Tag Archives: aliens

Editing as a Pantster

A pantster is a writer who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’ – i.e. doesn’t outline in advance. I’m a pantster, mostly, and I learned a long time ago that pantsters have to trust their subconscious. If that little voice says ‘no’ then we have to listen, even if that means deleting thousands of perfectly good words.

Today I deleted 3688 words from the second book of the Suns of Vokhtah. I replaced all those words with just 490. To give those 490 words some context, the MC, Kaati snuck into the Healers’ Settlement as a refugee, not knowing that refugees were locked up like caged animals. It needs to escape but the other refugees are too beaten down to help. Or so it thinks :

Kaati woke to the sound of voices raised in anger. Propping itself up on one elbow, it peered across at the lattice and saw that the Big Twin was shouting at a group of iVokh armed with buckets and baskets. Clearly, the drudges had arrived, and they were not happy.

Rising to its feet, the young Trader was edging closer to hear what they were arguing about when Hands appeared by its side.

“Wait!” the Refugee hissed, grabbing Kaati’s wing with one hand. “Drudges not wanting to take body. In case being contaminated. Insisting that Healers should being called.”

“Not being sick!” the Guard shouted as it flung open the door. “Seeing for self. Dying of wound.”

Two drudges entered and placed their loads on the sand before gingerly peering down at the still form lying on the ground. One of them nodded, albeit reluctantly, and the Guard retreated back down the tunnel.

“Getting ready,” Hands whispered as a small group of Refugees began drifting towards the door. Were they trying to escape?

Apparently not. As soon as the small group reached the baskets left by the drudges, they darted in and began cramming their mouths with food.

“Ho!” Hands shouted, its voice shrill. “Should sharing!”

“S’so!” Someone else cried.

The cry was quickly taken up by all the Refugees in the cavern, and in moments the area directly in front of the door was a pushing, heaving mass of angry iVokh.

“Guard!” a drudge shouted as it pushed inside, using its basket as a ram.

But the Refugees were in no mood to be intimidated. One tore the basket from the drudge’s hand while the others shoved it up against the lattice. The whole structure creaked and groaned as more and more iVokh pressed against it.

“Now!” Hands whispered as the space before the door suddenly cleared.
The two took off at a run but were still five wingspans from the opening when the Big Twin stormed into the cavern. Shrilling in fury, it began lashing out with its switch, and wherever the switch landed, iVokh keened in pain, Refugees and drudges alike.

They all fell back, except for Kaati. Ducking under the Big Twin’s arm, it grabbed the switch with one hand and a bunch of cilia with the other. And then it snapped the guard’s head down onto one bony knee. The iVokh was dead before its body hit the ground, delicate echo chamber smashed like an egg.

The young Trader roared in triumph as it brandished the switch in the air.

“Out!”

The drudges in the tunnel dropped their loads and fled. A moment later, a bone jarring crash came from behind.

Spinning around, the young Trader saw a band of iVokh pour over the fallen lattice. At their head was Hands. The two locked eyes for a moment before Kaati turned and ran after the drudges.

It felt good to be a hunter once more.

Despite losing so many words, this scene was very…therapeutic to write. This is the music that drove the words:

Aeterna by LiquidCinema

For those who are interested, LiquidCinema is a music production company similar to Two Steps From Hell, but not as well known to listeners. I’ve just discovered their music myself, and I’m totally in love.

Now I’m going to log on to ESO and kill some different kinds of monsters.

cheers
Meeks


How to cheat a paranormal polygraph test

I’m in the middle of a scene where the Yellow [a very powerful healer] is interrogating Death using its paranormal talents to work out whether Death is lying or not.

Death must lie, and the Yellow must believe the lie, but how can it when it’s aware of Death’s feelings?

That was the point at which I remembered that sociopaths were supposed to be very good at cheating real world polygraph tests. As iVokh are essentially sociopaths, I realised that what worked in the real world might also work in Vokhtah.

