Author Topic: Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special  (Read 2225 times)

Polycarp

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« on: January 16, 2010, 06:56:37 AM »
I feel like taking a holiday from my usual encyclopedia-building and writing some very short stories for my campaign setting.  Actually, I feel like that a lot; what makes this different from then is that right now I also feel like letting other people read them if they so desire.  Some of these are recent writings, while others are many months old.  I'll update this from time to time as I edit old stories to the point where I don't feel too embarrassed to post them.

Here and here are two earlier stories posted in the main thread.  Since I don't have a discussion thread for CJ, I figured it was getting a bit crowded with my related fiction forays to clutter things up - thus this thread.  I hope you enjoy.

IC: Taking Tea with the Umbril
'Tea, First.'  Jeszash's command was terse, but she intended it that way.  For one, the First was a warrior, and would be accustomed to being addressed like one, even if in the present situation his primary responsibility was to carry a pot of tea.  For another, the Umbril were staring at her, and she had no intention of letting them glean anything about her state of mind, real or imagined, from unnecessary speech.  'The Umbril are clever and deceitful' - that is what all in her village were taught as hatchlings.  She had walked in the world and was not limited by such comfortably simplistic generalizations, but if any Umbril were true to this elementary statement, it would be these three.  Jeszash rarely gave compliments, but readily admitted to herself that these three missed nothing.  Either that, or they were extremely good at pretending they missed nothing.  Regardless, she was not going to do them any favors.
   
The First silently fetched the copper tea kettle and a stack of square wooden cups.  He placed them in front of Jeszash with an awkwardness typical of one whose station would make him completely averse to such menial tasks under normal circumstances.  This too was something the Umbril might notice, but Jeszash had no control over that, and she knew it.  Humility, she reminded herself, was the recognition that one's power always has limits.  If the Umbril did observe anything about the First, they did not reveal it on their faces, and continued staring at her as the warrior silently left the room.

Jeszash took the top cup in her hand, poured the steaming tea into it, set the kettle down, and held it out to the Umbril directly across from her with both hands.  It was this Umbril - clearly the one in charge - that she was most interested in.  It was veiled from head to foot in dark cloth embroidered in the mycelial spirals that usually indicated an Umbril priest, but Jezash knew enough to be reasonably sure that no priest could be leading a delegation of such importance.  The robes obscured its features, but it was perilously thin for an Umbril, and had entered the room with a slow, painstaking gait that indicated either great age or infirmity.  Jeszash had never heard of a crippled Umbril wielding any sort of power - but then again, she had never heard of a crippled Umbril.  She had the impression that the infirm did not last long among Ivetziven's people.  In addition to all this, the Umbril had an unbelievably strong odor to it, one of strange herbs and brews that Jeszash had never smelled before.  It was repellent, but bearable, at least in the name of diplomacy.
   
For a few seconds, nothing happened.  Sseswe, the Iskite on her left, fidgeted.  It was a moment of great tension; to decline her offer would mean that the Umbril had never been interested in peace, and if this was the case, it was likely that this entire meeting was a trap that she very well might not escape from.  Perhaps the veiled Umbril held weapons under that cloth.  Certainly her subordinates had thought so, and they urged her not to let the creature in, but such a denial would mean the same thing as refusing tea, and she was convinced that any failure to find peace with these aliens must not lie with her.  She would die naïve, but blameless.  She closed her eyes, breathed in and out, and waited for the blow to fall.
   
It did not come.  Neither, however, did the veiled Umbril accept her tea.  Instead, the Umbril to its right reached out its tendrils and took the tea from her hands, wheezing under its breath and bobbing its head briefly.
   
'Th-this' - Sseswe's mouth worked without making any further sounds for a few seconds.  Her hackles were straight and her fingers dug into her thighs.  The Umbril certainly did not miss this, and stared at her with their blank, milky eyes.  'This is an-'
   
'Be silent,' Jeszash snapped, with an edge of desperation in her voice that she fervently hoped the Umbril did not notice.  They looked from Sseswe to her, and then back again as Sseswe ignored her order.
   
'An - an outrage!  See how it has refused us,' she hissed, and placed her hand on the ground as if getting ready to stand.  The two Umbril flanking the veiled one stiffened, presumably uncertain if this Iskite was about to strike them or not.  'See tha- '

Jeszash made a throaty hiss with a volume and vigor that she seldom employed even among disobedient pupils.  Sseswe turned to her in shock, looking for an explanation, but Jeszash did not deign to look in her direction.  She only spoke to her, and did so in what her people called the 'least degree' - the words that transmitted no respect at all, no recognition of station or authority or anything that could possibly merit it.

'I see,' she snarled, 'one who has forgotten her place.'

Sseswe tensed as if struck.  She wilted, her hackles flat against her neck and her nose pointing down to the ground.  Nothing more was said; the exchange was over.  Jeszash felt her blood warming under her scales as she watched for any reaction from the Umbril.  Sensing the need to distract them from this humiliating gaffe and justify herself in front of her subordinates, she spoke up and questioned the veiled Umbril directly.

'Why do you not accept yourself?'  The tone of her question was, again, as flat as she could make it, sounding less like a question than a statement.

'The delegate,' rasped the Umbril who had taken her tea, 'does not mean disrespect.  It is - impossible.'

'It is not impossible to take tea from me.  I repeat my question.'

'The delegate,' repeated the Umbril with some hesitation in its voice, 'respectfully cannot -'

A dry, crackling sound issued from beneath the dark veils of the central Umbril, at which the speaking Umbril's voice died away.  Two arms moved beneath the cloth - clearly arms, though Jeszash could not see them but for the shape the cloth made as it hung over them.  The sound the cloth made as the arms moved was like someone running a canvas bag over dried leaves, and Jeszash shuddered involuntarily.  The arms were outstretched now, held out in a gesture of acceptance.  The two uncovered Umbril on either side of the veiled figure looked at each other, and then they placed their tendril-fingers upon the cloth and drew it back.

The arms before her were like the arms of a corpse.  The skin - if it could be called that - was wrinkled like a snake's shed scales and nearly as pale.  There was no sheen to them at all, and they were so thin that it seemed impossible that any living flesh could lie within them, or that they could support their own weight and be held outstretched in such a manner.  The finger-tendrils looked rigid and askew, more like the guard-hairs of a hackler than the supple tendrils of an Umbril.

