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Monthly Short Stories Winner: Water

Marsh by Patryk Olas (detail)

This month we asked for stories, where water of any kind was a key element. It didn’t matter if it was a stormy sea, a misty lake, a polluted river, a frozen waterfall, a terrible flash flood, or a sentient geyser – water is incredibly diverse and we expected the stories to mirror this. And we were not disappointed.

Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Water of any kind must play a big role in the story
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.

This month’s winning story was by Nora, with “The Dreglund”. Congrats on your win, Nora!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

– – –

“The Dreglund”
by Nora

Juni 32nd

At last, a new notebook!

Hydrophobic paper is incredibly hard to obtain here, despite the city being so close to the Dreglund and all the rainfall that feeds it. The locals make a cheap pulp paper from the ocean of grasses that surround them. Logical, if unpractical for me. I was growing anxious after I placed my finished travelogue and books in storage, having nothing safe to write on. I will have to limit sketches, lest I run out of space in the wild. Already I feel the strain, not being able to document my stay in Ikurstuk as I wish…

Ikurstuk, city of salt!

As far East as any Explorator has gone, and mostly unchanged since Damasia and Edolan’s visits. Both did a great job at sketching the city, yet it feels like they hardly scratched the surface! I keep my resolve, however, and have taken rooms only for ten days, by the end of which I fully intend to have finished my preparations to cross the Dreglund desert.

Julli 2nd

Almost ready.

I’m glad now for all the idle time on the caravan, with nothing to do but learn Kush. Ikurstukies speak enough Imperial to sale their wares and count their money, but the rest is Ikkurie, a blend of Kush and Arandi.

The promise of news from the Empire and the Salt Road opens any door, and people gladly answer my questions (once they’re done stuffing me into a coma, that is). Ikkies (as they call themselves), consider that any herald of news should be fed and housed for as long as they desire. Had I known as much sooner, I’d not have taken rooms.

I’ve made good friends with several people (see portrait of Etti and Karluk in annexe), which has helped a lot with my purchases. Better prices, better quality.

Mind you Ikurstuk has no tourist traps, having no tourists to fool. Only caravaners come this far East.

Etti keeps trying to discourage me of going further. She doesn’t understand my interest for the Dreglund. I tried to explain, how uncharted land is the lifeblood of Explorators, that turning around where others stopped defeats the entire point of my trade.

Whatever I say, she doesn’t think that meeting the Dalai people is worth facing their homeland and risking my life.

Beliefs/facts on the Dreglund, as Ikkies tell them:

– No water can be drunk in it, not even the one that falls from the sky.

– The desert will lose you in it, and only star navigation allows its crossing.

– Salt bogs will turn you into a salt-mummy and preserve you so well your soul will remain trapped within.

– Akambo bloodsuckers will drain you dry.

– Dalai people will kill you if you reach the other side. (This one has many variants, with Dalai killing you on sight, eating you, or keeping you as slave. They have a broad back.)

Even the herders and grass-cutters I’ve met with, who often venture in the Dreglund for a day trip harvesting blue bladed tuft (annexe 2), have all tried to discourage me.

Damasia did report the Ikkies’ superstitions around it were strong, but I didn’t expect this much resistance.

Julli 4th

Went to say farewell to Bank’s caravan. Etti came with me. They were loaded with salt and took my letters and the copies of my travelogue I redacted during our trip together (ah, the endless days swaying under the sun with nothing to see but grasses swaying to a different rhythm).

It was the last thing I had to take care of. I am done packing, and leaving tomorrow morning at dawn.

Etti and a youngster called Meluk braided my hair in a fashion they say will bring me luck.

Julli 5th

Finished setting camp, if you can call “sitting in your fibrococoon” setting camp. Everything is as bleak as was described to me, and as amazing as I expected it to be: the endless shimmer of the water, broken by grasses of colours my pens can do no justice to. The noise of bubbles and insects giving the place a constant hum, besides my splashes–and I seem to be the only creature making splashes here!

