Author’s Note: This was written live on stream, with the tone being determined by the numbers under minesweeper tiles. The audience could bid tokens earned in stream to reveal random tiles. A mine hit results in the death of all characters, unless they are temporarily saved by a lump sum of tokens. If characters make it to the end of the stream, they survive to be seen another day. Join us at twitch.tv/blainearcade if you wish to participate.
1-peace 2-alert 3-maintain 4-escalation 5-action 6-tragedy
A world lies in ruin, its debris drifting on a bottomless sea. Its remaining people, from all places and periods, have one chance of survival. One world will take them, but they must make the journey on their own. Between the two lies the minefield: a vast varied expanse of debris both magical and scientific. Salvation is on the other side.
Three figures emerge from the fog of their sputtering world: Vig the librarian, Crispy the burnt, and Joalette the quiet. They see the minefield before them, knowing little, and walk forward.
The trio of refugees made it deep into the minefield on their first day. They knew not what dangers lurked about, or if there were dangers at all. Vig the librarian was convinced there were plenty. Every step for him was merely a test before he actually put his weight into it. He was a young man with the worry lines of someone much older, and he spent much of the time gripping the sides of his golden glowing headband.
Joalette was curious, but up until now she’d only shrugged at their questions. It wasn’t time for words yet. Crispy simply waited for either the librarian, or something else, to explode. Something always did.
“Boom!” Crispy shouted. He got exactly the reaction he wanted out of Vig, who jumped and yelped. He whirled around and stared. Neither of them wanted to talk to Crispy. It was clear he wasn’t quite human. Perhaps he started that way, but after living at the edge of a thousand explosions over the years, his humanity had been stripped away. His face was like a firework in the exact moment of detonation. His hair was ash, his fingernails blackened, and his clothes barely hung on his body.
“Why did you do that?” Vig seethed. He nervously ran his fingers along his band. Joalette saw golden words circling his iris while he did it, but said nothing. She simply moved to the shadow of some sort of beached vessel rising out of the mire, sat down, and waited for their argument to finish. She had memories to keep her busy until the peace returned.
“You don’t know!” Vig shouted at the humanoid cinder. “I forgive you, because you didn’t know. I’ve brought with me ten thousand volumes from our world, saved from the data banks as the great library sunk into the destruction. Saved in here.” He tapped the band, which also caused the skin around it to move some. “If you threaten me, you threaten all that knowledge, all that art. Your favorite work might be in here.”
“My favorite work is the next thing I see that glows,” Crispy said plainly. Already bored with antagonizing someone so absurdly easy, he instead ambled over to Joalette and sat down. A metal pin on the back of his shirt squealed across the vessel’s corroded hull as he slid to her height. He stared at her, but she did not reciprocate, lost as she was in a memory of ducks arguing over a crust of green bread. It was difficult to maintain the memory, because she knew there was no water left in their world, none still enough anyway, to let ducks move in peace.
“What are you dreaming about little lady?” Crispy asked her. A direct question. They were no longer overwhelmed by the strangeness of the minefield. She would have to answer. Both of them were looking at her now. Clouds passed over them, granting a moment of shade, shade they hadn’t known they wanted because of the absence of a sun in the gray sky. The clouds seemed to make up for its absence with their goldenrod color.
“Just what we left behind,” she said as quietly as possible. She did it. They didn’t hear the hitch in her voice. Like Vig she carried something with her, but unlike him she hoped nobody in the new world would ever have to see it.
“We didn’t leave it behind,” Vig said, hurt sounding deep in his chest like a skull bouncing across a hollow log. “Something destroyed it.” He looked at the other two, expecting a snide remark, or perhaps a belch of flame, from Crispy, but he too was saddened at the memories.
Crispy stood, leaving a black bubbled patch on the metal where he’d leaned. He looked at Joalette. He couldn’t offer her a hand and help her up without burning her. He couldn’t do anything without burning. If he made it through this place, would they even let him in? Would he have to force his way through? Be the one to destroy the world next time?
The goldenrod clouds moved. They seemed certain of their direction, so the refugees followed. They left the ship behind and continued on through the mire, the algae and muck growing deeper.