Jeszash did not pay attention to the mutterings of her companions.  This was outside the realm of her experience, but ultimately these were just hands, and placing a cup of tea in a pair of hands was inside the realm of her experience.  This, then, was what she did, struggling to suppress the part of her mind that frothed with horror and revulsion at the sight.

The tendrils crackled as she placed the cup upon them, but nothing broke as she half expected it to.  The veiled figure nodded discernibly under the cloth and drew the cup towards itself.  Jeszash poured another cup, gave it to the last of the three Umbril, and then one for herself and her flanking companions, both of whom still stared agape at the creature's hands.

'Master Jeszash,' came a soft whisper from beneath the veil.  The voice was dust blowing through dry bones on a cold breeze.  'I accept your hospitality.  Alas, I ceased to drink anything long ago.  It pains me that I cannot accept in the way you expect, and I ask your forgiveness.'

The explanation was obvious, but to say it was like reciting a child's demon-tale with the gravity of a Grandmaster.  It was a word that Jeszash had never heard spoken outside of the storyteller's lilting recitations of the travels of antique heroes and preposterously fictional adventurers.  It was, however, the undeniable truth, and though Jeszash hated stating the obvious, it came out anyway.  Later, she justified the statement to herself by saying that it was said for the benefit of her companions.

'You are a telavai.'

'I am.'  There was no emotion there that Jeszash could read.  It did not seem annoyed or impressed.  A statement had been confirmed, and this exchange too was over.

Jeszash nodded.  'You have done nothing here to require my forgiveness, but as you wish it, it is yours.'

'I am grateful.'  The withered arms slowly set the cup upon the mat.

'We are all grateful,' added the Umbril to the telavai's right, in a voice that was considerably more relieved than it had been during its earlier clumsy dissembling.  It easily slipped into the cool, scripted platitudes that Jeszash had been expecting.  'We are grateful for the hospitality of the Iskites, which we have never had cause to doubt, and we are grateful to be dealing with a people who are said to be reasonable and wise.  This conflict does not benefit us; we take no joy from the blood of Iskites.  Therefore we are here, among your people, hoping to confirm what we have heard of your reason and wisdom with our own ears...'

And so the negotiations began.  They continued late into the night, and all the while the untouched tea in the cup before the veiled Umbril grew cold.  Hours after the Umbril delegates had departed and the stars had begun their dance above the canopy, Jeszash stood alone in the room.  She loomed over the cup and considered what should be done with it.

In the end, she lifted the cup to her lips and drank to peace.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2014, 04:30:08 PM by Polycarp »
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Lmns Crn

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2010, 11:05:48 AM »
Breathtaking.

Every time I look at your work, I am more intrigued. I love this narrative presentation, the spotlight on etiquette and decorum, the thick tension of the negotiations. High quality.
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Ghostman

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2010, 11:38:22 AM »
Nice writing. I liked the interaction between the Iskites. Your description of the telavai's voice made me think of Darth Vader :-p
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Kindling

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2010, 02:17:56 PM »
A fantastically tense and tight little vignette, I'm very impressed. I think the only thing that didn't sit right with me was the sentence "The First silently fetched the copper tea kettle and a stack of square wooden cups with rounded edges."

It kind of seems as if everything stops for that one sentence so you can describe the tea-drinking paraphernalia. I realise that the tea ritual is very important to the story, and therefore everything related to it should be highlighted, but the way you've done it just seems a little... I dunno, clunky. Maybe you could space the description out throughout the next paragraph or two, so that it lies within the narrative and flows more?

Other than that, though, very good, and very flavourful. Really gives a great impression of the setting through its very tight focus.
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Polycarp

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2010, 07:13:53 AM »
I appreciate the comments.  And kindling, I agree - I think that would be a worthy edit to the piece.

Anyway, I have a twofer tonight.  The first is a conversation I wrote in just a few hours about a certain artifact that I haven't actually talked about yet.  It's not very polished and in general I think I'm better at description than dialogue, but here you go.

The second is actually a piece that predates the setting.  Before I thought of the whole "jungle with ruins and clockwork in it" thing, I had been working on a science fiction story.  The protagonists of this story were a pre-technological reptilian people.  When I began work on the setting, they became the Iskites, though with significant changes.  Originally, the reptile-people were cold-blooded, had bad eyesight, and were pretty laid back (compared to Iskites).  Some little elements, however - communal egg distribution, females being bigger than males, hissing and hackle-raising - came with them into the new setting.  The second story was part of the original abortive sci-fi attempt that I later re-wrote into a piece about the Iskites you may be more familiar with.

The Orrery
'Come back later,' yelled Szalaj in response to the sound of the shop door creaking open.  'You're not even supposed to be here for another two movements, at least.'  Szalaj muttered about rude customers and returned to the dented timepiece on his desk, well illuminated by a trio of smoke-tarnished copper lamps.  It would take hours to restore it to working order '“ an early customer was entirely unwelcome.

As he heard the steady, slow tread of the stranger entering his shop, however, Szalaj began to suspect that this was not the pudgy Umbril that had scheduled an appointment with him later in the day.

'Who's there?'  Szalaj's voice was just as irritated, but some unease had crept into it.  He tried to peer through the many trinket-laden shelves of his shop, but he had no clear view of the door from his desk.  'Ssalan?  Speak up!'

The stranger remained silent save for its heavy footfalls.  Szalaj could see something moving through the clutter of the workshop '“ a large figure, drawing nearer.  He stood from his chair and grabbed a riveting hammer from the shelf by his desk.  'I'm'¦ I'm armed!'

The stranger walked calmly into view.  It '“ rather, he '“ was a Tahr.  His hands were open, and at his sides '“ not clutching a weapon, but neither were they very far from the saber and knife hanging from a wide blue sash around his waist.  He glanced at the hammer wielded by the Iskite clockmaker, and did not seem terribly discomfited.

'Indeed,' he deadpanned.

'What do you want?  Where is Ssalan?'

'Your assistant,' the Tahr stated, waving his massive hand dismissively, 'is indisposed.  It's nothing an Iskite won't recover from.'  The Tahr gazed casually over the shelf nearest him, filled with metal rods, boxes of rivets, wires of various gauges, and other sundry pieces of the Iskite's trade, all arranged in flawless order of size and type.  'As for me, I have a curiosity I'd like you to take a look at.'

