Category Archives: The Trials of Maegon Deep

2: “Grey”


© Michael Eric Oberlin, October 11, 2014

The bottle had a transformative effect on the meal. Something about the ingredients loosening their tongues and their wits, morphing each of them into someone else, someone hidden. Maegon couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much. He couldn’t quite remember what he had said, either, so at least there was a sense of balance to it.

As he came to sobriety, the first thing he noticed was the feeling of wet sand between his bare toes, the feeling of the cold ocean washing over his feet. His lock was still tied, but a bit tangled. He was at his home, his real home. His house wasn’t much to speak of, a single room shack somewhere up the beach. It was the ocean, the Grey, that brought sobriety to him.

The mists never cleared, in this world of his. They slurred starlight and sunlight into an indistinguishable half-light. Where there was no river or ocean, there were hot springs and faults, the planet’s inner heat forever belching out refined vapor. It drifted out over the ocean, into the unknown, forming an intangible barrier to those that would stray just a little too far.

He dug his feet into the sand once more, and thought. He wasn’t entirely sure how long it had been. He wasn’t tired. The only rational thing to do was that which he knew, so he treaded down the beach, barefoot, to the docks, where his boat was moored.

Maegon could only guess what had happened to his boots. They were good boots, durable, leather; likely somewhere in the ornithomancer’s abode, perhaps scattered, haphazard, on the floor. He skipped over the aging wood of the dock, careful not to get a splinter from its stressed and broken surface, and stepped down into the more polished surface of his watercraft.

Beneath it was a thick pane, made of soda-lime glass; a small lens shape was molded into it, beneath a trapdoor that covered part of the window. Beneath the pane was eternity, the whole of the ocean staring up at his wide pupils, free of the shroud of fog and wall. On the end was a reel of wire, the “chain”, one end permanently attached to the end of the dock. The other had a curious timer on it, consisting of one gear within another within another, each rotating about the edge of its containing gear for a full cycle before the other one moved a tenth of the way about its own container.

Their clocks were based on the only thing available to them that everyone could agree on, and that was the metric, the number ten. Beyond that, it was a question of mainspring temperance and convenience of construction, leveling off at the easiest materials to make and maintain.

This clock was not the best clock, the salt had eroded through its central spring many times now, and the condition of the other gears was questionable at best. Sometimes it ticked a little too slow, others it was too fast, occasionally, not at all. When it reached a third of the outermost gear (colloquially called a “throne”), the clock would trigger a small motor which would reel him back to shore.

Maegon untied the mooring rope, and pushed off. The metal wire slowly unreeled behind him, and gradually, the shore disappeared in the white fog. His only real notion of how far out he was was the emptying of the reel, but that could be deluding. The wired dropped into the sea, how far down he could only guess, and the docks could be anywhere from ten meters beyond the edge of his sight, to a thousand kilometers away.

As far as Deep was concerned, the docks no longer existed.

Maegon raised the trapdoor, exposing the lens. He opened up a small tackle box and pulled out two vials, one full of a white powder, the other a yellow salt. The white powder was emptied in part on the glass lens, and the yellow salt behind it. He tucked them away, then dipped his fingers in the ocean and splashed a little water onto the conglomerate. It began to smoke, just a little, then light up in a brilliant yellow.

The trap door closed behind the alchemical fire, protecting his eyes. Below, the entire ocean seemed to come into focus, the flame pouring its light down on everything beneath the boat. Every fish, every piece of coral, seemed to glow in the phosphor radiance. He supposed that he hadn’t been entirely forthcoming, earlier; he was not entirely alone on the ocean.

A puffer fish bobbed by on the seafloor, its casual burst of hidden spines dissuading the attention of a sea snake. Deep found himself again under the spell of wondering how deep the ocean went, how far out it might go, what lay beyond the beach of infinite shrouding. Were there other continents like this one? Were there other people, beyond the fog, or in some other part of it?

