A very rough draft of a prologue that I wrote the n the bus the other day. What do you think????
The city of Suppendar, which lent its name to the entire floating landmass, loomed high above in the distance to the prow of the continent ship. Today, she was pointed to the west, allowing the farmers on the lower decks the opportunity of an early morning in full sunlight.
The marble outcrop and city (which was, as a matter of fact, less built *upon* her foundations as hewn *from* them) were bathed in the rich citrus orange of a perfect sunrise. From the domed temples of the Moon to the elaborate-yet-functionctional towers of the Obsidian Palace, whose talon-esque architecture which appeared to erupt from and dominate the right hand side of the very highest point of the old Suppendese Peninsula as a constant reminder of the unyielding power of the Grand High Inquisitorial Legion of Prosecutors, to the long low tiled roofs of the various market squares and plazas, every crenelation and spire in the city formed the distinctive skyline that was indelibly familiar with every Suppendese citizen. In the sunrise, the glassy black walls of the Obsidian Palace reflected ripples of carnelian fire as if in a resplendent blaze of triumph.
Meertal Triscale took for herself a brief moment of respite to admire the awesome majesty of her home city from afar. As distant as it was, those outlines and definitions were still sharp and clear. This was, in fact, the first opportunity she had had to do so since leaving three weeks ago. The continent ship had been lashed by storms for well over a month now and the barospex predicted that the storm would redouble the following day. But for now, all was calm and all was still. With the last of the Summer’s heat behind them and the slight nip of Autumn cutting through the soft warmth, Meertal could tell that this was going to be a good day.
As a scribe in the employ of the Myrking’s palace, it was her job to survey the bringing in of the harvest for this district. The principal crop from this particular farm was root vegetables and though it was still early in the season, the harvest had begun a few weeks early, after a Summer of ideal conditions. Meertal had been called down from the city by excited farmers eager to share in their bounty. She took on her task of cataloguing and redistributing the harvest for municipal purposes with all the relish of a newly commissioned administrator, which indeed she was.
Glad to be finally free of the deluge, at least for a limited time, Meertal and her associates emerged into the early morning light with renewed vigour which was reflected in the moral of the farmhands who anticipated a day of relative comfort. The scribes had, up until this point, huddled beneath gazebos and parasols to keep their rolls of parchment dry and had traversed elevated boardwalks which had separated them somewhat from the workers, much to the consternation of the young men and women toiling on the land.
On this day, however, they were able to mingle freely with one another and share stories and jokes as they worked. This was the sense of unity that Meertal valued most in people and the air tasted all the sweeter for it. Here a child ran between her parents’ legs, excitedly carrying aloft an enormous parsnip the size of her arm. There, two farm boys fed one another dried fruits from the pouches on their belts, blushing as a scribe playfully reminded them that they were free to return to their dormitory should they wish, but they would not be paid today’s wage. Meertal fancied that they found the idea tempting.
The ground squelched up between her toes on her sandaled feet in a most satisfying manner. She had spent almost her entire life in the city and had only ventured to the coast to attend the various seafaring events that the noble houses held annually, or to embark on one of the two voyages of her own thus far in her lifetime. She had rarely experienced the smell of the earth or the feel of it beneath her feet. This was something she could get used to, she thought.
They had been working for just over an hour, since the sky had first become pale in the refreshing pre-dawn light. At this point, several dozen sacks had already been filled with parsnips and carrots and sweet potatoes, each one meticulously weighed and measured, ready to be sent back up the hill to the enormous storehouses that surrounded the city.
The warehouse district was her favourite place - she had worked there for the last few seasons. Overseeing the scribes and workers on the farms now was the first time that she had ever worked on the “front line”, as Dukarth referred to it in his dry intonation. A part of her missed the rich cloying scents of the smokehouses and bakeries, the spice sheds and exotic beans imported or otherwise acquired by the Suppendese navy, but she was content with this new experience.
