Grand Canyon, Photo © Google Maps Streeview
After months of searching, it appeared. The towers gleamed white atop the mountain, exactly like Akjata’s dreams. Vertigo spun her stomach, as if she fell toward it.
She pointed. “There.”
The guide stared. “Where?”
Akjata hesitated. “What do you see?”
“Rocks.” He squinted. “Ruins?”
The temple called her: solid, sweet. Beyond, the white day-moon grinned.
Lak reflexively prayed. “Thank Da’atal.”
Even this close, the others saw ruins. Did they conjure their expectations, or did she?
Forbidden icons loomed: Oezn, Da’atal now-disgraced lover. Akjata should escape. Save herself. She continued, drawn deeper.
On the altar, a white orb radiated power.
Was Da’atal testing her? She failed.
The orb shocked Akjata’s palm, then soaked in, disappearing.
Lak humored her. “Was anything inside the… temple?”
She trusted nobody. “Only stones.”
Akjata savored her secret purpose. Her new people awaited, scattered, whispering prayers to Oezn. She would answer them, soon.
Word count: 150. Written for this week’s What Pegman Saw challenge. Click on the link to read the other stories inspired by the Grand Canyon. And feel free to write one of your own and join in!
The challenge of writing a story in 150 words is that I can’t seem to do it. I can think of a story, and I can give hints about it, but most weeks it seems impossible to include both some type of plot development and also enough hint at character to make it work. I almost always end up cutting more than half of what makes it into the first draft. This time I thought I’d “cheat” by explaining some of the bits of the initial story that got sacrificed to the word count gods.
For one, there was a hint about how wealthy Akjata is, which is how she could afford to pursue the source of her weird dreams. Her search party is much larger than appears here. Lak is her advisor and head priest, devoted to Da’atal (the sun goddess), but Akjata has been having blasphemous doubts about recent developments in the Azza’at theocracy. Lak’s original prayer to Da’atal thanked her for her mercy, at ending their interminable search.
They have been searching in the Wastelands, where they have to chew on bitter berries to survive the poisonous gasses — except for here, which is one of the rare pockets of fresh air. Then she spots the temple from her dreams, “across yet another valley, atop yet another mountain.”
I had to cut the cool effect where, when the guide said he saw only rocks, Akjata’s perception shimmered for a moment and she could see the rocks too, before it shimmered back. Plus her retort was longer, insisting that they go investigate, and intimidating the others into obeying.
Oezn is a moon god — specifically of the white moon (rather than the colorful mage moon) — and in the original, only Akjata could see the white day-moon grinning over the temple, which was a big hint to her. There were a few more words describing what she saw inside the temple, with Oezn portrayed as sitting loyally at Da’atal’s side (with her husband the earth god on her other side), and Akjata remarking that anywhere except the middle of nowhere, these images would all have been defaced by now.
Originally the altar held an ancient body that was holding the orb, and when Akjata picked up the orb the body — held together by solidified dust — crumbled to nothing and blew away. There was a longer pause where Akjata weighed the act she was committing, wondering if this was all a test from Da’atal, and considered running away instead, and I’d hoped to hint more about why she did it, but that didn’t even make it into the first draft. Also, the orb stuck to both of her palms like glue before soaking in under her skin.
Of course, all these things were merely hinted at in the original, but since I’m no longer confined by the word count, it’s nice to be able to straight-out explain. Whew, that feels so much better now!