This is 31 out of 52 installments of a first draft in public. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far with only minor hitches! I did have to outline a bit of this next part, which I’m starting to enjoy more as a tool in my writing kit. I will not lie. One of the chapter outlines is: “Sharna is seen doing something cool and awesome,” so I might have a long way to go to be any good at outlining.
Thank you to everyone throughout this experiment for your views, likes, and comments. For every little dopamine pellet dropped into my notifications, I turned those brain chemicals into another Saturday of words. The best of feedback loops! I am your monkey…or something like that.
Sharna stood with her feet hip-length apart and let the ship’s motion gently rock her body. Jackie was on one knee, concentrating on Sharna’s open palm. The Mage held one of The Stalks and spoke to it with Melody’s voice, but her own intentions.
Bigger things, beyond food or shelter, a place where she would belong. A place where she could make a difference…The Stalk grew warmer, and it shifted and then spun.
“Grow, damn it!” she let loose with a fiery command, and the seed wobbled and then burst. Green and yellow and red unleashed in tendrils and curves and swarming branches. Sharna screamed and stepped back. Jackie sprang into action. She ran two steps using her momentum from kneeling to standing to propel herself upward.
As she scrambled from leaf to branch, The Stalk rooted and unraveled into the sky. Jackie grasped at rough barked leaves and spines. She shouted down to Sharna.
“Come on! What are you waiting for?”
The Mage stood with her mouth and eyes stretched wide in shock or fear, Jackie couldn’t tell from this high up, and she didn’t pause to find out if Sharna were going to pull it together to follow. She had a gut feeling they didn’t have much time.
The ship groaned, and Jackie’s grip tightened. She was worried for Hugo and the crew. Would it hold? There’d been a lot of debate over narrow glasses of wine, but no one had been able to say for certain. It was another risk they’d taken.
Jackie made good time. The top of the Stalk fizzed and fuzzed into the blue of the sky. There was no clear indication where it ended; it disappeared like chalk smudged by a wet hand.
“Please. Let this work,” she whispered.
Below her Sharna carefully hauled herself up handhold by handhold. The ship made a sound like a screaming cat, and the Stalk began to tilt ever so slightly.
Shouted orders drifted up to Jackie. A bell clanged. She could barely hear over the sound of her own ragged breathing. Her hands were scraped and aching.
The crew began to load into the lifeboats. The ship wasn’t going to hold. Below her, Sharna was too far behind.
“Be Melody! You have to be Melody!” shouted Jackie. She had one foot on an enormous yellow leaf and the other was already inside the Cloud Realm. It looked like she was cut in half.
Sharna looked up and her lips tightened into a thin, determined line.
“I will make it!” Her tone could have sliced skin.
Jackie tumbled backward into the Cloud Realm as Sharna barreled into her at full speed. They fell into a shadowed, dank alleyway. The bright blue maritime sky was replaced by smog cut by tall brick buildings.
“Are you alright? I’m so sorry,” said Sharna. “I overshot!”
“No, I’m fine. You did the right thing.”
“Do you think everyone’s okay?” Sharna brushed dirt off the back of Jackie’s thighs from where she’d landed on the cobblestones.
“Sure. They knew the plan,” Jackie reassured her. “Remember the last time you knocked me down in an alley?”
They paused a moment to consider how far they’d come.
“It worked,” Sharna whispered.
“You did it.” Jackie stepped forward and wrapped the Mage in a long, strong hug. “You still have the way home, right?”
Sharna pulled away to check the secret pocket Jackie had sewn into the inner lining of her tunic near her breast. “Yep. Still here.”
They both looked around. Jackie was smiling with relief, but Sharna frowned.
“This is not what I expected,” she said. A bit of Melody tainted the words.
Jackie shrugged. “Bad part of town. Come on!” They held hands as they walked out of the alley and into the street.
(See you next time!)