That led me to the internet where I found this fascinating article in Wikihow: https://www.wikihow.com/Cheat-a-Polygraph-Test-(Lie-Detector)

If you’ve ever secretly wondered how people can cheat the polygraph test, it boils down to knowing how the machine and the interrogator asking the questions work together. This can be broken down into a few key things:

  1. The control questions – i.e. the harmless questions – allow the machine to gauge what physiological reactions the subject has when ‘telling the truth’.
  2. These reactions then become the baseline against which the ‘real’ – i.e. dangerous – questions are compared.
  3. If you can change your physiological reactions to the control questions, the baseline will be faulty.
  4. Then, when the real questions are asked, the machine will not be able to tell which answer is a lie because the lies will resemble the baseline.

Of course the skill of the interrogator also comes into it, but I now have enough to write the scene convincingly. -joy-

cheers
Meeks


Vokhtah – a review

Some days are just so good, you have to stand up and dance. Today is one of those days:

‘Yes, this book is different and weird and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. But that’s the point!If intelligent life exists on other planets, it’s going to be bizarre and foreign and at least semi-incomprehensible to human intellects. Reading this book really did feel like being transported to an alien world, and that was fantastic. I wish I’d read it sooner, because it really is a master-class in world-building. Vokhtah is a haunting, vividly-constructed depiction of a fascinating world—one I’d happily revisit.’

That quote comes from a wonderful review of Vokhtah that I stumbled across this morning. I know Vokhtah will never become a best seller, but so long as readers ‘get it’ every now and then, I’ll be happy.

You can read the entire review on Berthold Gambrel’s blog:

https://ruinedchapel.com/2020/02/21/book-review-vokhtah-the-suns-of-vokhtah-book-1-by-a-c-flory/#comment-15977

Have a wonderful weekend, my friends.

-hugs-

Meeks


Jewellery from Meteorites

I’ve known that some meteorites contain iron for a long time – the starrock of Vokhtah is metal made from ‘found’ meteorites. But I was just guessing when I imagined that the gems worn by the Council of Seven [including the Blue], also came from meteorites. I’ve just learned that I was right, about some of them at least. God, I love research!

Have a look at this:

This is a peridot cut from the Jepara meteorite. A green gem for The Green. 🙂

“Very rarely, meteorites will contain facetable mineral material large enough to actually cut a gemstone, since the heat and impact of the fall can easily destroy most gemmy material or shatter it into tiny fragments. For example, the olivine material in stony and stony-iron meteorites can sometimes yield beautiful peridots.”

https://www.gemsociety.org/article/meteorite-jewelry-introduction/

Green is more rare than yellow, which works perfectly for me as there are three Councillors in the Yellow faction but only one Green. I haven’t found anything about a blue gem but a little fantasy is okay, right?

While I’m prepared to do a bit of hand-waving [fudging the science] over the colour of the gems, my tolerance does have its limits, so it was wonderful to learn that these gems can ‘fall out’ of the metal matrix due to the presence of water in the environment – i.e. the water makes the iron corrode away leaving the gems behind:

“This Brenham piece was found in a damp, muddy part of the strewnfield and much of the iron-nickel has terrestrialized, while the olivine crystals remain intact. Corroded specimens such as this are unofficially called meteorodes.” [Under the picture of the meteorite].

https://geology.com/meteorites/stony-iron-meteorites.shtml

This is important as the iVokh Smiths have barely made it into Iron Age technology; they needed some way of extracting the gems from the starrock. Plus, it so happens that Vokhtah goes through a season of torrential rain every year [Kohoh].

-pats self on the back-

And to prove that meteorites were used to make jewellery right here on Earth, here’s a picture of a bead found in an Egyptian tomb. It dates back about 5,000 years:

That bead may not look like much, but it is most definitely made from a meteorite. You can find the whole article at the following link:

https://www.livescience.com/36981-ancient-egyptian-jewelry-made-from-meteorite.html

If anyone is interested in extraterrestrial metals and jewels, the link to geology.com will take you to a brilliant article that gives a very detailed, in-depth explanation of these beautiful visitors to Earth.

But wait, there’s more. 😀 I wasn’t actually researching gems today, I was researching the metal in meteorites to see if I could find some property of meteorites to ‘identify’ a Healer’s chain that is becoming pivotal to the story of Kaati [Vokhtah book 2].

