Whatever you do, do it with style.
- Invitation Status
- Posting Speed
- One post per week
- Writing Levels
- Preferred Character Gender
- Primarily Prefer Male
- As long as the plot's good I'm in. That says nothing useful though... so I'll say: sci-fi, fantasy, I'm curious enough about horror to add it, aaaand action? yeah, ok, sure, action!
Chapter 1: Festival of AmbergrisA puff in the distance dusted the sky, barrell fungi spores. The small vanishing cloud in her eyes was in reality a blanket that covered at least forty steps in length. Ninli sighed, one hand against her chest. Such little things, spores, and so many of them. Tiny dangers in the air that every now and then someone underestimates as something less fatal. She adjusted her mask though it was too late for her, and turned back to her work.
The walls were smooth, rough to the touch but smooth like she’d never seen them before. There were no growths to cut or spores to scrub. With sudden breath in her lungs she looked around to find the crew was gone. “What?,” she whispered, moving along the edge of Cadia until she arrived at the seams. She slipped through the transparent tents before them, taking the time, even in her rush, to comb through her hair and uniform before the spray. Clean of the outside, she passed through the seams, pulling off her mask as she ran in. There was nothing there. Cadia was hollow and even as she stared it began to dawn on her she was dreaming. As if on cue, she watched the ceiling walls thin and expand until she could see the outside sky and it was beautiful. Like spores in the breeze, the stars began to fall, softly dancing to the ground. They rained without weight, all around her little sponge-like shining things slipping through Cadia’s thinning skin!
She gasped as they got closer, reaching out a hand for them to fall on. But her hand was an oozing stalk, and her fingers spread out like the tendrils of a plant. Ninli’s first instinct was to step back but her legs were bound by the ground. She wanted the dream to stop. Her beautiful and terrifying dream morphed into nightmare as her shoulder expanded, bulging big and round. Tension built, until she felt it spread upwards through her neck and it made her want to scream but she knew that if she opened her mouth she would dust Cadia’s sky. She screamed anyway.
“Ninli, wake up!”
Ninli opened her eyes to the familiar cove of her bed. She turned to face Gain who despite being more asleep than awake, leaned in to check on her. “What’s with the nightmares lately?” he asked, “everything alright?”
They watched each other for a moment. “I dreamt your parents asked the builders to spare you for a decade so they could have you remodel their home… for the third time,” she said, not wanting him to worry.
“Shut up,” he laughed, “it’s just a few days I’ll be there and only because the record masters need the job rushed. I’m going back to sleep, and you’re going to be late.” Ninli hugged his back and kissed his forehead as she stepped out of the cove. She didn’t want to go but fifteen droplets of water later, she was out the front fold of their home.
The natural bioluminescence was still dim as she slipped into her gear alongside the crew. Early morning was the best cutting time; it was the lull of the land when hostility came only when provoked. Ninli tied the cap over her head and secured the mask over her face as the first of her crew trickled out through the Seam. She stepped through with the last few and into the transparent tents where her crewmates checked each other’s fitting one last time. Once outside, Ninli unsheathed her sickle.
“Not today kid, you’re gliding to the top,” Tora, the woman who taught Ninli everything about cutting, smiled at her through the mask, “tailside.”
“With Mister Erco? He makes me nervous, always fiddling with his talisman as if we’re in constant danger,” Ninli complained, but sheathed the sickle anyway and traded it for the cleaver.
“We are in constant danger,” Tora pointed up ahead, “antlions. They’re going to agitate the flora any day now if they haven’t already. It’ll reach us sooner or later. And it’s when Erco stops fiddling with his talisman on the glide that you should worry. The man’s good with the wind. ”
Ninli nodded, “Yes boss.” She took her cleaver and ran up to the gliders, hopping onto the back of one as it was put into motion. They rode the wind as it curved over the walls of Cadia, scanning the surface while they made their way to the tail. The glider slowed but Ninli pointed her cleaver before Erco moved to land on the walls. She’d seen a trail leading away from Cadia, and now he saw it too, they drifted down to ground. Ninli followed the trail, a light ridge over the earth, until she walked up to the thing that had rolled to a stop there.
“Ambergris!” Erco clapped his hands in elation. Another glider landed nearby, rushing to look at the block she was kneeling by.
“Ninli! Come on, we’re gliding up to collect the fragments!” From where she was kneeling, Ninli looked where Erco was pointing and saw the golden-brown etched on the wrinkled wall.
She was already stepping on the glider when she said, “shouldn’t we wait? I’ve only got a cleaver Mister Erco.”
“You’ve got your magic. Tie yourself to the rope!” he hovered expertly in a slow circle as Ninli lowered herself, dagling until she was against the wall.
With her hands against the skin, Ninli focused on her earrings, tracing with her mind the rune carved into each of them. She was not touching ambergris, but even so she felt the force of it. “Easy!,” Mister Erco called, “we don’t want to damage the wallskin, but be careful with the ambergris! Don’t channel your magic while touching it! Raw ambergris is too potent!”
Ninli wondered why the one with ambergris experience was not the one dangling from the rope, but she said nothing and maneuvered the cleaver with her gloved hand to dig into the edge of the golden-brown mass. Her other hand she kept gloveless over the wallskin, focusing her will to preserve it. Another cutter joined her, slowly crawling over the vertical stretch until he could chisel at the ambergris from the other side.
“Here, I’ll look after the wallskin and you carve it out. It’ll be faster,” she said, tying the cleaver to her belt and shoving the glove in her pouch. With both hands on the wallskin, she felt the energy of the ambergris flow through it and it was like nothing she’d ever done before. It was easy. It was strong magic. It made the wallskin feel like it was her own skin, and no matter how violent the chisel dug in, the surface never broke.
Something rippled from the inside. “Watch out!” the cutters warned as they moved away, but Ninli had been too focused to react and in an instant the tremor shifted the raw ambergris under her hand. The massive pulse of magic shock knocked her out, and as her limp body dangled from the rope, Erco watched from where they floated as the remaining ambergris was shaken off with the end of the tremor.
By the time Tora arrived with a cart, the ambergris and its fragments had been collected into a neat pile, ready to be loaded and transported. Meanwhile Erco had delivered Ninli to the healing unit, and even as he explained the succession of events, word of the unexpected harvest had begun to spread. And for as little as it took Ninli to convince them she was fine and it had just been a small fainting spell from the excitement, ambergris talk had reached the town center prompting various questions about procedure and tradition. For others, celebrations started early from older generations sharing their experience with those whose knowledge of ambergris was nil or with those whose knowledge came only from books.
Cadia had delivered a boon. Preparations for the Festival of Ambergris were already beginning to take shape.