(Audience-Chosen) Mine! (Vig and Crispy saved by tokens)
Crispy stopped an hour later. The clouds still marched. He turned on Joalette and stared at her intensely. Vig shuffled off to one side. He was very good at sensing danger, but prone to confusing any tiny bug-buzzing of conflict with actual danger.
“Alright, now I know it’s you,” Crispy said, voice breaking in his dry throat.
“What?” Joalette asked, but she knew. Fine. It wasn’t meant to be. Without further argument she dropped to her knees and bowed her head, low enough to stain it green with the algae of the mire. Crispy’s mouth opened wide. He had fire from every time he’d encountered it. Small explosions had replaced his heartbeat half an age ago. He wasn’t a god, he was somewhere between trickster and natural disaster, but he knew there was no room for two. They might accept one at the gates of the new world, but not both…
Crispy shouted, issuing a jet of smoke and flame that overtook the kneeling girl. She was gone in a flash, replaced by a thing of green flames that tried to fight Crispy’s stream. Vig backed up even more. He felt the heat of her death and briefly wondered if it singed the corners of all the pages stored in his mind. The green thing, the demon of arcane fire, faded away under Crispy’s power.
“She was harboring that,” he explained to Vig when nothing was left but a blackened patch. “She probably didn’t have a choice. Those damn things need enclosed spaces, or they dissipate. Usually they live in urns, sucking on the ashes of your loved ones, but that one saw a shot at leaving a dead world. Don’t worry Viggy, I’m looking out for you.” Crispy winked at the librarian, a wink that threw a spark in his direction.
Eventually they encountered a new traveler happy to join them in their efforts to cross. She was a large creature, something between a muskox and a hippo, and she had a few human words to share. They included her name: Pudda. Pudda had a mighty metal saddle from her old rider, and it was thick enough that Crispy could sit on it without burning the friendly beast. Vig climbed the fur on her side as well and they continued on. They said nothing of Joalette.
Eventually the mire took on a friendlier air. Trees showed themselves and proved to the refugees that trees could exist in the minefield. Pudda didn’t even need to stop to feed. Their fruit was extremely heavy, causing the trees to bend in the middle, just about to the height of her fleshy lips and blunt tusks.
Crispy snagged one as well: a giant thing of gray rind but beautiful red flesh like a watermelon with freckles. Vig insisted he wouldn’t touch anything raw, no matter how sweet it looked, so Crispy scooped some out and let it dry in his hand until there wasn’t a trace of juice left. He tossed it to Vig, who had to toss it back and forth a few times himself thanks to its heat. The librarian ate quietly and chewed thoroughly. He knew it would’ve been better fresh.
“What’s your favorite one?” Crispy asked.
“Favorite?” Pudda mumbled, thinking she was automatically included in the conversation. Her old rider was always talking to her, until he couldn’t say anything at all with that arrow splitting his Adam’s apple.
“Not you beasty,” Crispy said gently enough, “reading glasses back there.”
“Favorite what?” Vig asked.
“You’ve got all those books. You must have a favorite.”
“Well… I… I didn’t save my favorite,” he admitted. “It wasn’t important enough, just some kid’s book. It didn’t even rise to the level of fairy tales. They were stories about things barely alive, things that could only hold one positive emotion at a time: mercy, bravery, that sort of thing… It didn’t even have conflict really.” Crispy tossed him another piece of fruit jerky.
“Maybe there’s no conflict where we’re going,” Crispy mused. “Aside from what I’m bringing. I’ve got a lot of heat for them, if they can take it. What about you Pudda? You got a fire inside you?”
“I eat fruit. No fire,” Pudda said. She blew her thick furry bangs out of her eyes, and they dropped right in front of them again.
The trees grew thicker, as did the goldenrod clouds. Night came. They had the sense that night came whenever it wanted to in the minefield, since the rhythm of sun and moon was gone. They had no idea how long it would last, so they found a shady spot next to a pond and settled down for some sleep.
Pudda’s flank was quite comfortable to lean against, and she fell into snoring almost immediately, but Vig couldn’t sleep. It was Crispy’s fault; he glowed like a campfire in the darkness. The goldenrod clouds kept some light as well as fool’s gold sparkles. He didn’t dare voice his annoyance with a sigh. Crispy could just break out those fires once more if Vig became too irritating.
