Story Incubator

Tiny little stories that might grow up someday

For some reason, the next forty minutes would stick in Kaelyn's mind, though very little happened in that time. At least, from her perspective. It took her ten minutes or so to get back to where Kent and Rowan were still seated under a tree, relatively dry compared to Kaelyn by the time she got back.

Kent was awake and sitting up, groggily and wearily, but seated. He looked up at Kaelyn's approaching footsteps.

“Ava? Wren?” he asked, no verbs required nor given.

“Both fine. Master Colm, Mrs. Marion, and Miss Daisy are all there, taking care of them. Hazel is safe in the house as well.”

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Kaelyn almost instantly regretted bringing Hazel back with her.

“What if Rowan and Papa are in trouble? Oh, but what if Mama is going faster, with just Miss Daisy there? But Miss Daisy was there, shouldn't you stay with Papa? But...no, you said you can care for Mama and Papa is okay...” Hazel's never ending monologue had taken on a repetitive quality, a litany of fear that Kaelyn found hard to cope with. Worse, nothing Kaelyn said was of much use to either assuage or stem Hazel's fear, and it only added to Kaelyn's own fear to try.

And then they got to the house. As Kaelyn and Hazel entered the small clearing around the Chastain home They heard a low, anguished scream from inside.

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Eventually Kaelyn chose a fabric, a dark blue and white checked design that looked like it would stand up to her work fairly well. She had taken long enough that Rowan was starting to show signs of nervousness as Kaelyn counted out the coins to pay for a few yards of fabric and tucked them into her satchel.

“Now then, shall we go see how your mother is doing?” She said, and started walking up the path out of town.

They were just passing the last houses of North Strand when They spotted Kent Chastain running down the path towards them.

“Rowan! There you are, lad, and you found the healer, excellent. What took you so long?” Ken said, sweating and breathing hard.

“Has the situation gotten more serious?” Kaelyn asked and Rowan's face went entirely still.

“Didn't you tell her?” Kent said, turning and heading back towards his house. “Miss Kaelyn, Ava's waters broke not long after you left, she's been laboring hard and feels that Wren is in distress, we must make haste!”

“Yes, indeed we must,” Kaelyn agreed, and broke into a gentle jog to match Kent's harried pace. He nodded and the three of them ran back towards Riverside. The path was at a steady uphill climb the entire way, of course, and soon even Kent wearied of running. So they walked as fast as they could, all sweating and thankful for the breeze whipping around them.

Clouds were racing in now, from over the sea, and they were just passing through a small copse of aspens when Rowan cried out “Miss Kaelyn!”

Kaelyn had been ahead of the Chastain men, going through her satchel and mentally preparing for a delivery. She turned to see what had distressed rowan and gasped.

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Kaelyn entered the shop, a small bell ringing. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief. As much as she enjoyed visiting the Chastains and the others in her care, she also enjoyed some time of her own. After all, she was a 14 year old girl, not a Master Healer, and people couldn't expect her to be a healer always, just a healer first. She had done her duty, she had tended to her families first, now it was time to be Kaelyn.

[the shop owner's wife] greeted Kaelyn and smiled. “welcome Miss! What can I do for you today?”

Kaelyn smiled and said “I heard you have a new shipment of fabrics in, and I would like to look at them, please.”

“Of course! Are you shopping for Marion?”

“No, this is for me,” Kaelyn said, bristling a little. “I've been saving up, and I want to make myself a dress.”

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Quinn and Lucas were a young couple also living in Riverside, where both of them caught fish out of the river to sell. They lived in a small house that they had built together, and which they were now expanding to fit their family.

Quinn was in her late twenties, her husband Lucas in his early twenties. Nobody would have expected them to fall in love, had it not happened. Quinn was larger than life, loud, happy, boisterous with bright red hair and a smile for everyone. For ten years before her wedding she had been a wagoner, shipping goods up and down the road to Strand, even heading east along the King's Way to other communities. She always came back with stories as well as goods; tales of her deeds and mishaps on the road. Lucas had been a shepherd: quiet, methodical, gentle, kind, and able to thrive in silence. He was well regarded but rarely inserted himself into conversations. The two met one evening when Lucas had been walking back to Riverside from Strand and Quinn had offered him a ride on her wagon.

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“A Healer First,” Kaelyn and Daisy echoed, in unison, as they did every morning, in response to Master Colm's ritual question, “What are you?” Colm nodded and smiled kindly. “Have a good day out there, ladies.”

