Category Archives: fiction

Travelers, Part 2

eyrie

“Zaogao.”

Jamming a wheel– again– on a mud-slicked rock, Da Xiong muttered under his breath and wiped his brow with a dirty sleeve. Out here, with no one but his dozing master to hear him, he could speak just a bit and break the facade he’d carefully sustained since before escaping the capital five years ago.

Progress along the muddy ground was excruciatingly slow even for a man of his size and strength, made even more so by the weight of the cart he half-pulled, half dragged through the puddles and stones.

Master Qie, as was his wont in the late afternoon, napped on his cushion undisturbed by the bumpy and intermittent travel. Qie had insisted– INSISTED! with a flourish of a silken sleeve, that Xiong load the cart with cheap wines at the last stop. For trade, he said.

Trade, indeed. Not that even the waiguogou would drink this swill. Or properly pave a road, for that matter.

Back home even this minor road would have been carefully laid with precision-cut flagstones. Xiong noted where cutting a swale on the left would immeasurably improve drainage, and over there one could very easily re-grade and straighten the path with an eight-crew and two days’ labor, and just a few li back they’d passed a fine, defensible junction where, if they’d had any sense at all, the locals would have sited a cistern and a toll collector.

Pfft. Barbarians. The only saving grace of plodding through this godsforsaken land was that Master Qie was now very, very far from the Imperial Censor and his torturers.

Ahead of them the tower waited, piercing the canopy and reaching three times again as high as the tallest tree. There were temples taller than this at home, but not many, and none made entirely of stone. A staircase spiraled to the top of tower, narrow and irregular and steep. They’d have to leave the cart and lug the wine up on Xiong’s back.

The glass orb at the top glowed dimly, brighter than the sun in the overcast sky. Xiong estimated the amount of sand, coal, and workers one would need to engineer a glass sphere the size of a house and concluded that either it was clever fakery or the waiguogou possessed a secret foundry bigger than the Emperor’s stables.

Or, most likely given the Eyrie’s inhabitants, it was magic.

Wizards. These people knew the importance of learning and careful study, even if they wouldn’t deign to apply their erudition to engineering a passable turnpike.

Tomorrow, the travelers would meet these mages and make a record of their Eyrie in Master Qie’s ever-thickening journal. Page by page the catalogue of strange places and people grew, but Xiong doubted anyone in the capital would ever read it. He still held hope, but daily became more and more convinced he and his master would never return from this land of fleas to silk sheets and polished rice and love left behind.

Da Xiong sighed and trundled forward. Perhaps, sweet Tianyu, he mused. Perhaps I will hold you again.

eyrie closeup

You can purchase the Eyrie at Pinshape. Read the first installment of this series here.

Pathos in Paradise

milton

(You can download Milton here.)

Milton shifted uncomfortably among the ferns, moving his weight from one haunch to the other. Pooping in an unfamiliar spot was always stressful, and the noise from the playground tightened him up even worse than usual. His hams were prickly from the heat and pins and needles brought about by a long squat. I really should be doing more yoga, he thought.

But going to class meant that other herbivores would see how inflexible and fat he was, and Milton always felt he was the poster child for Doing It Wrong. Maybe he could just stream yoga videos on his iPad and practice alone at home.

He pushed a little. Nothing. Pushed again. He could feel the first pellet six inches from freedom, stone-hard, stuck, and blocking its comrades from exit. Dehydration, probably, or possibly too many gingko nuts. If he could just get this plug out the rest would come easy, he was sure of it.

Fixing his brow, he pushed too hard, and strained a suprised warble from his crest by accident. Oh, God, if the children heard the sound they’d be on him in seconds.

Some of the other Parasaurolophus on the island loved the humans, but Milton preferred solitude, especially while pooping. The Settler children always begged him to toot little songs while they danced around him like a maypole. The children were cute, but Milton knew his songs weren’t any good and that was why none of the adults ever danced around Milton, the inflexible and fat maypole dinosaur.

Perhaps doing downward-facing dog would move things around enough to shake the pellet loose. He licked his beak and tried again. Mid-pose he contemplated his tail, which reminded him of the time he had knocked over the velvet ropes at the bank with it. Everyone looked at him (everyone was always looking at him) and then the ropes fell and made a tremendous crash, which only made everyone look at him some more.

The sound of crunching leaves told Milton that he was no longer alone. He looked up into the face of a little human, caked in slop and burrs. Milton couldn’t tell the males from females when they were this small, but he did notice the muddy turnip the creature held in one paw.

A turnip. Goodness! Eating a turnip might be just the thing to loosen up the sluices. He sniffed and clicked his beak hopefully. The child made a little warble of its own. “Toot!” it barked. “Toot!”

Milton reached forward and nipped at the turnip but the child pulled it out of reach and frowned. “Toot!”

