Explore the Wiki and discover the World of Anchor
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Explore the Wiki and discover the World of Anchor
Find more Anchor flavour outside this site
Learn about our next event
This page is editable by anyone who wants to post microfiction, short stories, vignettes, poems etc set in the Rockery. We know that you are a wonderful, creative and friendly group of people - please play nicely, don't delete anyone else's content and report any inappropriate content to the admins who will consult with the DoNAE.
These are all the Tales from our now-defunct LJ community. Longer pieces will be listed here with a link to separate pages. We can always create new pages for longer fiction on request, please share your Tales out of Anchor with us!
Photograph: by Tom Garnett
Lighthouse Keepers, Part Two (more coming soon!)
Talk overhead in the Plaza
“Apparently they had paraded them through the perch. The whole crew going down for a special meal. 3 knights anchorer, the old knight commander and some inquisitors and they just held the plate up and practically danced through the night city.”
“It was the Dean you see, he had a license, for Anatomy study or some rot. Unbelievable.”
“Bodies should go to Recycling as soon as possible, it’s just foolishness and fancy this University stuff.”
“Not right, unsupervised teaching, should go through the church.”
“My Arla did a course there, learnt how to set a bone properly, other useful things.”
“Oh yeah, she came with your Da when the shop needed a hand, helped sort my herbs, very nice.”
“Well, yeah, some of it's good. But how can you tell the wise from foolish?”
“And a bad lot, stealing. “
“I heard it wasn’t just stealing, where did they get the bodies?“
“Oh non of that foolishness, I was at the perch across the plaza when it happened. It was just stealing. Then they ate it, like it wasn’t a wasteful use of resources. They made sausages! If I had good meat, that wasn’t better spent elsewhere, I wouldn’t make sausages. No, I do something tender, maybe lightly fry it, or cure it. Dried hide is very good with the right smoke. I had raptor jerky once, a dangerous provision but not bad.”
“I heard on Rivet they have Raptors bigger than you!”
He's up through the ranks, common born like me, no command handed to him on a plate like some captains with family connections. I wonder what sort of path he followed, wonder how much harder it was. Thing is, when you aren't handed rank and position on a plate, you have to work for every bit of it, and you have to be good at what you do. One mistake can cost you the lot, and without the family connections, you don't have nice comfy cushion to fall back on.
You also have to spot opportunity, and be willing to grasp for it. And you have to be willing to take a risk, even knowing the cost of mistakes.
And that's the real difference.
Look, if you want to stop the cup size fluctuating, well, there's ways of making that happen. Ways which don't include approving a bunch of expensive measures, all of which on their own might decrease the cup.
Invest in Rivet, yep, that makes sense, and if some of the other Basin Barons can't see that, well she can.
Quite the stupidest suggestion on the list is to increase the ration from one water tower, and one water tower only. Yeah. How exactly is that supposed to help? People from other districts will be really happy too, won't they?
If any one thing can be relied upon to make the general ration decrease, it's increasing it in the most populous district. And how will that help? It won't.
It's just not how things work.
Shift those boxes aft, we’re leaning to fore too much.” The crew followed her orders as she saw to the stowage of the final items of cargo. Hah! What little they had been able to take on with the way their licenses had been squeezed. The bureaucracy was trying to make them poor, or push them in to criminality, probably both. They’d had barely a third of their applications approved, despite calling in favours wherever they could. Bastards! After five years away from the audits, she’d tried to approach them with the good faith and honesty that she’d learned in her years since as a Skydancer. She should have known better, it wasn’t like it was the first time she’d seen the arbitrary cruelty of their application of the law. Under her bangles, she ran her thumb over the scars on her wrists, memento of weeks in filthy irons.
Her song drifted through her mind. She’d thought her pamphleteering days long gone, back in the old days with her old name. It had been good to flex those muscles again, and better to be able to write it herself, not rely on some printer sticking to what she told them to print. In the years since she came to the Aviary she’d been too scared of getting caught again, but the events of the last year or two had set a rage burning in her that only action would soothe.
Pride filled her thinking of singing it in public twice and distributing at least a dozen copies quietly throughout the Petrel Perch. Heavy feet came down the companionway, Toucan and Sparrow with boxes of rice and spices. “Store those on the port side, fore of the cloth.” Smiling to herself she hummed.
Give us rice, but give us roses
This part of her work always calmed her, it was a puzzle to solve. Crates of different sizes, different densities, some with loose items which might shift in a storm, others solid and sturdy. How best to stow them, to balance the ship fore and aft, port and starboard, how to ensure nothing would move accidentally and yet make everything they needed on a day to day basis accessible. Today, however, she was distracted.
As we come marching, marching,
Was she still under charges even? There’d been no formal word that they had dropped matters against her and Fractis. Though it would be hard for them to proceed since Jackdaw’s charges had been not proven. She and Liam had been almost eager for them to put her warrant out with Idolatry on it and then try and prove that she had made an idol of herself.
We bring the greater days,
The last of the boxes stored away she went above. Jackdaw was sailing them out today. She picked up her drum and went to stand by the prow, feet spread, balanced for any sudden gusts of wind. Ahead of her she could see the smoke rising from Furybone and both joy and sadness filled her as she stared at it. It had been her home, the one which had driven her to crime and killed all of her family, but if she hadn’t been born and orphaned there she would never have come to the ship, never had felt the strong protectiveness of Jackdaw’s arm around her shoulder or the warmth of Liam’s smile. With the barracks burned, the boot heel on the neck of Furybone lifted just a fraction and maybe Liza and Marcus were breathing a bit freer for it today.
For the rising of the slums, brings the rising of the race.
She wondered if the district was in good hands now. Jay seemed the best of a bad bunch, but she has realised this audit that Marcus Twilling was yet another gang leader, if the residents were lucky, perhaps a little fairer than most. He seemed honest in wanting better things for them but she had heard at least one story this Audit to testify that he was ruthless in getting what he wanted, under that veneer of honesty and friendliness. And she’d told him her secret in a moment of weakness. That had been a dangerous thing to do. The old ache for Pia and Jacob was strong right now.
She could so easily have been another Liza, had been going that way when Pia died. A thug had come to demand protection money, knocked her down when she’d said no, then spotted Pia lying fevered on the bed and said they’d be back. She had no idea if they had come back after she'd been arrested, if they'd taken the few valuables she'd avoided pawning.
