Thursday, October 8, 2009



Flavius cautiously backed away. The black pupil, taller than Flavius by half, narrowed, straining to focus on his too-close form. The lid slid down smoothly, shifting spheres out of the way as it moved, closing with all the gentleness of a steel door.

Flavius sat in the dark, barely breathing, praying the Ketza'qua would go back to sleep... or whatever the gigantic serpent did.

The eye snapped back open, the strange, emerald glow spilling over Flavius. A subsonic rumble rose up from deep inside the Ketza'qua. Its massive scales clattered against themselves like a cavalry charge across a field of cobblestones. The buoyancy spheres shifted again, and Flavius hastily considered the inherent instability of his footing. All around, the protesting groans and whines of cables and scaffolding reverberated through the spheres.

The Ketza’qua sensed opportunity amid the chaos. The opportunity for freedom.

Flavius clambered between the translucent spheres, away from the Ketza’qua. The glow from the beast’s eye cast an odd illumination, reflected and diffracted in unnatural ways by the spheres. The beasts rumbled again, and the spheres resettled, threatening to alternately crush Flavius between them or pitch him away entirely.

His boots struggled for traction on the hard shells. The spheres weren’t slick, but they were smooth, offering little upon which to grip. He wriggled and heaved himself up through the ever-shifting gaps, smaller spheres slipping between the house-sized ones, obstructing his way and forcing him to retreat to find a different route. Steadily, he put as much distance between himself and the Ketza’qua as possible. Every so often, he heard Acaona call out for him. He shouted in reply, but amid the incessant chiming of the spheres, clattering of the Ketza’qua scales and distant explosions and alarms, he had no hint that she’d heard him.

He reached up and sought a hand-hold against one sphere, a smaller one that spanned maybe twice the width of his outstretched arms, and froze. It hadn’t chimed when his palm struck it as the others had. He rapped it with his knuckles and got a dull, hollow echo in reply. Quickly he ran his fingers across the surface in the weak light. Were those cracks he felt? Flavius peered through the surface, but could see nothing. He looked over the top of the sphere. Nothing. He slithered down onto his belly--grunting in the tight confines, and craned his neck to see the underside. There, at the very edge of his line of sight, he could just make out a sword pommel adorned with the whortleberries.

“So there’s where ya got yerself.” Flavius tried to squeeze through the gap, but his shoulders wedged hard against the abutting spheres and blocked any further progress. He pulled back and reached for it, straining with one arm, but Memory remained a good arm-length away from his grasp.

“Come on, come on, ya bugger,” he muttered, climbing atop the sphere. A larger one blocked his way directly across the top, but he worked his way around the side enough to peer down through a narrow gap. He had a clear view of Memory now, just a couple of feet away. The sword had buried itself up to the hilt in the sphere, and a spider web of cracks radiated out from it.

A deep-throated growl burst from the Ketza’qua just then, and a violent shudder jolted Flavius as the creature strained against its bonds. The spheres shifted, and he barely avoided having a leg pinned as one large sphere shifted enough to allow a smaller one slide closer to Flavius’ perch.

Breathing heavily, he turned back to Memory. “Bastard,” he muttered through clenched teeth. The sphere had rotated, carrying the sword just out of reach. “Why is it that these things can never, ever work out easily? That’s what’d I’d like to ken.”

He tried a different angle, then looked for a different vantage with no luck. Memory was well out of his reach, and unless the spheres shifted again, it would remain so.

Of course, another shift could just as easily crush him into pudding.

Somewhere above, Acaona was calling his name. For a moment, he marveled at the fact she hadn’t been devoured by the moironteau yet, and then a rage at the injustice of his situation welled up so that he felt he’d burst. For lack of ability to do anything else, Flavius kicked, bringing his boot down onto the sphere. A dull snap answered, and he heard a new fissure snake across the surface.

That gave him pause. He pursed his lips in thought, then checked Memory again, shifting so that he wasn’t directly over where he judged the blade to be. Then he kicked again. And again.

Suddenly, with a crisp report, the sphere shattered. Flavius dropped with the shards as the spheres rushed to fill the void. He grasped wildly for Memory, his left hand closing over the end of the blade. Flavius cried out as the edge bit into his palm, but he refused to loosen his grip, even as spheres battered him from below.

He lay gasping, finally, wedged between two spheres, blood from nicks and scratches streaking his forearms and face. Ever so carefully, wincing from the pain, he reached over and grabbed the flat of the blade with his free hand.

"Ya damn near got away from me that time, dinnae ya? Donnae try that again," Flavius said, lifting Memory over himself and wedging it securely beside him. He then tore several strips from his tattered sleeves and tied a makeshift bandage over his wounded hand.

The Ketza'qua rumbled. Flavius could no longer see the creature, or its eye, but the menacing green glow cast a faint sheen over everything.

"Right. Time to find our way out," he said. "I cannae be far enough away when that beastie breaks--"

The Ketza'qua snarled, thrashing against its bonds more violently than before. The spheres lurched and shuddered. They shifted and rotated, two coming together to press Flavius between them like a vice. He struggled to squirm away, but their grip was too tight. He gasped for breath, but could not overcome the constriction on his lungs. Desperate, he tried to shatter either sphere with Memory, but could manage barely a tap. His vision began to swim.

From above came a string of high-pitched twangs in rapid succession. Then music.

Soft at first, only a few ethereal notes cut through the cacophony of the Ketza'qua's struggles, moironteau roars and the moaning of abused palace foundations. The music grew, more and more pure notes joining together in a disordered, elegant chaos.

Flavius gulped in air as the crushing sphere lifted from him. He gazed wonderingly as it soared above, joining a cloud of hundreds. Spheres rose all around him, suddenly loose as those holding them down from above soared to freedom.

His sphere hummed softly as it rose up, muted by Flavius perched atop it and weighed down by his bulk. Other spheres bumped them from below. Flavius wobbled, crouching to maintain the best balance possible, and rode the sphere up into the swirl of music.

The restraining netting had completely torn away. The buoyancy spheres were free.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hope all is well with you and yours