Szalaj set the hammer on the table and adopted a more defiant tone.  'I do take appointments, you know.  Not that it would matter to a furbacked thug like you.'  Though he had never been in quite this position before, Szalaj was reasonably sure that the Tahr did not intend him violence.  A creature like this could just as well have bashed his head in while running an errand in some dim Furrows alley and not waste time with conversation.

The Tahr gave no indication that he had been offended by the slur.  'I really am sorry.  Under normal circumstances I would be happy to accept your hospitality at your leisure.  My thuggery stems from necessity.'

'Well,' snapped Szalaj testily, 'what is it?'

The Tahr nodded and advanced towards the desk.  'Straight to the point, then.'  He reached behind himself and produced a plain cloth bag tied shut with a drawstring.  It appeared to have some kind of round object within it.  The Tahr set it upon the desk with a dampened thud while Szalaj crossed his arms and clicked his tongue testily.  The Tahr untied the drawstring and pulled the bag open, revealing a gleaming sphere of polished metal.  Faintly engraved lines radiated from one pole and encircled it about the middle; other than that, it was unremarkable save for the unblemished clarity and smoothness of the metal.

Szalaj remained unmoved.  'So you have pried a ball-joint from a Hauler.  Perhaps you could fashion a haft and make a maul of it.'

'If I believed you to be stupid and incurious,' replied the Tahr, 'or if this were just a trivial matter, I would not have come all the way here.  So indulge me.'

Szalaj squinted at the Tahr and then grudgingly placed his hand on the sphere.  He lifted it in both hands, judging its composition and weight.  He picked up the same riveting hammer he had previously been wielding, gave the surface a solid tap, and placed his ear close to the ringing surface.  When the faint tone had faded completely, he stood straight again, but with an expression of modest surprise on his face.

'Cogsteel '“ and hollow.  Well, not quite hollow.  There's something in it.'

'Quite right,' said the Tahr.  'Now, if you'll find a thin wire'¦'  The Tahr grasped the sphere with his own two hands and rolled it over, revealing a barely noticeable pinhole opening where the etched lines converged on the other side.

Szalaj surveyed his desk and picked up a short length of copper wire from it.  He peered at the opening, rested one hand on the sphere to steady it, and began lowering the wire towards the hole.

'I wouldn't touch it when you do that,' warned the Tahr.  Szalaj looked up at him, made an indignant scowl, and lifted his hand from the object.  He resumed lowering the wire into the hole.  It went in one inch, and then another '“ and then, as Szalaj turned to say something to his visitor, there was the click of a catch releasing.

The top hemisphere of the object opened up along its engraved lines like a blooming flower.  The concentric rings of steel petals opened from the pinhole and swirled about in alternating directions with the squeak of ungreased metal on metal and the soft clicking of hidden pawls and pinions.  The machine's innards, now revealed, seemed for a moment to be a series of several dozen flat metal bands encircling a central hub, but almost immediately upon opening the rings shifted from their housing and began spinning slowly around each other like a vastly redundant gyroscope on a gently rolling ship.  The screeching of the metal was grating, but neither of them seemed to pay it any attention.  Only the salty tang of blood in his mouth made Szalaj realize he had been literally biting his tongue as he stared, transfixed, at the whirling device.

'The Heart of Order,' he whispered reverently.

The Tahr deftly snatched the wire from Szalaj's hand, crouched down to the sphere's level, and prodded a catch between the two hemispheres.  As quickly as it had opened, the device clapped shut.  A few clicks and squeals later, it was silent.  He stood again and regarded Szalaj with an appraising curiosity.

'You'¦' Szalaj gulped and continued in a shaky voice.  'You have found Shuszan's Orrery.'

'Or something like it,' the Tahr replied.  'After all, it's not out of the question that they could have made more than one.'

'What will you do with it?'

'The question is really what can I do with it.  And I was hoping you could tell me.'

'Me-' Szalaj looked taken aback.  'Are you serious?'

'I know your reputation.  That's why I'm taking this risk.  You're not the only one who knows I have it.  You can unlock it.'  The Tahr's voice grew into an excited growl.  'Think of it!  The mechanical oracle '“ the secrets of the Artificers!'

'Fruit-eater!'  Szalaj snarled and shook his head.  'It doesn't mean anything.  It's broken!  And Shuszan herself'¦' his voice trailed off, leaned over the desk, and shuddered.  'It drove Shuszan mad.  I've read her notes.  It destroyed her.'

The Tahr laid his great hand on the Iskite's back.  'The stories all say she was touched anyway.  Avan-Ith studied it too, and nothing bad happened to it.'

'Avan-Ith knew,' Szalaj sighed.  'It knew what became of Shuszan and always kept its distance, never looking too deeply.  Have you ever read her journal?'

The Tahr frowned.  'No.  But it doesn't matter what-'

'Death,' Szalaj whispered.

The Tahr raised an eyebrow.  'What?'

'Death,' he shouted, and pounded his fist on the desk.  The Tahr drew back his hand, a startled look on his face.  Szalaj turned to him with a despondent, horrifying grin.  'Death!  My fate is clear to me in the rings, it is written by the rings I will die, will die and then will they stop?  Will the clock run out?'  Szalaj recited the writings of a lunatic through clenched teeth.  'Fate of death in the words of gods and steel and time.'  He leaned into the Tahr's face.  'The last act of the individual,' he hissed, 'or a self-fulfilling prophecy?'

'Defy,' he whispered with finality.  His shoulders drooped, and his expression softened into one of profound pity.

There was a minute of silence.

'And then she killed herself, I take it.'

Szalaj nodded.  Both of them looked apprehensively at the still metal globe.

'I understand,' the Tahr intoned quietly.  'But I believe I know something she did not.'

Szalaj looked to the visitor, tired skepticism in his voice.  'Oh?'

The Tahr scratched his cheek and turned his gaze to the broken clock on the desk.  'You must wind a clock for it to function?'

'Of course.'

'But that alone won't make it useful.  It has lost time.  It is no longer accurate.'

'Of course not.'

'You have to set it first.'

'What are you getting at?' Szalaj asked cautiously.

'Shuszan believed it could tell the future.  Avan-Ith believed it was broken.  But a clock that stops and is rewound isn't broken '“ it's just wrong.  And if set correctly, it tells the correct time again.  What if it could tell the future '“ and Shuszan was just looking into the wrong future?'

