5. Friends and Foes — Beyond the Edge of the World

My stay in the village went surprisingly well. The smith was nice enough to take in my machine, he maybe couldn’t repair it himself, but if someone had the tools necessary, it’d be him. It was however also noticeable that a lot of the niceness from the villagers didn’t come from the bottom of their heart, but rather always with an unspoken wish for something to happen in return. I tried to explain how our lives went up there, that I had been working in a factory and that a lot of people went jobless thanks to the industrialization, but all they heard was that we made ourselves an easy life. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, and the flying machine was my only ticket back home.

Thankfully, the smith was a good man. His name was Ralph. He inspected the wrecked legs of the machine and started working on new legs. I realized only now what the villagers meant by lazy. I had forged my fair share of custom tools in the factory, from the smallest springs to the biggest wrench, but I always had access to the never-ending power of steam. Ralph had his right arm. Well, he also had his left arm, a hammer and an anvil, but all in all, if he wanted a piece of metal to be flat, he couldn’t just plop it into a steam hammer and wait for a couple seconds or minutes, he had to work it flat, by hand, and re-heat it often.

Because of this, I still was in the village, which was called Aucrary, a week later. Ralph had apprentices and journeymen himself, so my help wasn’t needed all too often, and in the evening, after doing some good deeds for other people, I mostly was trying to figure out how the flying machine actually worked. Ralph’s daughter, Lily, found this machine just as interesting as me, and luckily for me, who was able to get a crude drawing down every now and again, she was able to make some brilliant drawings of the things we inspected. Without her drawings, I would never have dared to disassemble the engine.

Ralph checked in every now and again, glad that we were making progress and possibly even more glad that his daughter was creating a copy of the machine.

One last problem remained though. Power. We quickly identified the location of the fuel tank, as there are only ever are two different stinking and nasty looking liquids that you’d take with you voluntarily. One is oil, to keep everything operating smoothly. One is fuel, and the liquid coal this machine was using made me glad that our coal would only stink after it was burned. We experimented a bit with it, and it turned out, it really liked to burn. Like, really liked it. To the point where you could pour it over a candle, and it would not only catch fire, but also burn so quickly that the fire was travelling up the stream, leaving you with a cup in your hand that a second ago was just stinking water, and now was a raging inferno. Naturally, you’d try to get rid of this cup as fast as you could, and so I did. I dropped the cup and jumped back, Lily did likewise, as did Ralph’s chickens. The burning stream made its way towards a nearby puddle, and instead of drowning out, it floated on top of the water.

If before the villagers had thought of me as some sort of semi-useless person helping them for semi-bothersome tasks, they now had seen me throwing around liquid fire.

— He’s the saviour, said one of them.
— No, I’m not! I just wanted to try some experiments with this liquid coal, I replied
— He can make coal to a liquid, said another.
— Can you turn lead to gold?, a third.
— Please, the tax collectors are bound to come any day now! Please give turn just one bit of gold so everyone of us will survive the winter.
— This spoon! Turn it into silver!

On and on the discussion went. The more I tried to explain that I wasn’t a god, the more angry the villagers became.

— He’s not a god! He’s a demon!, someone finally shouted. This was a sound explanation why I wouldn’t help them.
— I’m neither god nor demon! I’m just a regular human, I can’t help you more than you can help yourselves!
— To prove you’re not a demon, you’ll need to pass the trial of cleansing!
— The what now?
— You’ll have to dive across the lake without surfacing once, the man explained, — there hasn’t been anyone who ever passed it.
— It’s not a trial then, it’s just a death sentence!
— If you’re a demon, yes, but not if you’re a man!
— So why haven’t you completed it?
— I’m not a demon! I don’t need to do the trial!
— But I’m no demon either!

With demons, it’s always best to not take any risk. So the villagers ended up sending the one who was refusing to do the trial to the trial as well, though now careful to not argue about it anymore so they wouldn’t have to do it themselves. It now just was a fact that the two of us had to do the trial.

A few hours later, we arrived at the lake. It looked way bigger down here than it had looked from above, and it most definitely was impossible to swim across it in one go. Lily had hurried me to arrive way before the others and now was walking towards the shore.

— See these?, she asked
— It’s reed, isn’t it?
— We call them thatch. Look what you can do with them.

Lily cut one off, put one end into the water, the other into her mouth, aimed towards me, and squirted the contents at me.

