Vapor Basin Part 2

 I sheathed my sword and stood with my toes curled over the piers edge.

“He’s going to swim for it.” I heard behind me. Followed by a patter of their feet. I leapt into the water.

Frantic, I pulled myself to the surface and clawed my way through. The water didn’t sting, and it was pleasantly warm. No biting pain from heat, acid, or something else but I kept my mouth tight shut all the same. The whole swim couldn’t have been longer than twenty seconds.

As soon as my feet found the sand, I trudged through the water and–once released from its wet hug–kept running. The gremlins must still be after me. The name basin did this place justice. Running uphill and in sand was not east. The sand stole the spring from my step. The fog cleared once I reached the crest. The climb-run was around twenty stories.

Fatigue hit me all at once. My heart popped over and over. I collapsed into my footprint, tossed over, and gazed over the sea of fog. Captured in a huge bowl. Like incense burned in a plate. A thought of beauty cut through my panic. I knew no matter how tired the gremlins were, I wouldn’t be able to put up a fight. I wasn’t exact sure where I was. Somewhere on the east-south point of the basin. The only way to get to the west and the citrus harvest on time was through the basin. There is no way I’d return there. In fact I now feared for any traveler like myself who didn’t mind taking a short-cut through the basin. If I was forced to go around I would miss the beginning of the harvest and wouldn’t get a foreman position. The cut in pay could mean I would only scrape by in the winter, hungry most days. if I missed it completely, my stomach would miss the chance at food completely. There would be no other work. Except for cleaning, but the women cared for their men and weren’t about to let some transient take their work. Or the gremlins could catch up and put me out of my misery.

Mount Raven and Mount Carvel were out west. Not couldn’t recall how near to the great Patterson orange fields. It was worth asking about for, if I asked causally enough. Couldn’t let others know what I knew, I had paid a tenth of my grasp for the treasure clue.

My breath returned and I meandered a way to a glade of trees. The shade coupled with a tinkling breeze. A blackberry bush was there. It’s fruit would serve as my dinner. I unfurled my sleeping bag. If the gremlins were on my trail they would have caught me by now. Only the edges of the sleeping bag were damp thanks to my tight packing. I stripped and laid out my clothes in the sun. Idly, I ate the blackberries. I laid out my scarf and piled berries onto it then knotted it on top. The sun set and I stopped foraging. The light was too low and I was getting thorned by the bushes more often than plucking a berry.

I put on my clothes, snuggled into bed, and slept.

Later. I ate breakfast off the bush. Years of stomping around in the wild has made me impervious to repetitive meals. My fingers were stained. Sparse trees dotted around in lumpy clumps. All the trees were small. The breeze picked up and took the last of the moisture off me and long grass flicked my legs. I traveled like this for a week, hugging more or less to the rim of the basin. Walking south more than west and curving till I walked west more than south. There was an east-west road that kissed the south rim of the Vapor Basin. That road would take me all the way to Wagnotville and the Patterson orchard. 

Below, in the fog, I heard sandy footsteps. I went up to the edge and peered in. Sword drawn. The gremlins have caught up. Likely a small group. I couldn’t let them send a messenger to tell them where I was. Either I would slay them all or be ready to flee. I held still, crouched behind a dry bush that didn’t complain of being rooted in sand. Voices came next from the fog. They were not gremlin voices, which were over pronounced. Big vowels to climb up and around their tall teeth. These voices were human, casual. I couldn’t make out what they were saying.

 Then five hoods peeked from the fog. Long grey robes followed as if the hand of a god was lifting a grey candle from a bucket of molten wax. I could hear them clearly but they were speaking a foreign language. The words merged together in an unending low chatter. They stopped and looked around. I froze. Needless to say, I didn’t trust five grey robed men coming form the Vapor Basin. For all I knew they had something to do with the gremlins. 

if they looked harder, they would have saw me. But their attention waned and they walked south into the woodlands. For a while, I kept still. Once satisfied with their distance I continued my journey.