Iron and Stony-iron meteorites contain both iron and nickel. Earth does have some iron-nickel but it’s rare. Meteorites have it in abundance [one way of identifying them]. For my purposes, the following is of great interest:

“Iron-nickel (terrestrial or extraterrestrial) develops a coating of rust if washed or if kept in a humid area. If a specimen must be washed with water, it should be thoroughly dried.”

https://www.minerals.net/meteorites-iron-nickel.aspx

I knew that terrestrial iron would rust if not protected, but its nice to know that I was right about starrock as well :

“Left alone in the empty bathing cavern, the Voice sighed as it picked up the discarded cloth and dried the large starrock medallion that hung from its neck.  Starrock did not like water. It hoped the na-Seneschal would remember that, but suspected the young iVokh would not. There were still a great many things the na-Seneschal did not know about being a Voice. Foremost among them was knowing when to bend and when to stand firm.”

[Vokhtah, book 1]

Getting back to the Healer’s chain, however, I think I may have found what I’m looking for in a type of meteorite called ataxite. It has an exceptionally high nickel content which gives the metal a strange, almost white colour:

 

“Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition: a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxitea type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18 percent.”

https://www.cnet.com/pictures/swords-from-the-stars-weapons-forged-from-meteoric-iron/

The red emphasis is mine. If you’re interested in the process, this is the video made of the creation of the sword:

The truly interesting thing is that the meteorite wasn’t melted. It was heated and then hammered to gradually remove the impurities. This is called forging and is a technique that my iVokh Smiths could have mastered quite easily!

The following is a screenshot taken from the very end of the video. It shows the amazing colour [almost white] and the patterning left behind after the ‘etching’ process [an acid bath to bring out the folds]:

The video includes other techniques that the iVokh probably wouldn’t have had access to, but then they weren’t making a sword, just the links for a simple chain. An unusual chain that fits my plot perfectly.

I have the degree of possibility I need. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Backstory, World building & Motivation

As a reader, one problem I’ve always had with plot driven stories is that the motivation behind pivotal events is often paper thin. The author wants Character X to do something or be somewhere because the rest of the plot depends on it. A flimsy excuse is offered, and the story moves on, usually without me. I’m fussy, no apologies.

Well, imagine my dismay when I found that I was in precisely the same situation with book two of Vokhtah. 😦

I’m a pantster by nature, meaning I don’t like to outline, but the second book of a series inevitably constrains how freely you can write because much of the world building and ‘rules’ have been set in concrete as part of book one. You can’t suddenly unwrite details that are no longer convenient.

And that’s the problem I’ve been tiptoeing around for weeks. I have a character who calls itself Death*. It appears in book one as the assistant to the Yellow. In book two, however, I need Death to be at the entrance to the Settlement when Kaati** arrives. The trouble is, for higher level Messengers*** like Death, gate duty would be seen as a dreadful punishment.  I’m talking maximum humiliation here.

So what could Death possibly do that would result in such a public punishment?

I already had some of Death’s back story and the world building from book one, but the ‘crime’ and its motivation eluded me. I tried to fudge it, but my subconscious wouldn’t let me. Every time I sat down to continue the story, I’d find myself going over that scene, again and again and again. Yet no matter how much I polished the words, it still felt like a bloody fudge so last night I spat the dummy and decided to delete the whole scene and start from scratch.

Oddly enough, I had a great night’s sleep, and this morning I started writing the outline, yes the outline, with a clear head. Two thousand words later, I finally have all the background and world building needed to explain Death’s motivation for being where it needs to be. Yes! 😀

I won’t spoil the story by giving it all away, but I will explain some of the world building that emerged. It revolves around the Guild of Healers and how their Council works. In a nutshell, the Council is made up of a total of seven Councillors who are the most powerful Healers in the Guild.

But Councillors are not chosen solely on merit. When a Councillor dies, or disappears [as happened with the leader of the Blue faction****], a replacement is usually chosen by a vote amongst the remaining six Councillors.

Now this is where things become interesting as the Councillors are divided into two dominant factions. Those in the Yellow faction believe that all Vokh abominations must be killed. Those in the Blue faction believe that not all abominations are dangerous. In fact, they believe that some abominations actually decrease the aggression of the Vokh and thus should be allowed to live and breed.

