On The Cards

On The Cards
A Collaborative Effort

Story Notes

Created as a round-robin in 2001.

On The Cards

In the city of Immanion, no single event is so anticipated, so talked about and so dissected after the fact than the annual Tigron’s Cup race meeting. The elite of Wraeththu society go to great lengths to assure their presence, to compete for most elegant pavilion, to gossip over whom is wearing what and who is escorting who, while outside the members’ area, the lucky citizens who have managed to buy a ticket, spend their day watching the watchers. For the most part, the actual racing is secondary to the social shenanigans except, of course, when the racing becomes part of the show. The horses that race are not the legendary companions of the Gelaming, but ordinary steeds, without magical powers.

There was the incident two years ago, where it rained right before the flag fell on the Phaconian Two Year Old Handicap and the brown shoe polish on one of the entrants began to run, but no one cares to remember that, especially not the horse’s owner, a Gelaming har named Enron, who was mustered out of the Tigron’s guard and stripped of his rank.

But mostly, the ordinary citizens of Phaconia place their bets, drink their betica and wine and watch the goings-on in the filmy pavilions of the famous, or infamous, as the case may be. They comment over the arrival or non-arrival of certain prominent hara from the provinces and territories, discuss what they are wearing and whose tent is closer to the Tigron’s this year than it was last.

***

The day dawned bright and breezy. Flags and banners on the pavilions danced in the gentle eddies and the air was redolent of flowers, spice and all good things. Servants scurried about, filling ice buckets, washing strawberries and generally making certain that everything that was meant to be there, was there.

In the stables, the horses were being washed down, curry-combed and braided. Their wrappings were checked, their saddles oiled and their handlers had stopped for a quick breakfast before the owners arrived.

The crowds had begun to gather at the gates as soon as the sun rose, determined to get the best picnic spots beneath the perfectly trimmed trees that ringed the course. By mid-morning, most of the guests had arrived at the pavilions. . .

Most of the pavilions were flung wide open, so the little hara could have a good look at the goings-on among the great and famous (what joy is there in being a celebrity if you’re not stared at by the hoi polloi?), but one of the tents drew conspicuous glances by the mere fact that it was tightly closed. Something more important than mere society seemed to be going on in there, from the intermittent shouts that emerged from the closed flap.”Can you do it, you barbarian sorcerer, or can’t you? Or won’t you?” a grating voice was screaming inside. This was Fireblossom the Dark, Colurastes consort to one of Phaonica’s most highly-placed generals. “YOU told me to throw my lot in with the option that sounded least feasible – so I put all my money on that miserable beast, and now you tell me that you DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY???”

“Ahem. I meant it more as general spiritual advice”, a glum voice with the most horrendous Thaine accent conceded.

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Spring Rain

Spring Rain
by Martina

Editor\'s PickDisclaimer: This fictional world and all therein belongs to StormConstantine. I merely play here and intend neither harm nor gain. I am deeply grateful to her for the fact that she actually lets us do so with her full consent.

Thanks to Wiebke for beta reading this story; she caught my small mistakes and encouraged my characters and ideas wonderfully.

0.

At first, it seemed he just took his own sweet time. Then, he obviously procrastinated, after which he simply failed to turn up. He could be reached all right, open to prodding and nudging like all his fellow creatures, but he just wouldn’t react. Not at all. He merely puttered about his business; not badly, really, not selfishly – never that! – but simply and prosaically, as if it was just another job. He did all that he was expected to – apart from that one thing that gave meaning to all existence and that was his alone – and one other’s – to do.

Hanging timelessly in a web of its own enormous power, suspended and content in the continued unfolding of the world, the sublime mind did not really miss its earthly, fleshly mooring points – until, all at once, it lost its oceanic patience. Contracting, concentrating, it made its way down the tendrils of power, touched some outlets until it found a suitable vessel, and slid right in. It could afford the additional time it would have to wait now; now, the truant would be brought to heel. The mountain, so to speak, was well underway to the prophet’s hideout…

1.

