The Karioth Islands: Vill, Thurn, Flet, and Cilm

A/N: Just doing some world-building. Then I got really into it.

(In the voice of Theylin, rider of Flax and wingleader in the Nightwing Sea Division)

Vill

The best summers I’ve ever had were spent on Vill. The island, south of Karioth, is home to the largest of the Nightwing sea division bases. Flax and I spent our first year with the Nightwing training out of Vill, basking in the warm sunlight on the sandstone cliffs on the southern edge of the island and exploring the lush rainforest and the deep surrounding waters while Kiersta and Balian were training in brutal snowstorms over the mountains in Gathia. We quite enjoyed ourselves, though the training flights were longer and harder than anything we’d ever dreamed of at Dragonfeyll—but landing at Vill made it all worth it.

From above, Vill resembles a sleeping dragon, head curled round in a small ridge in the southern waters and tail extending due east toward Cilm. The back and tail of Vill slope gently down into a shallow bay, protected from storms by the rest of the island and the buffer of the mainland. Flax prefers to land in the deep blue waters just beyond the bay, depositing me in the water to swim for the shore while he languidly floats, belly up, into shallower waters using his wings as rudders. The deep green of his scales ripples in the blue of the ocean, like schools of fish shimmering through the water. Real fish know better than to venture into the bay, for the scores of dragons on the beach and in the water would love to make easy prey of any fish that wanders so close.

Besides the bay of Vill, the southern cliffs served as another favorite place for Flax. He spent hours sprawled out on the sandstone, dozing to the sound of waves crashing on the rocks far below. The cliffs are too steep and gritty for anyone but a dragon to navigate easily—even so, I once saw Flax roll off his ledge mid-nap, forcing him to scrabble around and throw out his wings before he was even truly awake. Nonetheless, the dragons love these cliffs, and in fair weather they dot the landscape with their sleeping forms, bright jewels glimmering on the pale sandstone.

Vill is no stranger to storms. The island is completely unshielded from the open expanse of ocean on its west and south sides. Harsh weather rushes in fast from the open sea, bringing sudden hot, humid rainstorms in the summer and stinging wind and rain in the winter. The bay stays sheltered throughout the winter storms, but the waters around the southwest side of the island foam and froth, exploding high along the cliffs in powerful sprays of sea brine that add to the pounding rain. During these storms, no dragons can be seen on the battered sandstone cliffs.

Whenever Flax and I weren’t lazing on the beach or flying on assignment, we explored the rainforest. The riders and dragons in the Operations Division take care of most of the food supplies on Vill, but approximately a quarter come from combat duty pairs foraging and hunting for food in their down time on the island. Vill is the most bountiful of the four Karioth islands and manages to support many of the surrounding bases with surplus provisions. With the exception of the southern cliffs, which are too steep and sandy for vegetation, the entire island is lush with rainforest and wildlife. Flax enjoys hunting the large boars that roam the forest, whereas I’ve gotten handy with a sling, hunting the pesky blue-tailed birds that roost around the lookouts. The paths in some areas are wide enough for rider and dragon on foot, but many meld into the landscape and barely accommodate a rider alone. I saved these explorations for the times when Flax was sunbathing on the cliffs, and befriended many of my fellow riders whose dragons had also left them behind. It was during that first summer on Vill that I became fast friends with Malvern, a rider from my unit who would later ride wingsecond with me. It took us most of the summer to familiarize ourselves with the main paths enough that we no longer got so lost that our dragons had to pluck us from the middle of the rainforest. We encountered small pockets of dragon-free activity deep in the wilderness—small pools under waterfalls where we roughhoused in the water, places where a single dragon would crowd the clearing. Other times we found hammocks slung up in the fruit trees with riders dozing in the cool, crisp rainforest air and whiling away the time until their next assignment.

The weyrs on Vill are large, spacious caves that formed naturally under the main ridge of the island. Each is far larger than the weyrs we had as students at Dragonfeyll, and the weyrs for wingseconds and wingleaders are more spacious than those at the main Nightwing base. As new recruits, Flax and I had a cave with a high, vaulted ceiling and a ledge overhead that Flax slept on. Underneath there was plenty of space for my personal quarters and workspace, and a previous rider had taken the time to carve out a deep shelf in the cavern wall for storing map scrolls. Flax’s only complaint about Vill is that dragons cannot launch themselves from their weyrs as they can at Dragonfeyll or at the main base. Here on Vill, they must traverse the long tunnels that join each other in larger and larger caverns until they eventually open out on the north side of the main ridge. From this high ledge you can just glimpse the Karioth mainland across the water, and on a clear day in the winter you can see the coastal ridge capped with snow.

