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A First View of the Shrouded Land
a Torn World story  by Deirdre M. Murphy

Rreilan sat on the elderly stomper, ignoring it snatching insects out of the air that normally would have been worthy of her attention. Just at this moment, however, her attention was riveted on the landscape in front of her.

There were plants out there, but she couldn’t tell how similar they might be to the ones in the Empire. These were long and spiky, with intensely green foliage at the rare spots where they weren’t totally covered with what appeared to be spider webs. The leaves she could see from here were oddly irregular in shape, as if they’d been partially eaten by sticklegs, or as if, like oak leaves, they grew more where the sunlight hit them and less where the sun was blocked.

“You didn’t tell me there’d be spiders here—those are spider webs, right?” Onlai frowned from atop the younger stomper, though her eyes remained on the pack of young deathbeaks chained to her saddle. The birds seemed pleased at the outing, twisting their long necks this way and that to snap up flying insects.

Rreilan adjusted her brand-new black robes. She was the youngest full scientist assigned to the survey, but her superiors had deemed it more urgent to deal with the invasive flutter-beetle larvae than to ride across the border, so she’d been sent with a hired escort. “I didn’t know what we would find here, besides the violet butterflies and other insects that blew across the border when it opened. How could I? The Empire sent us to survey the resources and contact the people here.”

The ex-soldier gave a harsh laugh. “It doesn’t look like this is a place people live in.”

“Yeah.” Rreilan sighed, wondering how much closer she should get. She didn’t want to get in trouble for reckless exploration or for not doing enough. “That certainly looks like an arachnophobe’s nightmare out there.”

“Do you suppose they’re poisonous?”

Yeah, this place was definitely the stuff of somebody’s nightmares. Good thing Rreilan wasn’t afraid of spiders. “For all I know, that’s mostly butterfly cocoons,” she said, but she didn’t believe it.

Onlai laughed out loud, a good strong guffaw that distracted the stompers from their feast, though for only a moment. “I like you, scientist. Let’s get a little closer—close enough that you can make a nice, report for that sour-looking Science Leader, but not close enough to risk getting bit by anything on those webs.” Onlai’s pale wispy hair, where it fringed her wrinkled face, was about the same color as most of the webbing that covered the plants in odd-shaped drifts.

Rreilan dug out her notebook and pencils. “Nice and slow, then. I’ll be counting on you and those birds to keep me safe.”

Onlai smiled, showing a broken front tooth, and readied her cross bow. “The birds are still nice and hungry, and I’m ready if there’s anything big enough to shoot.”

They proceeded forward, stopping a few horse-lengths short of the webs. There were, indeed, spiders, and other creatures too, some large enough to identify from where they sat (rodents of some sort and a variety of insects) and smaller things too. Rreilan started to sketch.

As always, drafts of Torn World stories shared here before they pass Canon Board review may be edited before appearing at www.tornworld.net.

Please let me know what you think!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2012 11:30 pm (UTC)
Sonia Lal
Sounds like a dangerous new place!
Apr. 7th, 2012 01:25 am (UTC)
Re: Sonia Lal
:-D All places are dangerous, one way or another, but yes, this one is dangerous in more than one way!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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