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Phantoms

New to the Jade Dragon series? Start here! Go to beginning>>

The self-styled Lord of the Undersea grasped my shoulders and pressed his cheek against mine. There could be no kiss of greeting through the mask that covered his lower face. He stepped back, but did not let go.

“I would never have guessed you would have grown up so pretty,” he said. His grip pinched my arm. “You were quite the awkward child.” He brushed a strand of hair back from my face with his coarse fingers before he released me. A memory flashed: my father, in his dress uniform; my mother in a gown. A handsome older man bending down to kiss my cheek. My ten-year-old heart fluttering with excitement. I stepped back, reaching blindly for Jonath. My skin tingled where the Prophet’s hand had rested on my arm.

He’s just a man, I reminded myself, and a ruined one at that. But when Jonath pulled me close, I let myself lean in, just a little.

“And your mother? Is she well?”

I swallowed. “She died. Six months ago.”

The Prophet shook his head. “Of course. I should have remembered. She was a lovely woman. I knew your parents well, you see, in the Before.”

“Thank you,” I said automatically. The string of pleasantries did nothing to settle my nerves. The phantom of safety retreated with each word.

“You have the Dragon,” said the Prophet to Jonath. It was not a question. “And the crew to fly her?”

Jonath nodded. “The Captain may be a problem. She is… reluctant.” He gestured toward Belyn Morrow. If not for the ropes binding her arms, she could have been standing at attention on the bridge of her ship.

“Is she?” The Prophet regarded her thoughtfully. “Shoot her Second.”

A dark shape streaked across the cavern. A crossbow sang out and a man shrieked. Lieutenant Nioben writhed on the ground, clutching his leg.

“That, my dear,” said the Prophet to the Captain, “was a warning shot. I have medics camped just outside Verdure. I suggest you fly us there.”

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This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on. This particular piece is probably less self-contained than most, and for that I apologize! I hope you find it interesting anyway, or that it inspires you to read the whole series.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge weekly prompt:

You should write a creative response using the third definition of the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

PHANTOM (noun)
1 a : something apparent to sense but with no substantial existence : APPARITION
b : something elusive or visionary
c : an object of continual dread or abhorrence
2 : something existing in appearance only
3 : a representation of something abstract, ideal, or incorporeal

Deeper Currents

New to the Jade Dragon series? Start here! Go to beginning>>

Some conversations are easy. They flow like a breeze over the dunes, each word falling into place, each reaction clearly foreseen. This was not one of those conversations. This was the wind howling through the Singing Canyons. It carried me along around corners and dropped me into deep rifts with no warning.

“I need to think,” I said.

Jonath looked at me, hard, and shrugged. “I understand. But don’t think too long. Whether you agree to help me or not, the Dragon will go to Verdure. And I can only protect you if you are with me.”

My thoughts tumbled, eddies and whirls. Jonath wanted to leave Loess; that I could understand. “What does my brother have to do with this?”

“Your brother. Yes, that’s a different thing.” Jonath studied my face. I stared back, trying not to give away how my pulse quickened.

Damn those eyes, I thought, and turned to look out the window.

Most of the passengers were sitting quietly, backs to the cavern wall. One woman sobbed into her hands. The Captain stood to one side, hands bound. Just out of reach, a man trained a crossbow at her chest.

A commotion drew my attention to one of the indistinct openings in the cavern wall. A half-dozen men walked out. They wore typical desert clothing: loose, light-colored garments that fluttered with every movement, though the newcomers lacked the ragged, travel-stained look of Jonath’s men. Another figure stepped into the cavern. At first he seemed no different from the others, but as he turned toward the ship I saw that the lower half of his face was covered in a kind of mask.

“His lungs were scorched when Verdure burned,” Jonath said softly in my ear. “Every breath is a torment. Because of the dust.”

Eddies and whirls. “That’s the Prophet?”

Jonath nodded. “He’s the reason your brother is involved. Let’s go say hello, shall we?” He took my arm and I let him lead me out of the ship.

<< Previous Installment || Beginning || Next Installment >>


This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on. This particular piece is probably less self-contained than most, and for that I apologize! I hope you find it interesting anyway, or that it inspires you to read the whole series.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge weekly prompt:

You should write a creative response using the third definition of the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

MASK (noun)

1 a (1) : a cover or partial cover for the face used for disguise (2) : a person wearing a mask : masker
b (1) : a figure of a head worn on the stage in antiquity to identify the character and project the voice (2) : a grotesque false face worn at carnivals or in rituals
c : an often grotesque carved head or face used as an ornament (as on a keystone)
d : a sculptured face or a copy of a face made by means of a mold
2 a : something that serves to conceal or disguise : pretense,cloak <aware of the masks, facades and defenses people
erect to protect themselves — Kenneth Keniston>
b : something that conceals from view
c : a translucent or opaque screen to cover part of the sensitive surface in taking or printing a photograph
d : a pattern of opaque material used to shield selected areas of a surface (as of a semiconductor) in deposition
or etching (as in producing an integrated circuit)
3 a : a protective covering for the face
b : gas mask
c : a device covering the mouth and nose to facilitate inhalation
d : a comparable device to prevent exhalation of infective material
e : a cosmetic preparation for the skin of the face that produces a tightening effect as it dries

Fountains

New to the Jade Dragon series? Start here! Go to beginning>>

I could see the longing in my erstwhile lover’s eyes. I understood his craving for freedom, his desire to break bonds, but a different hunger had driven me to board the Jade Dragon.

I thought of stars and moons and the unfathomable distances between them. I thought of the glorious crowning of light over the edge of a new world.