His tail coiled itself nearly into a ring and his fingers formed white-knuckled fists, his natural muscular response to his equally tense curiosity. There were other sailors, other fishermen, who had been lost at sea. Their cables rusted and broke, or their pegging on the pier collapsed, allowing their boats to drift further away, swallowed by the Grey itself. What happened to them, no one was really sure, but there were plenty of fisherman tales about what might have been.

Deep liked to imagine that they had landed on some other body of land, one that was not accessible by any dry route. He imagined that they found a place so wonderful that they never wanted to go back, or so alien that they never ran out of riddles to solve. The notion of an infinite ocean, one without bounds, was difficult for him to justify. Perhaps some of them did die of thirst on the open sea, but maybe someone reached a new land.

He stretched out his bare feet, and dropped his net over the side. A swarm of sardines was gathering beneath the glass, a potential gold mine of a catch, if he played it right. Calypso was right. The Grey had been good to him, lately. He dreamt sometimes that he was like the fish, and could walk among the coral and the anemone beneath the boat, down at the bottom of the sea, so very far away. He dreamt that he could breath the water, and meet the fish face to face, not as a predator, but as brethren. He dreamt that he could walk off into the distance, following the submerged sand to the end of its line, until the world ran out of ideas and repeated itself and just maybe, a new continent rose from the waters. He could always dream.

For now, he knew that every time he unreeled his line and slipped off into the mists, he was a bit further away from the land he knew. The beach drifted into eternity, and for a third of a throne, he was just a little closer to those strange places that stood beyond the wall of white. He dropped a fine net over the side, and prepared to grab a group of sardines. Someday, fortune might turn its eyes to him, and for better or for worse, he would be lost at sea. He would have an answer. For now, he had a little work to do.

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Posted by on October 12, 2014 in The Trials of Maegon Deep


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1: “Home”


© Michael Eric Oberlin, September 25, 2014


Maegon entered a room lined with brilliant red feathers, its wispy curtains curtailing the ever-present mists of the outdoors. He did what he could to clean off his boots and wring out his coat, still caked with the mud and salt of the seaside. His body, from the hair on his head to the tip of his tail, was still wet with sweat and condensation. His jacket inner breast pocket had something cold in it, wrapped in paper, a trophy from the sea side cooling his beating heart.

This wasn’t his home, technically; but he was always welcome. This was the residence of Calypso Hollant, fortune teller and ornithomancer of great renown. Maybe not the greatest, but she impressed Maegon Deep. Periodically, he would pass by, bringing her something nice from the ships, and would use the kindness as an excuse to speak with her for a while.

Calypso welcomed him here, as a friend or a lover, but this was not his home. This place was far too well-kept for a man of the mud and the seawater. He was more accustomed to the durability of the beach, every nick and imprint and mar and smudge left on it polished away by the water. Here, his footsteps were eternal. He moved slowly and carefully, fearful that he might break something or leave a less pleasant mark. It was something surreal to him.

“Calypso,” he called.

“In here,” she said, from the adjacent room. He found her on her down bed, beneath a comforter lined with more feathers, of the deepest of blues. Her stare was alluring, but he would prefer that it meet him on the sand, away from all of these nice things. And yet she always treasured his company, a warm red smile crossing her face and not the slightest care for the ornaments of her cottage.

“Are you dressed?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she said, flickering the lids of her deep green fortune-teller eyes. “What do you think?”

“Scrying is your domain, not mine. I’m the one that fishes.”

She sat up, the blanket falling. She was indeed dressed, cat-napping in a midway clock cycle. It was only half-throne. Was she up late?

“Did you catch anything?” she said.

“I always catch something. This trip mostly brought mackerel, but I had the fortune of a few flounder. Most of it I owed to Lowray for his help sealing the leak a while back, but,” he said as he patted the breast his jacket, making a dry crackling sound, “I saved something to share with you.”

“Really?” She slipped out of the blanket and pecked him on the cheek, wrapping one arm around his waist and slipping the other beneath his coat. She pulled out a fresh flounder, neatly wrapped, fully grown. “The Gray was good to you.”

