Grand Gulf

grand canyon.JPG

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.

“It’s there.”

Lak reflexively prayed.  “Thank Da’atal.”

***

Even this close, the others saw ruins. Did they conjure their expectations, or did she?

Akjata entered.

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!



 

 

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30 thoughts on “Grand Gulf

  1. One of the things I like about your flash fiction is the way you manage to legitimately ‘cheat’ by the inclusion of extra details after the story. They add such depth; for me more intriguing than the ‘flash’ itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You cover a lot of ground in this. I confess it was a struggle to keep straight who was talking and who was who, especially in the first scene. But through it all, Akjata’s emotional journey comes clear. Lovely and lyrical.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry it was confusing. I try to repeat the names enough times but not every sentence. The original version had more about Akjata in the first paragraph to help ground the reader in her perspective, but that got cut too… Glad it still worked for you in the end!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Josh is so right – fantasy is hard in flash fiction. It’s so reliant on world building to orientate the reader. That said, I love your stories and always read the extra notes because I know they’ll add even more flavour and images to my reading. I’m backing Crispina on this one – what is fantasy without an appendix … and a map! I’m just wondering where Akjata goes from here – a whole new world awaits her, I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the supportive comment, Lynn — I’m glad my extras improve the reading experience for you! Reminds me that some day I need to make a decent map of Eneana…

      Good question, what happens next for Akjata. I’ve been writing so many of these stories at various points in time that I’m starting to nail down certain events and their ordering, so I have a decent idea of when this happens. The fact that they’re in the Wastelands (so the event that created the Wastelands happened, but long enough ago that people can go back there without dying) and that Oezn is currently disgraced in the Azza’at pantheon (but he’s being called Da’atal’s lover, not her son) places this during the decline of the long-lived Azza’at Empire. Oezn was blamed for the drought and his followers vilified toward the end, but they survived in small pockets. I can imagine Akjata being a late-coming prophet-cleric for them, leading them to one last surge of rebellion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Leadership definitely lies ahead – and danger, I’m sure. I love how complex and thought out your world is and I’d love to see a map one day. I recently beta read for a fantasy writer and she provided a map – it was very helpful, I must say

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d love to make a map, but I’m hesitant because I’m still working out some of the issues. Once I go through all the trouble of making a pretty map, it kind of nails down the details. Right now I have a vague-ish map, and I can keep adding cities and monuments and rivers and whatever as I like, to fit the various stories. Plus there are some geological things I need to work out, eep.

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      • Good point – you can’t really make a map until you’ve finished the story. What if a story needs a sea/lake/river/mountain range somewhere and don’t include it in your map – it would be a pain to have to go back and redesign the world. Something for the future then

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      • But since my plan is to continue to write stories and novels in this world, at some point I’ll have to nail down the map. Although maybe I’ll keep it pretty vague. Or not even show it to anyone else. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your comment inspired me to revisit my list. In addition to the three novels in progress and the dozen-plus short stories under revision, I have: 12 novel ideas, 10 novella ideas, about 60 ideas for short stories, and over 20 ideas that are still so drafty I’m not sure how long they’ll be. That’s not counting going back to all these flash fiction pieces to see if there are good ideas for longer stories that I miss or have forgotten (although some of the ones I just counted originated that way). Whew, that’s a long to-do list!

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  4. Thank you for condensing your epic for the sake of short attention spans and stuffed schedules, such as my own. It is nice to get a taste of it. I did understand from the story that you character is some kind of visionary seer/leader/heroine, destined to change the world you have so cunningly built for her, forever. How you keep so many disparate characters, time periods and details in your head is beyond me. I tend to go for the bland but beloved everyday, since it is what I know best. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading my mini-epic! I know what you mean, I don’t have the time (or patience) to read actual epics these days either, especially not online. To be fair, I only keep the most major historical events and groups and legends in my head. These individual characters pop up out of nowhere for the flash fiction pieces. Then I have to keep track of *them*! I have a file where I write down every name from every story, and where they’re from, so that in theory I can go find them again. We’ll see how well that works in the long run.

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