While life on Vill was like living in paradise, it wasn’t all relaxation. As recruits, Flax and I had six days of training flights in a row followed by two days of rest in a continuous cycle for our first three months with the Nightwing before we were allowed to join the wing for assignments. (In contrast, Kiersta and Balian had one month of Nightwing training before flying assignments—but keep in mind that we’re talking about Kiersta and Balian.) We usually started the day knowing the time of takeoff, but occasionally we would get a few minutes’ notice and be expected in the air—no matter if your dragon was across the island sunning himself into a stupor.

There are four favored launch sites off the island, though in emergencies I’ve seen dragons take off from the beach and even from the water. For the lazier dragons, two overlooks in the sandstone cliffs are broad enough for an entire wing to launch at once, allowing the riders to meet their warm, sunbathed dragons at the overlook instead of on the other side of the ridge. One of the guard lookouts over the bay also has a clearing large enough for a wing to take off five at a time. But by far the best takeoff on the island of Vill lies on the crest of the rocky ridge, where the rest of the island drops away from you, waves crashing far below. From here the surrounding waters reflect back the sunlight and Karioth shimmers through the sea spray off to the northeast. Thurn can be seen off to the north as well, blocking Flet from view, and Cilm rises lonely off to the east. The waters stretch out to the south, and even knowing the southern continents lie far across the sea cannot shatter the feeling that Vill stands as the last sentinel before this endless ocean.

Cilm

I don’t have much to say about Cilm. The small island played host to a handful of Intelligence Flight riders and dragons whenever they had a stopover with the Sea Division, but in recent years the weyrs were set aside for the solitary Phariel riders. It is composed of rocky terrain with minimal vegetation, although the large, spacious caves make for ideal convalescence following particularly difficult and taxing flights over the ocean. The weyrs on Cilm cannot support themselves; food and supplies are flown over from Vill or, in rare cases, from the mainland. Things are quiet on Cilm, and though I can’t imagine enjoying myself there, I can see the draw for those in need of solitude.

Thurn

Although the Nightwing base on Thurn is smaller than Vill’s, the island itself is nearly twice as large. However, Thurn was inhabited well before the Nightwing was established, and approximately half the island still supports a civilian population. In the past, Thurn was used primarily as a launching point for assignments on the coast of Karioth, but the base has expanded in recent years as the Nightwing’s sea operations have broadened, causing considerable tension with the civilians as we bargain for space and resources. Flax and I have been stationed at Thurn since the Treaty of Abrey, and spent two winters here in our early years before I became a wingsecond.

Thurn lies north of Vill, across a deep underwater canyon that runs from the Karioth coast to the edge of the continental shelf that drops into the ocean. Like Vill, the side of Thurn facing the open sea is battered by storms; it remained sparsely inhabited until the Nightwing looked to establish a base on the island. The landscape is largely composed of sharp drop-offs and exposed rocky cliffs, making them difficult to build and settle on. However, the Nightwing found tunnels in the exposed surface that lead into natural caves under the mountains, and many similar tunnels were discovered beneath overhanging waterfalls elsewhere on the island. Though less spacious than the cave weyrs on Vill or even Cilm and Flet, the expansive network of caves under the surface of Thurn have supported the Nightwing riders and dragons, even through the recent expansion of the base. Then again, I could be blind to crowding, considering Flax and I haven’t had a non-wingleader’s weyr on Thurn since before the expansion.

The island supports a thick rainforest and much of the same flora and fauna as Vill and Flet. From above, Thurn appears round and featureless, but upon closer inspection, the rainforest is precariously perched over an island cut by small inlets and high-walled canyons. The sharp drop-offs make it easy for dragons to take off anywhere along the island’s coast, and a number of open clearings in the rainforest along the rivers also serve the dragons well for a rapid takeoff.