“So was the chain. You have to go pretty far out before you run into fish that big. You also, I’ll admit, have to be a little less than forthcoming to the people you owe a service to; but Lowray’s happy enough.”

Calypso slipped past him into her kitchen, where she lit the kindling of her wood stove. “We should eat it now, while it’s fresh.” She followed her words with a yawn, her weariness beaming through, here and there, the shroud of her excitement.

“Have you been getting enough rest?” said Maegon. He pulled a cutting board from behind the plates and began to gut and clean the fish, with deft and practiced hands. It wouldn’t take him long.

“Honestly, no, I don’t think I did.” She cleared a pile of bird bones from the table, sealing them in an ornate wooden chest kept in the corner. A beak here, a rib there, a dozen species. The occasional feather or foot, a drop or two of fresh blood from a flying and migrating creature.

“Why not?”

“The birds were speaking to me,” said Calypso, with the falling tones of resignation. “Me specifically, you understand, or at least I think so.”

Maegon turned his head as he pulled the fillets off of the flounder bones. “You mean the dead ones?”

“Not how it works, silly; but yes, the divination birds, the ones in the chest and the spirit and the glass. All birds, really. The nature of the avian.”

Maegon picked the skeleton out of the flesh of the fish, putting it aside in a small dish. The fillets were ready. He topped them with salt and pepper and a dredging of flour, and slipped a bit of butter into a cast iron pan. It began to melt over the heat of the now burning wood.

“Can you do that?” he said, as he worked. “Can you read your own future, or in a broader sense fortune?”

She crossed her ankles and leaned on her palms over the table, watching him. “I think we all can, really; you don’t need birds or bones or crystal balls. It isn’t easy, though. You have to see yourself from the outside, as another person honestly would, both friend and enemy. I’m not sure anyone’s any good at it.”

“What about the masters? Like Sören in Acropolis, or Mai Han in the Boreholes?”

“Maybe,” said Calypso. “But that doesn’t mean that they find it any easier than reading someone else. The catch is that we all have many aspects, some of which contradict each other.”

The butter began to melt as the pan grew hotter. When it was simmering, Maegon dipped the fillets into it, frying them on one side. “Well if that’s true,” he said, “can one aspect have a contradicting fortune? Something has to tie them together, Calypso.”

“Well, I guess that tie is where we are, as a person. What we know about ourselves. Where we’re at peace.”

He flipped the filets with an iron spatula, cooking them on the other side. “I don’t know if that place is always inside of us,” said Maegon. “I’m more at peace when I’m on the sea than I am anywhere else. I can’t see the land, I’m alone, and if the clock jams then time leaves me too. But I’m happy.”

“An interesting take, sir.” Calypso got up to grab a couple of plates, and set the table for two. Maegon grabbed the fish filets with a pair of tongs, and dished them onto the plates.

“I don’t suppose you have any lemon, miss?”

Calypso laughed a little. “I had a lot, but I think I’ve gone through it all on all of your little gifts.”

“Well don’t worry, this is good fish.” He closed the vent on the wood stove, choking it out, and took a seat at the table.

“Will you take me with you someday?” she said, wondering if it was inappropriate at all.

Maegon did take a moment, staring back at her, studying her, before he mustered an answer. “I’ve never done that before,” he said. “It isn’t a very big boat.” He watched her a moment longer, wondering less of any proprieties and more of feasibility. “All right, sure.”

Calypso lit up. “Great!” She stood one last time, holding up a finger to interrupt his bite, then returned with a pair of wine glasses and an unmarked bottle. She opened it with a cork screw and poured out a deep mahogany liquid, almost purple.

“A little toast for us, to trying something new,” she said. “This is a vintage from the Sidhean, at the riverbed below Acropolis. Tribal people, with a masterful understanding of botany.”

Maegon eyeballed the brew as they clinked their glasses. It smelled somewhere between clove and licorice. “Vintage? So they what, they make it out of grapes?”

“I honestly have no idea. Probably.” She giggled, and sipped it with the fish.

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in The Trials of Maegon Deep


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