— Hey!
Lily giggled. — I find it most fun to use this way, but they also work the other way. Letting you breathe under water.
— Man, that’s cheating this competition, is it not?
— It says get across without surfacing, and you’re not surfacing. Sounds fair game to me.
— If you say so.

Horses could be heard.

— I’ll make my way to the other side and wait for you there.
— Alright, bye then!

Shortly afterwards, I was waist-deep in the water, my opponent to my side. The smith, who also acted as head of the village, read out our charges and the rules of the trial. And indeed, not once did the word “straw” or “breathing device” fall.

And off we went. I lost my opponent quickly in the murky water and decided to turn right to basically walk underwater and keep near the shore as I wasn’t a good swimmer. The straw was working wonders, it certainly was easier to breathe through it than it sometimes was in the factory. I was roughly halfway over, judging by the sun’s position, when the water suddenly became cold and the shore made a turn. Of course, the river. I decided to swim on my back, careful to not actually surface, directly towards where I thought the goal to be.

Then, suddenly, something yanked away my straw. Was it a fish? Was it a bird? Was it my opponent? I didn’t know, but I did know that I now actually had to manage my breath. While I wasn’t a good swimmer, I had been good at sinking like a rock and harvesting mussels. As little kid, that is. Now, I could barely remember the techniques I used back then, so I just tried to stay calm and hope for the best.

The longer the dive went on, the faster my movements became. The goal couldn’t be this far away anymore! My lung was burning, my arms and legs were cramping up, until finally, I became relaxed again. So relaxed that I took a deep breath which filled my lungs with water. I looked at the sun, why wasn’t it over yet? The sun, instead of answering, disappeared and a shadow fell on me, grabbed me, and pulled me out.

When I woke up, I was laying on a rocky beach. The villagers surrounded me, but weren’t looking at me. Instead, they were discussing something.

— I say, let ’em drown in a puddle if they are too weak!
— No! He clearly made it over, it started waist-deep and ended waist-deep. Pulling him out was within the rules.
— The rules, the rules! Who came up with these rules anyway?
— I don’t know. It’s an ancient tradition that…
— It’s bollocks, that’s what it is. Demons! It’s impossible for a human to hold their breath for this long, it must be a demon who makes it!
— And a half demon who almost makes it!
— He’s no half-demon, he’s got no tail!
— Maybe he is an evil god?
— Do we have a trial for evil gods?
— No.
— How would we know he’s an evil god then?
— Let him dive across the lake and back!
— Yes! No god would be able to do that!
— No human would be able to do it either, it’s a shit trial, I finally interjected.
— Oh, you’re awake, Ralph said calmly and the discussion died. — We’re unsure what to do about you. You did master the trial at least halfway, so we won’t hang you. But you also didn’t master it fully, so you can’t stay either.
— So what do you think should happen to me?
— I think…, Ralph waited for an uncomfortably long time. — I think you should be banished.

A brief silence. Followed by unison agreeing mumbling. It wasn’t as fun as slaying a demon, but at least the problem was gone.

— Can I go back and take my machine with me?, I asked.
— No, you’re banished. You mustn’t enter Aucrary.

And just like that, all my hopes and dreams had died.

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4. The Way Down — Beyond the Edge of the World

We had looked around for days now. There were no stairs, other than in people’s basements, one of which had such a lovely view outside and was just the right size that we had declared it as our base. We had been in every house at least a dozen times now, and it still didn’t look like the people that lived here ever had wanted to go down. The farm boys in particular had bugged the captain now so often that they didn’t think there was anything to find here that the captain got mad and threatened them with throwing them down the cliff if they asked one more time. Because of this, I kept my mouth shut and went out to check something out I had spotted earlier: A machine.

It, too had been covered in roof tiles, with the the house it had been in being so close to the edge, one of the walls had fallen down. And it was this pattern that I thought would let any search for stairs end unsuccessfully: This city used to be on ground level on both sides, that’s why the way was leading to nothingness, that’s why the basements had a view, that’s why this wall was missing. So really, me finding a machine that could maybe lower our world back to the rest of it was way more useful. The machine had a bunch of levers and buttons, every one of which had been helpfully but oh so unhelpfully labelled in foreign squiggles, and stretched on to the sides for no reason. It really was mostly a tube with the machine in it, and then large metal sheets on the side of it, a tiny part of was able to flap around. But like tail-wagging doesn’t propel a dog, these flaps had very little chance of propelling…

— What are you doing?, the captain asked.
— Uuh, I found this machine, and…
— Does it look like stairs to you?
— No, but…
— Then get out of it and look for stairs again.
— … Aye captain.