The civilian heritage on the island wraps all of Thurn in a rich history. Much of the eastern side of the island is carved out for towns and harbors or cultivated for growing crops, but long ago colonization extended over more of the island. I cannot recall how often Flax and I encountered abandoned settlements scattered across the island: old houses built directly into the canyon walls, whole villages right along the water at the base of the sheer cliffs, and wide trails that were once roads, now leading to nowhere. Plink is Thurn’s large harbor town on the eastern side of the island, its docks crowded in a small sheltered bay while the rest of the village is built into the slopes that rise above it. Plink makes steady trade with the mainland, selling a small amount of iron ore and lumber from the Karioth islands, but largely serving as a resting point for ships on a longer voyage.

Trade with the Nightwing base bolstered the growth of Plink, but as the Nightwing sought to expand in the past few years, we met resistance to the increased presence of dragons and riders depleting the island’s resources. Eventually we reached a tense agreement with the people of Thurn, and the Nightwing limited the planned expansion of our base here as a result. I suspect that my wing and I have been stationed on Thurn because I’ve had favorable dealings with many of the town leaders; I’m not a controversial wingleader to have here, compared to those who participated in the expansion negotiations. It annoys me that politics must come into consideration, and at times I wonder if Flax and I could be better serving the Nightwing from one of the other bases. But at the same time I have come to appreciate and enjoy the balance between the Nightwing and the outside world that we have here on Thurn.

Flet

Flet holds a special place in memory. Compared to Vill or Thurn, Flet itself is a small, unremarkable island. Most of its terrain is similar to the other Karioth islands, but its main distinguishing features are the waterfall caves on the north side of the island. The entrances are right down at sea level, with the ocean running through most of these caves and covering the entrances to some at high tide. Large openings punctuate the volcanic rock of the ceiling and let in sunlight and streams of clear water. Deep inside these caves, all the way in where even at the highest tide of the year the water does not reach, the weyrs of Flet are carved into the rock. Some have other entrances that open up to clear skies, but most can only be accessed by navigating the waterfall caves.

Flax and I were stationed on Flet during the Eathe Conflict, while I was still a wingsecond under Reyna. We learned to love these damp, dark caves, and over time we could navigate the outer labyrinth even in the pitch black of night. The entrances of the weyrs are marked by galflares, vials of sea water and the tiny galae creatures that glow when fed. No other place on Kethadros is so wet yet inhabited to require the use of galflares, and the gentle light they emit became a comforting symbol of home after the terrible battles over Eathe.

But I remember Flet for a different reason. I met Lelia one early morning on the highest peak on Flet, both of us watching our dragons stretch their wings in the fog. Flax quickly showed that he could easily outstrip Lelia’s golden dragon Rhann in sheer speed, but true to her training with the Intelligence Flight, Rhann could disappear in the blink of an eye. I can still see that incredible sight—the two dragons chasing and spiraling around each other over the endless expanse of clear blue water as the rising sun burnt away the fog. For our part, Lelia and I bonded over our respective experiences training under Millin at Dragonfeyll, eventually walking and wandering the narrow trails through the rainforest until we found our way back to the outer entrance of the caves. The following days and months of exploring and flying brought the four of us close together despite the ongoing war, and as a result, I know Flet far better than any other place on Kethadros.

When the peace negotiations finally resolved the fighting in Eathe, my wing was moved back to Vill while Lelia and Rhann returned to the main Nightwing base on the mainland. Yet our paths have crossed often, and even if just for a fleeting moment, we share a smile remembering our time on Flet.


Reference photos:

27 Hours in LA

[cross-blogged on Kethadros with photos!]

2/13/12 2:30pm
Scanning people at SJC. Sweaty faces. Hurried footsteps. The man ahead of me in the security line is frantically taking off his belt. There is no security line–and that’s messing us up. No time to extract the one quart ziplocks of three ounce liquids from the rest of the luggage. No time to down that last gulp of water in the bottle. I’m stumbling over my shoes with one hand still trying to shove my ID back into my wallet–thankful, really, that belt-man is holding up the line.

I don’t scan for AEDs at SJC anymore. I already know where they are–a kind of learned instinct, I suppose. Instead I scan faces, make judgements. I’ll bet your cholesterol is high, man in the business suit whose tie is feeling a little too snug. You’re looking a little red in the face and I’m sure you’re a very important international businessman running late for your international business meeting, but don’t you worry, sir, I’m an EMT and I’ll be there in a flash if you start feeling weak and clutch at your chest and just so you know there’s an AED not 200 feet behind me and another coming up ahead. Don’t you worry, sir.