There was one way to get some sleep. Vig fiddled with his book-band and found the most arduous text in history:The Taxes of the Low-Kings of the Nearly-Forgotten Valley. He dove deep into it, reading five pages as quickly as he could. To Crispy, even if he’d been paying attention instead of following drunken blinking fireflies, it would’ve just looked like more words in Vig’s eyes.
Deep into the footnotes of a failed monarchy’s taxation system, Vig finally sank into the darkness of sleep. There was no room for dreams, because he’d filled that space with old tomes. When the fireflies went out, Crispy stared at the sleeping man’s face. Sleep was so strange to the half-energy being. He watched a tear roll down Vig’s cheek. The fool should’ve saved that book with all the tiny creatures. They could’ve brought him some simple happiness.
Vig woke some time later, his body tossed over the top of Pudda’s saddle. A rope of his drool hung off and wobbled with her movement. He shook the last of the sleep away and righted himself in the saddle. Apparently Crispy had just thrown him up there as soon as it was light. They couldn’t call it day. Vig wanted to call it something, but there was a more pressing matter.
Crispy was tapping the librarian’s head with a blackened twig. Once the man was roused he stopped and pointed up into the sky. The goldenrod clouds had cleared, in a perfect path, to make way for a stupendous flying thing. Pudda walked in its shadow, uncaring, as her riders stared up and tried to classify the thing.
Vig had something to reference at least; there were some very similar pictures in one of his mythology texts. Its form snaked across the sky, making sounds like a giant broom across the surface of the sea. It had green and blue scales, an egg-shaped head with a mouth full of blunted teeth, and it carried giant wooden boxes in each of its four clawed hands. They couldn’t be sure, but they thought they saw tiny hair-like projections sticking out of the sides of the boxes, waving at the folks below.
“I think I know what that is,” Vig finally offered when they were near its tail shadow. “It’s a freight dragon. I thought they were just legends. If they weren’t… then that thing’s a slave. If it wasn’t, it would be killing them.”
“Killing who?” Crispy asked, not particularly concerned. He could’ve told Vig dragons were real; he’d spent about a week lodged in the back of one’s throat.
“Those passengers. That’s what they are.” The hairs were indeed hands, waving at them, wishing them luck in their much slower, much more dangerous, journey to the other side.
“I’m good,” Pudda said.
“What?” Crispy asked. He leaned over the side and looked at her fur-covered face. “What are you saying?”
“I’m good. As good as that.” She jerked her head upward. Pudda was giving them a ride. They could at least pretend to be as interested in her. She had stories to tell, even if she could only tell them phrase by phrase and she sometimes confused the facts with her random thoughts. Whatever the case, the dragon was hardly better, just bigger. She could get bigger too; they just needed to find more fruit.
The tail of the shadow passed by. This upset Pudda. Yes, the dragon could fly, but she could move just as fast. She picked up speed, flat stone-toed feet pounding across the dry grass. Vig was nearly shaken off the saddle. In his fumbling he accidentally activated its safety measures. Seat belts, only smart enough to find the riders, emerged and tied Crispy and Vig down. The black straps tightened, securing them but forcing most of the air out of their lungs.
The dragon pulled ahead. The people had stopped waving, stopped caring. Pudda saw this as an advantage. If she cared more she could beat them to the other side. She picked up speed again, barreling straight through any of the wispy trees in her way, sending showers of splinters tinkling across the saddle.
Pudda’s form thinned as she ran, becoming more muscular and more rabbit-like. She could run herself out of existence if nothing stopped her, using up all her fat, muscle, and then bone. Luckily for her, Crispy burned his way through the safety belts and flipped back to his knees.
He crouched forward, holding himself steady with one of her giant earlobes and burning the sensitive skin with his other hand. He branded her, and then his fist went straight through her ear. Only then, when the pain finally reached her slow mind, did she stop. Pudda collapse onto her side, breathing heavily and whimpering.
“Well I had to stop you somehow,” Crispy said. He spat a bubbling wad of phlegm in her direction as he hopped off and paced about, putting a lid on his fury.
“Mmmfmmf!” Vig cried out. He was still strapped to the saddle, feet kicking a few inches off the ground. Crispy walked over and flicked a finger under one of the belts, burning it away from the librarian’s lips. “Well that was just great!”