No more the sludge and recycling, as bureaucracy disposes.
That line she’d sworn had to be there. She would not forget what they’d done. Especially now when the church and bureaucracy both were getting tougher, tightening their grip on the lives of everyone in the Rockery in an attempt to quash the stirrings of rebellion. But the people were struggling. A hundred years under what had been supposed to be emergency measures after Judgement Day and things only got worse.
Skydancers wouldn’t win by hitting the church or bureaucracy directly, but by making people notice they were needed. Did those in the Rockery realise how quickly their economy would be crippled without the Dancers’ trade? No found fashion, not exotic items, nothing other than the most basic of food and probably water shortages too, without dancers to lead the water barons’ vessels home. It was going to be a busy few months to get everything ready and The Aviary certainly wouldn’t be seen in Anchor for months.
A flash of colour and movement caught her eye. A woman in a red shirt, a dockworker by the look of her, whistled as she walked down the pier below, and the tune made Storm’s heart soar. It was hers; she had made some small difference this year! She would not be defeated, while there was breath to sing left in her.
She started the drum beat that would lift them in to the sky, a steady, persistent, marching pace.
A sharing of life’s glories, rice and roses, rice and roses.
First of all, Marcus, Jay and Liza walked back to Furybone together. It felt good to be back in the District, especially with the thick pall of smoke coming from the remains of the Knights' fortress-barracks hanging heavy over everything. He said goodbye to Liza first, and then Jay, hugging her goodbye and arranging to meet to talk about the coming year.
Rather than heading home, he went to the Road of Twenty Sins and went into a bakery he knew. Nodding at the owner, he went into the back, and climbed the stairs into the attic, where he made his way out onto the roof - the tiles were slippery from all the rain, but he kicked off his shoes and socks and clambered up.
He looked west, over towards the water tower on Blind Trick. The mob of students who'd been occupying it last night were still there, albeit fewer in number: the Knights-Anchorer had been too busy to deal with their house falling down on them to really do much about it. He scowled, feeling the stirring of that deep anger that followed him around like a loyal dog.
He scowled deeper still as he looked southeast, over Gongtredding way. Where Benji…where _Tony_ lived. His hands clenched into fists involuntarily; up here he didn't need to hide these sorts of responses like he had in the Perch. The situation was nothing like as bad as it could be, but was hardly ideal, either.
He went back down into the bakery, grabbing a handful of fresh bau as he passed and throwing the baker a small flask of water in return. His route took him south, albeit not far - just across Lamplighters', and through Old Grillings, til he was back on Broken Drum. He traded fistbumps with the two solidly-built lasses on the door to his home, their hands wrapped for boxing just like his were. No need for a weapons license for these two, not when either could knock a docker on his arse without breaking a sweat. He headed inside then, and found Daniel asleep on the worn-out old settee.
Lampitch was living up to his name, stinking of oil and covered in soot and grime even as he slept. Marcus left half the steamed buns on the arm of the sofa, by Daniel's head, and walked upstairs to his room at the top of the house. He sat down on the edge of his bed, and just stared at the map of the District he'd had painted on the wall. He'd memorised every detail, and he found it soothing just to look at it, running through who he knew on each street until his mind stopped roaring.
After a while - more like an hour or two, truth be told - he went downstairs and caught up on the news from Audit Day, making sure to thank each of his friends for everything they'd done for him and Furybone. He told them the news about Chop, and commiserated with them that they'd not been able to do more. Come the dark, they lit lamps and the others brought out the drinks - Marcus never touched the stuff nowadays - and things got livelier.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Hand on his belt by the small of his back, Marcus went and opened it, ready for some last thrashing of Chop's tentacles of influence to try and ruin everything. But instead, there was a scared-looking docker lad, holding a lumpy-looking parcel wrapped carefully in brown paper and tied with string, and standing between the door guards. This time of night it was Jack and Alex, a brother and sister who'd come up a few years behind Marcus.
“Miss Simms says I'm to give this to you, muh-Mister Twilling, sir.”
Marcus flashed his best “probably not going to kill you” grin and thanked the messenger, taking the package and giving him a drop or three of water as a tip. He brought it indoors, and dropped it on the table - it landed with a lot of weight. Daniel brought the light closer, while Marcus undid the knots, revealing the roll of heavy canvas covered in old blood stains inside. Opening that up, what he saw glinting in the lamplight made him grin something _wicked_. Knives, of all different sizes and shapes; a big solid saw with the teeth all large and deep and wide like a shark; a pair of nasty-looking hooks; and finally, that famous old meat cleaver, the initials “HC” engraved on the handle. All beautifully shiny, and murderously sharp.
He hefted the cleaver in his hand, feeling the solidity, enjoying the weight of it. The others in the room had backed away slightly, all except Daniel, who leaned forward to get a better view.
“Well,” said Marcus, looking around the room. “It's going to be a busy year…”
“Do you really need all those dresses, dear Mina? Haven't you already packed four?”
Through the glass Mina scowled at Nico, then took in his knowing smirk.
“Please, this is nothing. Had I been in Anchor I could have ordered some new garments, but as it is dearest, I have had to make due with only two new dresses.”
She smoothed the skirt of her new flowery dress, pleased with the lovely soft beige trim she had chosen to complement it.
“I mean no offence but Rivet is in dire need of a fashion boutique! How am I supposed to attend a party without new gloves and shoes? And don't even get me started on the lack of colour choice. As it is, I'm just happy Antonia could recommend her friend at such short notice.”
Since the Exultation had landed, and Havoc had swaggered into Livia's Reach with a special invitation for her closest family to attend a Skydancer function, Mina had been in a frenzy.
Rivet offered much mystery and academical interest, but really, the place was drab and in need of a fashion revolution. Still, as always, she has made due. Now all that was left to do was finish packing.