If you believe the silly old song that “it never rains in southern Almagabra” – forget it! When I was leaving the palace after my audience, it was raining as badly as it had ever rained in the Gimrah plains on a very, very wet spring morning. Well, not my audience, really; I had been there with a whole bunch of provincial dignitaries. It was one of those occasions scheduled years in advance where you’d do exactly as you were told in order to get noticed for a moment. The Tigron was bored to distraction; most of us were only marginally more amused. I didn’t even know what I was there for; the appointment had been scheduled for our house something like half a decade ago, and whatever it was my consort had wanted from the Tigron, it was forgotten – my consort had died in a fall from a horse two winters back. My sons were busy with the foaling season, and I had time on my hands, as I’d never been much help with the rough side of animal reproduction and weren’t needed. Now, my mission was over; our house had been very suitably represented at court, and the gift of half a dozen fine and talented Faraldienne yearlings had been well received.

Taking a bunch of skittish young horses, however gifted, over land by other-lane would be utter foolishness, so we’d come by sea, travelling calmly on the surface of the planet. My attendants had gone back the same way, looking forward to a leisurely voyage at the time of year when everyone else was busy – on top of having seen the capital of the world, too. I claimed I was going to stay a few days longer, perhaps, and then go home with Stella, my mare who’d helped to keep the young ones disciplined, via the other-lanes. In truth, I doubted whether I’d ever be back. Cyriel was dead, my sons didn’t need me, really (I had never been good at practical things) and my daughter had gone to her training at Shilalama in Roselane – I was, in the middle of my life, suddenly utterly at loose ends. As long as I answered my family’s loving but perfunctory enquiries over the thought transference network, I was free to do whatever: get some higher caste training, spend an entire year in a Grissecon Temple, wander back into the southern deserts where I’d once come from.

The liberating loneliness was aggravated by the rain, really. Although I didn’t know what to do with my life, all the 80 or so years still ahead of me (Aghama willing), I definitely knew what to do next: get out of the rain.

The streets were deserted – very wisely, hara stayed out of the rain. I had been so eager to leave my former life for the unknown, however, that I felt I couldn’t stand another day and night at Phaonica’s common guest house with my compatriots who’d been at the mass audience alongside of me. I hadn’t even looked what the weather was like. Only now, as I was passing the majestic and forbidding crenellated red brick walls of Lower Phaonica with its administrative buildings and power hubs, the rain was starting to get at me. From the sea, Immanion was all bustling city, lofty avenues, tree-lined streets and remarkable history; here on the back side of the palace, hara were actually working.

There was a cab pole flashing its signal of low-intensity power ahead of me – but of Immanion’s famous historic Grissecon-powered public transport system, there was no trace. Too many of them needed at once, I guessed, what with this awful rain – nobody in his right mind would want to walk a step outside in this if he could ride a cab. Although the har – the hara – waiting at this pole definitely needed the cab more than most, I thought. At their sight, my heart instantly melted with sympathy.

The har didn’t even have a cloak; he stood there, just letting himself and his precious burden get soaked through. His hair was longish; colour or style could not be discerned right now as it was only wet and snaggled, nothing else. It stuck to his face and his clothes; it stuck to the bundle in his arms of which only two small hands clawing into the wet hair were visible, all else concealed by a large, wet blanket and a small, wet woolly hat. The har tried to shield the harling from the rain with his body, but miserably failed. He held the little creature intensely, possessively, but ineptly – clearly not yet used to it. At the sound of Stella’s hooves, the har lifted his head, regarding me with enormous, passive sea-green eyes, hopeless and resigned. The harling turned his head as well; he pointed at the horse and chirped, grinning at me widely with his four perfect little teeth – by the Aghama, the little one could be only hours old! His eyes, I could see from here, were amber. His woolly hat was dripping into them, but he didn’t mind – he was seeing the very first horse of his young life, I suspected, and he liked it.

I brought Stella to a halt.

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Drogheda

Drogheda
by Martina Luise Pachali

Story Notes

Title: Drogheda
Chapter: One Chapter
Spoilers: None
Date Posted: Oct. 2003

Author: Martina Luise Pachali
Contact: mlpachali@areion.org

Drogheda

It was my most reliable possession, the one thing that made the difference between life and death.

It brought me through the desert and to the land of plenty, but only when I got there I finally found out how worthless it really was.