“She was going to run herself to death,” Crispy defended. He burned through the grass as he paced, his heavy footfalls the only things keeping the fire from spreading.
“We might’ve caught up,” Vig argued. “They could’ve dropped a line for us. All this madness upon the ground… I haven’t seen any in the air. We’d be safer up there.”
“You just saw some in the air you retardant! There it goes! You don’t need safety anyway. You need someone like me.”
“Someone like you!?” Vig shouted. He tried to wriggle free of the other belts, but couldn’t. “Pudda, stand up. Bring me over to him.” She did not obey; she was too busy recovering from the exertion. “Pudda!”
“Leave the dumb animal be!” Crispy ordered. His sideburns blazed. He burned a deeper line as he paced. This was why he never had friends before. This was why all his family was ash. A new world could mean a new start for a human, but a hot coal like him? Maybe not. Perhaps he should roast them both and get on with it, declaring that you could come close if you wanted to, but you would get burned.
“I don’t need someone like you,” Vig insisted. “You’re destruction. You’re the sort of thing that took our world down in the first place!”
“I’m nothing like that,” Crispy said. “I was of our world, every bit as much as you. I was there longer. You’re an insect. A book louse. And you’re worried about me sticking a finger in your ear and burning that history away? You should be worrying about things like that.” He pointed at the dragon as it shrank to the size of a worm in the distant sky.
“Why would I worry about that? That was salvation!” Vig insisted. Pudda finally stood, but she meandered away. Vig was now upside down, facing away from Crispy. “Where are you going you blasted beast!”
“Water,” Pudda said. She needed to drink to replenish her energy, and to cool her burned ear. She didn’t know if there was any nearby, but she couldn’t find it by standing still. Crispy followed closely behind, mulling the bed of coals that was his mind. She wasn’t mad at him. She was beast; it was just nature that she be treated that way. She had more than a dozen brands under her fur all over her body. The fur had come back. She would endure.
They found a pond. Pudda waded deep into it, soaking her head and her legs. Vig would have drowned if Cripsy hadn’t deigned to free him with a few more heated pokes. The drenched librarian waded back to the shore and threw himself into the grassy mud. He wanted to see that dragon in the sky once more, but it was just those goldenrod banks, drifting in the same direction they always drifted. He breathed.
A human, a real human, would’ve sat down next to him and relaxed, but Crispy didn’t even pretend. He probably didn’t sleep at all. Vig wondered if the fiery being had watched him sleep the entire time, like napping next to a candle that might jump into your hair.
(Audience-Chosen) Mine! (Pudda saved by tokens)
Crispy waited for the lousy human to rise. They needed to move. He sensed all sorts of things in the minefield, things waiting to explode and tear them apart and then out of reality. He could’ve grown to like these two them if they’d just let him do everything according to his tiniest whims. Even if he didn’t, they would be useful cover. Anyone on the other side, anyone with authority, would think he was a cooperative sort because he had a team, or a family, or whatever the people who crossed together were.
Oh well. Crispy walked up to the lounging Vig, who muttered to himself, quotes from texts older than his line. Crispy drove a fiery foot into the man’s chest. His body instantly caught. The headband exploded, killing all the books he carried a moment later. Crispy watched them go with a small smile.
It inspired him. He’d exploded before, but alwasys reformed. He didn’t think he could do that in the minefield, away from his true world, but caution was to be thrown to the wind, along with his heat, his shrapnel, his smoke, and his life. He couldn’t be what he was if he didn’t make rash decisions.
Pudda watched, mildly befuddled, as Crispy blew himself up. Both bodies eventually made their way to ash, ash that could never escape the minefield. Pudda missed having a rider, even if they burned her. Once she’d had her fill of the water she followed the clouds.
Pudda was stoic in her efforts, moving and sleeping in regular intervals. She plowed through dangers, unwilling to give them the right of way, and eventually, across warped land and time, across the residue of her world leaking over the icy surface of reality, she found sanctuary on the other side.
Minefield Traversed! Pudda is saved! She will return someday, at some point, in a grand scheme of grand things. There are more who must cross, more stories to tell, more stories to destroy in a bitter conflagration.