What remains

19/07/2015 08:45

Another story written in response to a prompt at Blackship Books. Do let me know what you think!


If Pflatraa had not been revising for her advanced mathematics exam, she would never have seen the meteor. It had streaked across the sky, its orange and yellow tail spread out behind it like the feathers of some exotic bird. The after image still lingered on her retinas and her feet were already moving her towards the door when a ear-splitting squeal came from her palm-com.

“Pflatraa! Did you see that?!”

It was her best friend Lassimaa. She snatched up the little hexagon of glass and metal and held it up to her face so that Lass could see her.

“Will you be quiet? You'll wake the whole house!” she whispered fiercely.

Her friend had the grace to look a little ashamed, her crest drooping a little. “Sorry. But did you see it?!”

“See what?”

“The meteor, of course! I know you know what I'm talking about. Your room is on the outside of the house like mine, so you must have seen it. Why are you stalling? We have to go and investigate!”

Pflatraa sighed. In her excitement, she had not thought about how many other people might have seen that little ball of flame. Now, she did a quick calculation of all the people who had the same exam tomorrow and would need to stay up late to revise, and whose windows faced in the right direction. Her heart sank. As well as herself and Lassimaa, there was only one other person and it was not someone she wanted on the trip.

“OK, Lass, let's go. Meet me in the courtyard in two minutes. We have to get going before...”

Her friend frowned. “Before what? Oh... Yes. Of course. Two minutes!”

Lass disappeared from the screen but stayed logged in, so Pflatraa could hear her moving around her room. She turned the volume down and hoped her friend had the sense to do the same. A quick glance in either direction showed her that the corridor outside her room was empty and she slipped out of her room, closing the door softly behind her.

Her room was on the third floor but there was a staircase nearby that led straight down to the central courtyard. In a Mestani communal house, all routes led to the courtyard. Lassimaa would be coming down the next staircase although they would not be able to see each other until they arrived in the courtyard itself. The third... Well, who knew how he would choose to leave the house? It was entirely possible that he had climbed down the outside of the house. Or even jumped into the moat.

She jumped the last few steps of the staircase herself and hurried towards the main entrance, seeing Lass emerge into the courtyard from the corner of her eye. The gates were closed, of course, but they let themselves out through the postern, closing it quietly behind them. There was still no sign of the third. The moat theory was looking more and more likely. She dismissed the faint hope that he had somehow not seen the meteor; her luck was never that good.

The two girls had arrived at the moat themselves, now, and had not yet spoken. The drawbridge was up but a few meters to the left was a less substantial bridge made of two ropes, its ends hidden by bushes, provided for any Mestani that needed to leave the house at night. They made it across without incident and then, at last, Lass spoke.

“I took a picture of where it landed,” she said, holding up her palm-com to show Pflatraa the image. Her friend nodded, her crest rising stiffly in approval.

“I never even thought of that!” she said and Lass flushed yellow with pride. Praise from Pflatraa was a rare thing.

As it turned out, however, Lassimaa's picture was largely unnecessary. Once they had made their way around the outside of the house to the side where their rooms were situated, they could easily see where the meteor was by the orange glow in the sky.

“He must have seen that!” Pflatraa muttered and Lass nodded glumly. “Well, let's go and see what there is to see.”

They set off across the open ground, travelling on all fours for speed. The glow drew them on over one ridge and then another. And then they were there.

At the bottom of the next valley was a deep crater, filled with the orange light that they had been following. A dark figure, made small by distance, could be seen climbing over the crater's lip. Pflatraa sighed but they had come this far. They might as well see it through to the end.

By unspoken agreement, the two girls hurried down the side of the hill towards the crater. By now, the other figure had reached the centre and was bending over to examine the thing that had brought them all out here, blocking the glow with his body. With less than ten meters to go, both girls froze in their tracks.

The figure ahead of them had straightened up, cradling something in his hands. The flickering light that came from it lit up his face one moment and cast strange shadows the next. His expression was one of unmistakable joy and Pflatraa felt a wave of disappointment sweep over her. Whatever this thing was, she knew that she would have loved it.

But then the mask of joy that their rival wore changed, first to disbelief and then to horror. He opened his hands as if to drop the thing but he could not. A howl of anguish and pain came from his lips and Pflatraa felt the blood run cold in her veins. Whatever this thing was, she was suddenly very glad that she and Lass had not found it first.

Still screaming, their rival, Rathackin, came stumbling towards them. He could form no words but he held his hands out in mute supplication, his meaning clear. “Help me!”

But what could they do? The girls backed away from him as quickly as they could. “We'll get help!” Lassimaa told him and then both of them turned and ran back to the house as quickly as they could.

By the time they returned with Elder Q'unackin and a couple of members of the House Guard, shamefaced that they had not seen anything themselves, there was nothing left of their classmate that needed any help.

Topic: What remains

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