Kaelyn and Daisy walked out of the cottage together, each with their satchel full, heading the same direction at first. “ What do yo have today?” Kaelyn asked, satisfied that she hadn't forgotten anything too important when packing her satchel this morning.

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Kids, I need to talk to you both. I want you to know that I'm not mad and that nobody is in trouble, but we need to ensure that we all understand our family rules.

Your mother and I got home this morning and found the kitchen messier than we left it, and the two of you were “asleep”, or at least, in bed.

Now, we were young once too, and we know how things can happen. I'm going to give you two a moment to let either of you come forward and explain what happened.

No?

Rowan, nothing to say?

Hazel? Anything?

Very well. Let me see if I can create the sequence of events.

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Mason pushed his sandy blond hair out of his eyes and breathed slowly. He watched bubbles form in the alembic, watched the liquid change from milky green to clear as steam started to collect in the tubing leading to the other beaker.

“Cooler” he said and the salamander on the copper plate below the alembic chirped and glowed a little less brightly. Mason watched the condensing liquid drip into the lower beaker, watched the upper beaker settle from a boil to a simmer and nodded.

“Five,” Mason said to the salamander and held up one hand with fingers spread. The salamander chirruped and went stalk still, staring ahead, keeping the heat even. Teaching a salamander to accept voice commands had been a long process but Mason felt it was time well spent. He straightened up the workshop, cleaned out a few bottles and left them to dry on the edge of the sink, and swept a little more to stay busy than to clean the already immaculate floor. His master kept a clean house and Mason had always been a tidy lad to begin with.

The salamander chirped twice and scampered into a low dish of water to cool off. Mason picked up a bottle of fireflies and shook two into the salamander's enclosure, then carried the little fire amphibian over to bed down for the night.

Once the salamander was safely enclosed Mason walked back over to the workbench and examined the distillate. It seemed to be ready. He pulled on a cord to alert the Magister.

“Ah, good work as always, Mason,” she said as she walked over to the table. Her practiced eye noticed the clarity of the distillate, the spotless workshop... she would soon send this boy out proudly, and miss him immensely. A good apprentice was getting harder and harder to find, and more necessary in her old age.

The Magister carefully poured Mason’s distilled liquid into a shallow silver pan. The liquid seemed unable to settle, moving in shallow waves long after it should have stilled. “That... seems to be a powerful disturbance, Magister.” Mason said, deferentially. His teacher just nodded. “Let us see if we can discover it’s source...” she said, pulling a small gold plumb bob out of her apron. She held it over the pan and watched it swing fitfully, eventually pulling to the northern edge. Mason noted the direction without being asked or instructed. The Magister smiled thinly in acknowledgement.

“And now let’s see what kind of disturbance this is...” she said and carefully poured two small dashes of a rare powder over the surface of the liquid. It had taken her nearly a year to prepare this mixture, but knowledge justified the cost.

Instantly the powder turned ruby red and started to glow. “No!” The Magister said and leaned closer, but only for a second. The powder seemed to be burning on the surface of the water, and black smoke started to pour upward in great roiling clouds.

“The copper lid, boy, quickly!” The Magister said, and Mason dove for the wall where the lid was hanging, but it was too late. The liquid burst into flame and melted the silver pan almost instantly, the liquid inside now an acrid steam, choking both of them. Mason remembered his training; he dove to the floor to get under the smoke, watched his Magister do the same. They crawled to the outside door, coughing and gagging, and lay in the dirt catching their breath as smoke billowed out of the workshop.

When the smoke cleared and they were able to enter the workshop Mason looked at the wreckage, the alembic smashed, the silver pan melted down across the surface of the workbench, the ceiling stained with dirty red and black smoke. “What... what happened, Magister?” He asked. His teacher didn’t answer, and he was startled to see her face, serious and drawn. “Mason, it appears someone is practicing demon magic. And we need to find out who.”

Note: this is a bit of a character study and setting study for my upcoming NaNoWriMo story, currently under the working title “Exchange Magic ”.

AJ walked in the front door of Chris' house. His car was in the driveway, and his bike was parked, so she was sure he was home, but he hadn't answered when she called. As she walked in the living room she saw his phone on the dining room table next to his laptop and a few of his notebooks. Chris seemed to have a never ending supply of little notebooks, scribbled full of random snippets. Sometimes they were full essays, other times snippets of dialog he overheard.

“Chris? Where are you?” AJ called out as she looked at one of his open books. The page said “There are times you need to get rid of your thoughts.” in Chris' terrible handwriting.

