Monthly Archives: August 2013

Abbey on the Mount

Brick by brick the steps were laid, each stone baring the mark of its mason. At least a hundred different craftsmen were represented in these stones, the project was so great. And slowly but surely, the abbey was built. Little did the masons know their symbols would long survive them – still watching over the crests of the waves even centuries later.

Stairs and ramps ascend to the clouds, narrow and winding. Walls protect the walkers of those paths from falling into the sea below and allow the gulls a perch to rest upon, weary from their day of fishing. (Surprisingly, they are as quiet as the monks that reside within.) Gates are mounted into these walls – great sturdy gates of iron and wood – though there is no great army to keep out and no great threat to keep within. The devil was slain upon this rock before memories began.

Despite the grandness of the construction itself, simplicity is the motto within. Plain chairs, tables, and pews of sturdy wood are the only furnishings. A few windows hold leaded glass, to hold a little of the heat from the fires in, but most are free and open to the sea breeze.

A great balcony overlooks the expanse of the sea to the north and the fields to the west. On a clear and sunny day, it feels as though you can see an eternity. Certainly this is a view meant only for angels – one is humbled by the privilege of its witness.

Inside, the tower extends to the heavens themselves. Openings at the top allow light to filter in, creating the effect as if Saint Michael himself was looking in upon the worshipers. Again, one is humbled.

Serenity flows through every molecule of this place, which is only augmented by the reverent passing of monks on their way to worship. Here, silence is not painful nor awkward; it is natural and worshipful. It is as if words have been an unknown burden throughout one’s life, and now the burden is lifted. You are free to simply… listen.

The frothy waves whisper at the sandy shore, the breeze gently stirs leaves and whistles softly through the corridors, and songbirds sing only the most beautiful of their melodies.

Gardens are tucked away in every nook and cranny that can be found, with trees to rest beneath, soft grass to lay upon, and flowers to scent the air. Vines of ivy even climb some portions of the wall, working their own way to the clouds above, and patches of tall grass defiantly spring up perhaps where they should not. All of it is tended with care and devotion, which shows in every fiber.

At the very top, above the walls and gardens, above the trees and towers, stands Michael, glinting in the sun and triumphantly thrusting his sword above his height. It is the reminder that this is where the devil met his end, where Satan was vanquished.

This is where good triumphed over evil.

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Sand Pits

There was a time in Lotharia, you weren’t nothin’ lest ye had a sea gem. Sea gems was as blue as the sky, maybe bluer, and as beautiful as the stars. Everybody called ’em sea gems, though, on account of they shade of blue being way darker than the washed out sky above ole Lotharia. Some say a merchant from the coast is the one brought ’em here and that’s how they got the name, but people who say that’re dumber ‘n rocks ’cause everybody knows that them stones came outta the Sand Pits just south of the city. Course, some people don’t like to talk about it no more.

See, the area south o’ the city is dryer than a basilisk’s belly and just as rough. Hot as fire, too! Somehow, though, somebody figured out that buried in that dry cracked earth there was sea gems. Only problem was the conditions was so bad, ain’t nobody wanted to go mine ’em. Then somebody got the bright idea that they could make people dig ’em up. Course, Lotharia is civilized folk – nobody wanted to force that kind o’ work on nobody it ain’t fit for. So then somebody asked, ‘Well what ’bout prisoners?’

After a lot o’ talkin’, it was decided that people who had committed the worst o’ the worst kind o’ crimes would get sentenced there. The kind we should just kill off, probably, but sometimes people just don’t feel good about doin’ that sort of thing. Anyway, that was ages ago.

While all them paper pushers got the project started, some other guy went about figurin’ out the best way to get the rocks out. He ultimately figured to dig a giant pit that stepped down in levels, with tunnels branchin’ off each one. At the very bottom, they built a place for the prisoners te live – if you could call it livin’. Into the side o’ the pit, they built the ole Overseer’s house. This smart guy that figured out about the pit, he also figured out how to keep them prisoners in check. This was prolly a good idea since it was going to be the baddest of ’em all trapped in one place.

Then an Overseer was hired, the prisoners was brought in, and the people o’ Lotharia got they sea gems. Became a real hot trade item an’ the city got real fancy after that! Only problem was the people stopped carin’ ’bout the pit they came out of.

Once the minin’ op started, a big ole cloud of dust rose up in that pit. The city people didn’t care because that just meant they di’n’t have to see in and whoever was in there – well, they deserved it. But the people inside the pit? They couldn’t see out. That smart man figured out the pit must’ve also figured there’d be dust, ’cause he’d made some special lights you could see through it all.