I cleared more of the rubble and threw it over the edge until most of the floor, and most importantly, the area around the machine was rubble-free. I now could see it’s full shape, and indeed, it had wheels, so it was supposed to move. At the front, judging by the seat’s position anyway, there was a socket something should be screwed in. After searching around some more, during which time the captain thankfully checked back in and approvingly nodded when he saw me searching for definitely the stairs, I found something that looked like it’d fit there. A tiny windmill, with 3 instead of 4 blades for some reason, made out of an material that wasn’t quite wood but not quite metal either. I screwed it in and turned it, and the machine sprang to life. And how quickly it did! It didn’t lose any time to warm up the water to make steam, it didn’t even seem to heat up. All it did was exhaust a tiny smoke trail, which did stink, but was decidedly less sooty than any machines I had ever worked with. I got into the seat, maybe some of these buttons would now do something. Alerted by the noise, the rest of the crew came by.

— What is happening?, the captain asked.
— As I said earlier, I found this machine. I think it may have something to do with how to get down there.
— If this was a mechanical bird, I’d believe it could! But it doesn’t look like it can flap its wings!

I pushed the big lever in the middle. The windmill started to rotate faster, blowing a lot of air into my face. Some of the buttons lit up, some remained dark. Strange. One button was blinking yellow, demanding my attention. I pressed it just as the captain said “that’s a wind machine you have there, come down again”, and suddenly the machine jumped forwards. Before I realized what had happened, the wind from below the edge caught the wings and lifted the machine and me up, and away I was.

The wind blew so hard and so cold in my face that I sank into my seat for cover. Now I had rescued the astronomer only to jump down myself, and no net would save me. I turned around and saw my crew for another moment before another cloud coming from below covered them up. Astonishingly, I wasn’t falling straight down like I had thought previously, instead I was gently curving back to the cliff where I started from. Just a bit lower. Which, as I now realized, was a problem, because I was quite fast on this thing and did not want to experience any crashing into walls. I turned the steering wheel that was broken on top and bottom. And hooray, it now turned the other way. But now I was definitely steeply flying downwards.

The bad news, it was a long drop downwards and I was steadily accelerating and couldn’t really see. The good news, it was a long drop downwards, so it gave me plenty of time to figure out how to fall down slower. I first tried pulling back the stick that put the windmill in motion. The machine now was quieter, but it didn’t really help my fall. Then I tried pushing the pedals in the bottom. It did help in that it steered me sideways, so now I was parallel to the cliff, but I also was sideways, which caused me to almost fall out. I pushed on the broken steering wheel to secure myself, and strangely enough, it caused the machine to pull away from the cliff, and also made it go more straight.

Over the following minutes, I learned to control the thing and even became somewhat confident, as the machine suddenly went quiet. I was still in the air, but the windmill stopped turning. I decided to head towards the fields of the big city in Greenland, if there was any hope of landing without hitting a wall or tree, it would be there, and in the meantime looked for the engine hatch to see if I could fix anything before landing. The only hatch I could find revealed a pair of goggles. Fantastic, I thought, I could’ve used those much, much earlier. My sore eyes agreed.

I flew over the fields trying to find a good spot to land as I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s harvest. People stared at me in amazement, or so I hoped anyway, as I soared just a few dozen feet over their heads, gradually reducing speed while keeping flight level. I pitched up higher and higher and just as I was about to pitch forwards again to land on a fence-free piece of road, the flying machine decided to remove the flying bit from its name and smashed onto the ground.

I was stunned, but intact. Then I climbed out of the seat to observe the damage. The wheels and legs of the machine were badly damaged, but the rest seemed somewhat fine. And the windmill bit – which really should be called propeller, as it quite apparently was the thing making the flying machine go forwards – still wasn’t working. I tried spinning it again, but alas. Couldn’t have luck with it every time.

A stampede was coming my way. Horse rider, ox rider and foot folk came running by to see me and my machine. They obviously hadn’t seen one before, but then, I hadn’t either. They looked at me, but nobody seemed to want to speak the first word.