'It's'¦ possible,' Szalaj admitted.  'But how would we know?'

'How do you know a clock is wrong?'

'You make comparisons.'

The Tahr nodded approvingly and gestured for him to continue.

'But there's nothing to compare it to.  There is no other clock.  Shuszan's Orrery is one of a kind.  And even if it wasn't, another device wouldn't be any more correct '“ you can't set a clock with another unset clock.'

'But presumably it was set, once.  The Artificers must have had a way.'

'And how,' Szalaj asked testily, 'are we to discover that?'

'There would be no point in storing an instrument one place and the instructions somewhere else.  The Ancients must have kept the information they needed nearby.'

'That's quite an assumption.  And even if it were true, we have no idea where the Orrery is from.  Shuszan wasn't even its first owner, and she died in the Age of Prophets!'

A sly grin grew across the Tahr's face.  'Quite right.  But this is not Shuszan's Orrery.'

Szalaj's face was the very picture of surprise.

'I know this for a fact.  It's not hers '“ and I found it in its original resting place, completely untouched.  And I know how to find my way back.'  He laid his hand on the sphere once more, and Szalaj's gaze followed it.  The Tahr clapped his hand on the Iskite's shoulder and squeezed; if Szalaj had been paying attention, he would have thought it quite uncomfortable.

'Why,' the Tahr pronounced dramatically, 'this is Szalaj's Orrery.'
[close]


The Ascent
A hushed night had fallen upon the stretching eaves of the forest.  Each silvered fern-frond and each delicate flower had already shied away from the darkling sky, and now slept, curled tightly away from the flitting shadows of starlight that danced in the canopy.  Their huddled slumbering silently heralded the Forest's nightly transformation, the beginning of the long sigh until morning.  As the heavens turned, the whole world would exhale each night '“ breathing out the wisps and shadows, the eerie mountain lights, and awaiting the freshness of dawn.  Each night all the creatures below the stars waited, as they would always wait, for the dawn messenger to proclaim that all was right, and that a new breath need wait no longer.

Beneath the starlight, in a conspicuous circular clearing, was a broad, low hill crested by a broken crown of weathered rock.  The assembly of stones seemed to have been artifice once, tumbled long ago by some fitful trembling of the ground or the ire of petulant gods.  The liths rested solidly against each other, reflecting angular shadows upon the rooftops of the encircling village below.  Long rectangular buildings crowded the hill's shoulders, giving way to a ring of newly-planted farmland which stretched all the way to the Forest's edge.  All was clean and ordered, laid out by prudent pattern, save for the disordered jumble of ancient stones at the hill's crest and the low thicket that grew stubbornly among them.

In the night, a creature moved.  He moved carefully amid the worn rubble and treacherous roots, for he carried something of great value.  It was hard work to move such a burden, but the creature had been preparing for this night for some time, and he was acquainted with every pebble and thorn of this hill.  All day he had waited, in silence and solitude, giving half-hearted attention to charts and maps, his thoughts stealing away to dwell on the coming night journey.  As he rounded a massive lith, hewn roughly by countless ages, he squinted.  Before him was the crux of the hill, and at its highest point lay the Night Stone.

It was pitted and misshapen, but not by any mortal hands.  The villagers had found long ago that neither stone nor steel could so much as scratch it.  Since the day it had fallen from the sky, none had seen it in any other way.  It had not been larger or smaller, smoother or rougher.  It was as it had always been since its first day upon the earth.  For that reason, the villagers knew it was a perfect form, crafted by the powers of the heavens into its eternal shape.  Its every curvature was divinely ordained; it was the signature of the supreme being.  The villagers knew it did not belong to them, but to return it to its place in the heavens from which it had fallen was not within their power.  Instead, they brought it to their village, to a high place where it could commune with its heavenly brothers and sisters when they twinkled out of twilight and spread their pale glow over the Forest.  Here it had remained for every generation since.

The creature approached the Night Stone and placed the burden upon it.  The burden was wrapped in broad leaves bound tightly with plant fiber and sinews.  The carrier unwrapped the burden upon the Stone with the most exacting tenderness.  Within was a plain reed basket stuffed with feathers.  The creature realized he had been holding his breath, and let his lungs be filled by the night air again.  He hoisted himself atop the Night Stone and knelt before the basket.  Carefully, patiently, silently, he lifted the basket's cover.

The starlight illuminated a pale, smooth curvature poking through the feathers that filled the basket '“ an egg, beige-colored and speckled with the occasional grey blotch.  The creature clenched his fists, trying to quell a slight trembling, and then lifted the egg out of the feathers.  He placed it upon his lap and wrapped his arms around it, cradling it with his whole body.  He pressed his ear to the eggshell and closed his eyes.  Truthfully, he could not hear anything, but he imagined he could.  He imagined he heard a heartbeat and the soft sounds of steady breathing.

Kasjan (for that was the creature's name) had to remind himself to breathe again.  He raised his head from the eggshell and looked upwards at the stars.  He had measured and read them many times, but always alone since his master died many years ago.

'This will be the last time,' he whispered aloud.

Kasjan's eyes settled upon a constellation.  It was the Escapement, a group of stars shaped like a fork with two widely curved tines.  He had pictures of it in his study; it was well-known even to the other Iskites of his village who had never seriously studied astronomy.  He could draw it from memory if such a thing was demanded of him.  On this night, however, he had to see it for himself.

He fixed the image in his mind and then bowed his head to look at the egg still clutched in his arms.  He turned it over slowly, until he could clearly see a particular pattern of grey speckles.  There was no mistake '“ it was the same.  The Escapement was reproduced inches in front of his eyes.  The largest grey blotch corresponded with the brightest star in the arrangement, and the smallest with the dimmest, and likewise with all the rest in between.

It had been a long time since the Grandmasters allocated a hatchling for the study of the stars, but they would give him this one.  He had set his mind on it, and as Akusash once said, there is nothing as unwavering as an Iskite who knows precisely what he must have.  He would plead with them, he would cajole them, and he would fill their wizened ears with pronunciations of divine will.  He would threaten to leave them, a doom upon himself but one he was prepared to accept if it became necessary.  Their parsimony had given him the upper hand at last, for if he left, there would be no astronomer to teach any future generation.  The art would be lost to the village, perhaps permanently.  The moment he had seen the egg, their power over him had vanished like dew on a wyrm's wings.  He valued this burden over anything he possessed, even his life '“ especially his life '“ and that made him uncontrollable.  They would bend, or he would break them.