“I'm out back,” Chris replied. The sliding glass door into Chris' backyard was open a little and Chris was sitting on the ground.

Chris' backyard was technically only a small patch of lawn, but it was un-fenced and opened onto a rough and miraculously undeveloped piece of land, thick with trees and wild plants. Most of the neighbors, realizing what a treasure they had, worked to keep it free of litter and other debris that traditionally gathered in these little lost lots.

AJ went outside and stood, leaning against the house. Chris was dressed in typical Chris wear: faded t-shirt, shorts, sandals. Less typical was his posture and position. Chris, who almost never went outside, who had called the outdoors the great impetus for cities, was sitting on the dirt, cross-legged, eyes closed, hands in his lap.

“Whatcha doing?” AJ asked.

“Did you ever read that John Rember book I gave you?” Chris asked in response. It was an annoying habit of his. He rarely just answered questions.

“Doesn't ring a bell. I've still got a stack of books to get through,” AJ said. It was cold, and both of Chris' two patio chairs were still wet from the rain last night. She wanted to sit down but didn't want to get muddy. She wasn't sure why Chris was getting muddy, for that matter.

“I'm being a Zen warrior, like Coyote,” Chris said. AJ sighed.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“I'm absorbing the essence of all nature around me, communing with the living earth and all living things. Bringing the wild world into my soul.”

“If you made brownies I want some,” AJ said. Sometimes she suspected Chris only hung around with her because she was tolerant when he started saying nonsense things like this.

Chris shook his head in irritation, and then took three very slow, deliberate breaths.

“It's not like that, AJ. I'm...focusing, trying to clean my thoughts. I'm taking into myself the best things from the forest.”

“Just...what?” AJ asked.

Chris sighed. “The trees over there. They bend, they grow, they adapt. I'm taking them into me; so I can bend and grow, so I can change when things require it. That rock. It's patient; it doesn't need to move. I can be patient, if I have that stone in me. The air is the medium that gives us all what we need, exchanging my carbon dioxide for that tree's oxygen. I can also transmit good things, be a vector for positive exchanges.”

“How long have you been working on that speech?” AJ asked, patting him on the shoulder. He smiled a little but didn't answer.

She thought it; Chris' power was that she always thought about what he said. She wished she could think that way, and she could kind of understand what he was going for. But it wouldn't work for her; she didn't need more of everything else inside her mind; she wanted to sit back on the rock, rest her head on the granite, and let all this flow out into it, out of her mind, into nature which didn't care.

But it was a tempting image.

“Do you actually believe in any of that?” She asked him, quietly. She knew Chris was as agnostic as they came, he could never stick to one set of truths for long.

“I dunno. Maybe? Maybe it's just good meditation, even if there is no stone essence.”

He sighed again, raggedly.

“What are you meditating away?”

Chris didn't answer for a long moment.

“Cara and I had...a talk.”

“Oh, Chris. So...she's...it's...”

“Yeah.”

AJ sat down next to her best, her oldest friend. She leaned on his arm. “Here, absorb my essence. It likes you.”” Her head rested on his shoulder, she could feel his heartbeat, feel his measured breaths, and feel when they broke. They sat like that, bottoms getting wet from sitting on the damp earth, for a very long time.

Finally Chris leaned over to rest his head on top of hers for a moment. “Right now, I think I want to go absorb the essence of a pizza.”

AJ smiled, stood up, helped Chris up. “Can we also absorb an episode of MST3K?”

“Okay, but only like, seasons 6 through 10.”

“You're such a 'Mike' snob!” AJ said, and closed the sliding glass door behind them both. In her mind she left her own recent breakup out on the boulder, imagined it melting in the light rain, streaming down the cracks in the granite.

Chapter 4: My First Planet

(hey if you haven't read my previous adventures you can find them by clicking on this sentence. Oh, I never wrote chapter three because it was super boring. Just cope, yeah?)

People often ask me, “Jala, what's your secret? How did you become the Queen of Space?” and I always tell them the same thing:

“If I told you it wouldn't be a secret any more, now would it?”

I mean honestly. Why would I give them a shortcut when I worked the long way to get here? But maybe if you read along with my adventures you'll get a better idea of how I work. I mean, it's no big secret. Just decide what you want and keep going until you get it. It's gonna take some twists and turns to get there but so what? That's how life is.

Anyway here's a good story that makes my point for me. It's about how I took over my first planet and kinda sorta became a pirate for a little while. Hey, side note: the difference between a pirate and a queen is mostly publicity.

Anyway, how I got my first planet. It all started because I wanted a new bed.

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