Several other children had taken notice from across the schoolyard and started running towards him. The turnip bringer turned towards the approaching pack and shouted something in its chirpy stacatto language.

The child turned back to Milton, joined by a dozen similarly filthy companions. It beckoned towards the dinosaur, waving the turnip under Milton’s nose. It whispered slyly as its cold blue eyes met Milton’s gaze. “Toot.”

The ring of children began to chant. “Toot! Toot! Toot! Toot!”

Very well, thought Milton, a performance, then.

He inhaled deeply, expanding his ribcage as far as he could. The children fairly rippled with excitement as Milton’s mighty diaphraghm flexed in preparation for an epic bellow.

A chill suddenly swept over Milton’s body. Every scale from crest to shoulders seemed to prick up on its own, and, with a sickening slurch, something terrible shifted inside his gut.

Oh no. It was coming. Milton turned to run, but was blocked on every side by the tiny humans. He had no desire to trample the little brown creatures but perhaps if he could just nudge one of th–

A grapefruit-sized mass of moist fiber shot from between Milton’s legs and struck one of the children in the neck. The child collapsed, shocked, and Milton thought he saw a fragment of gingko nut stuck to the child’s lip. The other children burst into raucous laughter.

Milton whirled to apologize and the rest came forth in a torrent. Smaller lumps splattered the turnip bearer with chunky filth. A green liquid ribbon arced and danced as Milton turned, dousing a semicircle of children. The laughter turned to shrieks as the little humans fled, slipping and stumbling in the pool of waste. The turnip, long rendered inedible without a good washing, was mashed into a broken patty by panicked feet.

I’m sorry, Milton thought. So sorry. Forgive me. His knees trembled as the last trickles left his body and dripped onto the leaves below. With the children now silent, the pitter-plops were the only sounds left in the world.

The dinosaur turned and slunk away towards his swamp, keenly aware of the angry mob’s hot glare from the relative cleanliness of the schoolyard pond.

Travelers, Part 1

Peacetime, now, as it had been for half a decade.

Maera bumped the tower door with her hip, held it open with her rump and eased out onto the wall-walk, taking care not to spill any grog from the dozen steaming mugs she bore like a serving girl on the inside of her shield. She puffed a wisp of mousy hair from her eyes and called to the sargeant of the watch. “Elias! Some help, if you would.”

Elias, still quick even at threescore and two, set down his spyglass and hustled over to relieve the chateliane of her burden. “Good morning, milady! Thankee much.” He distributed the hot grog around the wall and offered the last tankard to Maera. “Milady?”

She shook her head and smiled. “It’s yours, please. Still chilly up here, it is.”

The sargeant grinned and sipped daintily at the tankard, one pinky raised in silent mockery of his lady’s educated accent. “Chilly, but calm, at least. The night passed without incident, as they all do of late.”

Maera had taken a habit of posting a light guard in the last six months. Red hadn’t made noise since their victory and the other clans were too far away to mount an attack without messengers spotting them weeks in advance.

Peacetime it was, but of course there were Vile Things out there that weren’t Men and didn’t care a whit for clan politics. Elias continued. “Can’t say as I miss the war, though.”

He scraped the last bit of honey from his mug with a grimy finger, licked, and squinted out over the wall. “Hello, what’s this? Movement at the far marker, if these old eyes tell the truth?”

He unbuckled his spyglass and handed it to Maera. “What is it? Even with the lens I’d never know.”

Maera heard three sharp toots from a warning horn– another wall-walker had spotted the movement and sounded an alert. She sighed. Three notes were a bit excessive at this distance, but then again these men were fairly well starved for something to do lately. She lifted the spyglass to her eye and homed in on the intruder.

The image of a man pulling a two-wheeled cart filled her view. And what a man! A giant, standing tall as a rearing warhorse. His skin was lightly tanned, even so early in the year. His clothing was at once coarse and complicated, with swirls of embroidery up the sleeves and sides of his green… tunic? Robe? Hard to say. It went to his knees and he wore black leggings underneath.

Another man, younger, slept in a padded chair behind the giant. His skin and hair were similar in color, but his robe (yes, definitely a robe on this one) was clearly of finer quality. The man’s head tilted over the back of his seat and he loosely held the neck of a large gourd in his left hand. He wore stockings of the purest white, but only one sandal.

How odd the cart looked; more of a tent-covered chair on wheels than a proper cart, with barely any space for extra cargo. Not merchants, then, nor peddlers, and certainly not warriors, though a sword hung in its scabbard from the side of the cart. Slowly, canopy swaying left to right with each step, the giant and his snoozing master plodded ever closer to the Black Keep.

Maera lowered the spyglass as the wall began to bustle with activity. “Well,” she mused to no one in particular, “this should be a novelty.”