5:40pm
Rattling down highway 405 in a Flyaway shuttle. The scenery bounces past for this mile or so stretch without traffic. I can barely focus my eyes on my iPhone screen, much less hit the right keys as I text my parents that I’ve arrived. Thank God for autocorrect. The shuttle rattles so much that the emergency exit window beside me is almost falling off, a thin sliver of cement highway pulsating between the black rubber linings with each bump in the road.

The hapless driver charges forth, spearing the tank of airport shuttle through openings in traffic. I would trust his experience except he already left the shuttle doors open while trundling around the terminals, oblivious until another Flyaway driver yelled, “DOOR!” as we drove past. He’s listening to something unintelligible on the radio, quietly buzzing beside him as we rattle on down the highway. The rattling sporadically connects the audio to the rest of the shuttle and blasts R&B in neurotic spurts, long enough for me to feel the soul of the singer pouring out but too short to even make out the words.

11:05pm
Lying on my friend’s futon in the dark. The interview’s still nine hours away and I can’t think about anything else, much less sleep. I tell myself to breathe, slow it down, feel the calm creep into my bones. But it’s too early, too early for sleep to set in, even if I do need to be up at seven. I lie there and listen to the sounds of others moving around. Showering. Brushing teeth. Switching off lights. Rolling over in bed. To them it’s another night at home, another night before work or class, another night to fall asleep in.

There’s a strangeness in sleeping in someone else’s home, no matter how wonderfully gracious the host. It’s their home, not yours. I stare at the lighted porch outside, trying to summon parallels to make this place feel familiar. That light is the glow of the street lamp outside my senior year dorm room, I tell myself. It’s that soft glow on the ceiling.

When that doesn’t work, I lie there with my eyes closed, imagining best friends and calming presences in the rooms next door. What makes places feel like home? You carry the voices of the people you trust inside yourself. Let them permeate this unfamiliar space until the strangeness is gone.

2/14/12 7:40am
Making snap judgements of fellow candidates in the admissions office. Not so much judging as seeking guidance and comfort from our similarities. Girls with purses. I need a purse like that. Leather-bound portfolios. Just like mine. Mismatched pinstripe blazer and plain black slacks. I guess you pulled that off. Minimal makeup. Good, I didn’t under do it.

Chit chat fills our time as we wait for the bus to take us elsewhere. I’m not the quietest one like I would have been a few years ago. But I’m not the loudest one either, crowding the conversation with my voice out of nerves or affable personality. I’m calm. I leave the free coffee untouched.

12:15pm
Touring the campus behind three first year students. One guide in skinny jeans and sweatshirt branded with school pride. One guide in scrubs. One guide in his white coat and slacks, Skullcandy backpack, a pink collared shirt, and sunglasses settled jauntily on the top of his head. It’s this last one that amuses me–he wasn’t assigned to lead the tour, just hopped on like he owned the thing. He smacks on his gum while dispensing advice in his SoCal rhythm–so extroverted, so confident, so likable. One of the others reveals he was an English major who wrote for MTV before matriculating. And glancing at him again, this makes perfect sense.

He went out and purposely bought that pink shirt this morning, he tells us. Just for Valentine’s Day.

3:55pm
Sitting in a French bakery-café, watching all the dutiful boys go by with bouquets from the flower shop next door. They’re sweet arrangements, pink and white and red. Roses interspersed with baby’s breath, all wrapped up in tissue and cellophane.

You can tell which ones are headed for the flower shop by their walk. Head down, purposeful. Checking the street signs to make sure they’re going the right way. Even from across the street, watching them waiting at the crosswalk, I can spot these dutiful boyfriends and husbands fidgeting. Some worried–they forgot to order ahead. They remembered everything else–dry-cleaned the suit, made dinner reservations, bought her the perfect necklace. But some, they forgot it was Valentine’s Day until they got to work and every woman in the office was cooing over bouquets or chocolates or balloons or neon pink pieces of construction paper cut into hearts. These guys would never admit their fault–what man would? Besides, it’s the thought that counts and less is more and all those other clichées that are overused but so, so true.

I watch them parade past, calmed by the bouquet in hand, and for the first time in a while, I don’t loathe Valentine’s Day. It’s adorable, watching them file past this café window. Call it over-marketed, call it a corporate construct, call it a day to make us single people feel inadequate. But damn it’s cute to see so many romantic gestures synchronized to the same sunny afternoon in Westwood.