I’ve seen no fish of any size, no amphibians either, no salt spires, no Dalai… I’m committing a lot of what I’m seeing to Long-Memory. No point in wasting paper. I have learned nothing new on this gorgeous, endless plane of poisonous water in which little ekes a living. But so far everything I have read about it turned out to be true, including the water never rising higher than my shins.

Julli 6th – Morning

May not have seen much wildlife, but the wildlife saw me… I believe I met the infamous akambo, which are much bigger than I thought. Red blazing eyes in the night, snorting noises and the liquid sound of limbs accustomed to moving smoothly through water… They didn’t get to me, but I understand how Ikkies without an Explorator’s fibrococoon would be threatened.

Tired from the broken sleep but moving on. Loads of ground to cover again.

Julli 8th

Today I’ve learnt two things. I guess I can only blame myself for not figuring this out sooner.
I woke to find my bag gone. It was over twenty meters away from me, and shredded through. All my water was gone, yet the bag was still pegged against the same tuft of blue grass.

So.

When the Ikkies say Dregl ik svafar – the desert will lose you – they mean to say the desert moves under your feet. I’ve looked closer and seen the signs, the rising silt along hair-thin fault-lines. I am standing in an ankle deep ocean coating tremendous plate tectonic. The persistent buzzing sound, I wager, may even come from this permanent shuffle.

And when Ikkies say akambo will suck you dry, they don’t mean that they’re exclusive bloodivores, but that they’ll drink any fluid they find, from my water reserves to, eventually, my blood.

I’m getting thirsty, but only have my standard water purifier. Using it in the notoriously foul water of the Dreglund could well sign my end.

Julli 11th

Was so thirsty. Burning pain and hallucinia–cination. Water purified was BEST thing ever ever. Until night.

So sick. Like water from my bdy needed out, every pore, out out.

Doing Akambo work for thm. Shame.

I walked, so much. Sick and walk. Scared to it–eat more.

It’s horribe–ble, the thirst, with water EVERYWHERE, just there, but drink and die?

No.

Akambo stalking still.

Where are the Dalai?

Andi 26th

Dear Enkor,

Eloi says that when he found me, I looked like a salt-mummy, with my white Eastern-Empire hair, the shreds of my fibrococoon tangled around me, propped as I was against a salt spire.
Yet I was clinging to life, with arms bitten, eyes sunken, and breath foul, smelling of old vomit I hadn’t dared to wash away.

He says I was clutching my notebook in my comatose sleep, and that he guessed at my profession after wrestling it from me and browsing through it.

Though he did not understand the script, he marvelled at my drawings of landscapes, portraits, jewels, hairdos – documenting whole cultures – all the way to my last: a dead akambo, with its neck twisted.

The hand there is shaky, the sketch rough.

I was dying.

Please hold no hard feelings.

Eloi did wake me. He spoke Ikkurie. I did understand his offer, though my addled brain thought he was a Dalai god, more than a Dalai man.

Had I come all this way to meet them, to draw their faces, sketch their cultures?

Yes, I said, I was looking for you, because no one ever found you before.

He says he felt torn, that no matter what he did, he’d kill an aspect of myself. The person or the Explorator.

You see, Dalai means “Of the desert”.

Because once he pressed his slashed wrist to my mouth, I would become Dalai, my entire body changing to adapt and embrace the Dreglund. No water now can nourish me but that which once almost killed me.

It hydrates and feeds. In the deep wells, you can breathe it.

This is where the Dalai cities lay, Enkor: under poisonous waters.

No wonder we only heard about these people through rumours! Maybe my presence will change things a little? More trading at the border? Enough for me to hear from you, I hope, and collect the fame of my discoveries!

Please find attached all my notes, see them published and send me a crate-load of hydrobooks. You can make my speech at the Assemblies. Tell them I won’t drop my mantle: Eloi is lovely, but if he thinks I will stop marvelling, learning, and writing because I am trapped in one of the greatest mystery of our age, he has a lot to learn about me!

Warmest regards,

Ilkaria Explorator

– – –

Congratulations again to Nora! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.

Happy Writing!

Title image by Patryk Olas.

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One Comment

  1. Nora says:

    Lovely choice of image! Thanks a lot!

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