Wednesday, February 09, 2005

In Media Res: The Air Gondola

Finally, the internet is back to normal again (after a slow couple days).

Anyway, here's another vignette for your perusal while I try to jump-start my brain for... well, just to get my brain started.

Nothing as weird as the first. This had been cooking for a long time but came out looking like this when I added a little fairy dust. Likewise, here's where I first coin the term "alternate secret history". Okay, more like trying out different story styles.

To wit: There is War in 16th century Europa and the human race is caught between two powerful forces. The British Invasion has come but the Italian Renaissance is also on the rise. Unfortunately, history is coming for our poor young protagonist, an Italian named Nicolo...

In the wooden glades of Italy, the Wild Hunt chased Nicolo.

On the evening of the third day, Nicolo tried to escape his pursuers into the hills but haunt-hounds harried him back into the forest.

Nicolo tried again that night and it was only due to luck that the young Florentine managed to slip past the tree line. Managing to gain the heights, Nicolo turned to look behind him and choked on despair. Fairy lights glowed throughout the dark woods dimly, all coursing toward his direction like vengeful fireflies.

He spat a curse and continued running the ridgeline. Behind him he heard the bloodcurdling baying of the pale hounds once more and could not help but freeze in terror. He forced himself to continue. As he did so, he tasted his own fear and found that he had bitten his tongue, filling his mouth with the sharp, copper taste of blood.

The red caps finally caught up with Nicolo on the mountain road.

As he heard the thunder of hoofs in the distance and otherworldly horns braying awoooo, he knew that the red caps’ masters, the Daoine Sidhe, were almost upon him. But then the first red cap leaped from a boulder from where it was hiding as Nicolo came jogging down the path.

At first look, Nicolo thought it was a feral child, a wildling or a Lost Boy. However, when he saw its face, Nicolo knew he faced a red cap or a goblin: foot-soldiers for the Sidhe host that followed the hounds.

Nicolo’s reaction was instinctive: he quickly drew the musket and shot an iron ball into the red cap’s chest. The goblin screeched in dreadful agony as the ball impacted, blowing a hole through its chest.

As if on signal, a dozen red caps jumped up from the rocks and bushes that crowded the trail. Nicolo’s cursing became more fervent as he unsheathed the iron knife that hung from his hip and upended the musket for a club.

Too many, he thought as he ran the gauntlet, slamming a booted foot on the neck of a fallen goblin and cutting off a sneaking green claw. His breath was now coming in stitches as he skirted a fallen log and jumped a boulder on the path.

Two more red caps jumped from behind a briar patch and brought him down. Nicolo screamed, tasting dirt as he felt them tear at his pack to shreds and bloody his shoulders with tiny daggers. He tried to roll on to his back but the weight of the two red caps had him firmly pinned on the ground.

Suddenly, he felt something slam on his back and he was free, pushing against the unmoving bodies of the goblins.

As he booted off another crawling red cap, he saw small sand bags on top the bodies of his attackers. Feeling something on the top of his head, he swung his knife only to see it was a rope.

“Grab hold, fool!” he heard someone shout above him.

He looked up and saw a gigantic shadow ponderously moving through the cold mountain air. As the bright full moon cleared a cloud bank, he saw an improbable sight: like a jelly-fish he once saw in the Mediterranean, a large gray balloon floated above him with ropes a-hanging in imitation of stingers.

“Grab the rope!”

So he did. Dropping the empty musket, he almost had his arm wrenched from his socket as he was tugged into the air from the red caps’ frenzied graspings.

Turning helplessly on the rope, Nicolo cried out in pain as he crashed against something hard. He was quickly past it as he was roughly pulled up, tumbling onto a wooden floor. Shaking his head, he tried to collect himself.

The ship—for Nicolo recognized it as a gondola transplanted from the canals of Venice—was strangely accoutered. Thick shanks of rope were slung from the balloon above (itself made of sewn strips of dark leather-hide) to hold up the long wooden boat. Boxes and barrels were scattered everywhere on the long, narrow deck as its crew loaded muskets and adjusted tied sandbags on the side of the boat.

The man who had held the other end of rope dropped the line once Nicolo was on board and started shouting orders at the others, striding forward to the prow. When he looked back, he saw Nicolo gaping like a dead fish.

“It’s a balloon-ship.”

Nicolo gasped and jumped up, instinctively tightening his grip on his blade when he gained a clear look at the man.

The man was a vampire! And around him were more of them, the whole crew—he saw their faces teeth-sharp snarling in the light cast by the full moon—as they fired musket-shot iron balls below at the milling fairy.

“A good job leading these fucking bloodsuckers to us, sheep,” the black-clad imposing figure said in a distinct Venetian accent, “My name is Count Leonardo d'Vinci, captain of the air gondola Bellisima, and currently in the service of d'Medici Family.”

A vampire crew-man screamed, elf-shot, and turned into dust with only a small wooden arrow left to clatter on the wooden floor.

“I didn’t…” stuttered Nicolo.

The grey-faced Count snorted and said, “Of course you didn’t, sheep. But it did the job in bringing this hunting party here. Now tell me your name. It’s impolite not to introduce yourself.”

“Nicolo,” he replied with reluctance, “Nicolo Machiveli…”

Huh. Anyone with an eye for historical inaccuracies, pretty pleeaase shout 'em out so I can correct the above.

Now I'm going back to work again...

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