A few years later, it was all outta sight, outta mind. People didn’t notice that the people goin’ into the pits weren’t comin’ out and I guess they didn’t think to care. Prisoners, though… they started prayin’ for death before gettin’ sentenced to the Sand Pits. Lawyers started makin’ even prettier pennies off it all, too. This put the Overseer in a bind, though, on account o’ he started runnin’ out of prisoners to run operations. But the people? They still wanted their gems. Guess the city officials turned a blind eye when the Overseer started buyin’ people off the slave caravans that started runnin’ through. Real shady business, that.

Slavery ain’t legal in Lotharia. They got a lot o’ laws there protectin’ people and makin’ sure the right thing gets done. Guess that’s why people just assumed that things was still a-okay down in the Pits. Long as they had them pretty stones, they was happy. Went on a long time, that did.

Some folk say the sea gems, they got darker on account of all the blood it took gettin’ ’em out.

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The Bees

Well… don’t I feel like the kid disrupting the class by showing up late. There’s no way to quietly sneak back into this and pretend as though I’ve been writing this whole time and didn’t, in fact, miss an entire week’s worth of posts. Suppose I ought to suck it up, then!

Truth is, I went on vacation with the best of intentions of writing each day. However, the adventure turned out to be more exhausting than I had ever anticipated! My partner and I alternated who felt like crud each day, and by the end we were both just ready to hibernate for the winter. It was a good time, although clearly not what we were expecting.

I feel like I ought to share with you a story from this adventure… I know! I’ll tell you about The Bees.

Now, I am fully aware that bees are tiny creatures that are probably much more afraid of the giants in their environment than the giants are of them. Also, for the most part, they only sting when provoked or threatened. They can even be quite adorable if you take the time to examine them! But even knowing all of this, they terrify me.

We’re not talking the normal, “Eek! A bee! I don’t want it to sting me!” type of fear. I’m talking irrational paranoia bordering on phobia. I’ve known people in my time who were deathly afraid of clowns, butterflies and birds. I found it odd and hilarious, but I respected their fear. When you tell someone you’re afraid of bees, people empathize. “Oh, me too!” They say. But they don’t get it.

I go fleeing in the opposite direction, if I can, whenever one comes near. My heart rate instantly increases, I sweat, and it’s a definite ‘fight or flight’ type of scenario. I have forced myself into the habit of playing the “if I don’t see it… it doesn’t exist” game. This usually fails, of course, because bees are prone to buzzing and if I hear it but can’t see it, that is all the worse. If I can’t run, I attempt hiding. Distractions sometimes help, but most of the time the buzzing just does me in.

I run. I try not to swat, but have started the “shooing” method that I’ve noticed Germans do – though it never seems to work for me. I cower. I don’t scream, but I do implode. All of my senses are consumed with the need to get away. I am almost paralyzed with this fear.

So when we were out to a lovely dinner, sitting on a terrace shrouded by a curtain of rain, with a cool breeze wafting in to take the edge off summer, I was mortified to find myself the object of affection for no less than three of these little black and yellow terrors.

They had no interest in my partner. They had no interest in the couple dining at the table against the wall. No interest in the vines or flowers around the edge of the terrace. But my left arm sure seemed particularly fascinating.

I do not wear colognes or perfumes and choose subtle, plain deodorants precisely so that I do not attract such attentions. Our food had not yet arrived, either, so I have no idea what it was that attracted them… unless they were bully bees that could sense my fear and wanted tease me.

It should also be noted that despite this deathly fear, I wish them no harm. I really do find them adorable when they’re not buzzing around me! If they simply crawled about instead of flying, I think I could tolerate them much more easily- alas, this is not the case.

My partner became worried for me when one dipped into my wine glass and almost drowned itself there. I hit my point of overload. Every time I brought the glass to my face, despite having checked it at least three times, I imagined I was going to feel a struggling little bee body against my lips that would then crawl onto my face.

Twice I left my seat to escape them and they followed me. I was near the point of hysterics when my partner was finally able to flag down a waiter to ask if we could move indoors. Of course, the wait staff did not help us to move the food that had arrived or the wine glasses. So when I picked up my bowl of soup, it almost went crashing to the ground as these three or four bees immediately came to float around me. It was as if they were taunting me!

I was just able to get the food inside, but had to send my partner back for my wine. He was patient and kind despite my apparent craziness. At least I didn’t flail about like I used to?

