Sunday February 28th, 2016

The exercise:

Write about: the dark season.

I'm going to pretend that today will be the end of my steampunk writings for now. We'll see what tomorrow brings, I guess.

But for now, I'm bringing things back to a scene that took place before my opening on Thursday. Because, apparently, that was not where this tale began.


It's coming was spoken of, but not by those who had a reputation for sanity that they wished to maintain. Old men in tattered robes stood or sat on street corners and warned passersby of what was to come. Toothless hags screamed from their bedroom windows at anyone who came within earshot.

The dark season will soon be upon us, they said. Get yourselves ready.

Ready to do what? a few bothered to ask.

To leave, they replied. Every last one of them said it. To leave.

When it came at last we thought it was just another winter. The grey clouds arrived to cover the sky at their usual time. Warmth seeped slowly away. There were no early indications that it would be a winter without end.

Captain Miranda was one of the first to start assembling a flight crew. When I agreed to be her helmsman I didn't know where we were headed or why. I was in need of a job, that's all. My desire to leave the city had nothing to do with that itch at the back of my neck that kept telling me that something was deeply wrong.

Nothing at all.

We launched at night. While it was certainly unusual, it was also not unheard of. At any rate, no one tried to stop us. No crew member left word of where we were headed. I don't think any of us had anyone to tell, really.

When we reached the edge of the Wastelands two days later there were some murmurings among the crew but it never neared mutiny. We trusted Captain Miranda. She had told us we were going to find the sun again and we believed her. Each of us would follow her orders to the very end, there was no doubt of that.

Even if it meant flying over the most dangerous, inhospitable terrain our planet had to offer.


Greg said...

While I didn't have chance to add my comment yesterday I would have noted, had I done so, that I doubted that you'd put down your wastelands tale so easily, and... I think I may be right in that.
Hmm, so there were problems even before the crew set out over the wastelands? I have to say I hadn't expected that there would be be such darkness driving them on to a dangerous attempt, but I like it and think it fits well both with your story and the steampunk atmosphere you're concocting. I like the subtle hints at a winter that isn't entirely natural and is sufficiently deadly to drive people to difficult aims. And I am wondering if we're going to find out that whatever is driving the winter is also behind the destruction of the airship?

The dark season
The phlogiston was why we were there of course. Cecily had almost smelled it when we saw the landscape – to her its presence was as obvious as the undulation of the hills or the curve of the river. When she'd seen the vineyard she'd known that the source would be near it, and she'd led the way as insistently as a bloodhound. And now we'd secured the vineyard, set the urchins to work down in the cellar unbarring the doors and gates that blocked off the phlogiston works, and she was sat in the kitchen salivating with a bottle of Chat Eau at her hand. The port-red liquid in the glass wetted her lips and made her look like a banshee waiting to scream.
I sat quietly to one side of her, looking over our dead host's books. His bones were charred and blackened and I'd hauled them from the funeral pyre and pushed them into the compost heap. Noxious gases and a belch of heat like furnace breath had burped out at me and I knew from that that he had been no farmer. The wine lived up to its unglorious name, and I preferred water from the iron pump in the yard. I didn't offer any to Cecily, knowing already that the alcohol was what she sought; a way to numb herself from the insistent presence of phlogiston.
The books were uniformly dull and I would have confided them to the pyre as well, save that they had marginalia both tiny and elaborate. As I read through them I realised that our dead host wasn't the first to have come here either; the owner of this book had known about the phlogiston and sought to harvest it as we were doing now. The vineyard and winery provided a convenient cover. What worried me now were the constant references to the Dark Season, the Dark Harvest, and the Dark Woman.
"Fourteen Imperial Litres per minute," murmured Cecily, her pupils dilated so that I couldn't see the colour of her irises. "Rising."
Her fingers twitched, and the beaten silver rings that covered the skin between her knuckles and lowest finger joints flicked points of light around the room.
I bent my head over the notes, straining my eyes to read the miniature cursive handwriting, beautiful but perplexing. The Dark Season begins in June I made out, and I wondered when June had been. We were at the third of Messidor now. "The phlogiston thickens and the mephitic urge is extracted most strongly."

Marc said...

Greg - ah yes, the question of the destruction of the airship. That's one that really needs answering, doesn't it...

You've created so a rich and complex world already. I think I shall insist upon you returning to your tale if I return to mine. I can do that, right?

Anyway. The description of Cecily with the wine on her lips and looking line a banshee is brilliant. The books do sound rather worrying, however...