THE CLOUDS OF ASTER

 

 

The skies reach on through flowing, eternal night, a wilderness unmatched, speckled with bright oasis, the birth clouds of growing stars, the oceans of spectral wonder beyond the sight of rainbows.

Ship's great hull hums in vacuum's stillness, a comforting drone unnoticed to all save me: opening doors, flowing power, drive twisting ethereal matter. I survey this jewel-box realm from the great portal, lulled by the sounds almost to slumber.

There, far below the bow, a comet lost in this abandoned waste, a titan's snowball, an elaborate tail this far from warmth.

A violet flare as tiny pebble burns against our shields, rather than punch through ceramic, steel-hard hull like hot needle through wax.

A mixed cargo of platinum, rare knowledge and exotic art, plus a dozen passengers from their homes around three scattered stars. Some actors, a physician, two scholars, a gaggle of traders and a tourist.

The tourists, now he's an alien, though whether "he" or "she" is not so clear. He wants to see the human worlds, and has a taste for playing cards, and having four brains he rarely loses!

Of crew there are three officers, excepting me:

"Bear" is partial human, 8' tall and built like Hercules, his ancestors "warped" for heavy worlds. Good with ships, and not at all bad with pirates, folding, spindling and mutilating them that is.

BD Salron, cook and entertainer extraordinaire. Though elaborate meals come in packages, the passengers love sitting in the big kitchen, listening to Roger's tales and savouring his food, his spices come from 500 worlds!

From Atholl, a "thinkers" world, Spectre is a quiet fellow, but with knowledge and our craft's mindnumbing mode of flight, he always knows the right thing to call.

Then there's Leah, now apart from accountant and canny merchant, she's me lady, and having your sweetheart on your own ship is no mean accomplishment, and is rather nice for both of us!

A week of travel from our last port, a 3 day carnival, there showed us how the locals dance, living inside a gigantic, burned out volcano, the spectacle of ships entering that yawning chasm, dark lit by terraced houses, is only exceeded by the triumph of flying out of that abyssal maw, and into the Sun.

The destination now in sight, a bluish star, the frozen sea world of Merlin circles giant Aster, a mighty ball of gas with dazzling ring of gemstone clouds.

By rarest quirk of Fate, the rings are made of pale amethyst, the Sun sintering in dazzling flashes in a billion glittering wonders.

The heavy ship, yet so lithe and sheering grace, she turns and rolls as we pass through this wonder, leting passengers and crew saw what some of the first solar voyagers beheld in utmost rapture.

And in my arms, Leah, and we look upon one of Creations rarest treasures, but I'm holding one far more precious...

 

A world of dazzling, liquid shimmer, Merlin, a realm of sun-wreathed ice.

Giant Aster's amethyst rings tinge its tiny neighbour with purple touches.

The ship's great sails fill with stellar wind, travellers stare through crystal portal, as into thin clouds they go down.

Ice against the oval window spatters, and so view the landless surface of a world of ice. No rock, no stone, just continents of hardened water.

And ice is not white, in blue and greens and even red, for miles the "land" is covered in rippled splendour. Always faint purple glitters here and there. Great blocks, big as countries, towering spikes bleak and high. Infinite shadows against ultra brilliance.

Hunter Port, a great cavern made from a lifted glacier sheet half a mile thick! Entering the vast maw of city cave, the bitter wind it ceases, like passing through a pane of glass. But still the cold shivers hardened spines.

At the helm, Silverblade guides the graceful vessel onto dry harbour cradle. A gentle thud rocks the elven Man-O-War, the comfort of ground beneath the feet.

Bear, in a sleeveless robe, seems right at home, hurling anchor ropes. Spying a face not unknown, he spins arm thick cable...and clouts the stevedore with a knout!

"Away ye thieving bas', afore I hurl ye in the waste by yer arse!" Chuckling, he bounces an ice crystal off the fleeing miscreant's head.

Expensive cargoes changing hands: platinum it's weight in spell-wrapped chest. Only Bear can lift alone, or would dare, for others would be vapourised into air!

The passengers disembark, wrapped in furs until they're quite round. Everyone makes their way to the "Glacier's Pass", the finest tavern in this shrouded, under-ice town. Light flickers through that colossal roof, glimmers floating over roofs and homes.

Through heavy drapes, into the inn, roaring heat and welcome din. Folk hail the sailor crew, or seek quick bargains with merchants, that too. Reeking of fish oil that feeds the fires, kelp and sea berry wine pass to thirsty throats left and right.

Pouring powder in is hand, BD Salron petrifies several folk: Chinda spice, hot enough to melt any ice! He puts a pinch in his bowl of fish stew, folk crowd around, while he eats with great, lip smacking gusto. Grown men dribble in their beards, and one entrepreneur throws a whale tooth on the table, and places his own bowl of soup.

Salron, seeming uncaring, pockets the ivory, and not looking, sprinkles spice in the hunter's food. Schlurps and then heated panting, the contented hunter settles back. Soon a huge pile of rare scrimshander teeth grows before Salron, and round him, burping, groaning, smiling folk.

Arenzat, a giant of a man, almost large as Bear, straight for Leah heads, the leader of the fur traders sits in front of her! The two quote a price after some talk, each holds their position, and as custom dictates, riddling begins: the one who loses must match the other's proposal. As usual, this goes on for ages, Arenzat wasn't chosen just for brawn: he's the best riddle master for a hundred miles around!

But Leah's no slouch either, quite the reverse! Besides which, she's unnerved him by having some of Salron's spice, and Arenzat's gurgling stomach can be heard over the crowd...After half an hour, the fur trader cracks and strains, as with relish Leah shows a roll soaked with wine and Chinda Spice, he gives in to her price!

"Well," she says to her friendly adversary, "I was looking forward to a bath, and the water's getting cold, so on your hunger I played right bold!" With a smile she pats his stomach and goes upstairs, leaving Arenzat taken quite aback, and his fellows laughing hard, tears tripping at their cheeks.

Captain Ohlsen, a tall, grim man of gaunt demeanour, master of the harbour and local men at arms, entered in his usual way, chill even in this frozen place. Before Silverblade his smiling lady can join upstairs, port fees he happy pays, but wishing glacier below his feet would open up and swallow greedy bloody Ohlsen!

Going from man to man, brother Fredericks asks for tithes, a priest of this world's water god, the sailors eager pay some coin, good grace of ocean lords they always wish, then....

Men startle, falling back! Woman hurls tankard at thing that now appears! Green hazed vision fills the room, a man nine feet tall, wrapped in yeti furs!

"Arenzat!...Help!" The spectre cries, and tumbles forward. Folks scatter from his fall. But the sorcerous image, disappears...



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All original art, writing on this site, copyright of Steven James, "Silverblade the Enchanter" ©2012