Once inside, I began to calm down. The wine helped. We talked about my paranoia and I took deep breaths and the wait staff began to avoid us – surely I was crazy to have been so affected by some harmless insects! But the food and wine were both superb and I was enjoying them immensely. I began to feel normal again.

As I scooped another bit of delicious soup into my spoon, I thought of how silly this all must seem. How silly to be so terrified! Honestly, what is the worst that could happen? I’ve been stung before and it’s really not that awful. What is so terrifying?

I went in for another dip of the delicious Kartoffelsuppe and that’s when I saw it. One of those little buggers had kamikaze’d into my dish and drowned itself! The sharp blackness of its stripes and wings protruding through the thick golden succulence like the hull of a ghost ship mired in a shallow sea. Dead.

How I managed to miss it before this point is beyond me. The wait staff became a bit more forgiving of my behavior now that I seemed to be eating the things, at least. It was like I was in some horror movie.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds gave me nightmares for years in my youth.

This was The Bees.

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The SS-51, Pirate Ship

It’s amazing how you can be surrounded by everything and yet nothing all at once. Outside, the beauty of the stars seems to go on forever – an infinite sea decorated with pinpoints of light. The entire universe stretches beyond this ship’s hull, filled with a vast array of possibilities.

Yet space is a vacuum – there is nothing outside the walls of this ship. Any given twinkle could take an eternity to reach.

The universe is very full of life; but at the same time, very lonely.

The SS-51 is a pirate ship. While its crew does not consist of eye-patched swashbucklers, no member belongs to any given world, country, or federation. Once upon a time, they were all part of a particular organization. However, about a year ago, that organization met a brutal end. The crew of the SS-51 consists of the people who had nowhere else to turn but to one another, plus a few good souls willing to help and another few strays picked up along the way.

Hackney runs the med bay and is the one person everyone on the ship knows on a first-name basis. The moment The Academy crumbled, he and Simmons – the psych that we all love or hate – were first in line to offer their help. It’s a wonder they weren’t killed, but luck or fate – take your pick – led them to the right people and they wound up on board. Without their help, this crew wouldn’t have lasted a month.

Lu sits at the helm. She knows this ship inside and out and the gods help you if so much as put a scratch in this baby. Some say she was on the team that helped design the ship, back when it had been intended for deep space warfare; but no one knew her then. Lu was the last in her class to come up for termination. She had three days left when the Release happened. Rumor has it she’s the oldest on deck, but you would never be able to tell by looking at her.

Finally, Crow is the unofficial leader of this ragtag group. After the Release, he’s the one that spearheaded finding everyone that needed someone. There was no government that wanted to cozy up to rogue members of The Academy, and he knew that. Together, we’re the biggest – and most dangerous – bounty that’s every been. Individually, we’re hunted like animals. Crow found people to help us, he got the roster, he found Lu and the ship, and he works to bring – and keep – us together. He’ll never admit to being a leader, though.

SS-51 isn’t exactly paradise – unless, of course, your idea of paradise is a hunk of metal floating through space – but it’s home.

Simmons is mostly responsible for how it’s been divided up. She rearranges things every once in a while to force us into socialization as much as possible (she says that’s our key to ‘rehabilitation’), but some think it’s just to give herself an opportunity to study how we react to change.

What was supposed to be the ‘War Room’ is the social/recreation hall. Living quarters are assigned, currently, around occupational work stations and assignments.

(And… it’s late. I’m tired, on vacation, and a bit under the weather… but here’s a portion of a setting. I couldn’t stand the thought of missing two days of writing in a row! I’m going to be washing dishes by hand for an eternity, dear readers. It was a wise, yet masochistic, decision to designate my partner as the one to assign my punishments. I doubt I’ll have time these next few days to catch up on reading many of your writings – but I’m excited for all the content I’ll have to explore once I’m home again!)

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Frederick’s House

The sky is bigger than big, vaster than vast, and oh so blue! Beneath it rest rolling slopes of tall grasses – waves of green and grain that ripple with the slightest breeze. It’s as if you can watch the wind dance as the whispering stalks bend to its will. They are only parted by a dirt road that winds through the scene – a lazy snake napping among the grasses.

The air here always smells clean as it does after a spring rain, when droplets still cling to blades of grass and a cool wind lingers to push the storm clouds toward the horizon. An extra deep breath might even reveal the soft scent of tulips mingling with the rays of the sun. The tufts of white cloud drift by like leaves in a river, guided by the current.