“You know, now that you're in charge around here you should really start thinking about redecorating…and I'm talking about more than just Livia's Reach, Nico…”
“I know, I know…give me a little time, right now business is my prerogative. Uncle Archie will be visiting soon and you know he's done so much to help with the permits and all the navigating through the bureaucratic maze that I feel obliged to show him how much the island has thrived, even in this short time. Soon we will be rivalling the grander cities and you will have tea houses and found fashion shops to sate your desires.” He winked mischievously as Mina approached him and, with a smile, adjusted his sash and the neck of his black shirt. Black was Nico's trademark colour, but really, it suited him just fine and added an air of sensuality and brooding that suited the man, although Mina doubted he realised it. Nico could be so oblivious to his charms, but she loved him dearly and would do anything to see him happy.
“There” she said “and comb your hair my dear, you cannot possibly leave the house with your hair looking like you have just rolled out of bed…although it is sort of a good look for you…” she mused.
He blushed slightly, a trait Mina found deliciously endearing “Now, now…you're going to have to look your handsomest if you want a certain someone to notice you…” She let the sentence trail off as she noticed Nico's interest was peaked.
“And how do you know this certain person will be attending the Skydancer's celebrations?”
Mina's smile deepened “Ah, you don't think I'd let Havoc go without her giving me a peek at the guest list? You should know me better than this, cousin.”
Nico's laugh burst, infectious as ever “I should have known…you and your little schemes. But hush now, let me get back to my work or I shall never be able to leave the island.”
Only a few hours later as the afternoon gave way to the first evening chills, Nico and Mina strode quietly down the road to the port, two valets following with a cart full of their luggage.
The streets smelled of the first cooking fires, stalls opening for the Night City as light faded. Mina stopped to get some sweet breads and jams as a small gift for the Exultation's crew. Around them a milling of people, unknown on Rivet before the Centennial and the revelation of what the island concealed, made way to taverns and meeting houses.
A group of pilgrims knelt in prayer under a make-shift effigy of the “Anchorer on Rivet”, a picture of a golden chalice from whence water flowed as if unending. Mina had noticed a few of these open air altars spring up around the coast as more and more travellers streamed onto the island from other parts of the Rockery, searching for a new life, a better life and sometimes enlightenment.
She could certainly understand the need to better ones situation by trying your luck in a new and exciting venture, but enlightenment? She wasn't sure. No matter how many sermons the Church published, she could not go past the forced nature of the claims that cried for a miracle.
Rivet was mostly unexplored; this gave way to logically assuming wonderful secrets lay still uncovered. But people loved a miracle. Personally Mina preferred a mystery.
As they approached the port the Exultation came into view, from afar the notes of a sweet melody drifted up as Sever's voice filled the crepuscule.
“Mina! Nico!” Havoc shouted raising her hand in salute, her grin pearly white in the dimmed light.
“There's my favourite cousins! Come up and be welcome!”
Mina looked up to the skyship's prow with trepidation.
“Up to the skies” she murmured.
She was ready for a little adventure.
It’s easy to see which is The Thistledown. Only one of those currently moored at the dockside could really make pretensions to elegance in quite the same way. Her wooden sides are sleek and darkly varnished, like an heirloom cabinet, too expensive to not be on show, covered in lacquer and gilt and silken swagging. She has an almost liquid grace to her fine lines. Her name is obscured, but you’d never mistake her for any other, not even with your eyes closed. Even the feel of the rail as I climb the gangway is smooth and polished, like satin. I feel almost afraid.
A young man, impeccably dressed – his tail-coat delicately braided and his collar open just enough that I can see the black whorls of what must be skydancer tattoos – is lounging on the rail as I approach the deck.
“Good Evening, cara mia,” he smiles. I would object to the term of endearment – I know I should, we have not been introduced – but his dark eyes under those thick black lashes make me feel… very peculiar. So I don’t. “The Lady is expecting you,” he continues, and offers his arm to guide me below decks. The sleeve of his coat is plush, rich velvet… so very soft. I feel like I am floating as he glides at my side to the great double doors to the staterooms.
I have to duck slightly under the draped curtains, into the room beyond. I have heard tales, I am prepared for opulence, but this surpasses all expectations. The same dark varnished wood, like coffee, surrounds me, but much of it is obscured by silken drapes; gorgeous, rich, deep colours; crimson, viridian, cobalt, indigo… the scent of sandalwood from a brazier hangs heavy in the air, and there is a slight steaminess, like the inside of a freshly used teapot. It is warm, almost uncomfortably so. There are no chairs. Instead, sprawled on cushions, and thick, grassy rugs, they fill the room. They drip with gold – paint, chains, earrings – and blackened smudges of kohl under their eyes. Every one is barefoot, and many have shirts open to the waist, or no shirt at all. They lounge, curled up over each other like a basket of cats, talking, laughing. I see one of them feeding another a grape. He sucks the juices off the proffered fingertips, holding the gaze of the first as he does. I look away, feeling a blush start to spread. My companion sees my discomfiture and offers to take my coat. I am glad of the occasion to compose myself, though, as another steps forward with a goblet of wine – solid silver, no less! – I get the strangest feeling… as if I might actually like it here…
I find myself gently passed forwards, through the tangled piles, to one corner of the silken room, where she is lounging. She is clad like the others in silk, a wide, loose hanging white robe, splashed all over with printed scarlet hibiscus flowers. Her hair, oiled and smoothed into a flowing tumble of curls, is unbound, and in one hand she holds the long, serpent-like stem of a hookah pipe.
“Dah-ling…” she breathes, a thin trickle of smoke escaping her lips. “I was wondering when you would get here…” and then her smile. Those impossibly red lips. I find I am sinking down into the unbelievable softness of the cushions at her side, with more will and more abandon than I had even hoped.
The next morning, I wake to a pale sun, drifting through the small windows. I stretch luxuriously. Such a soft bed… such a night! I am slightly surprised to find myself alone, after… perhaps though the hour is later than I thought. There seem to be voices coming from a room adjoining this cabin. I slip from between the sheets, find someone has folded my dress and stays for me, draped them on a chair by the bed. In a moment, I think, and instead I slip over to the door, wrapped in a sheet.
The next room is dominated by a huge round table. There are maps spread over it, and behind them I can see a desk with an ink-well, as sextant and other beautiful brass toys. She is standing there. Much more demurely dressed than before, in black cotton trousers and a high-necked blue tunic.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” she is saying. Her voice this morning is firmer, less breathy, less affected. “If what our little songbird says is true, I know at least three parties who would pay very highly for that information. And another five who would pay just as much for me to keep it quiet. Not least his own darling Papa…”
“His own ‘darling Papa’ would hang you from a spit if he knew what you know. And I shudder to think if he learned exactly how you picked up that little titbit…” a man wanders round the desk and into view. This one looks different to the others I have seen. He lacks their easy grace, their comfort in their own skin. He is on edge.
