked splendid, clad in a minimal white garment; her burgundy hair, sharp-cut just above the chin, a curled and shining strand hanging between her eyes; a slender white ribbon spiraled the length of her slender tail and her lips were painted to match her hair.

Kal sat at the table, nearly naked, his tail bunched up in the seat of his ragged undergarment was natty and ungroomed, his hair unwashed and matted, and his face smeared with food and dirt.

She smiled at him.

"Sursha," he said, his tongue felt like a dry and floundering flipper.

"I have brought my ankle bells," she said and gave her bare, golden foot a ringing stamp.

Kal released a dry, piping little scream and dashed into the bathing court.

He splashed around in the water, scrubbing his skin and hair frantically. He leapt out of the tub and rubbed himself dry.

All the while, gentle chimes drifted in from the main chamber.

He dashed up the rear stairs and rushed to his bedroom.

He went to the large wardrobe at the corner of the room and opened its lowest drawer. His supply of items for the rite of reunion was stacked neatly within. He pulled on a pair of white ceremony shorts, worked his tail through the hole, and wrapped it with a white ribbon. He combed the water out of his hair and tied it back with another ribbon.

He painted a horizontal blue streak under his left eye, and a lightning bolt that trailed from his lower belly to the tip of his phallus.

He ran out of the room and halfway down the stairs. He had forgotten his pipe; he reversed his course, retrieved it and descended once more.

She awaited him at the bottom. Two ringing stomps and he came to a halt at her feet.

"I have brought my bells." Sursha bit her lower lip and wriggled in a teasing and anticipatory way.

"I have my pipe," he said, locking his eyes onto hers; his chest was hot and tight; he was out of breath, he made several small inhalations, swelling his lungs with air; he raised the pipe to his lips and prepared to play.

Sursha threw out her elbows, arched her back, and ran her hands through her hair. Her tail lashed with excitement. The gentle tinkle of her bells resonated through Kal like a hammer blow on a drum. The pebbled surface of her pointed, blue nipples shone through the fabric of her garment; Kal liked his lips and-

"No time for that!" Thront stood in the entranceway.

Sursha turned around. "Thront," she said. "How good to see you; do you think you could leave now?"

"I am afraid not."

"Why?" Sursha looked at Kal.

"We must hurry if we're to put out to sea today. Hasn't Kal told you anything?" Thront clapped his hands together.

"No I've only just arrived, we were in the process of exchanging the traditional greeting."

"Traditional greeting." Thront blinked three times in rapid succession. "I know all about that. Takes too long. Come on, boat’s all loaded. You can exchange your greeting in the cabin."

Sursha looked at Kal. "No we'll do it here; could you wait outside please."

"Impossible. Every second we waste counts against us; there is treasure to consider."

"Treasure?" Sursha pursed her lips. "What are you talking about?"

"We found a treasure map, someone stole it from us." Kal was still looking at the floor.

Sursha laughed.

"It's no joke, Sursha," Thront said.

"We'll have to take a vote then," Sursha said. She arched her back and gently swept her foot in a ringing circle across the floor.

"Now or tomorrow," Thront said. "I vote now."

"I vote tomorrow." Sursha moved her hands over her bare belly and slowly up her torso; she was shaking her foot. "Kal?"

"To- to- I-, you see Sursh- there, there's this thing, and the hats and I made a prom-"

"Vote!" Sursha put down her belless foot.

"Wister stole Kal's reunion gift for you," Thront said. "We're going after him."

Kal blanched.

"Is that true?" Sursha said.

Kal nodded.

"Wister the Gurrd?" Sursha folded her arms over her chest. "How did you get involved with him, and how were you going to complete the rite without the gift."

"We-I- got caught up-"

"All questions will be answered at sea." Thront scooped up Sursha's baggage and rushed out the door.

There was a long and silent moment at the base of the stairs during which Kal examined his feet.


They drove to the pier without speaking.