And finally there’s the Green. It has no faction of its own and its purpose is to break any deadlock between the two major factions. In the past, Councillors chosen as the Green tended to be strictly neutral. In book one, however, the current Green tends to side with the Yellows more often than the Blues. In book two, it continues to side with the Yellows until Death does something that really ticks it off.

If the Green lends its vote to the Blue faction it will cause a deadlock in the selection of the seventh Councillor – i.e. three Yellow faction members versus two Blues plus the Green.

In situations where the Council is deadlocked, the vote must be thrown open to the entire Guild. If that were to happen, the Yellows might still manage to get another Yellow voted onto the Council, but it would not be a certainty, and the delay could seriously disrupt the Yellow’s plans [the Yellow is the leader of the Yellow faction].

I can’t tell you what Death did, but it works perfectly with the Machiavellian politics of the Guild and its own, personal motivation. At this point I have no idea how much of this world building/back story will end up in the actual book, but at least I’ve stopped fighting my ‘muse’, and we’re both happy for the first time in weeks!

The sun is shining, the wind is mild and my Sunday is turning out to be a really good day. Hope you enjoy your weekend as well.

Cheers

Meeks

* Both Vokh and iVokh keep their personal names secret, and in public are known solely by rank or profession.

** Kaati is the young Apprentice from book one. Book two follows what happens to Kaati after parting company with the Blue/Messenger at Needlepoint gather.

*** Messengers are Healers who act as ‘enforcers’ for the will of the Guild of Healers. They are distinguished from ordinary Healers by their ability to inflict pain without suffering any of the empathic consequences that affect true Healers.

**** The leader of the Blue faction was known as the Blue. This powerful Healer left the safety of the Settlement to stop the guild from shooting itself in the foot. See book one, Voktah.


Did you know that…?

Okay, I’m sure you’re all sick of my love affair with odd bits of information so…I promise, this will be the last [for now]. 😀

Allow me to introduce you to the Harpy Eagle of Central America:

See that Harpy Eagle chick? See its talons? If you watch that amazing video you will learn that the feet of a fully grown Harpy Eagle are more powerful than the jaws of a Rottweiler. You will also learn that the back talon is used to stab the eagle’s prey:

https://www.reshareworthy.com/harpy-eagle/

Guess who’s going to have killing talons like the Harpy Eagle? Mwahahaha!

cheers

Meeks


Lots of hands but no feet

I’ve lost track of how many of these progress posts I’ve published, but here’s the next milestone in the creation of the iVokh:

That’s a screenshot of my desktop. It’s where I place the latest iteration of the image so I can see it without the distraction of the Corel Draw 8 work screen. Plus, I have to admit that seeing the image in a different context makes mistakes more ‘visible’ somehow. The same thing applies to writing; even a small visual change can force the brain to see what’s there instead of what should be there.

This next pic shows the Corel Draw work screen. If you look at the bottom left of the screen, you can see that the composite image is made up of 102 individual ‘objects’:

The tiny, shiny dots scattered across the image are ‘nodes’ on the objects. Nodes allow you to manipulate vectored images with great precision. For example, many images that appear to be one image are in fact many images, layered over each other to match up colours and lighting effects [as much as possible].

To keep all those objects in the right place and the correct order, I’ve used the Corel Draw ‘Group’ function to keep myself sane. This is the same image split into its component groups:

If I were a plotter instead of a pantster, I would have created a discrete ‘layer’ for each group. Layers are like transparent sheets of glass, stacked one on top of the other. Thus, you can work on an individual group without disturbing the groups in front of or behind it. Using layers would have made this simple little project [hah!] a hell of a lot easier to manage…

-sigh-

Unfortunately, I’m not a plotter and have to do everything the hard way…

Still, I am getting happier with the overall image every day. Not only am I having fun, I’m also setting the iVokh biology in stone, so to speak. Like the dictionary and mini-encyclopedia of ‘world facts’, I need to know exactly what the iVokh [and Vokh] look like so I don’t make stupid mistakes in books 2 and 3 of Vokhtah. Series are a pain like that. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Bats, cats and Archeopteryx

A bit more biology about the Vokh and iVokh. They really are a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster!

