Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 Story 4 - Day 19


by Gordon S. McLeod

Dolesham baked under the baleful sun like an overheated sealed can on the brink of bursting. The Ralladran river lay low in its banks, but hardly a soul was out to see it, most sane folk staying indoors in the relative cool of the shade.
Most, but not all. Archerd Dolet at least had the sense to stay under the canopy of a mighty oak, and had ceased his exertions, but practiced his forms and stances regardless.
“Archerd, you fool, you’ll have a stroke if you keep that up, and don’t say I didn’t say so.” His mother Kaylene set a tray with a large pitcher of iced tea on a bench by the tree’s trunk. She was a hard woman, radiating strength and, at present, exasperation. “And mind you drink every drop of this. Look at you, you’re sweating enough to refill the river!”
“Thank you, Mother, but you’re the one who stressed the importance of practice, are you not?”
“As I recall, both I and your father stressed the importance of reasonable thinking, too. It’s the highest heat of the day, there’s plenty of other things you can do ‘till the sun lets up.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better time to practice then, could I? I didn’t get to pick my preferred time or conditions last year on the train, after all. I had to take what I was given, and—”
“Well of course, you have to play the hand you’re dealt, and of course it’s good to be prepared for adverse conditions, but you overdo it, especially this last year.”
“Very well, enough for today.”
Archerd had spent the better part of the last year and a half learning the art of the quarterstaff from his mother, who until fairly recently had been unequaled with the staff and spear in Dolesham or the much larger city of Holdswaine to the north.
He’d been caught woefully unprepared then, especially for someone who considered himself intelligent and who knew himself to be, at least theoretically, in some form of danger. He’d been attending a conference in the north and had let something slip (another lapse, one he still berated himself over,) that had caught the attention of the Conclave, the governing body of the scientific studies, keepers of lore and hoarders of knowledge who arguably possessed more powerful than the actual government itself.
Conclave agents had boarded the train and sabotaged it, then killed almost all the crew and passengers in the ensuing chaos. Archerd and the other sole survivor, one Ms. Sunniva Witherow had defeated the pair, but that owed far more to the fact that the agents were little more than lowly thugs and had expected no real resistance than to any genuine skill on either of their parts.
Archerd was determined that that wouldn’t be the case a second time. In addition to the staff, which probably wouldn’t have served him well inside the train, he was supplementing his bare-handed fighting skills with the guards when he had the time.
He poured a glass of the tea and drank half of it on one breath, his mother nodding approvingly.
“In any event, I do have other work that needs to be done. Father mentioned an interesting possibility the other day and I’ve been working up some plans. He called it an air ship—”
The rest of his thought was cut off as a low, very loud rumbling WHUMP sounded from the south-east and echoed throughout the valley.
“What—” he gasped as he and his mother both turned and raced for the house. Stampeding up to the second floor, he found his father already at one of the large windows, manipulating the lenses of a large pair of very old goggles he wore. “Father, what do you see?”
“Not a thing, not from here ... wait ... there is smoke, far more than there should be.” Altman Dolet had grown frail under the strain of building, establishing and then running Dolesham, all the while continuing his real work, the free and open advancement of science. The free part he had accomplished, if not without some difficulty. The open part was still a work in progress, thanks to the Conclave.
The three raced downstairs, Archerd far faster than his parents, and he didn’t stop to wait. He could see the plume of dark smoke over the rooftops as he exited his family’s manor house, and his constant working out paid off as he ran through the heat toward the scene.
As he got closer, he recognized the area; it was the school house, a new construction that had been completed barely a year ago to replace several small temporary shacks that had been in use up to that point. His breath caught in his throat, but he let it out in a hiss; today was the one day in the week there should have been no students or teachers within.
A crowd was gathered around, milling in the heat. The building was half-collapsed, the roof blown off, with one wall blasted outward and the adjacent wall knocked over. Much of the rubble was scorched and burned, and small fires continued to blaze, adding to the haze of smoke that clung to the street and rose into the air like a beacon.
People started pouring into the street despite the heat to gawk at the sight. Among the first that Archerd recognized was his younger sister Annis.
“Ann! What happened? Did you see? Were you here?”
Annis helped out at the school; much like Archerd she’d been taught critical thinking and the scientific disciplines from a young age, and she helped pass on that knowledge to the children of Dolesham.
“I was near by, but not that near. Archerd, who could do something like this!” She was transfixed, watching the burning of what amounted to her life’s work to date. She’d personally helped construct the building that now lay in shattered ruin.
“I don’t—” he started to reply, then stopped himself. A glittering point of light near his feet caught his eye. It looked almost like ...
He stooped and picked it up. It was a small metal disk, warped and blackened and bearing in relief a hemisphere bisected with a stylized lightning bolt, in the middle of 3 overlapping narrow ovals forming a perfect 6-pointed star.
He knew that symbol all too well; Annis did too. “The Conclave.”
A muttering started to rise from the growing crowd as others found more of the disks, many more.
“It’s a message, son.” Altman and Kaylene had arrived. “It’s a message to all of us. They’ve come at last.”

Continue to NaNoWriMo 2011 Story 4 - Day 20

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