Dark New World

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[1000 words – #3WW, Word-A-Week, The Reading Writer, Inspiration Monday]It’s been a while. I’ve been keeping up a decent front, but I’ve been pretty down lately. I haven’t been getting words down this month, and I’ve been struggling to get my shit together. I’m not 100% happy with this iteration, but I’m thinking these words are better than no words. Let’s see what Paul can do with the next two chapters.

* * *

Pistons moved, each thrust accompanied with a pulse of steam. The constant chuf-chuf and the sound of metal against metal was felt as well as heard. The constant vibrations radiated from ahead, as the behemoth dragged metal, glass, and leather along lines predetermined long ago by engineers long since retired. Heat from flame barely contained boiled water – also barely contained – forced through channels and tubes to harness immense pressure.

John looked out the window at the scenery that flew by. Endless plains leading to black mountains in the distance. John was still amazed at the progress his people had accomplished. Magick was a power rising in the west, but John had seen the marriage of Magick and steam for himself, and he was admittedly apprehensive. The night terrors only occasionally invaded his restless nights.

He reached over to his wife, and smiled. The jab of emotion he felt in his heart could result in nothing else. That she could sleep so peacefully with the noisy train jostling and occasionally releasing pressure via steam whistle was a testament to her clear conscience. He reached tentatively to her belly, and the next generation of rulers. He felt the calm rise and fall as Snow breathed. He thought he felt a kick or punch from fists and feet still forming, but he was never sure. Snow repeatedly would grab his hand and place it here or there, and declare that the baby was doing summersaults. The mental image always made him smile.

They were returning from a diplomatic meeting with the neighboring kingdom, Rookskye. The King of the Rook had a new advisor, and in a display of forward thinking, this advisor was a woman. She claimed to have future sight, and her dire warnings of armies marching across the lands, soldiers more brass than men had brought images back from the depths. In fact, he thought he had seen his old tutor, Reese, in the Rookskye castle.

He closed his eyes and watched her die that day on the mountain. In his waking hours, he felt a twinge of shame that the memories of his tutor and savior had faded so. Snow shifted under his hand, a quiet snore escaping her lips. He smiled at the thought of the most beautiful woman in all the land doing something so pedestrian as snoring.

His smile deepened. With the magic mirror destroyed, he wasn’t even sure Snow was the fairest of them all. It mattered not to him though, he was so in love with the woman he was tasked with killing, and their unborn child, that physical beauty was just not important. He saw her for her true beauty: compassion. The people adored her not for her appearance, but for her heart.

Soldiers walked down the isle quietly, but with a precision he had come to know from the royal guard. At the same time, he felt the train slow, the endless pitch of steam pistons lowering. The pressure on his ears lessening as the train slowly glided to a stop. His guards gathered at a window, and pointed in the distance.

* * *

Falling…

Snow couldn’t overcome the sensation. It was as if she were a bird, and strange forces conspired to ground her.

But I do not wish to be grounded!

She labored to spread her wings, but something kept them tucked against her delicate body. She struggled against her bindings, but they held true.

“Please let me fly,” she sobbed.

“Queen White!”

Snow opened her eyes, and saw concern in the eyes of an old man. His eyes showed no color, but she could tell this man had lived a significant portion of his life in darkness.

For a blind man, he displayed a remarkable grasp of his environment. When her eyes opened, he smiled, his ruddy cheeks and white whiskers doing the emoting his eyes should’ve.

“I was blind long before you were born, my Queen.”

“I did not…” she started, and took a deep breath to settle the noise behind her eyes, and the flashes in her ears. After the hypnagogic cloud cleared, she continued. “Apologies, sir, I appear to be out of sorts.”

“Sir?” The man whispered and looked off into the distance.

Snow considered that she used phrases and assigned actions a sighted person would, and her pale cheeks flushed in embarrassment.

“Do not worry, Queen White,” he replied and returned his attention to her. “You are not the first, and you will not be the last.”

“How did you…” she started, but he interrupted her.

“Sight is but one of many of our senses, but that is a topic for another discussion.”

Snow stretched, and rubbed her belly. She hadn’t felt the baby since opening her eyes. Her hands instinctively protected the future ruler of Oossah.

“She’s fine,” the man whispered. “You’ve been in a fever dream for two days. I may not have working eyes, but I do have the sight, my Queen.”

Snow let out a slow breath, realizing who the old man was. “Are you…?” she asked.

The man bowed deeply. “I am Byangoma, and I have long abandoned my quest for sight.”

Snow reached out and touched Byangoma on the shoulder as he struggled to stand. “You need not bow, seer. You consulted my father until that woman terminated your services.”

“Cerdiwen’s puerile heart is a sad story, but I foresaw all the events leading you inexorably to me at this moment when Oossah needs you the most.” He smiled again, and grasped Snow’s hand gently. “You and Reese will bring Oossah back from this dark time.”

Snows eyes blurred. She was overcome with grief. She squeezed Byangoma’s hand, and whispered, “Tell me what has happened.”

Byangoma nodded, retrieved a makeshift chair, and began the tale of Cerdiwen’s pandemic rise to power and the enslavement of the Oossah people. The tale lasted through supper. It was the last meal Snow would eat as Queen of Oossah, henceforth she would be a warrior, her destiny foreseen in this dark new world.

Next: The Sorrow of Obligation

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About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications and is currently attending Northern Arizona University. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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