Okay, so I’ve said that both Vokh and iVokh are flying hermaphrodytes, and in book 1, I mentioned that their ‘lungs’ are in their wings which are like ‘leather sacks’. These sacks can also be inflated with lift [a component of their atmosphere which acts a bit like helium] to help them fly. But where did some of these ideas come from?

The leather wings idea came from the common bat:

But I needed the iVokh to be capable of some technology, and while bats do have a ‘thumb’ to help them climb, they can’t make or use tools. That was when I realised that the iVokh needed proper hands. Trouble was, if they had more human-like hands, they couldn’t have long, bat-like ‘fingers’ supporting their wings.

It was at this point that the idea of inflatable wings occurred to me. I can’t take any credit for it as parafoils use the same principle, although in a very different design.

But if the Vokh and iVokh can inflate their wings, how do they de-flate them?

Enter brilliant idea number 548: let them have jets!

The modern jet engine basically sucks air in and expels it under incredible pressure to ‘push’ the plane along. The young man explaining the process in this video is a fabulous teacher!

The Vokh and iVokh don’t have combustion chambers, but they do physically compress the lift before squeezing it out of tiny sphincters on the trailing [bottom] edge of their wings. If any of you read book 1, Vokhtah, you may remember that the Rogue had incredibly powerful jets, allowing it to perform almost miraculous feats of acrobatics in the air.

For less virtuoso flyers like the iVokh, jetting requires something to push against – i.e. the ground, a wall etc. The stronger the flyer, the further that solid surface can be from its jets.

One problem with jetting is that once the lift is pushed out through the jets, the wings effectively deflate, leaving them ‘limp’. The best flyers can glide on limp wings, but for most iVokh, no lift means no flight. This is why they never use up all the lift in their wings.

Another issue I had with the flight mechanics of the Vokh and iVokh had to do with the surface area of their wings. Clearly the wider the wings the better their ability to fly. But I didn’t want them to actually look like bats.

I ignored this problem for quite a while until it suddenly struck me that almost all of the animals of Vokhtah had six limbs, not four!

Why would the Vokh and iVokh be any different? Um, because they’d look stupid? But what if that second set of arms weren’t actually visible?

I’m still working on a concept drawing, but basically the main arms would be situated in much the same position as human arms. The second set, however, would be located lower down on the torso and would simply  ‘move’ the folds of leather into various positions when not inflated. For example, when I write that such-and-such folded its wings to its sides, the folding is done by the second set of arms.

I mentioned cats in the title because of something I wrote in my last post. How could iVokh have both fangs and grinding teeth?

This photo of a cat’s skull explains:

As you can see, the jaws of a cat have those oversized canines as well as a total of four molars – one on each side of the bottom jaw and one on each side of the top jaw – plus eight pre-molars. Unlike the cat, iVokh have just two fangs and four molars. Oh, and my aliens also share a vertical pupil with both cats and foxes!

And finally, Archeopteryx. What body part did I steal from this ancient ancestor of birds?

Answer: the legs:

The bones of the leg are essentially the same as that in humans – thigh bone, knee, shin – until you get to the ankle. This is the point at which the leg of the Archeopteryx looks as if it has a second, back-to-front knee. It doesn’t. That joint is basically the equivalent of our ankle, but the foot is different. The reason is that humans are one of the few animals that walk with a ‘plantigrade’ foot posture – i.e. heel down first. Most other animals, including the Archeopteryx, run on their toes.

I’ve turned comments off as this kind of research is my obsession not yours, but thanks for keeping me company!

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


Echolocation in iVokh, dolphins and humans

I started thinking about the creatures of Vokhtah back in November, 2004 when I did Nanowrimo for the first time. I knew right from the start that the Vokh would be vicious, psychopathic hermaphrodites with wings, but as I explored their lives I realised that they couldn’t possibly live together without killing each other. That was when I stumbled across a weird fact from nature – crocodiles allow plover birds to hop in their mouths and clean scraps of meat from their teeth!