“He doesn’t dare touch me,” she chucks, “besides, who would tell him?”
“You’re playing a dangerous game, Saffy. Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Dilly, my sweet, you worry too much.” She brushes off the tenderness in his voice – does she even notice? I can’t be sure. Suddenly, I notice that he is looking directly at me. He clears his throat, and she turns to follow his gaze. “Rosebud,” she smiles, her voice returning to last night’s languished drawl. She doesn’t seem angry that I’ve overheard them. Or perhaps she doesn’t know. “You’re up. Shall I have the boys fetch you something to eat?” I nod, wondering for the first time just who this woman really is.
II The client has left. Such a pretty little nibble, and I’m sure Our Lady enjoyed her very much, while she pried truths from her that the poor mite probably didn’t even know she was dropping. Right into our laps. Poor dainty dear. But now it’s my turn.
“Lambkin, dearest?” she whispers to me as we stand, watching last-night’s fun take her leave, escorted down the gangway to her waiting carriage. “Lambkin, I have a little errand for you…” So here I am, slipping through the streets, silently as a floating cloud, towards a certain house, a certain door… When I mention where I am from, the butler smiles knowingly.
“I shall tell the mistress you’re here,” he says, and ushers me into a comfortable drawing room. I make myself at home. The lady I am here to see is an old… associate. She bustles in, evidently rushed from her toilette.
“Matthias…” she gasps, feigning surprise, but her eagerness shows through all the same. “So very good to see you. To what do I owe…?”
“Signora…” I make my deep bow, take her hand, kiss it, keeping my eyes on her the whole time. It has the intended effect, as she blushes and appears if anything more flustered than she was. “I come with the best of news.”
“Of a delicate matter… resolved.” She seems to take my meaning – sighs with relief.
“Perfectly, Signora. It seems the gentleman’s financial difficulties – and they were, I’m afraid, extensive – are soon to be remedied. In the manner previously mentioned.”
“And when shall this remedy come about?”
“Three weeks time. Not soon enough for many of his creditors. However, if someone… understanding… were to take the boy by the hand, his gratitude is likely to be extremely valuable.”
“As will mine be… should your information prove reliable.”
“Oh, The Lady is seldom wrong about these things.”
“I have heard as much. Likewise about her discretion…”
“Ah yes… discretion is such a valuable quality in a friend…”
“And we are, indeed, such good friends, Signore,” “I very much hope so, Signora…”
We back-and-forth a little, then conclude our business with tea. I scamper home with my good news, of a favour owed. People have asked me before why I chose this life. Why I threw in my luck with such a notorious ship as the Thistledown. Where do I start? The money is good. The thrills are better. The company, the best. But what I really like are the days like these, when I can bear good news and everyone is glad to see me.
I smile with satisfaction at a job well done.
“I just don't know what to do about the party; just not enough young men. That's the third that's cancelled on me already, and it'll put my table quite out! Hm? Is that the Thistledown in port? Oh marvellous! I shall have to see if Lady Akeldamar can spare one or two of her boys for the evening. What, you haven't heard of the Thistledown? Oh, my dear! You should! Such a godsend to people like us. Such lovely young men - Skydancers, naturally, but not so's you'd ever notice if you weren't looking closely. Unless that's what you want, of course. Just a word in the right ear and they can be very accommodating.
“Is that…? Oh yes! There's two of them now! Just across the street, do you see? They are very pretty, aren't they? The tattoos are very discrete. I could just have one standing around the house all day. Possibly in the bedchamber. Perhaps squiring me about the town. So very well mannered, you could take them anywhere. One feels so safe with them. I heard - you know that fracas at the Poitiers last May? No, they didn't start it, but they very much finished it, and with so little fuss! And I heard they even replaced the tea set. I expect they'd have excellent taste. That one especially. He has such a perfect face, don't you think? I feel I could tell him anything…
“University links? Oh no, no I don't think so. At least, nothing seditious I'm sure. They make good conversation, but it's all fluff and nonsense, nothing one could get into trouble for. Though some of their notions about fashion… Really, too outre! They all seem to be working from next season's play-book. I don't know how they do it!
“Suitable? For what? Oh I see! Oh my dear, believe me, your daughter would be safe in their company. Yes… Completely so. It is such a comfort knowing that nothing of that kind could ever happen, isn't it?
“So you go to the Thistledown, leave a message for Lady Akeldamar. She won't see you at once, but you'll find she's very obliging… To the right sort.”
The drums have started. Not the joyous, almost frantic beat that would normally accompany our return to the blue, not today. The drums beat slowly, mournfully, for those who are not coming with us and for our sister ships who must remain lashed to this rock until their wounds are repaired.
The Inganno is the first to break from dock, sleek and swift she climbs, the sound of her drums diminishing, but the beat is taken up by the Exultation of Larks Rent Asunder two berths over as she makes her own leap into the sky.
I wave, not really because I imagine I can be seen, a lone figure atop the Bowsprit amid all the chaos of a multiple launch, but more an acknowledgement of the prior evenings festivities. ‘Safe running girlies, to you and yours.’ I say under my breath as her shadow passes over the deck of the Bounteous Osprey and she climes to join the Inganno.
To port, the Great Ghizao still has her gangplank down, odd. At first I think they must be waiting on some crew, but their rigging is set and all the launch positions seem manned. Well, no time for idleness, the Canny lad is away and the Quills drums have started, it will not be long before the Osprey needs to join them. I run along the bowsprit, an action performed so often my feet recognise every knot and grove. Reaching the end I wrap the safety rope around my wrist and tug the red warning cloth from my belt. Not that I expect to use it, Storm is taking us out so it will be smooth sailing - ain't no better team on a ship Ospreys size.
I take the opportunity to look out over Anchor. Smoke still rises over Furybone, not generally a place I would want to visit… Though recent events show it does have its attractions. I can't make out a theatre from here… But I'm sure there will be a sign or something should I fancy a visit next time around. The deep thud of our drums breaks that particular chain of recollection and I bend at the knees as we begin to climb. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a flash of white climbing the Great Ghizao’s gangplank. “Ah ha! Well good for you clever girl!” We climb.
