Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 01 - "The Islands"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

the Islands, Max's parents

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG - Genres: Fantasy - Published: 2008-09-02 - Updated: 2008-09-02 - 2715 words - Complete

“So now what?” Max asked as they headed back toward the island shore.

“I know,” said Lance, “let’s go down to the beach!”

“Yeah!” Carlton perked up at that idea. He had had enough of martial arts for one day.

“Sure,” said Cleo, “loser’s pick.” She had bested Lance— something that didn’t happen very often— now she was going to rub it in for a while. And she figured, why not, she was already soaked, and it occurred to her that even the boys would have to fetch some dry clothes when they got home.

“Yeah, but look at the sun.” Max pointed out to sea. His mom always said time flies when you’re having fun, and now it was already late afternoon.

“Guess we should go home for dinner,” said Carlton.

“Yeah! I’m starving!” added Lance.

For now that Carlton mentioned it, it dawned on all four of them that they were famished. That, and their parents would be expecting them home soon anyway, now that their training was over. As they parted ways, Max continuing on the main trail, his friends setting off on one of its many tributaries, they looked very much like a group of kids in some other land might look on their way home from school.

The trails were an ancient part of the islands where both of them lived, of the Layoshan chain. Of the four Islands— Layosha, Makando, Shindoji, and Kinsasha— Layosha was the largest, and had the most of these pristine areas.

As Max hit one final leg of the trail, he came to the place Layosha was best known for among those occasional Outlanders who visited the Islands. To many of them, it was known as The Wreck of the Wandering Spirit, still others wryly referred to it as Dry-Dock Beach, one poetic soul even wrote of it as Stone Falls. Its original name, though, was Shipwreck Bay.

And it was definitely a sight to behold, no matter where one came from.

Practical and strangely beautiful, a surreal work of art, and a tribute to the Ancestors’ ingenuity. As well as to a total accident. Towering above the inlet’s mostly encircled beach, a small mountain rose, the gateway to Layosha’s highlands, its feet stretching into both sides of the bay.

The mountain ascended in roughly terraced sections, and a short distance above the base of the mountain was the accident.

When she first set sail, in time out of mind, she was over five hundred feet long and quite seaworthy. But how she had come to rest on the mountainside, her rusty rudder facing the sea was the stuff of legends. The Wandering Spirit was said to be the very vessel in which the Ancestors first arrived in Layosha some thousand years ago. Though exactly how long ago was subject to debate, for time drifted in and out with the tide, and was difficult to reckon in this realm.

Dotting the seaward face of the mountain, as if by example, were a couple dozen other ships of varying sizes and designs, the largest of which was more than sixty feet in length. Though many an Outlander marveled at this spectacle, the ships were moved with powerful construction engines of unknown design. The Layoshans had two such machines, rare examples of large-scale Outlander technology, which in its particular case consumed too much energy to be used with any frequency, for it took years to recharge. Only ships whose hulls were badly damaged, no longer seaworthy but whose cabins were still structurally intact, were ever chosen to be moved up there and anchored as dwellings, their rear decks also facing the Ocean.

Much of Layoshan architecture was built around wrecked ships, if for no other reason than that it made readily available building material. Intermingled among these castaway houses were growths of trees and other foliage, giving it the look of a waterfall of green carrying ships back to the sea. Ground Zero of this Shipwreck Architecture phenomenon was here at the main port, but it had long since spread to the other islands.

As if following the Wandering Spirit’s example.

Guarded by stone watch towers on each side of the inlet, the narrow strip of beach broadened before the great wreck, branching to a driftwood walkway leading to stone steps above one way, and to a line of docks the other way. Much like their landlocked counterparts above, these ships also served as homes, as well as part of the modest Layoshan fleet. Around the mountain’s base lay the entrance to the rest of the island, for the rest of Layosha’s shore was backed by steep rocky cliffs, making Shipwreck Bay by far the most accessible area from the sea.