They must have something to do with the gremlins. The gremlin told me the smell of blood directed them to the surface. Surely someone or something had bled before in the Vapor Basin. Why now? This was a time to be far away from here. I was tempted to flee south from the basin but there was nothing for me in the south. 

As I walked, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if any grey hoods would appear behind me. Growing paranoia fueled my rush. I traveled for one last day and came to the road. I climbed onto it and followed it west. I was hungry,  but in either direction there was nothing for miles. My hope was to meet someone honest on the road willing to trade. I would pretend I wasn’t hungry, of course, so they couldn’t drive up the price. Not that I worried for my survival. If the worst came, I could find a bee hive and plunder it, or scare an anthill and eat ants. There have been worse times in my life.

The road was paved before my time and it still held up. The stones fit so well together, large areas were still smooth toped. No beveled edges.

The raised stone road meant I could get to Wagnotville mostly in time. I preferred work and company to eating ants alone.

Nobody appeared on the road for hours. It was getting late. My feet pounded misery up my legs. Signaling strongly a time to rest. Start again tomorrow, we are done for today. The lack of travelers put me on edge. This was the main road east and west. When I left Tokenpoint out east, I heard of no trouble on the road. And if there was trouble on the roads, why hadn’t it caught up to me yet. The road felt less and less like a safe place. 

Behind me, far off, I heard voices. Certainly not an ambush but I stepped off the road regardless. I took care to step lightly from rock to root to rock again. My boots were clean from the road and would leave no dirt on those. Once away from the road, I wedged myself into the thicket. Thorned twigs scrapped and crunched. Safely inside my twiggy bunker I listened to the voices. Suddenly loud and clear to my eats as I became silent.

I desperately hoped for a normal caravan. I could introduce myself. Explaining my reasonable caution as to why I was jumping out from the bushes at them. Then travel with them. I needed news of the outside world. Was I the only one to come across gremlins and grey hooded travelers? Something had changed in the last month and I needed to know what.

Foreign language, the same tonality from before. As sure as silver shines, grey hoods were attached. Through the thicket and trees, I saw another five of them. Perhaps it was the same group from before. They may be tracking me somehow.

They stopped exactly where I stepped off the road. They talked. This was as close they could come to me without stepping off the road. Low chatter continued. I desperately wished to understand them. It surely some joke. Like they already saw me and were laughing with themselves on how I thought I was avoiding them. They held still. I tried to discern the swirl of shadows under their hoods. More than ever I desired a friendly face–not that they would provide.

Then, as one, turned and went the way they came. I waited until the voices lifted away and then returned to the road. I had not walked five steps before the danger I was in struck me. If only I knew what those cultists were. They could be peaceful monks, or looking for food sacrifices for the gremlins. I couldn’t know until it was too late. I was sure they knew about the gremlins. They had come from the fog. There could be worse in the Vapor Basin. The very knowledge about the gremlins could be reason to kill me. Was it just coincidence they stopped where I was and turned around?

I had two choices, both I hated. I could stay on the road and risk encountering the cultists. Or I could travel south a ways and then west, in the wild. Slower, dangerous.

Choose your Adventure: The Basin — Part 1

I was writing short stories and I’ve been editing them. I wrote a piece I called, A story’s price, but it didn’t feel right to submit it for a journal or something to publish. It’s bigger than a short story, it’s got its own world and everything. But, I don’t want to novelize it. So I thought, what the heck make it a choose your own adventure.

This is the first time I’ve tried something like this, so I’m interested to see how it goes. Heck, I don’t even think anyone regularly reads my blog so it might be a while before I get a vote.

At the end of each part is a choice–and you get to vote what are unnamed hero does.

Let’s begin.


Part 1

I could hear the fog. There was no life here, the last field mouse I had seen plunged into a brush two miles back. Fleeing the Vapor Basin. The lake of water sourced the fog peeling off the water’s surface. The Vapor Basin was a ruined city seemingly floating on top a poison lake. This route was a shortcut east-west. I couldn’t be late for the harvest out west. The Vapor Basin road was safe if one brought their own water and avoided breathing the air. Supersitions kept the foolish away, which was most everyone else.