Following the sleepy snake of a road or the scent of tulips – for both lead a person the same direction – one would happen upon a yellow picket fence guarding a lovely English garden and a small house made from a teacup. Not a small tea cup, mind you – a small house. As you or I could easily find a seat within, the cup and its saucer are quite large, by drinking standards; modest, by living standards.

The wide brim, instead of being filled with tea, holds a sea of bluebells and dark green ivy. The ivy even spills down the side opposite the cup’s handle, to which is tied a simple swing of rope and wood, giving the effect of liquid spilling over. Behind this ivy cascade, mud-caked garden tools rest inside the lip of the saucer, propped against the ceramic facade.

For an entrance, there is a small and round wooden door with a shiny brass nob that looks as if it’s met many palms in its day. Above the door a branch is painted supporting a small yellow and black bird and sporting soft pink blooms, with green buds indicating more are on the way.

Dark blue circles the top of the cup, matching the ring around the saucer it sits in, and full-petaled white and purple blooms adorn the background, separated occasionally by light green leaves. The centers of these flowers are mostly orange and yellow, but are occasionally affixed with a circular window in place of the polleny centers.

The cup and saucer are nestled into a patch of tall grasses, similar to the those waving in the distance. Out front, extending to the yellow picket fence, rests a beautiful garden with honeysuckle vine climbing over parts of the fence, sweet peas nestled against a small stone bench, peonies, irises, phlox, and lillies. Lush foliage busts of a garden well tended, as does the absence of weeds. A lemon tree even grows next to the tea cup’s handle and swing; and beyond, one can see berry bushes extending back to even more garden expanse.

On the small yellow gate, which the grass-bare ground beneath indicates has been opened many a time and again, hangs a sign that reads in firm yet curling letters: Friends Welcome.

Inside lives Frederick.

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Magniloquent Queen

The Queen of Canturbean was very verbose. That is to say… she could be quite magniloquent. Or.. well.. she knew a lot of big words. Words were her power. Soldiers carried swords, merchants carried money, but the Queen armed herself to the teeth with the vernacular. When she spoke, people had the tendency to obey. She could make someone obey with but a whim, but she preferred to do it by persuasion if she could. And most often, she could.

While the King of Lothramire sent his loyal servants to seek out new lands and riches for him, the Queen dispatched squires to gather languages. She was already fluent in six, and a seventh by sight and pen only (she’d never met anyone who could speak it to hear it properly done) but still wanted more.

While the Sultan of Gorgarim invited engineers from ’round the world to improve his structures and lands, she summoned scholars and linguists. Engineers merely helped her to expand the library and decide the most efficient use of space so that it would hold the most books, scrolls, and tablets possible.

While the Princess of Rofhan constructed great walls to keep out the northern invaders, milady built schools and libraries so that all her people may be educated and learn the power of words. The rulers of the land thought her foolish, but she remained confident.

You have no standing army! they mocked.

You have no cache of weapons! they teased.

Should we ever want your land, we could take it and divide it as we please!

And as words have power, once they said this they began to make plans to realize it. The seeds of war had been sewn by their very own lips, though they did not have the wisdom to recognize it.

When the great armies began to march into her land, the Queen of Canturbean sent out her people. Farmers and children and merchants alike, she sent them. “Stop!” shouted the kinsmen of Canturbean. And the invading armies, for reasons they could not explain, came to a halt.

Then she sent her scholars to the land of Lothramire and to the King they said, “Perseus Ramadus McManahan, King of Lothramire, please halt your crusade. Your treasury is bare, your country is poor, and we do not wish to see your great land fade.”

The king, of course, laughed. He was the richest in the land! To prove it to these scholarly men and women, he took them to the treasury vaults himself. The great metal doors were heaved open, giant bolts were drawn back, and the treasury was revealed.

Empty.

“You underestimate the power of words,” they said; and left the king gaping at dusty brick walls as they journeyed to the land of Gorgarim.

The structures of this land towered above the scholars, mighty giants against the bright blue sky. They entered a wondrous palace adorned with statues so similar to real life, one scholar almost asked it for direction. When they reached him, the sultan sat on a throne of gold in a room with painted ceilings and pillars thrice the height of any tree they’d seen.

“Theodore Raftani, O Pearl of the Sand, Sultan of Gorgarim, please hear us,” they pleaded. “Halt your crusade. Your cities are crumbling, your structures are buckling, and we do not wish to see your great land fade.”