— Moin moin, I said to the crowd.
— Moin, they said back, apparently relieved. I was thankful that we had at least some common ground to go by.
— So, uh.. Where’s the next tavern? I’d like to stay over the night.
— We have a spare bed, said a woman in the back. She was speaking strangely, stressing syllables the wrong way round, pronouncing silent letters and swallowing letters that ought to be spoken. — You can stay with us.
— Thank you. Can you help me bring my flying machine to this place?
— Yes, of course, said the crowd.

On our way to the tavern, I got bombarded by questions. I tried answering all of them to the best of my ability, but it seemed to take no end. Nobody had heard of the Kingdom of Valand before, and as I pointed out it was up the big mountain, whispers started.

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3. The Edge — Beyond the Edge of the World

A few months later I was again working on a machine. I made sure it went round and round, because the entire kingdom was depending on me. Well, not quite. The kingdom itself was now depending on Johso, but the kingdoms goals were depending on this ship, the first steam-powered ship that ever had been built, and I was managing its engine. The king had agreed to my plan remarkably quickly, as if he just had been waiting for someone with any sort of plan that went further than desperation.

The rest of the ships crew were a very mixed bag. Some were indeed former farm workers that had been unemployed because of my machines. An astronomer was tasked with steering the ship. Most astoundingly, the captain was a fisherman who had sailed together with my granddad all those years ago. And while one farm worker looked like a coal miner and the astronomer like a farm worker, the captain looked like a captain had to look like: White beard, pipe, dark blue sailors cap, wrinkled face — yet always relaxed.

We had been sailing for just over 3 days when the captain screamed “MACHINE HALT”, followed by “ALL HANDS ON DECK”. I was last to come up, and almost fell back down the stair when I saw another ship in the distance. The captain knew the ship.

— Those are the remnants of my ship you can see there. You can see the fog starting closely behind it. We’re almost there.
— But didn’t you say the edge was weeks of sailing away?
— Of sailing against the wind, yes. We have the luxury of not having to care about the wind this time, we plowed right through it. We need to be careful now. Everyone with good eyes, go to the bow. Look for stones and anything flat. I want the machine on the lowest possible power. If we crash, I want people in the lower parts of the ship immediately to fix leaks. If there is a current sucking us beyond the edge, I want full power backwards. Be prepared. Understood?
— Aye, aye, Captain!

The machine now was so slow that I could have added power simply by pushing the paddling wheels. It was now more of a cat, hissing with steam than the roaring monster it had been before. We slowly approached the edge, or at least I hope we did, as I couldn’t see. Another “MACHINE HALT”. We had reached the wreck. The captain went on board and returned with a book. He didn’t say what it was, only wanted to move on, even slower than before. This time, I actually had to help the crank turn.

Suddenly, a tumult occurred on deck. I wasn’t sure what it was, but the command was “half power backwards”, followed by another “slow forwards”. As it turned out later, the crew had spotted regular pillars and archways on the sea floor. Pillars, that surely had ripped through the old wooden ship like a lance into a heart. But we were prepared, our steam ship was extra flat and also made of steel.

After another “MACHINE HALT”, we finally were as close to the edge as we could comfortably be. We tied the ship to the pillars and waded through the chest-deep water on the other side of the pillars. With every step I took, it became clearer: This was a path. It hadn’t always been flooded here. Remnants of houses appeared. Some of them full with amphorae, some empty, one was overflowing with plants which had survived all odds and were finally able to flourish after the roof had collapsed. Some of its offspring tried to repeat its success on neighbouring buildings, but if they managed to not get washed into the water by rainfall, they’d quickly die on the nutrient-free concrete.

The path now was up high enough to be dry, and the fog was getting thicker. A statue of someone appeared in the middle of the road. There was a helpful plate on the statue’s base, but it was unhelpfully written in foreign squiggles. With enough time, it might have been possible to decipher it, maybe get a copy to the intelligent archivists back home, but it’d probably just be just some king, his name, and a praise that he’d built this city or something.

We carried on. The astronomer shrieked as he stepped on a skeleton of a rat. If even those bastards didn’t make it, nobody else would be here. The fog was getting uncomfortably cold, the dankness penetrating our clothes. Just as the wind was picking back up, somehow from below, wheezing through the cracks of the ground, the astronomer shrieked again, but was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, the fog revealed its true form, rising to the sky and becoming a cloud. The path had found its end, and the astronomer had gone beyond it.