Around my mouth, I tied my scarf. Deep fog kept my vision limited to about an arm’s length.

I kept to the main road. Many inviting ruins defied entrophy to the left and right. Everything useful had long been scavenged.

Then a metallic rattle cracked. From a manhole a thing–four legs, gangly, big head, grey but what wasn’t–it crept up from the manhole and whisked away into the fog.

This was the first I’d seen of life in the Vapor Basin. I ran after it. This would be a great story for the tramp trail.

I dashed around and through a building. Then slowed. I would never see the thing again, let along catch it. Surely it knew the alleys and could see through the fog. I stood in a ruined house.

Through a punched-out window, I gave one searching look into the fog.

It had stopped too. The grey form sat on a rock that merged in and out of the fog.  It sat on his hunches. Nibbling at something. Mindful of the ring, I unsheathed my sword. The creature may be dangerous.

it spoke, “I know you are watching me.”

The sword was only token protection. I knew quarry work and picking fruit. Strong but little martial skill. If the thing had unnatural strength or subtle means I would be ripped to pieces.

The thing turned. I could see it clearly now. Pale blue, small. Arms and legs like stretched tar. “have no fear. I am not dangerous. I only have sharp ears and quick feet.”

“And the ability to speak.” I couldn’t deny such a novel creature conversation.

“And the ability…” He muttered, trailing off, “Why are you here? This city has been plundered long ago. Unless the outside world has dire need of rusted manhole covers.”

“Things haven’t got that bad yet,” I quiped, “I should be asking the same of you.” I have traveled through the Vapor Basin before and have never seen the likes of you before.”

“I live underground,” the blue gremlin had no face covering. The fog must not harm him. I needed to know more. Every tall tale on the labor trail I paid no mind. This may be my only chance to satisfiy my curiousity.

I asked, “You said the city was plundered long ago?”

“I’d like my question answered first. Why are you here?”

It was his home after all. I obliged. “Citrus trees on the west coast are nearing harvest. I will be spending the summer there.”

“You’re a migratory worker then?” I hadn’t expected to engage in small talk. Certainly the gremlin would be obsessed with caverns and perhaps a tribal culture of sun haters.

“Yes.”

“Looking for stories to share?”

“Always.”

“Care to learn some history? And not the babble you are perhaps used to.” I instinctively touched my temple. The creature was reading my mind. I shook the thought away. I wouldn’t allow such paranoia. I was merely connecting with a cave denizen of a poisoned land.

“Gladly,” I said.

“I’ll tell you a story for a price.”

“What’s your price?” I asked.

The gremlin licked his lips, “I want to eat a finger. It has been years since I’ve had fresh meat.”

“my finger?” I recoiled, glad that I’ve kept my blade drawn the whole time. I was no longer connecting with the fiend. On my sword, water beaded in it’s blood gutter.

“Any finger. I recommend the littlest of your hand. You shouldn’t miss it.”

A finger for a story. I wished I hadn’t finished my own supply of meat. He might have traded for that. I couldn’t give my finger. Just meeting this gremlin was a story all by itself. When I worked at the quarry, I kept my fingers clear from my chisel. Anyone does the same. And now should I whack off a digit?

Yet, my curiosity grows. How could I cut this story off in the middle for want of a little finger?

I said, “How do I know you story is worth it? Or even if you are good for it. You could very well run away after you have my finger.”

The gremlin pouted, “I’ll tell you the beginning.” He said, “All this here you call the Vapor Basin was an ancient city. At the height of it’s glory, a man of hundred dying would be mourned for being cut down in his youth. Women and men worked the same offices. They could choose when to bear children and all the physical jobs were replaced by magic. Lightning sent messages to the far corners of the world. This culture tamed every beast. Even lesser-dragons were lap pets for society ladies. The poor were poor by choice alone. Monks studying virtue of having little.

“All of history hinges here in this city. Like a pinch in an hour-glass. You only know of four races–now five, including me. Believe me when I say, forty races used to live here.

“This is merely the frontispiece of my knowledge. More than idle curiosity, my reward can make you rich. Cities full of treasure are out there, undiscovered by your ignorant generation. I would give you the beginning of your new life, all it costs is a finger.”

