"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov


Friday, June 20, 2014

1. Demands Are Made

Tales From The Dark Wind


      At the dawn of time, the earth was a vast supercontinent surrounded by churning seas. Over millions of years, in endless cycles, the land shifted, broke apart and reformed; islands rose and fell, mountains crumbled, oceans ebbed, ice conquered and retreated. 

Eventually life, in all its myriad diversity, covered the earth. Dinosaurs ruled with a ferocious tenacity until falling stars burned through the skies destroying everything in lethal balls of fire.

The land drifted, the seas boiled, air became a poison that eradicated most living things, though not the burrowers or denizens of the deep oceans.  They survived and became stronger, more adaptable, deadlier.

Eons pass, the earth settles, and humans begin to evolve.  After thousands of years the structure of civilizations are built; laws and politics are established; wars are fought in defense of ideologies; borders and boundaries are claimed and disputed.

But then, without warning, another star falls from the sky, striking the southern ice cap, shattering the enormous plate, melting unimaginable tons of ice in mere seconds. The cataclysm that followed scoured the land as tsunamis tore around the globe in relentless waves, drowning countries, erasing entire populations, ravaging and reshaping the earth once again.

In the aftermath, climates changed, air and water currents shifted in wild, turbulent eddies.  And Mankind was brought to its knees.


The New World 
One Thousand Years Later

Tethered fore and aft to iron rings attached to docking poles, the airship Dark Wind, swayed gently in the warm breeze wafting off the desert. Leaning against the railing, Rafe Batiste absentmindedly wound several lengths of the shemagh around his head as he stared down at the bustling port below.  

     The early morning light sparkled on the water of the wide seaway that divided the Great Desert from Ha’Roon, the thriving tent city of the Four Tribes.  From his vantage point, fifty feet above the harbor, the city's colorful layout was beautiful to see.  Like a giant wheel with four spokes, the individual bands of color vividly identified each tribe in reds, blues, greens and golden yellows. At the hub of the wheel, like the many facets of an exotic jewel, the market tents circled the oasis fountain in a burst of rainbow hues.  

Rafe could see the merchants rolling up their tent flaps, preparing to open for business; watched groups of women with jugs and baskets gathering at the fountain to draw water, laugh and gossip.  With the sun warming his back, he idly followed the meandering trail of red tents down the south spoke of the wheel, narrowing his eyes at the largest tent, the blood-red flag of el-Ahmar fluttering listlessly in the desert air above the Mor’Abat’s stronghold.

Of the Four, the el-Ahmar were the most mercenary, the least likely to negotiate.  Die now, talk later was their preferred method, unless substantial amounts of money, jewels or favors were involved in the bargaining.  In Ha’Roon, the leaders of each tribe ruled with ruthless authority, none more so than the man Rafe was soon to meet. 

Leaving a long flap of cloth hanging over his shoulder, Rafe gripped the rail and stared into the distance at the endless, undulating sand dunes that filled the horizon past the city gates.  He let his thoughts wander, running through every possible scenario as he tried to anticipate what might arise in the coming meeting, but there were just too many variables, too much that didn't add up.
“I reckon this could be a trap, Cap’n,” Treb murmured, coming to stand beside him.  “Any one of those desert rats would sell their favorite harem girl to get their hands on you again.”

Rafe reached inside a pocket in his djellaba. “It most likely is a trap,” he said quietly, “though I don’t plan on being caught.”  He gazed thoughtfully at the black onyx ring laying in the palm of his hand.  The gold band around the stone gleamed in the sun as he murmured, “I would have ignored the ransom demand if this hadn’t been wrapped inside the note.”  Slipping it back inside his robe, Rafe said, “The last time I saw that ring was thirteen years ago on my dead brother’s finger. It would have been given to my sister-in-law on his burial day.” His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. “An event I did not attend as my father had disowned me, throwing me out of his house the previous night.”

Treb felt anger burn hot for a moment.  He had been there, remembered that night, remembered the lost, broken young airship captain, and a cruel, heartless father.  Shaking his head to clear the past, he asked, “I just don't understand why his widow would have come to this blighted land?  How could she, a pampered society woman, have traveled halfway round the world to this place?  And what was she doing out in the desert?”  They looked toward the massive eastern wall, a barrier fiercely guarded from all but members of the Four Tribes. To gain access to the land beyond the formidable gates required permission from one of the Mor’Abat who ruled in each region, and much money in exchange for the privilege.

“The note said she’d been found wandering alone in the el-Ahmar region without authorization.  That’s a death penalty transgression, but because she’s not dead and I have the ring, I’m assuming Elissa told them who I am.”  Rafe tugged the scarf lower over his forehead and wrapped the last piece of cloth across his face, leaving only a narrow opening for his eyes.  “The Mor’Abat no doubt thinks he’s stumbled upon a fabled cache of lightning gems.  Not only does he have an aristo woman at his mercy for breaking tribal law, but his enemy, the devil Batiste is coming to bargain for her.”

“I don’t like it, Cap’n.  I don’t like it one little bit.”

“Nor do I, but if he has Elissa, I can’t leave her to die.  I owe my brother that much, at least.  If she's not here and this is some kind of el-Ahmar plot to seek revenge?  Well, I haven’t been in a good fight to the death lately and I’m in the mood.”

 Briefly scanning the scene below, he focused once again on the blood-red tents, the colors wavering now in the rising desert heat.  “If I’m not back by nightfall, you know what to do.”  Rafe turned to his ship’s master.  “See that she’s ready to take off at a moment’s notice, Treb.  I don't know how this will play out, but smooth or rough, I'll want out of here quick.  Make sure Aman gets the food stores list from Bertoni, have him talk to Jai-Li about medical supplies and tell Hamson to load as much lifting gas as the old girl can hold in her ballonets.  Without fail, I want everything on board today.”

Nodding at his orders, Treb handed over a small cloth bag. Rafe hefted it, judging the value in the weight of the heavy coins, then slipped the pouch next to the onyx ring and quickly checked the pistol at his back, the blade in his boot, and the wickedly curved Jambiya knife strapped in a sheath on his left side.  Reaching for the hawser attached to a winch near his shoulder, Rafe swung over the railing, looped a foot around the thick rope and nodded at two crewmen standing by to lower him to the ground.

Ten feet below the airship, Rafe looked up and met Treb’s eyes.  “Tell Henri to get the guns primed and the cannons ready, just in case.” 

Sunlight glinted off the small diamond embedded in one front tooth as Treb grinned broadly.  “That’ll make her day, Cap’n.  I’ll go tell her now.”  But before he turned away, the man glared down at him and said roughly, “Expect you back before dark, boy, no excuses.

Rafe barked a laugh, gave Treb a mocking salute, then cleared his mind of everything except the immediate trouble.  His misfit crew would take care of the ship; now his job was to get everyone out of Ha’Roon alive.


[FYI:  At the top of the page, under the Scribbles blog title, there's a link 
to a map and brief intro of the Dark Wind world, if anyone is curious]