'Forgive me, my pupil.'  Kasjan whispered and shook his head.  'I'll never despair again.  I never will.  I will give you my life and never leave you, as long as I breathe.'  It was an oath sworn upon the Night Stone, but more importantly, an oath sworn upon the smooth stone in his arms, the one that carried life within it.

Kasjan placed the egg back in the feathered basket with the greatest of care.  It had been out long enough, and now it had to be returned to the hatchery with its many siblings.  It would be warm there, but its spirit was already flying in the cool night breezes, ascending from where the Night Stone had come to rest to where it began its fall.  Already it dreamt with stranger siblings that shimmered in the vault of heaven.
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The Clockwork Jungle (wiki | thread)
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Polycarp

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2010, 03:49:22 AM »
A quickie about a Gheen, an Iskite, and an errant head.

IC: Courtesy
Nyr Taska stood over the corpse of an Iskite.  Though he did not possess even a passing familiarity with alien anatomy or physiology, Nyr Taska was very certain that the Iskite was dead.  Besides the "normal" physical trauma one might expect from free-falling five hundred feet into the unyielding earth, the Iskite's neck was also placed at angle that erased any doubts.  Blood ran from its nose and mouth.  The jaw had either dislocated or snapped, and now jutted out diagonally forward and to the left of where the Iskite's lifeless eyes were pointing.  The Breath was not with this one.

The corpse of an Iskite, in itself, was not a new sight for Nyr Taska.  He had traveled in Sekah while the wars raged, and had seen a battlefield where the Iskites, though victorious, had piled great heaps of their dead awaiting cremation.  But those had just been nameless scales, the foolish and the hapless who had been consumed by the ravenous dream of Anath.  This Iskite was called Uszan, and had been known to him, if only for a few days.  Normally, Nyr Taska was not inclined to take passengers, especially heavy aliens who cost more in fuel than him and his food put together.  Uszan had paid well, however, despite the availability of far more safe and reliable routes, because he knew of the Gheen's reputation.

Nyr Taska had built a name for himself in the years of strife as the fastest courier in the outer Netai, and he was certain that he deserved it.  He was not the fastest because he was the most skilled, nor because his craft was the finest, nor because his fuel was the most refined.  He was fast because he alone - as far as he knew - was reckless enough to eschew the normal island-hopping routes and fly straight down the outwise coast of Netai, where the Mosswaste grew all the way to the water's edge.  He had been called insane many times, but he did make an effort to manage his risks.  He knew the little untouched islands, free of the Peril's corruption, that popped up here and there along the forsaken coast.  He had stocked food and fuel in these places - and fuel even in the Mosswaste, though never food - to make landfall quick, easy, and safe.  He knew the currents well and read the weather better, and took meticulous care of his equipment.  His clients knew only the vague details of his methods, and seldom asked the detailed questions that Nyr Taska refused to answer.  Ultimately, they were interested only in results, and he had delivered them time and time again without consideration for politics or purpose.  It was what kept him alive, sane, and comfortably supplied with the delights life had to offer when everything else seemed to turn to ash and agony.

This time, however, things had not gone as planned.  Nyr Taska was not especially superstitious, but even he thought there was something queer about how the wind had come down on top of them like a diving wyrm, shearing the tether clean off and driving them into the canopy below.  Nyr Taska looked upwards and reflected on the fact that what remained of his craft was probably half a mile away and certainly strewn across countless treetops in small, unrecognizable scraps of silk and cordage.

It was only now, as his gaze returned to the forest floor and the shock of the accident began to wear off, that the full weight of the situation came to bear upon him.  On every rock, on every tree, hanging from every frond and shrub was a coat of orange-yellow growth.  This far beneath the canopy, it was a dull, sallow shade, not the bright saffron he was used to seeing on the spreading treetops as he floated well above them.  Here, the moss was not one uniform coat, but a creature of many forms.  On the trunks of trees, it was a thick woolen mass, several inches deep; on the leaves of twisted saplings, it was a silky, gossamer web of dewy yellow strands that twitched in the faint forest breeze.  There were no traces of animals, nor the usual cacophony of birds and monkeys calling to each other in the understory.  The clicking of insects and the pattering of a light rain on the moss-laden leaves far above were the only sounds to interrupt the terrible silence of the corrupted forest.

Nyr Taska could not suppress a chill that ran slowly from his feet to his leather-capped scalp.  He had never been this deep in the Mosswaste before, and certainly not without his craft or some other way out.  He was miles from the coast, perhaps more than a day's journey, and had neither his supplies nor his lodestone.  A flask of water and a thicket knife on his belt were all that remained on his person.

He rubbed his palms together, began pushing on the Iskite's corpse, and managed to roll it over with a strained grunt.  Its misshapen head lolled listlessly to the side.  Nyr Taska searched its clothes for anything usable, but the Iskite had not taken anything with him on his fall.

Nyr Taska scratched behind his ear and gave the Iskite a studious scowl.  He was unsure if the Peril would be interested in a body with such extensive damage.  A broken back, as far as he knew, was sufficient to cripple an Abomination, and a broken neck would probably make the corpse quite useless.  As he was not entirely sure, however, he drew the thicket knife from his belt and began his work of charity to a dead man.

It took only three forceful chops of the heavy-bladed knife to sever the Iskite's head from its body, owing to the fact that the neck was already snapped.  Nyr Taska wiped off his knife on the Iskite's clothes and tucked it back into his belt.

'Peace, old scale,' he said, a bit wistfully.  "And - sorry."  He stepped back a few paces, took a short running start, and booted the Iskite's mangled head into a mass of orange ferns.  He watched the ferns shake and come to rest, looked up at the nearest moss-covered tree, and pressed the backs of his hands together in a gesture of contempt.

'See if you can make that walk,' he said in a low growl.  It was the most he could do for a brief and former acquaintance.  Nyr Taska was well aware that it was probably a better fate than he would receive.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2014, 04:35:55 PM by Polycarp »
The Clockwork Jungle (wiki | thread)
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Nomadic

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2010, 04:32:31 AM »
Loved it! Especially the iskite head/ball bit and the contemptuous gesture at the end. This one I think finally brought home for me the feeling of the danger of the moss and I finally realized how much that the main character of this story is screwed.