And I thought of fountains.

Like all of the settlements on Loess, the great city of Verdure had been built above a subterranean lake. Gravity pumps drew water up to the surface, where it was filtered and piped out to the hydroponics domes and greenhouses. Each drop was husbanded as carefully as if it were a living thing.

Except in Verdure. The lake underneath the green city was the largest on Loess. The water flowed in open canals, and fountains splashed and sang as sweetly as birds, and there were birds in Verdure as well. It was an excessive display, but – some would argue – necessary for the human psyche, a concession to the liquidity of our souls.

They say that when Verdure burned, flames raced along the canals. The gravity pumps melted into slag. The greenhouses burst from the heat, raining fire down into the streets. I remember the fountains erupting with molten fire, and the stench of scorched feathers. The spaceport collapsed and we fled, leaving behind the poisoned, blazing ruin of what had once been the jewel of Loess. Since then, Verdure had been interdicted – cut off from the rest of the world. A self-appointed militia patrolled the walls, keeping us out for our own protection. Verdure was too dangerous to enter.

Somebody had made the water to burn – my father, if the stories were true. At last, I began to grasp what Jonath needed from me, what I could do for Loess. I had the skill to restore the pumps and the spaceport both, and Jonath was offering me access. The Jade Dragon was our key to the green city.

<< Previous Installment || Beginning || Next Installment >>


This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge weekly prompt:

You should write a creative response using the third definition of the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

GRASP (verb)

1: to take or seize eagerly
2: to clasp or embrace especially with the fingers or arms
3: to lay hold of with the mind : comprehend

This week’s challenge is community judged.

  • For the 14 hours following the close of the challenge, voting will be enabled on links.
  • In order to vote, return to this post at the Trifecta Writing Challenge site. Stars will appear next to each link. To vote, simply click the star that corresponds with your favorite post.
  • You can vote for your top three favorite posts.
  • Voting is open to everyone.

Water-Laden

New to the Jade Dragon series? Start here! Go to beginning>>

Jonath had never seen a proper ocean. Neither had I, for that matter. My mother, looking out across the rusty dunes of Loess, spoke of water that stretched from horizon to horizon, and I thought, “How lonely.”

I had lived most of my life in Oas, the smallest of the green cities, where the mighty drills bored deep under the crust to find hidden pockets of water. These ancient cisterns are immense, but finite, their bounty shared in measured drops. No child of Loess has tasted dew.

Yet even here, on the driest of worlds, our language is water-laden, dripping with half-remembered longings. We sail over dusty seas. We measure our worth in pearls of salt. We anchor our airships beside rivers of stone that cascade down from craggy buttes like fabled waterfalls.

Jonath had never seen an ocean, never felt rain, never tasted dew. All at once I fathomed how impossible it was to escape water’s intangible, inexorable pull on the human soul.

<< Previous Installment || Beginning || Next Installment >>


This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge weekly prompt:

You should write a creative response using the third definition of the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

RUSTY
1: affected by or as if by rust; especially : stiff with or as if with rust
2: inept and slow through lack of practice or old age
3a : of the color rust
b : dulled in color or appearance by age and use <rusty old boots>

It was also partly inspired by this week’s Write at the Merge prompt from Write on Edge, in particular, the below picture – not so much the lighthouse, but the waves. It’s been a while since I’ve posted both places, and I’m hoping to link up to WoE more often.

Photo from Write on Edge

Whether and Why

New to the Jade Dragon series? Start here! Go to beginning>>

Ever since the starships abandoned Loess, red-orange plumes of smoke and fire scoring the sky and mirroring the conflagration below — ever since then, people have been talking about how to call them back. The question, of course, is not just of how and when, but of whether and why.

Historians argue over the circumstances of the past. There were signs, some say, that a slow, deliberate withdrawal from Loess was already underway. The silences between transmissions grew longer. When messages arrived, they were conciliatory but cryptic. The New Blood ships came less frequently. It was just a matter of time, some historians posit, before the ships stopped coming at all.

Others believe it was the manifestation of generations of accumulated resentment and rage. There had been insurrections before, after all. Not all of Loess’ inhabitants had settled here willingly. Even those who loved the harsh, brilliant beauty of these dusty seas and layered cliffs chafed under the rule of the Council-appointed leadership. Especially those, perhaps. But some saw the burning of Verdure’s spaceport as the final, unpredictably violent release of a pressure valve.

Then there are the politicians. They argue over the consequences for the future. A world in turmoil. Communications primitive and sporadic at best. The Planetary Council disbanded or fled, the Governor deposed and each settlement left to fend for itself. Some clamor for a return to a single world government, others for the dispersion of power. Some envision a new status as equal players on the galactic stage. A minority insists on the status quo: isolation from the larger galactic community.

Everybody talks about calling the starships back: how, when, whether. My desires are not so far-reaching. My concerns are personal. What I want to know is why they left, why they stayed away, and whether it was my father’s fault.

<< Previous Installment || Beginning || Next Installment >>


This post is part of the Jade Dragon series. Though I try to make these installments enjoyable as individual pieces, I highly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really get what’s going on.

This post was written in response to the Trifecta Writing Challenge weekly prompt:

You should write a creative response using the third definition of the given word. You must use the word in your response, and you must use it correctly. Your response can be no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words. This week’s word is:

DELIBERATE
1: characterized by or resulting from careful and thorough consideration <a deliberate decision>
2: characterized by awareness of the consequences<deliberate falsehood>
3: slow, unhurried, and steady as though allowing time for decision on each individual action involved <a deliberate pace>