This is called ‘mutualism’, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties gain benefits. In the case of the plover bird, it gets to eat the meat it picks from the crocodile’s teeth. The crocodile, on the other hand, gives up a very small snack in exchange for keeping its teeth clean and healthy.

I have no idea how such a relationship would have evolved in nature, but it did give me the answer to the Vokh riddle: my huge, intelligent aliens would live in a symbiotic relationship with another species. Enter the iVokh.

I won’t bore you with a history of how the iVokh evolved in my mind, it’s enough to say that they had to be similar to the Vokh, but also different. One of those differences ended up being teeth, or to be more exact the shape of the iVokh jaw. You see the reason the Vokh tolerate the iVokh is because they need the iVokh to raise their offspring. Part of that requires that the newborn Vokh be fed a gruel of mashed up grains and tubers.

But if the iVokh were like the Vokh and only drank blood [sorry I’m kind of skipping a few vital facts here], then how would they know to give the Vokhling gruel?

The answer lay in the fact that the iVokh had retained their molars [grinding teeth], and hence could chew. This gave them the ability to feed on a number of different types of food, not just blood. By contrast, the Vokh were so powerful that they could live on nothing but blood. In time, their teeth and jaws evolved to make it easier for them to eat their favourite food. That required bigger, stronger fangs, not molars.

But what do molars have to do with echolocation? Before I get to the Vokh and iVokh, I’d like to give you a quick description of how echolocation works in dolphins:

https://dolphins.org/anatomy

  1. In the simplest terms, dolphins send clicks through that bulge on their heads. It’s called the ‘melon’ and it amplifies the sound.
  2. The clicks spread out through the water and ‘bounce’ against objects in the water.
  3. This bounce returns to the dolphin as a kind of echo.
  4. The echo is captured by the dolphin’s lower jaw and is transferred to its inner ear [maybe like a vibration?].
  5. From there, the echo goes straight to the auditory part of the dolphin’s brain where it is translated into a kind of ‘image’.

The important thing to note here is that the echo does not return to the dolphin’s ear, or at least not directly. First it goes to the jaw. And there, tah dah, was one perfect, evolutionary difference between the Vokh and iVokh. As the lower jaw of the Vokh changed, so too did its ability to echolocate. It can still ping enough to avoid walking into things in the dark, but not enough to ‘see’ objects at a distance.

In my mind, I see this qualitative difference as being similar to the difference between the echolocation of a dolphin and a human:

I’ve mentioned Daniel Kish and his amazing ability before, yet for all of his skill, he cannot operate in his own environment as well as a dolphin operates in the ocean.

So that’s how the iVokh got echolocation. 🙂

In case anyone is wondering, the world of Vokhtah is a strange melange of science and paranormal fantasy. Along with their physical characteristics, most of which have parallels in real biology, the Vokh and iVokh also have mental skills that don’t. Despite the best efforts of all sorts of scientists, we still lack proof that telekinesis or telepathy actually exist. But while I love science, I’m not a scientist, and paranormal talents are fun to write about. 🙂

Thanks for coming on this odd little journey with me!

cheers

Meeks

 


Kaati – a new beginning

I began the second book of Vokhtah back in 2013, but then Innerscape captured my imagination and ‘Kaati’ disappeared into a digital drawer for five years. I finally restarted the project today by writing an 800 word Prologue. In it, I refresh my memory a little and set the stage for the story of Kaati, the young Trader who helped The Blue survive the crossing of the Spine of the World.

The words aren’t set in stone, but this part of the plot is. I hope you like it. 🙂

***

It was close to deep-dark when the Master was ushered into the Quartermaster’s presence, yet the leader of the Traders was neither asleep, nor alone. Five young Traders, all from the Runner clan, sat or sprawled drunkenly around a table littered with spilled pippa juice and half-empty bowls of dreamweed.

“Sit, sit!” the Quartermaster cried as it waved the Master to a vacant cushion. “Juice?”

The cushion was sticky, as was the goblet offered by one of the younglings, but the Master kept the distaste from its face as it sat and folded its wings to either side.

“May Takhti being gentle!” the Quartermaster said, raising its goblet in a toast.