I don’t know what crime or misdemeanour my tribe had been banished to the desert for; I only know that they huddled miserably around a few measly watering holes in the middle of the big, featureless waste where humans had done incomprehensible damage ages ago.

Our tribe made only very few harlings, and of those that came to pass, many died horrible deaths before they were fully grown, so I was the pride of the tribe, and the apple of my hostling’s eye. Of my sire, I know nothing, apart from one fact: that mysterious thing had once belonged to him.

When I was grown and had passed through my feybraiha, I became restless from seeing the same hara every day, so I started wandering in the desert to find others. I never did at first, but there were many strange creatures and weird places to occupy my unceasing fascination. To make sure I would return, my hostling gave me my father’s heirloom: the flask.

It was made from a strange, thin substance that was light as a feather and let the light shine through. My hostling said it was once wholly clear so you could see oddly distorted images through it, but it had become scratched and opaque with use. The most ingenious thing, though, was the top of the flask: there was a clear covering to keep out the dirt and dust over a grey top that could be screwed off for filling the flask with water, and that in turn sprouted an clever device that you could pull with your teeth, and then the water would flow, softly, gently, into your mouth. You’d shove it back, and then your water was secure; if you had the time or a free hand, you could put the clear cover back on. All of it was made of that same light, thin and unbreakable material.

Around the top, there was ancient writing. Much of it was rubbed off, and of the little that remained, most of the words didn’t make any sense at all. “Industrial Estate, Drogheda” was one of the phrases that were still legible. I knew from stories what an estate was – the Varrs had them, beyond the desert – but “Industrial” and especially “Drogheda” was utterly mysterious to me. It would have to be a very powerful and mighty estate, I imagined when I pondered this riddle during my childhood, with very many powerful and advanced hara living there, on green lawns and never-ending fountains of water, who’d make such wonderful things by the power of their very advanced minds, but only very occasionally, when the mood struck them. I was sure that was what “Industrial” meant. “Drogheda”, though, remained unclear to me – perhaps the name of the har who’d made it?

In consequence, when my hostling gave it to me I was appropriately overawed. He said I’d be able to drink while I was running, and that it might make the difference between life and death for me when I met an especially voracious animal in the desert, or even – Aghama forbid – strange hara.

He couldn’t tell me, though, what a Drogheda might be.

So I took the wonderful Drogheda flask and went out into the desert, refilling it from dribbling water holes or from the skin I was carrying on my back. I sometimes went out for days, and one day when I returned, my tribe was gone.

I never learned what had happened to them. There wasn’t a droop of blood where our tents had been, let alone piles of dead bodies. There were some discarded tent pegs and a torn water skin or two, but that was all.

An indistinct trail dragged away through the sand, but a wind came before I could follow it very far. I huddled under my cloak and only took a few drops from the flask every hour for days, it seemed, until the wind died down and I emerged into a sparkling new and shiny world. All the dunes had shifted, and what with our camp gone, there was nobody to crawl out of the sand and tell me where I was, so I started wandering, the flask the only thing that stayed with me to remind me of where I’d come from.

You know how all the tribes tend to clothe wandering hara in their own garb? That happened to me as well, of course. The gave my new clothes, new cloaks, new water skins – but I kept the flask, showing it to nobody on the way.

Finally I came to where the Varrs were, only they were called Parasiel now, and weren’t wild any more at all. They took me in and kept me, and so my education as a civilised har began in earnest. The flask, though, the mysterious and powerful reminder of my past, I kept to myself.

A wise and gentle Gelaming har who’d taken my caste education in hand finally solved the mystery.

He asked me to tell him of the most important thing I owned so he’d know who I was. He expected a book, a picture, a sentimental keepsake, I guess. He was infinitely astonished when I brought out the flask.

Back in the world of Men, he told me, drinks had been sold in such containers, with the top made to easily drink it, and then to throw the thing away. When he was a human boy, many, many years ago, he’d bought hundreds of those flasks with sweet and shining green or blue drinks in them, and discarded them all when they were empty. Drogheda, he said, had been a small, grey human town near a river on an island somewhere to the north-west of Almagabra, where the Gelaming lived. The only real mystery was how it had come over here to Megalithica, really.

The End