The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon
Chapter One, Part One
It was an excruciating sensation, being pulled back together. She could not fully remember being taken apart in the first place, but had the distinct impression that reforming was more painful, not unlike trying to shove your fist into a bottle of rum with the top smashed off.
She grew dimly aware the process was coming to an end when she heard herself screaming out loud, instead of only in her head. Then her face hit the deck.
The Narwhal, she realised, sending a fragment of a prayer to her family’s patron spirits, comforted by the familiar feel of the heel-polished deck currently supporting her cheek. She was still on board her ship, the Melodious Narwhal.
Gasping for air, still reeling from the pain spasming through her body like a stomach’s aftershocks after a particularly painful vomiting session, Min looked around. The familiar sight was a balm to her current agony.
From her position flat on the deck, the Melodious Narwhal appeared to be intact. Perhaps it too had been torn apart and reassembled, but if so, her beautiful skyship had been reformed just as thoroughly as Min had been. The Narwhal’s trio of masts still rose above her, the sails attached to each still unfurled, unblemished. At the stern, the wheel called to her, asking her to grab it again and take control.
However, between Min and control of the Narwhal lay chaos. Chaos in the form of her crew.
It was immediately obvious to Min that her crew had gone through the same experience she had. Those she could see were rolling about on the deck, screaming shamelessly, having similarly lost control of their senses.
By the many hells, it’ll be hard to get them back in line after something like this.
Min paused, the pain ebbing, her eyes focussed on one of the seamen whose incoherent screams were becoming more intelligible by the moment as he called for his mother in his hour of need. Min, however, was casting her mind to the seconds before she and her crew were pulled apart.
Her mind would not travel back that far.
What had happened? How in Gorya’s frigid hell had they gotten into this state?
With a grunt of effort, Min grabbed the Narwhal’s railing and did her best to pull herself to her feet. Like a puppet with most of its strings cut, she only managed to get to her knees, but it was enough to peer over the side and get a look at where they were.
They were no longer sailing in New Windward waters.
Whatever had happened to the Melodious Narwhal, it had resulted in them being taken somewhere… else.
It appeared to be nighttime; the sky was almost, but not quite, black, and a plethora of stars glinted above. However, the world about Min – the deck of the Narwhal, the other crew members, even her own hands when she held them up to inspect – was suffused by a dull purple glow.
Where was it coming from?
Steadying herself, still recovering from her displacement, Min struggled to locate the light source. Try as she might, she could not glimpse any land beneath them, only an empty near-blackness.
“Where are we, Captain?” groaned Kanika, one of the apprentice seamen who was struggling to regain control of herself nearby. “Master Aarav’s nuts, I can’t even remember what happened.”
Min pursed her lips. “Seems to be going around.”
So, she was not the only one to have lost memories. Interesting. This felt less like a natural phenomenon and more like an attack of some kind. Still, Min had never heard of any pirate crew with enough magical strength to pull something like this off.
“She ain’t no captain.”
The grumble came from Sung, the Narwhal’s first mate and Kanika’s immediate superior. Unlike with Kanika, Min had yet to win Sung’s approval. Despite the fact that both their families hailed from Goryeoa – the only eastern island state to join the New Windward union – Sung clearly felt no affinity towards Min, bad-mouthing her at every turn to the rest of the crew, especially those on the port watch, which Sung was in charge of. The rest of the differences between Min and Sung were clear enough as well. Sung was almost twice Min’s age, and her leathery face told the tales that often accompanied a life on the waves. The first mate kept her head clean-shaven, a popular choice for Goryeoan sailors who did not want to bother with managing their hair. Min had long ago cropped hers into a short, chin-length bob, which was persistently in disarray, never properly tended to, but she could not find it in her to remove her hair entirely.
“True,” Min admitted, forcing herself to stand up straight, to be the first among them to do so. She inhaled – bloody hell, that hurt – then raised her voice. “Listen up, men. Anyone here have any memory of what happened to us?”
She saw the seeds of fear start to properly germinate on many of their faces. Min might not be captain, but the Narwhal was hers. Best not to lose the crew now.
“Fine,” she said. There was no rocking motion, no gentle up and down of waves caressing the Narwhal. That meant they were in the air.
That was good.
“We’re aloft, where we’re safe. Let’s keep it that way.” She dusted an imagined speck of dust from her navy-blue admiral’s jacket, drawing attention to it and the ceremonial sabre she wore at her waist. These were the only visible trappings of her rank – Min wore regular tan shirt and trousers under the jacket – but they seemed enough to remind her crew of who was in charge. “Kanika, check the rigging, make sure it’s secure.”
The apprentice nodded, running off to her task, seeming thankful to have direction.
“Sung, get the rest of the men to work, get them to inspect their stations. Double – no, triple check everything. If we can’t remember what happened, we need to be sure nobody’s tampered with the Narwhal. And do a head count of your people. I want to know if anyone’s missing.”
Sung nodded, assessing and then agreeing with Min’s commands. “If you say so, First Officer,” the first mate drawled, wincing in pain as she moved away.
Arse. Even in such a situation, Sung took the time to remind Min of her contempt? You’d think she’d have better things to do.
Such as surviving.
“You there,” Min shouted, spotting another seaman raising from behind some nearby crates, his hands clutched to his head. “Go check on Jedda. If we’re in the air, that means we need her to keep things running. I want to make sure she’s okay.”
The seaman – sweat glistening on his dark skin – nodded, his mouth open like a goldfish’s.
Then the Narwhal lurched.
Min froze, as did the rest of her crew.
What the bloody hell was that?
There was another lurch, and the Narwhal’s prow pitched forward. It was just a small movement, not a full nosedive, but it was enough to send anything not secured to the deck – including the crew – tumbling forward.
By the many hells, Jedda, what are you up to?
“I’m on it!” Min shouted, struggling to stay upright, scrambling to get below deck. “I’m heading to the belly. The rest of you, tie down anything that isn’t already. And try not to die!”
As she entered the main hatch, she heard the mumbled mantra of, “Yes, First Officer,” from a score of the older crew, as well as the younger ones who had learned to ape their superiors. She gritted her teeth against the insult.
First, she would save their lives. Then, she would show those ungrateful smart-arses why the powers that be had put her in charge in the first place.
First Officer Choi Minjung, known more commonly as Min, is the commanding officer aboard the Melodious Narwhal, a skyship that finds itself stranded in a very unusual new world…
Here’s what Benedict himself had to say:
I take immense pride in releasing these words upon the world; in creating the Darkstar Dimension, and the characters and beings that populated it, my focus the entire time was in the F word.
I’m talking about Fun. Get your minds out of the gutter, yeesh.
I was hot off of reading Nick Eames’ Kings of the Wyld, and my mind was reeling - I had forgotten how much fun fantasy could be, if it was allowed to. Yes, in my Yarnsworld stories I have somewhere I can sow dread, where I can weave folklorish tales to foster delight and despair.
But I wanted somewhere to let my increasingly-non-existent hair down.
That place is the Darkstar Dimension.
Inspired by the madcap antics present in Saturday cartoons such as DuckTales, or the best Fantastic Four comics, I present you with my new favourite place to hang out.
I hope you enjoy discovering it as much as I did.
The story continues tomorrow over at The Fantasy Hive – check out the Darkstar Dragon launch page to keep track of the next story and character reveals.