I've been supporting the Aether Dancer
project, an open-source steampunk webseries with an IndieGoGo fundraiser
. Here is a description of the setting from the IndieGoGo page:
500 years before the present day, Earth was rained upon by destructive meteorites. The meteor shower was like none that had ever been recorded. Some meteorites were large enough to wipe out entire cities. Humanity survived. This is the story of the Aether Dancer, a transport airship, and her crew in this brave new world.
Open-source means that other folks can create characters and content that become part of the background for that main storyline. So I'm joining in this effort with my adventuring scholar, Sesha Fulbright. I hope that creating material in this setting will help build a fanbase for the Aether Dancer project.
Below is the first part of "Finding the Library," a story to introduce Sesha Fulbright. (See Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.) I'll be posting this story in full for free, to give people a taste of the setting. Later materials are likely to involve crowdfunding, and a portion of those proceeds will go to the Aether Dancer project.
Finding the Library
Sesha Fulbright slipped into the empty shed at the back of the lot. Her petite form fit easily under the low roof. The last rays of sunlight shone through cracks in the worn wooden boards, slanting across the dirt floor. A few wild curls escaped from the braid pinned in a knot atop the scholar's head. One small hand swept the strands behind her ears as she examined the space. It would do.
Now to wait and see if anyone showed up. Sesha dealt in information: creating, finding, giving, receiving, trading, and carrying it much the way a river bore the flotsam and jetsam of a continent down to the ocean. Here in the Central Empire, people generally wanted two kinds of information: how to move up, or how to move out. She had vague tips for both tonight.
The door creaked open. Sesha stood ready, mindful of her knives in case of need. But the starveling boy who slunk into the shed was plainly no threat. He couldn't be more than sixteen or seventeen with that scraggle of beard and big hands that he hadn't finished growing into yet. The shabby clothes and lean body added up to serf.
"I'm Tomo," he said. "I'm looking for the library."
"Then you've found what you're looking for," Sesha said.
"I don't see a library in here. All I see is you."
"I am the Library."
His forehead wrinkled in evident confusion. "I thought a library was supposed to have books. There aren't any books."
"I have books at home," Sesha said. "When I travel, I carry them in my head. Besides, could you read them if there were books here?"
"No," Tomo admitted. Most serfs couldn't read. "I hoped there might be pictures, or something ..."
"If you can't read yet, then books won't help you much," Sesha pointed out. It was one of many reasons to dislike the politics of the Central Empire. Still, this Tomo was smart enough to seek resources for his escape, despite the lack of education that left him at a disadvantage.
"Who are you?" he asked.
Sesha lifted a hand. "Let's not make things easy on the nobles by using our full names," she warned. "I am the Library. Ask your questions."
"What are you doing here?"
"Helping you, passing information, stirring trouble," she replied. "But that's not the question that brought you here. What is?"
Tomo took a deep breath, loud in the quiet shed, like wind sighing through a cave. "I'm a serf. I don't want to stay one. How can I escape?"
"You must get off your Lord's land --"
"Then we're short of time," Sesha said. Her heart beat a little quicker, but no need to show the boy who came to her for guidance. "Now you must get out of the Central Empire. The serftakers will expect you to run straight south and cross into Oskinus. Most runaways do, in this area. That border won't make you safe, though. Oskinus doesn't keep serfs but it doesn't declare you legally free either."
"Then what do I have to do to get free?" he asked.
"I expect you know the first part," Sesha said. "You must stay off your Lord's land for a year and a day. That's an old rule -- the lore says it came from stories that were old even in Ancient times, before the rocks fell and remade the world. So if the serftakers can't find you by then, even here in the Central Empire, you're a free man."
"That's a long time to keep running," Tomo said.
"Yes, it is. So you need to head for Lachesis. We don't keep serfs, and we don't allow serftakers either. You're a free man as soon as your cross our border."
"I've heard of Lachesis, but I don't know where it is," Tomo said.
"Let me show you," Sesha said. She crouched down, then used a splinter to trace a simple map on the dirt floor.
"I can't read," he reminded her softly.
"Maps don't need writing to work," Sesha said. She tried to keep the directions simple. "We're close to Li'l Rock here, in the Central Empire South -- almost as far south as it goes, in fact." She used a pebble to mark the city where Duke Rockley lived. "This line is the border."
"All right," Tomo said.
[Continued in Part 2 ...]