SamuraiChicken

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Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2010, 05:16:45 PM »
I loved these stories. My two favorites are the Artificer Device story the one about the Saffron Peril. The world you have created is so in-depth that it feels like a real place (well, maybe not literally real, but you know what I mean).

Have you ever considered writing (and perhaps publishing?) a pdf/book/website full of short stories about the Clockwork Jungle? It may be a good way for people who do not know about the setting to learn about it (or at the very least, get them interesting about it enough to go check the Wiki or the discussion forums.

I can't wait to read more. :)
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Polycarp

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Re: Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2014, 06:46:41 AM »
Filed under "Tales of Ewok Hitler the World-Queen."  Entry #1 is an experiment with conversation, which I am generally bad with.  I may be slightly better at ~action sequences~ which is where #2 comes in.

Please take no notice of the fact that this is a four-year bump.   :ph34r:

Cloudwalker
   The sweet scent of herbs accompanied the tingle of steam underneath Thes-Ul’s porous skin.  It was familiar, if not exactly pleasurable.  Another Umbril might have worried about acclimating to barbarous alien customs like sitting in a bark-lined hut bathed in stiflingly aromatic steam – and for pleasure, no less – but aliens were Thes-Ul’s business.  “Cloudwalker,” the other Umbril called it, a reference to its unenviable time spent in the high canopy world of the Gheen.  They said it derisively, but Thes-Ul had always worn it like a badge of honor.

“Tyk tyk,” clicked Ukeet, the Gheen who sat cross-legged across from it.  “My apologies, my most patient guest.  Yeela can be a rather flighty child.  I am afraid she may have taken the long way to the water.”  She grinned at Thes-Ul and waved a hand through the steam-laden air over the pile of round stones between them and shook her head.

At that moment, a kit poked her pointed face through the steam-hut’s inner door, her dark eyes immediately drawn to the Umbril.

“Ikey Yeela!  Come here with that water!”  The kit squeaked abruptly upon being called, and crept into the room.  She carried a stoppered gourd that seemed half her size with all the grace of a tzau on a tightrope, and dropped it by the rock pile with a thud and an unruly sloshing sound.  This task accomplished, she took another look at Thes-Ul and raced behind her rather cross looking aunt.

“Yeela!  Such a way to treat our guest,” chided Ukeet.  “You have met Thes-Ul before.”

The little Gheen – that is, little even by Gheen standards – peeked around her aunt at Thes-Ul, who returned her gaze and attempted to display a pleasant expression.

“Hello spawnling,” it said with a breathy lilt.  “Have you brought us a full gourd?”  Thes-Ul hardly approved of the Gheen practice of addressing their young like imbeciles or pet monkeys, but it had long since learned that judgment was bad for business.  Yeela’s only response was to blink and nod silently.

“Tch.  Yeela, we will talk about this later, yes?  Now go and tell Khel Yaur I shall be a while longer.”  The kit needed no further encouragement and dashed out faster than Thes-Ul’s eyes could follow her.

“Such speed!” Thes-Ul said with a wheezing laugh.  “They must be hard to keep still.  We have no such dilemmas with our own sporelings – but I am afraid it is not a result of discipline.”

Ukeet pulled the stopper from the water gourd and shrugged.  “Always I tell her, ‘it is just an Umbril,’ but still she looks at you as if you were a hungry wyrm.  And of course, once you are gone, forty-nine questions about you and your kin that I cannot hope to answer.”

“No matter.  She will not have to bear me much longer.”

Ukeet poured the water over the hot stones.  The two of them were silent for some time, even after the sizzling hiss subsided.

Ukeet was the first to break it.  “It am sure it will not be as you say.”

“Of course it will.”  Thes-Ul’s voice was bitter and dismissive, but it did not look up from the steaming stones.  “I cannot stay where I am not welcome.”

Ukeet blinked, taken aback by the words.  “Not welcome?  You shame me, friend.  When have our homes ever been closed to you?  How many times have we taken tea together?  We will not change.”

“You have already begun.  I have seen it before.  I have seen it in the eyes of your kin, and heard it in their voices.  You are all very poor liars, but adept enough to lie to yourselves.”

Ukeet shook her head, but did not contradict him.  “I will not change.”

“You will.  Wait until your minder arrives.  They call it an honor, but it will be a shackle – and your face will harden against me.  She will get her wish, and you will not have to see my kind again.”

Ukeet’s voice was barely above a whisper.  “That is not what I want.  You know it never has been.  She – she is of a different place.  She does not know you like we know you.  Like I do.”

Thes-Ul’s eyes darted up to the Gheen’s face.  “A different place?  The snows of the Spires, perhaps.”  A tone of urgency crept into its lowered voice.  “She is mad, Ukeet.  A fruit-eating butcher-”

“No!  You call us liars, and say that!” Ukeet cried.  “Always these dream-spun tales that aliens tell of her – you cannot know!”

“We are apparently the only ones who do.  Where is Ulthas?  Where is Suteth?”  Its tendrils writhed and clenched briefly, though neither of them noticed.  “Moved, she says.  They have been moved like brush is moved by fire, and blown into the wind.  They are ash, along with all who dwelled there.  The Bloodletter has her way, and you welcome her here with open arms!”

Ukeet threw her hands out wide, exasperated.  “They were traitors!  They sheltered the renegades.  They knew what they were doing when they took them in.  What else could she have done?”

“That is the wrong question.”  Some manner of calm returned to Thes-Ul’s voice, though it lost none of its intensity.  “Her choices, I do not know.  But your people, they make choices as well – choices to hunt us down, to enslave us, to scorch whole colonies in her name.  They choose to heed her when she commands them to slaughter us for a simple act of mercy.  What else could they have done, Ukeet?  They are not abominations.  No one has put a torch in their hands.”

Ukeet did not answer immediately.  She glanced over her shoulder at the door her niece had departed through and sighed.  “You should see the faces of the kits when her name is said.  She brings pride to the kin.  She is quickblooded, vital, far-seeing – she has united a hundred dreys.  She gives the kin purpose.  These things... you would not understand.  But she will see what is best for all of us.  Things are difficult now; there is always trouble, chaos, when generations turn, and things we regret.  But soon we will have peace again.”