In short order a ring of sky ships rest above Liberty, bows facing inwards. The drums have kept their beat, their reverberation gives the ships beneath our feet a heartbeat that our own hearts have matched. Every ship, every brother and sister, every heart, beats as one in our loss. For a moment we are one. The drums fall silent, and one by one the ships peel away.
“Far away, brothers and sisters… But never distant. Sea and Sky and all who fly.”
Everything's different once you step onto a skyship.
It's like the air changes, like your body awakens. It's as if you are somehow reborn. And it's the same every time I fly.
There's a pleasant breeze today, and it carries the smell of spices.
I can see boxes of saffron and chilli, of dried basil and paprika being loaded up onto the ship, as well as passengers' personal belongings.
There's six of us flying this time and I'm glad for the company, although Skydancers are always good fun, they get easily swept away by their duties and have little time to dedicate to 'dirt dwellers', even to those who travel with them often.
But before we set off into the sky, I enjoy a last moment of solitude. Not much space for privacy once we set off. Not any space really.
Libertys Docks are as busy as always. Many skyships are setting off today and there's much to do.
Off in the distance I can hear a docker singing, his baritone voice setting a melancholic rhythm, mixed to the quiet and steady drumming of the 'Dancers, not the joyous beating that usually accompanies their journeys, but a mourning lament to those who will never set sail again.
“…Say nighty-night and kiss me, Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me, While I'm alone and blue as can be Dream a little dream of me…”
I remember hearing this song in the Night City, on Audit night, and smile. Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me… I'll miss you, but the winds will bring us back together my darling, soon, just like they brought us together, here, the first time our eyes met. I lean over the side of the ship, my fingers resting lightly on the gleaming wood, stroking it gently.
“…Still craving your kiss I'm longin' to linger till dawn dear…”
I wonder if you can hear the song too, or if you're already lost to dreams of sky and faraway adventures…
“…But in your dreams whatever they be Dream a little dream of me Dream a little dream of me…”
The words are lost to me, as the ship climbs, up and away, to mists and blue skies, the thrilling sensation jolting me awake from my reveries. Goodbye, I whisper to no one, stretching my arms, fingers reaching up towards infinity.
See you in my dreams
(intended for entertainment purposes only; to be read during the Night City, best after dinner, preferably with a heated beverage and cake). With thanks to my fellow auditees.
Breakfast at the Peregrin's Perch with Nico, Antonia, Uncle Archibald and Maelish, then off to Libertys to Anachronalia to order some travel clothes for the coming expedition.
After that, lunch with the family at the Withers Tea House.
Over several cups of fragrant, steaming tea and some lovely finger sandwiches, Mina had discussed the latest events with her father, and exchanged gossip with her mother.
Their audits had gone through without a hitch, but then it was hardly a surprise.
Carlo Irisetti had been licensed to design and build skyships for the last 25 years, he had contracts with the Department of Military Precision and several Skydancer troupes, and his work was highly in demand.
Liana De Canto, on the other hand, was all about the parties. An acclaimed actress in her time, she was still a dark beauty, as well as a licensed party planner. If you wanted to throw a bash in Anchor, she was the woman to employ.
Mina talked with her father at length about her upcoming Rivet expedition, and indulged her mother with some titbits of gossip; she seemed especially taken by the news of the Irisetti Museum of Arts and Mina made a mental note to speak to Selia about the possibility of her mother organising the opening celebrations. She knew Selia would be thrilled at the prospect and so Mina decided to stop by her shop on the way to the University, and take a look at her new wares.
The streets were busier than usual of course, with all the travellers organising departures after Audit Day to return to their islands or move to new ones, but as Mina quietly strolled, she sensed an undercurrent of distress also. Many walked with their heads down, others stumbled about as if lost in thought.
She guessed some had seen dreams shattered with permits denied, but she had witnessed this in past years, and never to this extent. Something else was in the air, something that at a guess had everything to do with Furybone, and even more to do with the general discontent about Bureaucracy and Church.
There was much to think about, but as she approached Selia's shop, the prospect of some pretty trinkets cheered her somewhat. The glad tinkle of the doorbell announced her presence, and Selia swirled towards her with her ever present smile and enveloped her in a pleasant cloud of Jasmine perfume.
“Darling! So good to see you! Come, come, let me show you my new collection of items. Did I tell you they only just arrived from Link? Absolutely fabulous, I tell you!”
The next couple of hours were spent in a haze of curious browsing and constant chat.
Mina enquired after the Irisetti Museum, and Selia was only happy to oblige in recounting all the news.
“We are having a section dedicated exclusively to ornate weapons, thanks to your kind donation, darling!”
“That sounds rather interesting,” Mina smiled “you should talk to Adelina Dalvicci before she returns to Rivet, she has some delightful items belonging to the Scandiaglio Duelling School she might agree to lend you as a limited time installation. I'd be glad to make introductions.”
“Why that would be wonderful, of course!”
After much debating, Mina chose some little found metal pins to decorate a new hat, and as she was paying, noticed a wooden fan. She picked it up gently, and studied the simple and delicate decorations on the object. With a smile, she handed it to Selia.
“Could you have this delivered?”
The shop owner didn't waste a moment; she wrapped the fan artfully and waved over a Swift.
“Where to ma'am?”
Mina scribbled the address, and a quick note, and handed it to the Swift. The girl was off in a moment, continuing on her journey around Anchor.
Not a minute later, Mina was also on her way, this time to the University, with a happy smile on her face.
There was much work to do before she departed for Rivet, and truly, she did not know how long this expedition would be, only that she would be away for a while and there was a lot of packing to do.
She had notes from Audit Day to revise, papers to grade and arrangements to be made with Professor Almagro, but truly it was nothing compared to the eagerness she had to travel again.
Havoc was right, her feet were firmly on the ground, but her head was in the clouds, and the call of adventure pulled hard on her strings.
There were mysteries to unveil, and worry and excitement mingled into a heady elixir.
She only had a few short days before “The Exaltation of Larks Rent Asunder” departed and was grateful she had most of what she needed already.
There was only one thing that made her pause, but she couldn't dwell on it, not yet, or she might not leave at all.