If I had been brave, I could have ran towards the edge and watch him fall down to his death. If I had been brave, I could have enjoyed the view that opened up for us. But I was not brave, and found myself assuming a backwards crab position, scurrying back to the statue. Nobody was brave. Nobody but the captain.

The captain ran towards the edge, shouted something, and then hurried back to a house we passed earlier where he had seen a net in. “Come with me”, he cried on the way back to the edge, “the astronomer is still there!” And indeed, he was. The net somehow had survived the ages. It was made out of a weird green fabric and looked way too weak to catch anything but the smallest of fish. But it was this net that had to hold the astronomer, with all his hopes and dreams. We lowered the net to him. The astronomer caught on to it and started to climb up it, step by step. The captain lost hold of his part of the net, and the jolt sent the astronomer flying down, down but not away, for his foot was still stuck in the net. He struggled to get into a more useful position, but it was hopeless. “Pull up the net!”, the captain shouted. He wasn’t the strongest anymore, but the two farmers and I were.

The three of us started to pull, but it was quickly interrupted by a “STOP”. The edges of the path would cut through the net if we did that. We should go closer to the edge. I tried, but couldn’t bring myself to get closer than one foot to it. The captain laid his hand on my shoulder. Calmly, he ordered me to go the other step, to reach just the edge. He would hold me.

And he held. The astronomer was pulled upwards, first limp like an exhausted fish which had tried and failed to escape from the net, then desperately struggling to free himself from the net once he was back on land, also quite like a fish.

Only now could I properly process where we were. Beyond the edge of the world, there was no void or fog or anything, there just was more world. Far, far down, but clearly: World. Complete with its own clouds we could look down on, mountains that wouldn’t even go halfway up to us, its own forest and meadows, and…

— It’s own cities!, cried the astronomer. One of the reasons he couldn’t climb back up earlier was the telescope he wouldn’t let go of.
— Where?, I asked.
— Where my finger is!
— Oh, yeah! I see it!

We stood like this for a while, in a respectable distance to the edge, passing around the telescope and seeing the new world for the first time. It was strangely similar to our world, but it seemed to not have nearly enough water. Apart from the stream that clearly originated from our high perch there were no rivers, and besides the lake the river formed at some point, there were no lakes either.

And indeed, as another cloud passed, it revealed a region down to the south that was scarred and scorched, where the mountains themselves were burning. Between this scarred land and the green land (which I named Scarland and Greenland, accordingly), another grey structure. Just like the ruins we were in, it, too, looked mostly broken, with one impressively big hall that even stood out to the naked eye. Well, the foundations and walls and pillars of it anyway, the roof was long gone.

Unlike our ruins however, there seemed to be life in that city. A colourful patch indicated the presence of a market, the forest-free farmlands around it indicated that it, too, had quite an impressive number living in it. But even further south, in Scarland, there clearly was a city. How it survived there, I didn’t know, but our telescope unfortunately had no mouth or ears to ask the people down there.

— Alright, kids, the captain said, — we’ve had enough of this view, and we still have a mission. We need to establish whether a trading route is possible between the lands down below and our kingdom.
— But, can’t they find out themselves?, one of the farm boys, my fireman, asked.
— No. The king already knew it’s possible to get here. We now have the technology to easily do so. The part until now was the routine, it’s the part ahead of us where you’ll need to be daring.
— So what should we do?
— Get looking. There ought to be stairs down somewhere.

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2. Adventure Calls — Beyond the Edge of the World

On my way back home, I stumbled across a poster. It was advertising freedom and glory and riches, all you needed to do was find the edge of the world. Awesome, I thought, let me just get a rope to hang myself with, it’d have the same result, but cheaper and faster. The further I went, the more I noticed the strategy these posters had been put up with: Low, and in streets leading to the poorer districts. If you were walking home with your head hanging after being rejected from a job, you’d see them. You’d see them and die in the search of glory, just so that the king could clean up the streets from people who were no longer needed.

I arrived at home angrily. Mom, Dad, Grandpa and my brothers were waiting at the table already. We didn’t talk until we finished eating, at which point grandpa finally asked what’s wrong. I told him how the king was a lying bitch who wanted to kill his citizens, and announced I’d go to the forest to catch some bugs and calm down.

The forest was no doubt the nicest part of all of Valand. Once you got past the artificial ever-same spruce part which was there to provide fire and building wood, that is. In these deep woods, all sorts of creatures would bounce around, some weird, like the glowing bugs, some creepy, like the little tree climbing monkey with its huge eyes, and probably some dangerous, although none seemed to take interest in someone with a lantern and a campfire. If only I could come here during the day, I thought and sat down to listen to the sounds of the forest.