Thes-Ul squinted at her, watching curls of steam play across her face, trying to do what the redbloods did – see the soul in the twitch of the eyes and the wrinkles of the mouth.  This face was familiar, but as always, it was unreadable, some plain truth written in a mysterious script.

Thes-Ul stayed a little longer, but it had lost its tolerance for the steam.  It was a stifling, blinding fog that settled heavily in its gills.  “Cloudwalker,” they called Thes-Ul – but lately, the clouds seemed to be parting beneath its feet, revealing a terrifying drop.
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Design
The Forest is never silent.  Its Breath flows everywhere, and upon it rings an abundant voice.  At dawn it speaks in birdsong, at noon in the shouts of monkeys and the shrieks of wyrm-kind, at dusk in the howls of hacklers and the chattering of the vespertine insects, and in the deepest dark of night in frog-croaks and spider-chirps – and always it mutters in the language of quaking leaves and groaning trunks.

Odrun was far quieter than the Forest, and in the darkness of the starlit night his pursuers could only count on their ears.  Odrun, like all his kin, had the shadow-eyes; the treelings had not.  Soon, however, dawn would arrive.  He had no doubt that the keen-eyed gheen waiting in the treetops would see him as soon as the light, however muted by the canopy, poured down into the undergrowth.  He could not sleep, lest he be awoken by arrows at dawn; he could not eat, lest he alert the scouts waiting in the trees.  There was no rest or respite to be gained from cowering beneath a queenstail bush.  There was only one reasonable course of action – to flee now, rather than when dawn forced him to do so.  Either way, he was likely to die, but perhaps his chances would be a bit more palatable while the darkness still lingered.

Slowly and cautiously, Odrun pulled a bola from his cat-hide baldric.  He tossed it in a low arc with as much force as he could silently provide, and a second later it spun into the brush, making a sound that no gheen-ears could miss.

“Ree, ree!  Ayta’eyt!” Before the gheen had even finished his alarum, Odrun heard the twang of bowstrings and the whisper of arrows flying into the undergrowth around where he had cast the bola.  Odrun jumped up and bolted in the opposite direction.  The shouts of the gheen continued as he barreled through the thicket.  Branches grasped his legs and lashed at his face, but still he ran, heedless of the noise and pain.  He could not hear them, but he knew that his pursuers were gliding silently not far behind.

A nearby swish indicated that at least one of the gheen felt confident enough to take a shot.  It was ill-considered to use precious arrows in the dark – but was there already a trace of light in the sky?  Was Mylsegemmen’s Eye already opening on the horizon?  There was no hope if he could not escape them soon.

He had passed bits of ancient masonry while running.  Stumps and rounds of weathered columns, broken tiles and lintel-stones cast wide from their ancient berth, beaten-down walls covered by creeping vines – all this was normal in the Forest, and Odrun noticed them no more than he noticed the texture of the bark or the wooly moss hanging from the limbs of the trees he ran under.  Had he been paying closer attention, however, he would have noticed that they came thicker here than usual, with toppled columns now coming to rest on one another and unkempt flagstones growing as common as bare earth.  Insensitive to his surroundings save his relentless pursuers, the ruin crept up on him.  Now came the sudden realization that he had stumbled into a different Forest, in which the tree trunks had been replaced by vine-wrapped columns.

The pillared hall stretched before him.  It was open to the air down its long middle, but the sides still held cover here and there where the columns supported pieces of delicate stone vaulting, still covered in places by faded hexagonal ceramic tiles.  Odrun slowed down for only a moment, scanning his sudden change in surroundings, and then dodged to the side and collapsed under the welcome ceiling.

He was not safe here.  He realized this as the whistles of the gheen grew closer, now almost directly overhead.  He gripped the stub of a pillar that leaned against the gallery wall and drew himself up.  He breathed deeply, pushing through a prickling pain that spread through his chest, and took off running down the side of the hall.  His feet slapped against the rough and uneven stones, protruding at odd angles from a bed of moss, fungi, and the rotting detritus of a hundred yards of canopy above.  Had he looked back, he would have seen smears of blood on the stones were his feet fell, but his mind was numbed to any pain beyond the raw ache in his chest and legs.  It did not matter anyway; either he would have plenty of time to feel his pain later in the agony of convalescence, or he would soon be relieved from it altogether.

A broad domed building loomed at the end of the long hall.  It had a definite list to it, the likely result of thousands of years of rain and erosion eating away its foundation.  The dome was covered in greenery, and dotted with pale glowing stars… sunlight!  The light of day was beginning to sift through the canopy above and play upon the ancient stonework.  Odrun heard the sound of arrowheads striking stone above and behind him as he ran.  There was a grating sound and a splintering crash as a lintel-stone, teetering on the edge for ages, slammed into the paving stones a half-dozen paces behind him.

The domed building had two entrances opening to the two parallel arcades of the open hallway.  His pounding heart sunk in his chest; the entrance in front of him had been smashed shut by a fallen column.  Only the entrance to the other arcade, across the open center of the hall, looked open.  Odrun swiveled and dashed.

He could swear he felt the fletchings on an arrow brush his shoulder.  An arrow splintered on a column ahead; he did not see the half dozen skitter across the stones around his feet.  With a roar, he put his shoulder forward and launched himself through the brazen door-grill, which offered no resistance.  The door clattered to the ground and Odrun tumbled into the entranceway.  Gasping, Odrun pushed himself up from the floor and frantically looked around for anything to shut the portal.  He picked up the fallen door and shoved it back in place.  He lifted one stone, then another, trying to shore up the fragile grating.  He lifted a large, jagged section of tile.  Perhaps he could wedge it in the side – he could not stop them, but if he could delay them...

Odrun’s arm spasmed in pain, and the tile fell from his hands and clattered to the ground.  A hot, burning sensation radiated from his shoulder.  Wide eyed, Odrun spun and saw the inside of the domed chamber for the first time – the collapsed dome, with a pile of rubble in the center and a massive, gaping hole at the top, through which a slanted pillar of sunlight glittered in the morning mist.  On the rim of the hole stood a pair of gheen.  Backlit by the sun, he could only see their silhouettes.  One of the shadow-gheen raised a bow.  Odrun could only gape as a second arrow struck him, this time between the ribs.  His burning legs gave up, and the Tahr slumped to the floor.