There was change in the air. She could almost smell it, like the incense smoke that burned in St Balthazar, subtle and yet powerful and heady.
She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment, letting it wash over her.
Invigorated, she moved towards Gongtredding with more purpose. There were still a couple of hours before the Night City, and she could get a little work done.
After that…well, after that was no one else's business but her own.
Diary Entry Still can't back into Libertys, not sure I'd even want to, they're bound to have acted on the information I gave them about the tunnel by now, even with all the other problems the city is facing. Don’t fancy having to explain things to Meathook, he's less forgiving than the Church is.
The Church, well they certainly showed their colours. I’ve come to accept the failings and personal agendas of Bureaucracy, lining their pockets and taking advantage of the regular workers, but the priest that oversaw my branding must have been one of those sick, twisted types, I can still hear him saying “Not even a cry of pain”.
It's as if he was disappointed that I made no sound, that I robbed him of something. They're all same when it comes to my lack of a voice, they assume it is self-inflicted or decide not enquire too deeply in case the truth forces them to confront the random harshness that exists in this world. Well the events of these past few days should open their eyes to just how damaging this world is and I hope they experience even just a fraction of the pain that I did, maybe then they'll be more understanding about the rest of us.
Hands shaken, farewells exchanged, immediate affairs set in order, and it’s time for me to leave. I allow a hand to trail down the pillar at the right hand side of the main door as I descend the University steps with a slow reverence.
Along Spreadeagle Street, boots clicking against the cobbles in an even rhythm. Drums; drums echo in my ears. When I reach the crossroads, instead of continuing the familiar route forwards towards the tower, I turn left into Lumhouse.
Skyships are already beginning to rise, ropes dangling before being hauled up as they ascend into the impossible blue. Shouts and bustle from the Docks are beginning to reach me – I’m closer now than I’ve dared to venture in some time.
A few more paces forward and there she is, framed against the gold of the rising sun with sails flapping in the early morning breeze. Maybe I’d expected some hesitation but I find none as I continue in my purposeful stride without faltering.
The gangway of The Great Ghizao springs comfortingly beneath my feet – I’d forgotten how strange solid ground had felt when I first came to Anchor, and I am suddenly compelled to remove my boots and socks with almost panicked haste; the need to feel my bare feet against the shifting boards is overwhelming. Everything about this feels right.
Not knowing when I’m going to return, or where I’ll go in between, is in equal parts terrifying and thrilling. I allow a last glance over my shoulder towards… Home? Can I call it that? As the backdrop of rising smoke blurs the further reaches of Anchor I know I cannot answer that question. And I’m glad I have not yet been forced to decide.
“Who are you? Who are you? Who *are* you?”
I don’t know. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what I want to be. For “one of those intelligent people” I don’t seem to know much at the moment. In fact, there’s only one thing I know for certain.
It’s time to go back to the sky…
Aim: To provide a balanced reflection on the commonly held views of the Skydancers as held by most residents of Anchor and the Rockery in general, and to analyse the cause of these views and subsequent behaviours.
Firstly I feel I must begin by stating that I as the author of this essay am fully aware that the topics which I choose to write upon and the views which I will later evaluate in depth will be seen by many to be controversial and by some, perhaps even heretical. It is not the purpose of this essay to call judgement on those who hold any or all of the enclosed views, but merely to analyse the causes of the often discriminate or negative views which many Anchorites hold against a nation of people of whom little is actually known.
This author has had the benefit of being able to observe the Skydancers in their own habitats and has received only the very best care and hospitality from them, the evidence of which is that I am still well enough to write this essay. I can confirm that though their behaviours are often difficult to understand, rarely are they intended to cause deliberate harm or offence to the ‘dirt dwellers’ as we are referred to, by those of this culture. Indeed, the reader may observe that the term ‘dirt dweller’ holds some equal negativity in it to the term ‘Peacock’ which some use to refer to the Skydancers: I maintain that I disagree with this notion. If they reside solely on their ships in the sky, then we, as those who reside solely on houses built on rock, are indeed, dirt dwellers, and the term is no more derogatory than it is insulting to call a rat, a rat.
If you talk to a Skydancer (and indeed, I have) you will first note that they are fiercely proud of their heritage and lineage. To them, their Ancestors are everything and much of their culture is based around this. It is often spoken by them that their way of life is far, far older than our own, and that they have the memories and the lists of remembrance to prove it. On this fact, I feel it is difficult to be absolutely certain: our way of life is built on much of what came before the Judgement, although Historians do agree that many things have changed and had to adapt as a result, whereas much of the Skydancer way of life remains the same as it ever was. This could lead one to then question whether the lack of change in the way of life for these people actually lends more credibility to them, and whether perhaps, their ways are more steeped in tradition than our own. It is something this particular author has, as yet, formed no concrete opinion on, but the question bears considering. We all have pasts, and remembering where we came from is important, therefore is one culture’s past and traditions really more important than another’s?
Our way of life has certainly begun to depend very much on the skills of the Skydancers: their ability to navigate the furthest in the mists, their willingness to risk those dangerous trips to Bolt to incarcerate those who have been judged, and thus their ability to trade for materials we would otherwise be unable to obtain. This, I believe has certainly led many to come to regard them as a ‘necessary evil’, a people for whom tolerance is allowed merely due to the necessity of their services. Granted, this attitude is only deepened by the fact that the Skydancers early in our history monopolised the skill of navigating safely through the mists and the knowledge that goes with it. It goes also without saying that their refusal to adopt the ways of the Church of the Anchorer as well as their bold and brash refusal to fit in does not help curb the negative view which many hold of them.
The Church of the Anchorer may well have much to dislike of the Skydancers, particularly as their view on the Religion seems to be outwardly negative and in the Church’s view, this can only be heretical. It is no secret that many who claim the Skydancer title care little for the religion the ‘dirt dwellers’ follow, but many of that culture are not outwardly spoken against it, and as such do little that is actually branded as spreading heresy. I personally have only encountered a few minor infarctions of this nature, and indeed, as it was a personal opinion, this author finds it difficult within her heart to condemn that person for their view. Incidentally, for those that are unfamiliar, what could be described as the Skydancer’s religion is, as far as this author knows, quite simply the worship of the memory of their ancestor’s and the preservation of that memory. Obviously the Skydancers are fiercely protective of their ways and as such gleaning more than this is very difficult indeed. It is worth noting, however, that although their ways are different to ours, there has been absolutely no empirical evidence of the presence of the Anchorer in our current lives, and as such there cannot be an absolute judgement as to which theological practice is truly correct.