There was the occasional flapping of wings, and one bird was singing. I had only seen it once, but it always sang for me in the evenings. Wind was rustling through the sea of leaves, though I barely could hear it these days. Either the wind had gotten weaker, or my hearing worse. Some insects were buzzing towards my torch, though I had already collected all of them. The campfire was happily crackling away, warming not just me, but also the squirrel I had befriended over the many times I’ve been here. But there was something more. Something big, moving slowly. It walked with a strange rhythm, bum-bum-but … bum-bum-but. Did it have three legs? Maybe a bear that escaped from a trap by biting off its own leg?

— There you are, my grandpas voice said as the squirrel fled the scene.
— Grandpa! What are you doing here?
— I needed to talk to you. You know, with the edge of the world…
— Yes?
— It’s not the first time they’re sending out explorers to it.
— Oh, so generations of kings have been dickheads?
— When I was young, I was on this search. And I found the edge.
— What?
— Yes. The edge is not what you expect. It’s not the end. There is more. The king knows this, we told him. He wants to find a trade route.
— Haven’t you found one?
— Not really. We were sailing against the wind for most of it, and wrecked out ship as we came to the edge. We came back on a raft, driven by the wind.
— Did the king not reward you for finding it?
— He did. The captain became a nobleman. The mates became rich. I, the kitchen boy, got free food from the royal kitchen until I founded my own family.
— Alright. So I guess I shouldn’t be judging him this harshly.
— I think you should go on the search yourself.
— What?
— You make machines. A machine could go against the wind much easier. The boat could even be shallower as it’d need no keel.
— But I like it here!
— Do you?
— Yes!
— Your job, the air in the city?
— Well, it’s not that bad, is it?
— You’ve done nothing but complain about your job for 3 years now.
— But I know how it works! No-one else can do it as well as I do! It would be irresponsible to the entire kingdom if I left it now!
— Johso is nearly done with his apprenticeship. He’ll manage.
— He fucked up a machine this night.
— Two, actually. He fixed the other one.
— And how do you know that?
— He came by this morning and told me. He felt bad for not admitting it to you.

I didn’t respond.

— How long has it been since you have found a new bug in this forest?, asked grandpa.
— Maybe two years now. Why do you ask?
— How long has it been since you’ve seen something breathtaking?
— I don’t know.
— How long has it been until you ventured out further than Ausfield?
— Why do you keep asking me these questions?
— Because when you were little, you’d get so much joy out of new things. Dad and I would take you out to the light house and the forest and the fields, and you were always happy when we took you out to the unknown. And look at you know: Always angry when coming home, disappointed that nothing new happened. I tell you, you need to get out there, to the edge, and find something new!
— But can’t I just go past Ausfield and then see something new?
— There’s nothing new on this island Past Ausfield, there is a bit over a week of travel, then you have the sea again. You can surround this entire kingdom with everyone in it in two, maybe three months.
— And there isn’t another island anywhere?
— If there was, we’d know of it by now. But we only know of the edge. If there is anyone else, it’s beyond the edge.

I went quiet again and stared into the flames. Grandpa did likewise.

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1. I, the Mechanic — Beyond the Edge of the World

The light was gloomy, the air filled with ash and the ground was vibrating ever so slightly. And I wasn’t even halfway towards the factory yet. It was this hellscape I had to keep unbroken, our society depended on it. Now anyway, granddad would tell me stories of how difficult yet simple life was when he was a young boy. Since the machines came, a huge spike in unemployment forced the king to take action, and action he took: Machines in general may only be used with approval, and steam machines in general may only be used in the two royal manufactures, and on farmlands. This would ensure that we wouldn’t burn up all the trees we had so far, yet also ensure a level of agricultural yields that was necessary to sustain the capital city, especially now that unemployed from the entire country had come here to ask for help.

I finally arrived at the pounding heart of productivity. My apprentice already was waiting for me. He had been keeping the machines running all night and looked appropriately tired, but also scared.

— Good morning, Johso, I greeted him, — is anything wrong?
— Yes, master! Machine number five broke just after you left, I don’t know what happened!
— Did you turn it off?
— Yes, of course, immediately!
— Alright. Let’s see what may be the problem.

