Thursday, April 18, 2013

Prompt: The Wastelands of Vorrak, which few travelers dare cross. Legend has it the very dunes and rocks come alive to slay people.

Thanks to Wanderings in the Fantastic World for another great prompt!

Jocab was more tired than he had ever been in his twenty years. Every bone, every muscle in his body ached, and more than anything, he wanted to lie down and sleep. Maybe forever. No, not more than anything. He looked up from his worn, dusty boots shuffling through the forest leaf litter to the guides ahead of him.

The woman, Lizbet, was the real guide, but she had made it plain her brother was part of the deal. Assured by others they were the best available, Jocab agreed. Lizbet wore a man’s tunic and heavy leggings, perfect for tracking and hiking through the rough terrain from their village to Pengrath. Her brown hair was neatly braided down her back. Jocab had noticed a small pin tucked along her nape behind her ear. It was her only adornment, and he wondered what it meant to her. She wore a simple hunting bow and quiver of arrows on her back, and her walking staff looked solid enough to fight with. She had already brought down game for their supper and proven both her trail and tracking skills, avoiding used paths and still keeping them on a fairly direct route.

Cobb ran around her like a puppy, scattering leaves and leaving trail signs any idiot could follow. It was a good thing Jocab wasn’t worried about that any more. Cobb was tetched, no doubt about it. He could speak, but Jocab couldn’t understand most of what he said. Lizbet had the knack of it, but she’d grown up with him. Cobb moved with a jerky rhythm all his own. At first it all seemed random and nonsensical, but over the past few days, Jocab observed more. Cobb was entirely aware of the world around him, and Jocab had a sneaking suspicion that he might in fact be their true leader.

“There’s a spring up ahead. We’ll get some water and rest a bit,” Lizbet said softly. She rarely spoke and never raised her voice, and Jocab found himself listening closely for her every word. Cobb cartwheeled twice and rolled in the leaves, ending precisely at the edge of the spring. He sat cross-legged and leaned down to drink.

Jocab dropped wearily beside him. He waited for Lizbet to drink, then he ducked his whole head under the water to wake himself up. He was surprised when bubbles flew around his face and up his nose. He came up coughing and spluttering. Cobb rolled on the ground laughing, and Lizbet’s lips twitched. “Might should have mentioned it’s a mineral water spring,” she said. Jocab burst out laughing and shook the water from his hair. He sprawled on the ground by the spring and rested, watching Cobb chase a bright yellow butterfly around the trees.

Cobb stiffened and ran over to Lizbet, grabbing her hand and holding it against his cheek. “No, no, no, no, no,” he chanted plaintively, shaking his head back and forth. Lizbet lid her hand down to his chin and forced him to look up at her. “Cobb, what’s wrong?”

“No go, no go, no go,” he continued to chant, rocking back and forth on his heels. Lizbet stroked his hair, then stood and looked ahead.

“Yes, Cobb. We’re going across the Wastelands. We don’t have time to go around. You know Jocab’s in a hurry. You know we have to.”

Jocab looked back and forth between them. “Why doesn’t he want to go across the Wastelands?”

Lizbet shook her head and gathered her things, filling two spare canteens with spring water. “He thinks the Vorrak will get us.” She turned to Cobb. “But we went there before and nothing bad happened. And nothing bad will happen this time, okay, Cobb?”

Cobb still shook his head no as he watched Lizbet, but he quit chanting and rocking. She held a hand down to Jocab. “Come on, we want to get to shelter before sunset.”

Grasping her hand, Jocab pulled himself up. “What’s the Vorrak? Dangerous?”

Lizbet gave him a look he couldn’t decipher, but it wasn’t comforting.

“The Vorrak are legend. Nothing more. Come on. Let’s go.”

Soon they left the shelter of the forest. The Wastelands stretched before them, and Jocab understood the name. Red dust covered the surface like the white sands of the Timbalt Desert. There were no trees or green to be seen, and no birds flew overhead. “Are you sure this is a good idea? Maybe we should go around?” Jocab said uncertainly.

Lizbet didn’t turn around. “You don’t have time. This is the fastest route.” She kicked up dust with each step and each stamp of her staff, but it dropped back onto the ground as if it were too heavy to form dust clouds. Cobb muttered under his breath, but followed Lizbet. Jocab hesitated a moment longer, then took a few running steps to catch up. He slipped on the dust and almost fell, wishing for a strong staff like Lizbet’s. He saw that Cobb’s shuffling walk helped him to keep his balance more easily. Soon the two were shuffling along behind Lizbet. Jocab spared a smile for how they must look to anyone watching.

They walked for an hour or more as the sun dropped low in the sky. Cobb still muttered, but Jocab ignored it since Lizbet did. He was looking ahead for any sign of the shelter she had mentioned. He assumed there would be a stand of trees, or a spring, or a rocky outcropping – anything to relieve the monotony of the red dust and scattered stones that lay as far as he could see.

Cobb jumped high in the air, then froze in a low crouch. Lizbet whirled around, looking in all directions. Jocab stared but saw nothing. Then he heard the rumble. It was so low and deep he could feel it in his bones more than hear it. Wait, he did feel it, through his boots. The ground was shaking. The dust was shivering and rolling like water across the surface. Then he saw the stones moving. They rolled together like magnets, locking into place. Then they moved up into a larger shape.

Jocab stood staring until Cobb grabbed his hand and pulled him off balance. Jocab shouted over the now deafening rumble, “What is that? What do we do?”

Lizbet yelled, “RUN!”

They ran.

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle, Bacon

Time writing:
~50 minutes

April word count:


  1. Prompt: The Wastelands of Vorrak, which few travelers dare cross. Legend has it the very dunes and rocks come alive to slay people.

    Naam crept to the top of the dune, body pressed close to the sand, and peered over. His father had been right, there was a caravan down there. He pushed a little back from the crest and stretched his arms out wide. He turned his head and lay his cheek on the warm sand, listening.

    After a time, he heard his own heartbeat. He let its steady thump-thump lull him into a mild trance, and reached toward the heart of the dune. Something was in the way, something sharp and bright. Magic.

    He clenched his jaw; the tension broke his trance. But it did not matter, for now he knew what had let these Southerners get so far. The magic was weak, though. It would be only the effort of a few shamans to break it, and then the dunes could feast on outsider.

    He sat and was about to slide down the dune when light laughter echoed up from the other side. It sounded like a child. He crept to the crest again. Two children scampered around the edges of a wagon, followed by a young woman, limping along with difficulty as she leaned on a cane that slid in the sand. Naam looked at the caravan again, more critically. There appeared to be only three more people: a young man, perhaps the father; an older man, who had the air of magician; and a woman of middle age. This was not some trading expedition. Perhaps it would do to find out what had driven these people to enter Vorrak before feeding them to the sand.

    1. Suh-weet! Anne, this may my favorite of the pieces you have yet written here! I would love for you to develop this further! Fabulous world-building, with a cutthroat tone that modulates right at the end with some very nice character sketches. Interesting use of magic, too - I'd like to see that further defined. You really have something here, I think, if you ever chose to continue it!

    2. Thanks! I think it crossed a little in my mind with a world I've already developed and have a piece published in, but they don't quite match right now. So I think I'll need to think a little and make sure I know what is what--either make it different, or figure out how the important elements of this can fit into the already developed world. I do quite like the idea of a sentient desert (that eats travelers...).

  2. Exciting! I'm curious about what Cobb can sense. And, of course, how they escape the rocks!