Flash fiction: “Crossing the Scars”

Chuck Wendig’s Friday flash fiction challenge this past Friday was for *punk pieces, and one of the suggestions he listed—bloodpunk—pinged me in all of my writing places. This wants to be something larger (the file in my dropbox is called “airship circus demons.doc”) but for now have a 900-word glimpse into this world:

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The wild overland winds howl around them, batting the Black Hind through the air, prying at her seams in search of weaknesses. Her engine whines with the effort of driving forward, and Bette curses steadily at the helm, claws digging into the yoke as she fights to stay on course. Her lips peel back from her fangs reflexively, as if she could frighten the hungry winds into releasing her ship with a mere bluff.

It won’t be so easy as that, she knows. “More blood!” she calls, glancing back toward the engine room. “Rael!”

A stream of deep, rasping obscenities answers her, guttural and lisping, the tongue dead to city dwellers for decades. Rael has no more blood to spare. He’s been tapped more often than any of the rest of them since they’ve gone short-handed—he has more raw strength to start with than anyone else on her crew. But everyone has limits, and this trip is finding all of theirs. Bette spares one breath to hope that Lukai found no respite in the dark he abandoned them for.

“If he can’t do it, then one of the rest of you bastards had better get down there!” To punctuate the demand, the ship rocks, threatening to pitch them down into the ravine below. “We won’t cross the deep scars without more power.”

If she has to choose a victim, they’ll waste precious time and lose half the force of the offering. Bette glares around the main deck at the rest of her crew: Judith, Tavi, Sitri, the empty chair with its loose, dangling straps where Lukai would have been a month ago. Judith and Sitri trade glances; Sitri hisses in impatience, unbuckling xir harness.

Xe drops to all fours to scuttle back through the ship to the engine room, xir scales rippling as xe moves. Bette turns her attention back to steering the Hind; let Sitri and Rael handle the engine. She tacks into the wind, trying to keep the ship steady, headed in the right direction but not reaching the deep scars yet. The wind through the ravines there is murderous, powerful enough to bring down the Hind with all hands if they aren’t careful.

“Luck, Tavi,” Bette commands. Sitri should be bleeding soon, and then she’ll want to make the plunge across the deeps as fast as possible.

Tavi nods. He closes his eyes, lips moving in a silent incantation. His scars grow livid, bright red streaks across the gray of his skin. It’s the only sign of his work; luck-teasing is tricky, quiet magic, with no flashy effects to impress the marks. But it’ll help, as every little bit helps.

The Hind thrums with power, engines growling as Sitri offers xir blood. This is the best chance they’ll have. Bette cants the yoke forward, and the ship surges ahead.

Howling winds meet the Hind’s advance. It’s not possible to cut straight through them, so Bette angles sideways, keeping an eye on the jagged edge of the ravine. Snow blows through the air, sticking to the Hind’s foreglass and gathering at the bottom edge. Once, Bette thinks she sees movement through the blizzard, something slow and purposeful on the far side of the ravine. She frowns, peering at it, wondering what could possibly call this frozen wasteland home—and a gust of wind hammers the ship, driving them down toward the rocks.

Tavi yelps, jarred in his seat. Justine’s trapped wings mantle and flutter. Bette curses in her birth tongue, fighting to lift the Hind’s nose. Sitri howls from the engine room, bitter and wordless, and the ship surges upward. They clear the rocks and catch an upward gust, and for one suspended, endless instant the world is silent. Then the storm catches them again, rattling the ship furiously, battering it down—but Bette turns with the wind, letting it catch the ship from behind and toss them forward. One more careful turn of the rudder has them soaring toward the ravine’s far edge. The Hind catches the barest edge of the piled snow, but stays aloft, climbing away from the frozen earth as they leave the deep scars behind.

Bette exhales. The winds are still fierce on the east side of the deep scars, but nothing compared to the crossing itself. She can relax her death-grip on the wheel and shrug the fear knots out of her shoulders. “That’s the worst of it done. We should be in Alethion by nightfall.”

“With or without more blood?” Sitri rasps. When Bette turns, xie’s standing in the hallway, leaning on the doorframe in a careful mimicry of casual unconcern. Xir lips are wet crimson where xie licked xir wound closed.

Is that a challenge? Bette watches Sitri’s eyes carefully, the sparking oilslick shift of them. “Whatever it takes. Just like always.”

Another moment of silence; then the tension breaks as Sitri closes xir eyes with a smile. “How fortunate we are to have such a dedicated captain.”

“Fortune isn’t my department.” Bette turns back to the wheel as Sitri settles into xir chair. The cold gray of the endless storm stretches on in front of them, but in the distance there’s a faint hint of golden warmth—just enough to make an old sailor’s nerves light and her heart pull forward. “Polish your souls, my dears,” Bette says, catching a current of wind and letting it drive them toward the light. “Tonight we’re going to ground.”

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