On the deck of the great ship, all that remained of the Wandering Spirit (as it was called in the legends), broken into three pieces by whatever mysterious catastrophe it was that had landed her there, stood two figures. Max looked up past the base, which was used mostly for storage, to the midsection, which had broken into two pieces, its deck levels split but bridged by short stairways.

In the late afternoon sun, this place looked like many an Outlander’s dream of a tropical paradise. Although a little on the surreal side. To Max and his friends, though, this was just home.

Max looked up and watched his friends working their way among the paths and steps running between the naturally staggered and terraced levels. There were also wooden and stone walkways, and pulleys mounted to the salvaged masts of ships, even a few scattered driftwood shacks— which only served to make the ships look even more out of their element— and even a few caves set into the mountain face.

But Max was more interested in the pair standing on the deck of the Wandering Spirit as he climbed the steps. He knew he would find his parents here.

Robert and Alida looked out on the Ocean, as they often did at times like this. What made their gaze intriguing to everyone else in the Islands was that they had actually seen places beyond that seemingly endless sea.

Tall, rugged, and built to last— and last he had, passing through many dangers to be among a handful of people to ever return from that Ocean— Robert stood with his energy blade held before him. This weapon, a product of unknown Outlander technology, had been in the family for generations, and he was still as fascinated with it as he had been as a boy. As he thought, most likely of his adventures and of all the places he’d been, his grey eyes fixed on the radiant green energy blade with his usual martial admiration. The intensity of his thoughts had for the time being carried him far away from his home.

Many considered him to the most skilled warrior in all of the Islands; his training was much sought after by those who wished to sharpen their own skills. Alida was said to be as sharp as he was, but she was less inclined to fighting, though the two of them sometimes sparred with each other for amusement down by the beach. To some, it would be a strange sight to see grown adults playing openly.

But in the Islands, freestyle recreation was a national pastime.

As she looked out at that same horizon, she ran a hand through his shoulder-length brown hair, held back as hers was by a black headband bearing the same symbol as their son’s, signifying their family line. Whose roots, in his case, had dug the depth of generations.

Alida, on the other hand, was not born in the Islands, but had long since been accepted here, mostly because she loved this place so much. Hers was a wisdom beyond her years, born of all her travels, even before she met Robert, and her strong and outgoing personality had made her both respected and well liked in Layosha.

Max’s mother was somewhat shorter than her husband, lithe, with the almost-blonde hair her son had surely inherited from her. In her eyes burned the quiet fire, the spark of brilliance Robert had fallen in love with from the day they met, and he often said that those who didn’t believe in love at first sight had obviously never experienced it.

That was years ago, in a time and place he could only tell his fellow Islanders about. It had been a long journey, but she was still at his side when he and his brother made their way home. By tradition, Outlanders were allowed to marry in, but it was not something that happened more than once or twice a generation.

By that tradition, Max, son of Alida, was counted to be as full-blooded as the next child, and no issues were ever made about the matter. In another of the Ancestors’ quirky strokes of wisdom, family lines were reckoned by the mother, not the father; under most circumstances, the husband would take on the wife’s family symbol, but since she did not come from the Islands, she had instead adopted Robert’s. This matrilineal system was strange to most Outlanders, but it had worked for the Layoshans since the days of the Ancestors.

As Max reached the deck level, he just quietly admired his father’s blade. When he was a little older, he too would get to try his hand with energy weapons. Such weapons were hard to come by on the Ocean, and so only those who proved highly skilled in their use were allowed to wield them.

Alida looked at Robert, then took a quick glance at the bay spread before them. She had known Robert long enough to know that his mind’s eye was looking right through that shimmering blade, seeing past the line of ships in the harbor, a couple of which they had brought back themselves in Robert’s triumphant homecoming, out to where the Ocean met the sky and beyond. His mind was a million miles away, possibly in any of a long list of places they had been years ago.

She whispered in his ear, “Psst! Where’d you go?”

Robert’s eyes returned to the here and now as he switched off the laser sword. The shimmering green energy blade vanished in a flicker of light as he sheathed it. Unlike most of Layosha’s small arsenal of energy weapons, he never worried about running out of power with this one. Though the technology was even above Alida’s head, it was what was known in the outside world as a “pulse weapon” and recharged when not in use, drawing ionic energy from the magnetic fields in its environment.