"When we go on board," Sursha said as they debarked from the truck, "someone is going to tell me a story. And for their sake it had better be a good story." She gave Kal's tail a viscous little yank, cuffed Thront on the back his ocular case and walked up the gangplank.




Beyond the Leaning City


"That's it?" Sursha was seated on a coil of rope with her knees drawn up. They sat in the Siren's cabin; the little steamboat pitched and yawed as it crossed the choppy water; beyond the blue tinted canopy, the sky was a magenta canvas ornamented with the scintillating presence of four moons. Seawater splashed the exterior deck.

"And the Hats," Thront said. "You didn't mention the shameful hats."

Kal looked at Sursha; his stomach lurched. He spoke slowly; each enunciation sent a new wave of misery into his gut. "They. Made. Us, Wear. Shame-"

"Oh, be quite," Sursha said. She turned to Thront. "What makes you so sure that it's a treasure map."

"The display image showed gold and Zorms, jewels; all sorts of loot."

"Has it occurred to you," Sursha looked out over the sea. "That this treasure is fairly well advertised."

"What do you mean?" Thront swiveled his neck, looked at her.

"That if it ever did exist, it probably doesn't now."

"Wister seems to think otherwise; he tried to kill us for it; and he resorted to trickery; debasing and-" Thront's knuckles went white on the wheel.

"Yes. Yes," Sursha said. "The shameful hats and all." She looked pointedly at Kal. "Tell me, how did you pay for the fuel and all the gear."

"That's another story," Thront said. He looked out to sea.

"Where'd you get the Zorms?" Sursha leaned close to him. "Don't tell me you took it from the treasury."

"Actually, your highness, we didn't touch the treasury. Wister paid for the whole thing," Thront said. "We broke into his shop and cleaned him out."

Kal laughed. He regained his composure for a moment and said. "Left the door to his shop wide open too; his neighbors will take what we didn't."

Sursha's ire faded a bit. She laughed. "How naughty of you," she said. Her face brightened and she tossed her hair and licked her lips. She turned to Thront. "You said something about the cabin?"

Thront jerked his thumb over his shoulder; "Back there- I even cleaned it for you. I'll sleep out here."

Sursha smiled. She turned to Kal, eager to take him in hand. Much to her dismay, he had ducked out the hatch, and was leaning over the side, retching into the sea.

Sursha released a huffing angry sigh and stalked back to the cabin, the gentle chime of her ankle bells drowned out by the roar of the sea.


The next two days passed without incident. Kal's seasickness gradually lost intensity, but left him weak and unfit for strenuous activity of any kind.

On their second morning out from port, the sky darkened with clouds; it continued to dim as the day wore on. The following sunset and dawn were lost to them; late that evening, the Siren entered a fog.

"The Sea of Mist, it really does exist" Thront said. He was hunched over the navigation wheel, attempting to plot their course northward.

"Maybe we'll find the Ship's Boneyard." Sursha said. "Or encounter Glingoo's specter."

"I dislike sarcasm," Thront said.

Sursha giggled and went below to check on Kal, leaving the monoch to his charts.

When she was gone, he removed a thick volume from the cabinet below the chart table. The title "A Portion Of Vaszt, Vol. 26" was embossed in heavy silver letters along the spine.

He located the desired passage and read to himself.

"SEA OF MIST, THE: A roughly circular expanse of ocean centered perhaps a hundred medspens northeast of Xiang-Xiang (see chart d-32.5 for navigational instructions.) The Sea of Mist lives up to its name, and its constant shroud of fog is seemingly permanent; there is no evidence to the contrary, and there are legends dating back as far as the time of Autotrax Himbilort Mudfinn about its existence-"

Thront closed the book and looked at his map, the sea's entirety was represented by a gray discoloration across the top of the chart. He frowned and, before returning to work, brooded for a moment over the absence of the memory egg.