The gheen took their time.  The whole patrol, eleven strong, gathered on the rim and then glided leisurely to the floor, a broken mosaic of tiles and ferns.  They stood about the wheezing, shuddering Tahr, bows in hand but without one arrow nocked.  Two began speaking to one another in their chattering tongue.  The leader – presumably the one with the red-feathered plume – clicked its tongue and picked at the hide-wrapped hilt of its thicket knife.

The pain of the arrows in Odrun’s fleshed had dulled, but the warm sensation continued to grow in his shoulder and stomach.  It was a searing heat, now.  Things on the edge of Odrun’s vision began to ripple and blur, and a wave of nausea made him shudder and moan.  The treelings always poisoned their arrows.  His muscles hurt not at all, but he could coax no movement out of them.  He panted, his tongue lolling out of his mouth.  He looked into the dark eyes of the leader.  The leader dispassionately met his gaze.  Odrun’s eyes moved towards the pillar of sunlight behind them.  Broad leaves and fern-fronds stretched upwards towards the morning light.

His eye caught a twinkling in the pile of rubble soaked in sunlight.  He squinted at it, trying to focus as clouds grew over his vision.  It twinkled again.  Another twinkle spread into a metallic gleam visible through the pieces of fallen ceiling.  The leader was saying something.  A gheen bow prodded him in the ribs.  Odrun’s eyes never wavered from the light.

His voice creaked as he drew in a slow, painful breath.  The leader held out his hand, and the other tittering gheen fell silent.  They waited for him to speak.

Odrun remembered an Umbril from his youth – a smith, whose mottled brown hide was flecked with spark-scars.  Its name escaped him.  It had been a drey-friend, back when such a thing existed in Feathervale.  The smith spent some time every day sitting upon a fluted column-stone.  Brash and curious, young Odrun had asked it what it was doing.  Breathing, it had said; I am breathing.

Odrun had not learned much from the smith, or at least little he had cause to use.  He had not practiced in a very long time.  But he remembered his words.  Hold your breath in the Forest’s halls…

Odrun exhaled.  It was only a thin wheeze.  One of the gheen laughed.  The leader clicked its tongue again.  It drew its thicket knife.

Faintly, somewhere in the ruin, metal squealed.  One of the gheen's ears perked up, and it looked over its shoulder.

Something clacked and whirred.  This time all the gheen heard it.  The leader paused, holding the knife motionlessly in the air.

There was a grating sound, stone upon stone, then the scrape of metal on stone.  The leader turned around.

Then the glimmer grew in Odrun’s vision, and the rubble thundered.  The pile of collapsed dome rose.  Stone and tile raised and shifted, then sloughed off the rising form.

Upon the rubble at the center of the dome was something as tall as a Tahr.  Then it stood up.  Metal squealed and clattered as the figure rose to its full height, at least ten feet.  The morning sun flowed like liquid fire on its gleaming skin.  It bore a metallic in its hand with a curving, flame-shaped blade atop it.

For a few seconds, the gheen stared in complete and total silence.  Then, in sharp contrast to is slow and clattering rise, the figure’s head swiveled entirely around without a sound.  A smooth steel face, featureless but for two glass orbs, one set directly above the other, stared at the gathered creatures.

Someone screamed.  Odrun grunted as one of the gheen stepped on him as it ran towards the door.  He could hear the scampering of their feet around him, but his fading eyes stayed fixed on the steel giant.  Its legs bent, its body leaned forward, and it leaped as gracefully as a cat.  One foot struck the ground first, sending up a spray of tile and earth.  In a few massive strides, it was nearly above him.

A hand swooped down, but passed over him.  He heard another scream, which briefly and raggedly moved up half an octave and then stopped, accompanied by a crunching sound.  Something wet sprinkled his back.  The giant grasped the metal haft of its blade with both hands, and the flame-like blade began spinning, swooping like a canopy wyrm, casting arcs of crimson on the floor and walls.  He could hear the gheen running, shouting, screaming.  One of them tried to dash by the giant.  Its glass-eyed head did not turn, but a great steel foot lifted and shot back down, leaving nothing recognizable behind.  An arrow ricocheted uselessly off the giant’s chest, which was answered by a blur of mechanical motion and a little flailing body tumbling along the uneven floor for a dozen yards before falling still.

Until now, Odrun had only ever seen one Soldier in his life.  It had been a Soldier of the enemy, the World-Queen’s machine, clad with the trappings of her service.  Symbols and letters drawn in bright red paint had covered its gleaming skin.  A sheaf of bleeding arrows tied with an equally blood-red cord had been crudely marked on one of its thigh-plates.  Thick red lines had encircled each of its three eyes in a braided pattern.  On its chest had been the sinuous halberd-blade of Yrta above some slogan that Odrun could not read.  A stitched hide standard with more crimson scribblings had jutted up from its back, held rigid by wooden spars lashed to the Cog’s body.  It was garish, superlative, and perfectly clear: the decorations told you exactly what Yrta’s queen wanted you to know.  This is my creature.  This is the manner of the power I wield.  This is the might of Yrta, and it is upon you.

In watching this Cog, Odrun felt an admiring awe that had not been inspired by Yrta’s Soldier.  There were no slogans on this lean metal body, no animal-skin pennants, no ruddy Gheen paw-marks upon it.  Its makers had touched it, and none other since.  They had made no art upon it.  It did speak, but the single word it spoke was made without sound or symbol.  The word was spoken by every piece of its body and in every movement of its form.  It was a word with no meaning that any crimson screed could tell you more clearly or elegantly.  There was nothing else, no cause it wished to glorify, no feeling it meant to evoke.  Those who crafted it did not wish you to know anything.  They simply wished you to die.

The Soldier stood still.  There was no more screaming or scampering.  Its head swiveled towards Odrun, who now could see only two glass beads in a sea of blurred color and shadow.

Without further reflection, the Soldier raised its weapon and brought the blade down upon the Tahr’s head.
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« Last Edit: July 08, 2014, 04:38:58 PM by Polycarp »
The Clockwork Jungle (wiki | thread)
"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." - Marcus Aurelius

Rose-of-Vellum

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Re: Clockwork Jungle Storytime Special
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2014, 05:55:55 PM »
Ah, I was quite unaware of this lode of wonderful vignettes! Thanks for posting both stories and reviving the thread. Love the names.