This does lead this author to discuss the prevalent issue of difference and change and how we as a people are intrinsically scared of anything that may be different to what we already know. It is no secret that we fear what we do not know and as a means of protecting ourselves and our minds we revert to a primitive way of behaving, through discriminatory tactics and defamation. It could well be that were we, as a people, more welcoming and understanding of the practices with which we are unfamiliar, that the Skydancers would perhaps cease to be as aloof as they have learned to be and our two peoples may well find solace in accepting eachother’s ways of life.
It is clear then that the vast majority of opinions of the Skydancers are derogatory for reasons which can be explained away with clear logic and rationale. It is also easily seen that the Skydancer’s current behaviours don’t do much to sway those opinions, but that they, too, cannot be blamed for their behaviours adapting to the attitudes of those that would perceive them. An idea which this author has long considered worthy of consideration is that the powers that be in Anchor particularly dislike what they cannot control or regulate, and often propagate defamation of those that will not bend to their will, and whose assistance comes at a price. It is the conclusion of this author, therefore, that the Skydancer’s are only driven to further secrecy about their behaviours and culture, and utilizing shock tactics upon the ‘dirt dwellers’ by the discriminate and unwelcoming attitudes and subsequent behaviours of ourselves, and that perhaps were we as a people more open to differences of behaviour, dress, belief and opinion, we may find that they, too are more welcoming to our more rigid way of life. Conversely, we must consider whether this does not go both ways, however this author strongly believes that only we as a people are to blame for our own determined blindness and ignorance.
Some Skydancers on the Bolt run relish looking grim. The very epitome of the dancers of whom Anchor parents whisper to their young ones, warning that they’ll take them away if they don’t clean their room.
Not Vrinda. Vrinda smiles too much. Sure, it’s a smug, knowing grin but it’s still a smile. The Bolt run makes you grim, it’s said, spending all your days transporting convicts to a harsh mining prison from which most will never return. Vrinda doesn’t look grim: he’s dressed in mismatched silk leggings - even in the chill of the Libertys morning - and more scarves than the Trampsbridge market. Today he has an unexpected haul, a couple of real VIPs. He doesn’t know who they are or what they’ve done; he never cares about that, never asks. Well, maybe once. He only cares about his crew, the job and the little sweeteners that come his way for little extras he’s willing to provide. Vrinda doesn’t need to look grim. With regard to his prisoners, he is grim personified. And when you’re transporting the worst of the worst, that takes some doing.
He ponders the latest arrivals as they’re forced up the gangplank by a whole team of knights. Linking his thumbs and forefingers together as the knights approached with his cargo, he turns and nods to his drummer. No tiny jingles for Vrinda’s crew, no sassy bells. More gold than Hold to be sure, but nothing that might sound upbeat. The only sound is the patter of rain on the deck and the low, slow beat of the great drum, echoing the tramp of the prisoners’ booted feet as they’re prodded onto his ship.
“The prisoners march up two by two…” THUMP THUMP.
The knights look very cagey around these two, an edge of fear but also an edge of superiority, triumphalism. These two little fishes are somehow a big catch.
“The prisoners march up two by two…” THUMP THUMP.
The slighter of the two looked up, his short frizzled hair peeking out from beneath a hood. Vrinda was a little shocked to see it was the brown cowl of a pastor. “Oh my!” One of the knights noticed him looking and hastily grabbed the offending item, crushing it into the dock mud with the heel of his boot. The man swung at the knight with hefty, meaty hands but punched the empty air owing to them being manacled together. (Vrinda always insisted on real iron manacles, he even paid for them himself. He took pride in the cold iron being pressed into their flesh. And it made the game with the electric eel so much more fun). The prisoner raised his ugly head, a mash of old bruises and scars betraying a life wasted and misspent.
“Do you hear me Liza? I’ll be back for you! Queen of Furybone you’ll be one day! Chop keeps his promises!”
“Shut the fuck up.” This came from the other prisoner, a bare-chested and barrel-chested giant of a man whose long blond beard was still matted with drying blood.
“No one fucking speaks to Chop like that, you shit.”
“You have to admire his tenacity” thought Vrinda, “to try and pick a fight with someone you’re shackled to, someone twice your size.”
The bearded man’s face, which might at some point have been considered handsome, contorted with rage. Not even bothering to try and escape his manacles, he twisted his gigantic frame round slightly and headbutted the other square on the nose.
“I’ll fucking eat you alive for that! Do you know who the fuck I am? Do you?”
Clearly one blow wasn’t going to be enough, even though blood was already streaming from Chop’s nose. Just to be sure, the other man spat on his face and then reached in to bite his ear.
Vrinda watched all this with increasing joy. He might not even need the eel on this trip, if they were willing to do this to one another. He clapped ecstatically and then began sucking on a frosted sugar barley he’d obtained from a dock urchin. “Oh, do continue. Dance for Vrinda! He swivelled his hips mockingly, his gold bracelets glinting in the dawn light. “Oh what fun!”
The Knights were trying to separate them, begrudgingly and half-heartedly. Vrinda knew they’d fail. He also knew he had a schedule to keep. Mincing over, he plucked a little jar from a sash at his waist. Opening it carefully, he dropped the contents over the deckrail into the golden beard.
“Gerrit off! Gerrit off!”
“Now, now. It’s only one of the smaller scorpions! Wait til you see his sister.”
The pirate was now scratching furiously at his beard trying to remove the visitor while the other laughed. When Vrinda reached to his waist for another jar though, he went quiet. “Pity.”
Somewhat tired from all this excitement before the journey had even begun, Vrinda clapped his hands over his head as a signal to his crew to take off. He signed the paperwork the Knights offered him and indicated where their quarters were.
“Henri Castille, sentenced to life on Bolt for paperwork forgery, assault, conspiracy to murder and heresy.” He held the paper lightly in one hand whilst reaching down for another barley sugar. “Trust the Church to leave the best til last.”