The Coming Cataclysm


Vissel Hroof idly picked at his fourth and most recent holy sore. Vissel Ommman was preaching again. Hroof could barely force himself to pay attention to the long-winded fool, but it was necessary.

The Dark Concordance and the succession of power it heralded were nearly upon them. Soon the arch-Vissel Nooten would rule no more. And that was for the best, he was after all a blathering, quaking old fool. Hroof's only concern was the identity of his successor. Ommman, it was obvious, shared his concern, or perhaps interest was what they shared. Yes, interest or perhaps desire. Hroof smiled and refocused his attention on the speech of his rival.

"Last night in a dream, to me, the great Icyarch spoke." Ommman raised his hands high as he talked, contorting them in a manner that magnified the effect of the lamps shining behind him. "He said that our brother, Vissel Droon was successful, and that our seed, the sacred Lurr, is soon to return to us." Hroof had to admit that Ommman's light sculpting technique was masterful; he maximized every beam and ray from the lamps, achieving the most powerful and colorful refraction; when he spoke before the lights, Vissel Ommman's gelatinous braincase glowed with color, shone through with power and luminance. It was the light of leadership and purity. Who could doubt that he was beloved of the Icyarch? Who could doubt even that the Icyarch spoke to him in dreams?

Hroof doubted it, of course, knew it to be pure foolishness, in fact, but he was informed. One day, not long ago, while he and all the other Vissils, including Ommman, had attended a religious observance, Hroof had arranged to have Ommman's cabins searched. His agents found a tracking device; when they described it to him, Hroof became convinced it was somehow linked to the Lurr. Consequently, Ommman's predictions came as no surprise; no doubt it would come true, and soon.

After a delivering a bit more semi-mystical nonsense, Vissel Ommman ceased speaking and returned to his chair. A grumble of conversation followed. The meeting came to an end. Vissel Hroof filed out of the temple dome with the others. Outside, on the rocky beach, his broodservents waited for him, palanquin at the ready; they carried him to his longboat and, as he sat sipping from a flask of fire-brandy, rowed across the narrow band of water to the ring.

Hroof considered stopping off somewhere for a pinch, but he was too apprehensive for company; he bid the oarsmen take him home.

Once there, he went to the lowest of his cabins and looked out the wide crystal window set into the floor; he gazed at the seabed for a long, thoughtful while. Lights from other such windows lit up the depths, and Hroof could see for a good distance.

To the north, far past the ring's inhabited center, near its far edge, he saw a massive, dark shape, surrounded by several shadows, similar in form, smaller, but still of considerable size.

The Icyarch and its children.

Hroof had seen them in that same place on the last three days. He shuddered. Was the prophecy true? Was the Icyarch waiting? He took a book off the table beside him; it bore no inscription or title, and needed none: it was the holy book. He opened and began to read.

He passed the night searching the holy writ for a sign to guide him. Occasionally, he would pause to think, or moisten the gelatinous surface of his head with a wide flat brush he kept in a bucket beside his chair.

By morning Hroof had reached a decision. Regardless of the cost, he must keep Vissel Ommman from seizing power.


NEXT WEEK: An Encounter at Sea!


  1. So is that Icons stuff going to be superheroes in space? If so, I could get behind that.

  2. Doing your own Legion?Guardians of the Galaxy rift, huh? Cool! It's an under-explored setting.

    Another good installment, with more interesting setting detail. How about a pronunciation guide at some point? Or maybe I'm the only one that cares about stuff like that.

  3. Yeah, I'm going to work on the space thing today. LSH five Years Later; Kirby's Thor, 4th world and Omac; Micronauts, Annihilation; and a half a dozen things I'm forgetting right now are the primary influences. I am not touching Earth, however; It is going to be a small, extremely isolated stellar cluster . The whole thing started as last minute game prep for a session that, in the end, never happened.
    I may post an art preview a little later. everything is still sloppy and in pencil, though.

  4. I really wish they would collect the Five Years Later storyline. That's my favorite version.