5:25pm
One last photo of a muggy LA sunset snapped through the window of the Flyaway heading back to LAX. Goodbye LA. Perhaps I’ll see you again soon.

Victoria

(A/N: when did I write this!? Like seriously? This version still doesn’t work the way I want it to for this story, but it’s something, I suppose.)

I suppose Vicky has always been my favorite child. A father never really lets go of the love for his firstborn, even if she does end up being the black sheep in the family. She just reminds me so much of her mother, always thinking with her heart first. And like her mother, she never quite took to photography like the other two did. As a child, she suffered through many lessons on camera mechanics and composition and lighting before I finally let it go and moved on to Lewis. But she’s still my favorite child.

I’ve never seen her so at home as she is in the kitchen. I realize this as I watch her calmly flaming a crème brulée behind the counter at her restaurant. This is the first time I’ve made it out to San Francisco since she finished culinary school, but not the first time she’s cooked for me. We had a prime rib roast this past Christmas dinner that was so delicious that Melanie literally started drooling when I mentioned it at New Year’s. Even in our kitchen at home, Vicky looks so at ease—calm, precise, measured. No hint of the sorority girl I worried about while she was in college. I’m not sure what changed, but I suspect it was meeting Nick, then a first year medical student, now her husband. He’s a sensible fellow, just the kind of man you’d like your favorite daughter to marry.

Vicky deftly wipes a drop of raspberry sauce from the clean white border of the dessert plate and slides it onto the counter in front of me. “For your sweet tooth,” she tells me, winking with a hint of sass. I think back to countless midnight ice cream dates in the kitchen at home—plenty of bad grades and secret boyfriends were confessed over a pint of Cherry Garcia. She switched me to sugar-free sorbet when the doctor started worrying about my weight (he tells me to stay off my bad knee then worries when I gain weight, go figure), but we still have our secret meetings in the kitchen at night. There’s less confessing now and more worrying. She worries about the restaurant, about starting a family, and occasionally about Melanie. Watching her move through these stages of life, to see her become the capable adult I knew she would be, sends me back through my own experiences and my own worries when I was her age. It will always be this way, but how much more wisdom do I have left to impart?

I pick up my spoon and crack the caramel top. It looks exactly as delectable as the framed review in the front window—the near cylinder of custard sitting on a crisscross of raspberry and chocolate drizzle with a mint leaf and a raspberry settled artistically in the corner. Maybe those lessons on composition did leave an impression after all. And Nick tells me that Vicky started taking photos of the food for the restaurant’s website. They could have hired someone, but apparently she shrugged, picked up a camera, and poof—just like that, they had excellent photos for the website. What can I say, it’s in her genes. It might’ve taken her a little longer than the other two, but she came around. Even so, I know as I watch her add a dash of seasoning to a pan of mussels that she’d never leave the kitchen. Photography will always be just a hobby for her, never the life it was for me.

To Hunter, wherever he may be

The night is cold without you here
The frost has covered the porch
My neighbors ask
Why stand out there?
But I don’t feel the chill
Wrapped up in fleece, plus a hat
Numb toes nestled in the grass

If I had been the howling type
I’d have raised my head and bayed
Baying and singing till the moon fell down
Here in my arms to light your way

That must be why you haven’t been back
I’m not the howling type
(Though if I were, I highly doubt
You’d have liked me much like that)

I searched for you
You know
My dear
I solved the riddles you left behind
And I cleaned the clutter in the attic
Slew the demons that hid our smiles

They’re saying that our rent is due
They’re saying I should go
Perhaps they’re right, I can’t go on living
In this lonely too large for one home

But one day
Some day
I’ll wake up to bacon
And you standing on a kitchen stool
Flailing a dish towel at the smoke detector
And chasing bacon fumes

Or maybe I’ll come home from work
To your keys already on the counter
You whacking the DVD player
Again and again
Until it relinquishes Firefly, disc two

I haven’t moved your things quite yet
(Except those attic ghouls)
Your shoes still where you left them
Your yesterday’s pants crumpled on the floor
I think perhaps you embarked stark naked
Just headed out into the dark

You must be cold
Out there and bare
I hung your coat just by the door
A kettle on the stove each night
Some tea to keep you warm

So come back soon
My sweet
My prayer
The rent’s been paid through March
Come burrow deep inside the bed
So I may find you there