“And Pah Hakh being short,” the Master replied as it raised its own goblet. Unlike the Quartermaster, however, it swallowed very little of the fermented pippa juice.

“S’so,” the Quartermaster said once the demands of hospitality had been met. “What bringing Master Teller here so late?”

That was not a question the Master wished to answer in front of so many witnesses, drunk or not.

“Just a few details concerning trade with Five Rocks. Nothing serious.”

“Details, details. Always details,” the Quartermaster sighed. Despite its long suffering tone, however, its eyes were sharp as it sent its guests off to bed. They went, but not without a good deal of grumbling so it was some time before the two older Traders were finally alone.

“Now,” the Quartermaster began. What-”

“Psst!”

Rising from its cushion, the Master tiptoed to the wooden door that separated the Quartermaster’s area from the rest of the clans, and threw it open. The light spilling from the cavern confirmed that all the revelers were gone, and the passage was empty. Nothing moved except for the same, slack-jawed drudge it had seen sweeping on the way in.

Satisfied they would not be overheard, the Master closed the door and returned to the table.

“What being wrong?” the Quartermaster asked, its tone more annoyed than concerned.

“Hoping nothing,” the Master said as it chose a clean cushion and sat down, “but receiving disturbing report from Five Rocks gather.”

“Caravan still being there?”

“S’so. Departing at first light, but-”

“Hoping not being more deaths!”

The hint of righteous indignation in the Quartermaster’s tone caused the Master’s cilia to flare with anger. The Quartermaster might not have ordered the deaths of the two young Flyers on the Spine, but it had certainly benefited from them!

yet perhaps still failing

That thought cooled the Master’s rage, and its voice betrayed no emotion as it said, “Ki, no more deaths, but…perhaps being a…ghost.”

“Ghost?” the Quartermaster said with a laugh. “Ghosts being tales to frighten iVokhti!”

“S’so. But if true, this one could causing great trouble.”

“Explaining.”

“Teller overhearing Traders talking about na-Quartermaster. About seeing na-Quartermaster at gather.”

“Impossible!”

Pippa juice sloshed from the Quartermaster’s goblet as he banged it on the table. “na-Quartermaster being dead! Messenger witnessing.”

The Master wiped juice from its chest before saying, “but no one seeing na-Quartermaster’s body so how being sure truly dead?”

“Ridiculous. Messengers not lying, especially to protect Traders!”

“S’so. But what if Messenger being tricked-”

“Tricked? How?”

“Not knowing, but Messenger being ignorant of Wild. Perhaps not seeing to’pakh at all. Perhaps only hearing to’pakh, then hearing screams-”

“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! Or perhaps na-Quartermaster truly being dead, and Traders only seeing what wanting to see!”

That thought had occurred to the Master as well, but it could see no reason for the Traders of the caravan to start a rumour about the na-Quartermaster if it really was dead. What would they gain? No, the one explanation that made sense was that the young Trader was still alive and getting ready to challenge for the leadership of the clans.

The Runners would support the Quartermaster because it was one of their own, but the Flyers and Plodders were still angry over the deaths on The Spine. If the na-Quartermaster were allowed to return, they would greet it as a hero, the only Trader to ever survive the Wild on its own.

“If being wrong and na-Quartermaster still being alive, clans could tearing Quarter apart.”

“Not being wrong.”

Taken aback by the Quartermaster’s self-assurance, the Master decided to take a more conciliatory tack.

“Perhaps being right, but what harm being in posting guards at entrance?”

“And looking like fool? Or coward? Ki. Not posting guards.”

Faced with the Quartermaster’s stubborn refusal to take precautions, the Master could do little but concede defeat.

“Hearing and obeying.”

Then it walked from the cavern, steps heavy with disappointment. Once out in the passage, however, its step lightened considerably. Just because the Quartermaster refused to post guards at the entrance did not mean the Tellers could not. They would have to stay out of sight, of course, but that was probably a good thing anyway. If the na-Quartermaster did try to return, they could catch it and dispose of it without the clans being any the wiser. Sometimes opportunity really did spring from adversity.

***

Right, time to go watch The Drum and cook dinner.

cheers

Meeks


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