After pausing long enough to do this, he told her, “I was just thinking about that time on Centralict Island when we got caught in the rainstorm.”

“And we ran into that strange building…” It was not one of her favorite memories.

“That turned out to be one hell of maze,” Robert laughed. Of course, it was easy to laugh now, but at the time they had been in considerable danger; they just hadn’t known how much at first.

“That place could really get to you after a while.” Alida shuddered visibly; she had nightmares for a long time after about shimmering tentacles every now and then. And after they managed to escape that bizarre place, she remembered the writing on the wall in the alley next to it. The building is hungry! Like a joke that wasn’t very funny. “I don’t know how your brother got through it on his own.”

“Angus is a hard man, and very formidable.” He slid an arm around her shoulders as they watched the ships together. He smiled, and it would be obvious to anyone who saw him where Max got it from. “You know, I was afraid I was going to lose you in there.”

“Who would build such a terrible place?” she wondered, and not for the first time over the years. Of course, she had sometimes wondered if places like that were built, exactly. It was almost as if there was something dark and hungry woven into the fabric that otherwise pleasant island, and perhaps the people there were just used to it. Though how people got used to things like that was something she hoped never to understand.

From the way he talked about such things, she suspected Robert harbored some similar theories.

“You could spend a lifetime exploring the mysteries out there…” Robert made a sweeping gesture at the Ocean. Many of those islands had their own haunted places, and secrets that kept adventurous souls wandering all their lives. “After all, it was the call of the unknown that brought me out there in the first place…”

To Alida, this was just a confirmation of what she already believed: Robert was getting restless.

It had been more than four years since the Bandit died in the worst storm in anyone’s memory, and it seemed that he had been thinking more and more about his past adventures these days. Robert’s father’s real name had been Reno (another victim of Carlton’s Family Name Book), but after a most fruitful fishing trip many years ago he had returned, not with a net full of fish, but with a supply ship from the Triangle State in tow, which had earned him the nickname The Bandit. Though he modestly claimed the ship was derelict when he found it, few stopped to contemplate the mystery, instead focusing on the more important of two accomplishments. After all, it was not just because he had managed to spirit away a cargo ship (obviously part of some convoy), but because the Triangle State Authority never found out who did it, probably chalked it up to pirates, most likely the Cyexian clans who controlled the islands in the seas beyond Kinsasha.

Speaking of which… She turned to her husband, saying, “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your trip to Kinsasha tomorrow?”

She didn’t really want him speaking so wistfully of adventure and haunted places and far-off lands right now, especially in front of their son. She wasn’t really afraid of Robert or Max actually running off; though restless, Robert knew return from that mysterious Ocean was no mean feat. Still she knew how he and Angus got their start.

“Oh, right.” Robert finally noticed his son standing behind him and decided that perhaps he had been a little too distracted these days. But the Ocean still called out to him at times with a sweet siren’s voice, singing of adventure and mystery, and he knew it also called out to young Max. The boy had spoken more than once of dreams of adventures with his Dad, and as far as he was concerned there was no harm in dreams. And surely it must also call out to Alida sometimes; after all, it was from beyond that horizon that she had once come…

Thinking about tomorrow’s journey made him realize anew just how much responsibility the Elders had been putting on him these days, and the trust that it implied. In his day, Reno had been one of the Elders, and it was something of a given that either his son or Alida would join them someday. If not for time and grade, as it was traditionally called, one of them would likely already be an Elder, they consulted the two of them often enough. Especially about matters pertaining to Outlanders.

Setting these thoughts aside, he told Max, “Come on, son, let’s get ready to eat. You’ve got a busy day ahead of you.”

“Okay, Dad.” Max just couldn’t wait to go to Kinsasha; of all the Islands, it was the one he had been to only a few times, and any sea trip was a boundless source of excitement to him. He turned and headed back to the trail leading to the ship his family lived in, having no idea just how busy tomorrow would be.
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