“Ben Hornigold, sentenced to life on Bolt for assault, sky piracy and multiple counts of murder.” “My my! They’re getting lenient in their sentencing!” So this was the notorious sky pirate. He’d have to cross him off his VIP passenger list later. He’d carried all the other sky pirates from Hook when they were captured. Only one to go now.
“The prisoners marched up two by two, and off to life on Bolt they flew…”
Retiring to his cabin just as the flight signal was given, Vrinda looked at another piece of paper he’d been sent earlier by a Swift.
Opening it gingerly – you never knew with this one – he smiled with joy as he read the contents, his eyebrows arching at the accusations made.
“Oh Havoc! You have been naughty!”
He folded the swift carefully until it formed a perfect origami crane. Leaning out of the porthole, he threw it with all the strength he could muster.
“Fly, Havoc, fly!”
Within seconds, the bird fluttered down and landed on the dockside, where it was left unnoticed until it was trodden beneath the heels of the retreating Church knights. For a moment, Vrinda looked thoughtful. “Oh dear. Oh, dearie me.” Then he began to laugh.
Life on pebble 267 is hard.
Once a year, every year the locusts come in the night.
The folk of Pebble 267 are too tired after a day of preparing for the oncoming swarm to bother with the usual day to day household tasks – sweeping the floors, wiping table tops, cleaning dirty dishes. A mess can wait.
The locusts wont.
Everyone knows what happened the first time the Locusts came to this pebble. It is also the last time the locusts swarmed this pebble with the occupants un-prepared, and the stories are still told in the hollowed-out cavern below the pebble’s village where everyone shelters come swarm-tide.
The locusts have come just as the crops are on the turn from green to ripe and harvestable for as long as anyone has inhabited this pebble, and for far longer than that. If the pebble folk are lucky the locusts are delayed by storms that wander the misty void their world floats in. Their harvest can be gathered, and stored in the pebbles hollowed out innards safe away from the hungry swarm to tide them over for a year and trade on to others in need. Usually though, it is a race to gather enough of the ripe or just about to be ripe crop to make it through another year.
Every year from the moment the flowers on the bean pods wither one of the youngsters is set on watch for the wing-rider that brings them a day’s warning.
The pods are still green and thin when broad wings sweep out of the swirling mists: “They’re coming.” She shouts to the lad on duty. He’s bored, not expecting the warning to come that day. He’s slow to take in the wing-riders meaning and she has to circle twice so he can see the official insignia on her raptor’s chest harness. She and her raptor leave before he has lifted the acknowledgement banner; there are other pebbles in the path of the swarm to warn, and little enough time to do it.
The boy, having realised it’s not a joke has forgotten to raise the acknowledgement banner anyway, and is already running full tilt to the village.
His warning spreads quickly and everyone is thinking the same thing – too soon. It’s too soon.
But it is what it is.
By nights fall on the morrow the sky will be alive with hungry mouths, and the sussurus of sharp chitinous wings.
As the light fades the whole hamlet is still hard at work bringing in crops, green, unripe though they are. They can’t afford to lose any of it. The youngest are sent to bed to sleep on pallets at the back of the cavern, but they do not sleep, not with the tension in the air, the constant noise of baskets being thrown into corners, and sacks on top of one another and the flickering crackle of the torches. The lights move too as adults carry lanterns at their waists, so they can work into the dark to save what they can.
One of the elders has come up with a plan to turn the tables on their foe and catch locusts to supplement their diet. This year large pots of hot oil and water sat on fires are set up outside with baskets next to them. This year the torches don’t just burn inside the cavern They burn all over the island, every torch, every lantern bent to use so the adults can see.
This swarm-tide the adults will remain outside.
“It’ll be alright,” one girl says to her younger brother as they watch the adults and elders moving with frantic purpose.
“I promise,” she says, fingers crossed behind her back.
The cavern is large, big enough to hold twice the crop the pebble-folk grow, the sacks and baskets tossed in in haste look woefully meagre in the dim light of the tapers.
The hour gets later, and the children grow sleepy with the wait, and curl up on their pallets wrapped in soft blankets made with a mothers or grandmother’s love. The adults wait too, tense, straining their ears even as they are bagging up and harvesting crops to go into the cavern.
Then the humming begins.
The cavern is shut against the swarm as thousands upon thousands of wings swirl out of the mist in a black cloud. The noise growing louder and sharper as the locusts descend.
The cavern is warm and dry, but even in there the hum can be heard.
Years later, the stories are told of what happened the second time the locusts descended on Pebble 267 with the village unprepared. The girl is old, wrinkled, her brother barely less so from a hard life of toil on the Pebble. In the hollowed-out cavern below the pebble’s village where everyone shelters come swarm-tide they tell their children of the night the weatherlights came, of the sound of the locust swarm descending on the villagers still outside and of the sound of blood curdling screams that woke them from their sleep. They covered their ears, crouched down or curled up safe in the cavern where no locust could enter. The screams finally stopped, and the humming grew distant, disappearing into the mists as the swarm moved on.
In the morning the weatherlights wings glowed as they fluttered from lantern to lantern through the broken village where the grownups had tried so foolishly to harvest the locusts.
There was very little blood, only bones and metal from items of clothing left of their loved ones, and weatherlights picking off the locusts that still crawled over them. For a time there was silence, then slowly, whispers as the older ones took the smaller ones hands promising again, it would be alright. They had watched their parents, and knew what to do on the next Swarm-tide.
It would be alright.
Bravely the children buried the bones of their elders, tidied the battered village, planted the crops as they had seen their parents do and prepared as always for the coming of swarm-tide
This time, no human would be foolish enough to be outside, and though everyone was safe within the cavern, they still lit every single lantern and torch as their parents had done that fateful year. They lit the lanterns for their ally.
For the weatherlights they captured the morning after the swarm, had thrived.
“Everything's a business opportunity when you get right down to it”
A flippant remark, made to a friend. How true is it?
Business opportunities do pop up all over. Like this blue tea - if she can get some traction at the Perch, then there's a possible profit in it. Doesn't taste of much, but you can mix it with other things without destroying the blue. But maybe people won’t like it. Or maybe they do but someone else has already saturated the market. Or maybe a whole bunch of things.
So opportunities might come to naught.
But is everything an opportunity?
Mebbe, mebbe not.