The sultan, like the king, laughed. He had made great investments, after all – the best materials money could buy and the best minds from across the kingdom had constructed his cities. But even as he began to pontificate this point, a sturdy pillar of marble that supported a beam in his throne room crumbled to dust.

Reports rolled in of similar occurrences from across the kingdom.

“You underestimate the power of words,” they said and left the sultan to plan for his cities’ repairs.

Next was the Princess of Rofhan, who rested comfortably behind her great protective walls. A horseman was sent to the gates to hear what the scholars had to say. He had heard rumors of the troubles in Lothramire and Gorgarim and his nervousness showed on his face. “Speak,” he said, as brave as he could muster, when the scholars reached the wall.

“We appeal to Aurora Magenta, Princess of Rofhan, to please halt her crusade against Canturbean. Her walls are not as sturdy as she imagines, they hold weakness and could easily be washed away by the tears of the sky – we do not wish to see this great land fade. If she does not heed our plea, she underestimates the power of words.”

The message was carried to the Princess, who thought it absurd. When had rain ever washed away a wall of stone and mortar? What a fool, that Queen.

But come the next spring shower, the walls that surrounded Rofhan slowly melted and gave way under each little drop. By mid-afternoon, the wall was only high enough to keep out a mouse – though even a mouse could climb.

Soon the court of the Queen was filled with the rulers of the land. All had come to plead with this witch of a monarch to restore their lands, admit their folly and formally withdraw their troops with the greatest heap of apology they could manage.

The Queen heard them all. Then she rose and she spoke, “Perseus Ramadus McManahan, King of Lothramire, Theodore Raftani, Sultan of Gorgarim, Aurora Magenta, Princess of Rofhan – kneel; and may there never be quarrel between our lands again.”

For although the Queen knew words aplenty and could speak them again in more languages than most had fingers, she was wise enough to know their power; and to use only what was necessary.

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I don’t know what this is.

Look down.

Waves crash beneath your feet. You don’t know how you’re standing here. There’s a cliff behind you, but there isn’t actually anything beneath your feet. You stand on thin air, looking past your toes at a violent sea of bluish green. White caps froth as the water pushes and pulls against itself, unable to decide where it belongs. For a moment, you understand how it feels and you can feel your own frothy white caps of frustration forming inside. Life is sometimes difficult.

The wind is warm, but fierce. The salty air stings your skin and whips your clothes against your body. The excess fabric flaps behind you. Its sound reminds you of a flag snapping in the breeze. Why are you here?

Above, you see storm clouds rolling in. It’s a turbulent sky with dark clouds rolling atop one another, fighting for a glimpse of the ocean below. You can hear their grumbles as they push one another aside. The air feels electric and the little hairs on your arm even stand on end – or so it feels.

Crack! Boom!

You’re in bed, a soft bed. It’s dark in the room and very quiet… it should be a comforting place and you do feel tired, but this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. Feeling sleepy…

Crack! Boom!

There’s the ocean. You’re facing a new direction, looking along the coastline where those angry waves beat against the cliffs. The sea will only ever see the rock and soil its waves attack – but from your vantage point, you can see the grassy green tops; rolling fields stretch for miles across a picturesque landscape of rolling hills. You imagine somewhere in that distance there must be cows, lazily stomping about the soft earth or perhaps reclining in a patch of remaining sunlight.

With a deep breath you feel that if you lean forward, you’ll be able to direct some form of movement. Sure enough, the slight tilt of your body allows you to move securely forward. It’s not as though you’re going to fall – you actually feel quite sturdy in the middle of the air, and now you can explore.

Where do you go?

With this newfound ability, you suddenly feel free and in control. You know that you may go anywhere you wish. For a moment, this thought overwhelms you. A lush beautiful forest comes to mind, the pyramids, great towering mountains – it’s your discretion.

Except suddenly, you only yearn for home. Not just home… but childhood. It’s not the structure you want, but the comfort. Knowing that adults would protect you. This was a time when you were invincible, and so was everyone around you. No one could die, no one became incurably ill. Life was nothing but a gift.

From darkness, your mind snaps back. You’re at the sea again, staring at the turmoil beneath your soles. What is a soul, anyway? Do you have one? As if to answer your question, the desire wells up inside you to dive into the raging water below.

Without a moment’s hesitation, you plunge downward – into the sea salty water – into the unknown – into the raging waves – and you find… calm. Beneath all that struggle, there is peace. The water isn’t water anymore, yet you float suspended in it as if it were. It’s warm. It’s comforting. You’re enveloped in a familiar embrace.

You’ve found what you seek.

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