She looked over at Dukarth, who was at this moment striding over to her with great purpose. Meertal’s brow creased with concern. Dukarth Allsail was a man of frustrating complacence. Quite how he had come so far as a scribe was beyond her reckoning. He was sweet enough and had had, until recently, connections with the Fury family guild, but she was forever chiding him for his lack of productivity. His scrawl was barely legible and where it could be made out, there were massive gaps in his data that she had to personally rectify before she could even think about sending the charts back to her superiors.
“What’s wrong? ” she asked as soon as he was within earshot. She could already tell that she wasn’t going to like his answer. Such a grave expression looked out of place on his face. The Suppendese were not known as being a jovial race of people, but Dukarth would always liven spirits by comparison.
“The port side fields are completely flooded, Meerty,” he said. She hated that name, but it was all he had ever called her, even when she had been promoted above him.
“Do you mean from the storm? They should dry out before the afternoon. Just move into another area until then,” she offered, somehow uneasy in her conviction.
“No, this is something different. Can you come and look?”
Meertal sighed. She was already behind in her figures and had hoped to use the fine weather to catch up with them. But still, it was her job to oversee, first and foremost. She was relatively new to her promotion, so still had to acclimatise to the idea that somebody else could pick up the slack, or that it was her duty to delegate should that not happen.
“Okay,” she said, handing her papers to her assistant. She kept her pen, though. She was very precious about her pen and as a rule, never lent it out, “Lead the way,”
Dukarth nodded and turned on his heel back the way he had come, the hem of his robe sodden and trailing in the mud. She caught herself beginning to sneer at how awfully he kept himself, but Meertal was suddenly very self conscious of her own appearance. Was she just as unclean under these conditions as he? It was only logical that anybody would have difficulty maintaining appearances after three weeks of torrential downpour in such a quagmire. Could it be that she had deluded herself? Were her own superiors judging her as harshly as she did Dukarth?
No, she told herself. This was Dukarth - even at the best of times, he took very little pride in his appearance. A good measure of her own composure was to look at him and divide his unkempt appearances by ten. She instantly felt much better and she reminded herself that associating so much with this man not only painted her in a poor light in the eyes of others, but it also dramatically lowered her self esteem. She vowed, not for the first time, to make friends more appropriate to her standing.
Thus far, she had failed to find any who weren’t utter dullards. At that thought, she felt the corners of her mouth curl upwards slightly as she watched Dukarth trudge through the mud a few feet ahead of her. His swaying gait and his knotted hair reminded her of many an evening spent drunkenly pouring her heart into his ear as he listened quietly and patiently to the inebriated woes that had vanished into bashful insignificance come morning. These woes he had never once breathed to another soul. Not in the slightest bit begrudgingly, she followed.
Before long, the pair had passed the boundary into the next field over, towards the port side of Suppendar. Admittedly, the was considerably more surface water here, but nothing that warranted Meertal’s personal attention as chief scribe. However, Dukarth kept trudging on, the ground audibly saturated.
The next field was even wetter and Meertal found herself pulling her robes up to the middle of her calves, her feet now fully submerged. By the time they reached the far side of this field, they were wading up past their knees. Farm hands all around them were grumbling as they poked around the murky waters with sticks and long handled shovels, hoping to find some vegetables beneath, with very little success. One of them suspiciously eyed a ripple in the water as a fish swam by his legs.
Here, Dukarth stopped.
“Look,” he said, pointing across the next field.
Where only yesterday there had been another couple of miles of muddy brown land extending to the coast there was now was the orange and blue sheen of a tranquil ocean in the morning, out towards the curvature of the horizon. The six foot hedge at the far side was completely immersed and a wood and brass grain silo a little further out appeared as a golden disk floating on the water.