I was convinced. But the anticipation of parting with my finger held me still. It would take some focus. I placed my finger under the edge of my sword. It had been a while since I chiseled anything off. Quarry workers were increasingly locals draining me of the few jobs I could get. To think I would chisel off my finger.

The thing leaned forward on his rock, spearing a long arm out for balance. “So?”

I said, “This is harder than it looks.”

One. Two. Three.

My hand screamed murder. I bound my hand with my handkerchief. Staining the last bit of clean cloth I owned. Once done, I tossed the finger to the gremlin. He snatched it and chew on it with needle teeth. Showing every evidence of pleasure.

I ignored his wet chewing. I held out my right hand. The otherworldliness of a four fingered hand was to be as familiar, as say, the back of my hand.

A forked tongue flicked and snatched a drop of blood off his lip. It said, “Payment given deserves reward.”

The gremlin told me everything he knew about history. The gods created the races in their own images. After thousands of years, the first civilizations began. After much bickering by sword and law, they collated into an empire. The empire mastered magic. The gremlin said there were two kinds of magic, but I had even heard a credible claim to even one type of magic. The empire crumbled and, in its crashing wake, every evil imaginable swept the earth. In no small to uncontrolled magic.

As a last hope for life, many races buried themselves in the ground and waited.

When they emerged, these people made the city. The city now ruined at the pit of the Vapor Basin. There was only one city, so it was called Polis. Magic poured from the ground here. In Polis, they only knew one type of magic. It was powerful enough alone to make a society like the one he previously described. The gremlin said the creation story I was told as a child originated from the races emerging from the ground. Safe from the magic wars of the past. Our religion denied many thousand years of history.

There were seven towers spread out to all corners of the compass. These outposts were where Polis sent lightning-messages too. The gremlin told me where one was. In the valley between Mt. Raven and Mt. Carval. Here I could prove if the story was worth my finger. Buried treasure.

For unknown reasons, the gods poisoned Polis’s water and drove the peoples away. From here on, the myths and history I knew were more-or-less accurate.

Intently, I listened. Struggling to file away every word. I had paid a finger after all.

He finished by saying, “And that is all I know. I must apologize.”

“For what?” Other than taking my finger, of course. This fact was ever present on my mind.

“This was a trap. My brethren have been trapped under the city for thousands of years. All I needed to bring them to the surface was the scent of fresh blood.”

I leapt up and looked behind me.

The ground writhed with gremlins. Each grinning with needle teeth. Their pale forms crawled soundlessly in the fog. Dilated nostrils.

A pause while everyone calculated the turn of events.

They leapt at me and I leapt away. I ran away from the crowd of gremlins toward the first one. The first gremlin leapt at my face. I severed that educated head from it’s twitching body. Behind, I heard countless naked feet slap the stone streets. Immediately, rubble and walls emerged from the fog. I dodged. The sounds of feet ever present on my heels. At any moment a half ring of needles would sink into my calf.

Suddenly, water appeared on both sides. The ground narrowed from a path to a pier. I ran across the pier of stone over the lake. I wheeled my arms in from for balance. Then the pier stopped. I just about fell into the water. Threw my arms forward and regained balance on the pier.

All around me was the poison water. The air was warm.

Behind me the gremlins crept on the walk way. Not one of them swam in the water. The one at the front stopped just out of my swords reach. “You can either give up now, or wait till sleep takes you. Why prolong your suffering?”

They wouldn’t risk the water and they knew I could hold them off one by one.

I stabbed at him. He lost his balance and plunged into the water. The others panicked and retreated. They stopped once they reached a thicker part of the pier, four abreast. I was trapped. Poison water on one side, gremlins the other. I went back to the end of the pier. None of the gremlins followed me back–they could wait. When I fell asleep, they would cut my throat and then down their throats.

Perhaps I could fight through the gremlins. With my sword, and a little luck, I could cut through them. 

Over the water, lay the shore. It’s image wavered in the fog. I could swim for it.

He will swim for shore. Part II to be released soon…