Meertal put her hands on her hips and humphed perplexedly. She was lost for words. This sort of thing was far removed from her expertise. She was a scribe, more suoted to recording data than interpreting it. Of course, despite the fact that the continent ship floated on the ocean, Suppendar was subject to tides, albeit not as extreme as the ones on land. However, Meertal had never, in all her years of learning, heard of a tide so high that it had broken the levies around the farms on the lowest decks and flooded whole swathes of land. This had to be something else.
She looked about herself for clues as to what had caused this unusual happenstance. Hands still on her hips, she pivoted on the spot and took in the panorama. Behind them, the workers had been to retreat back in a starboard direction towards the farm proper and she felt a dizzying and confounding sensation of looking uphill, as though the deck had risen up before her.
“It’s still rising!” Dukarth yelled, with a panic on his voice that she had never heard before from him.
Sure enough, the water was now around her thighs and she could feel it gradually picking up pace as a cold tickle crawling up her legs.
She turned again, this time towards the aft and was shocked to see the horizon at a sickeningly jaunty angle, with the sun rising diagonally to the right.
“By the Moon,” she whispered, “We’re listing,”
“What do we do?”
“We have to get out of here, get to higher ground,”
The two of them had started wading back before Meertal had even finished speaking. By now, it was very clear that they were indeed trudging uphill and by the time they reached the scribes’ pavilion at the farmhouse, Meertal’s ears had popped at least twice due to altitude. The field they were previously in was now fully beneath the water which begun to flood the rest of the farm.
The harvest was lost, there was nothing they could do about that. It now fell to Meertal and the other scribes to evacuate the area.
“Master Triscale, what’s happening?” one of the farmers asked as she and Dukarth entered the house, his voice flecked with worry, “This is most unheard of!”
She could not help but admire the typical stoic nature of the Suppendese, with their penchant for understatement.
“I’m not entirely sure,” she said, which was a lie. In truth, she was entirely unsure, “But we need to get up to the city as quickly as possible. I don’t know how far this spreads and they need to be made aware,”
“Very well. I will call for a steam cart to carry you hence,”
Something was was terribly wrong, that much was clear. The hairs on Meertal’s arms prickled and she smelt something between salted fish and hot metal on the air. The orange light of the early morning sun cast multiple elongated shadows as though there was inexplicably more than one source of light.
The shadows, she noticed, had a purple hue.
“Sorcery!” somebody screamed and in that moment, panic erupted. This was the one word that would strike terror into the heart of every citizen of the continent ship.
People scrambled across the fields, directionless in their single-minded need to escape the clutches of dreaded magic. She saw a man trampled into the sodden earth try to rise once before being crushed down again and was still. The edges of Meertal’s eyesight began to melt, as if the very definitions of reality were blending and merging into one another. There was a crash from upstairs as somebody threw themselves blindly from a window, crawling away with a foot that was agonisingly twisted backwards dragging behind them.
In the back of her mind, she was screaming at herself to run, run, RUN!
But she couldn’t. Her legs awaited instruction that would never come from her brain, as a loyal dog will stand by his fallen master’s corpse. Her eyes darted around the room, at the tables which were now sliding across the sharply listing wooden floor, at the people who tumbled in the same direction, at Dukarth, who was gazing at her as if to ask her what to do next.
She didn’t know.
She didn’t have time to even be aware that she didn’t know.
A deafeningly almighty crack rent the air with a flash of searing violet light that scalded her retinas and blistered her eyelids. Lilac flames sprouted like grass from fissures in a ground that resembled a smashed pie crust, thrusting skyward in an explosion made all the more violent by its apparent silence. Had she had a few more moments of life, Meertal would have realised that this was due to the complete evisceration of her eardrums.
Even with her flesh beginning to peel from her bones, Meertal took Dukarth’s trembling hand in hers and he smiled at her, at peace with this confirmation, at the last moment, of her affections for him. His hair was ablaze and there was bone exposed on his blistered face.
Divide it by ten, she thought as a frothing wall of water and fire crushed the farmhouse and all of its occupants.