I went over to the machine, Johso following me by my side at first, then slowly trailing behind. The rotator, basically a hamster wheel for rocks and stuff, had left it’s usual position and gone on an adventure towards machine number 9, spilling its contents along the way. I rolled my eyes and went to the control panel to confirm my suspicion.

— Say, Johso, do you see anything wrong with these controls?
— No, master.
— There is something wrong with them which I told you on your second day.
— What is… oh no.
— Tell me what it is.
— The rotation rate was set to eleven.
— Correct. Who set it to eleven?
— … I did.
— Why did you do it?
— Because I thought the process would be faster if…
— And why did you have that thought?
— What? I don’t know, I just wanted it to be better, I guess.
— No, because you were bored on your night shift.
— Yes, master.
— What should you do now?
— Clean it up, master.
— Almost. Help me get the rotator back in place, then get some sleep. I don’t want you to sleepwalk into the fire pit at some point.

And thus, another working day began. I secretly was glad for Johso’s mistake, because now I could finally sort out some kinks in machine 5 that had annoyed me for weeks now, but which hadn’t scheduled maintenance for another half a year. When my boss, the royal something something inspector whose title I never could quite remember, came in sometime in the afternoon, he might have noticed machine five running quieter than usual, but would never have guessed anything wrong had happened. For that, he’d need to wait for the parts it manufactured to be put together, and in the months it took to get through the pile, they’d catch up to it. If not on eleven, then on ten.

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0. Foreword — Beyond the Edge of the World

Moin!

You are about to read a little short story. It’s Fantasy with some Steampunk elements, I guess, and (without spoiling too much) is attempting to follow Vogler’s version of the Hero’s Journey. I say attempting, because I did not do one important plot point that would usually be required.

Reading Notes

Some reading notes before we get started: I’m using Danish Dialogue style. This means that dialogue is written as thus:

— Good morning, Johso, I greeted him, — is anything wrong?
— Yes, master! Machine number five broke just after you left, I don’t know what happened!
— Did you turn it off?
— Yes, of course, immediately!

The same dialogue in standard style would look like this:

“Good morning, Johso”, I greeted him, “is anything wrong?”
“Yes, master! Machine number five broke just after you left, I don’t know what happened!”
“Did you turn it off?”
“Yes, of course, immediately!

While the Danish style looks mighty silly with a middle dialogue tag and creates some confusion by not having a special character in front of the dialogue tag, I do think it’s somewhat easier to read as it separates explanatory blocks from dialogue blocks. Also, I tend to forget to close my “” quotation marks, but that totally isn’t the reason why I like just using the Danish style.

That out of the way, the story starts here:

Chapter 1

Mortred in the City

Mortred thought the city was strange the moment she came into it. There were no trees around for miles, no animals, only a few grey birds. The buildings were boxy and tall, but did not appear to have a roof. But man, were there a lot of people. Every window of every building had one, if not more, and she had to find the right person, and kill him.

The person was male, it said. More than half of the people she saw were.
The person was tall, it said. Quite a few people less were tall, but still a lot.
The person was wearing a suit, it said. Everyone was wearing a suit here.

The list went on for a bit, but each detail seemed to fit on way too many people, and even if she knew who it was, it would be way more difficult to find him than usual; usually, the location alone would be reducing the number of targets to a few dozen.

A scream was there, somewhere from below. Someone must have found the corpse, or at least half, of the important looking man who asked her to show a permission for her two swords.

She almost gave up on her hunt when something in her mind started highlighting something. Of course, the Oracle knew best who she had to kill. And of course, the target was sitting in the highest building in the highest floor. Which she had to climb up on.

Or just continue waiting, until he’d come down.

The city was strange from the moment she entered it. But the many lights in the city made her wait worthwhile.

A Froggy Instrument

It was a regular and warm Friday evening. The insects were doing their noises, the frogs were ribitting, the ducks were quacking, and overall, it was nice. Until I noticed a little frog instrument sitting on the wayside. The idea with these things is simple, you just rub a piece of wood onto it and it makes a noise not too unlike a frog. And with all these things making noise, I thought I may just join in with my newfound voice.

The frog instrument was loud. Like a shockwave, it sent the entire lake into silence. Then, a single ribbit. I answered, with a more careful stroke of the instrument. Suddenly, the entire lake started boiling with frogs coming towards me. I ran away, but the frogs came from all sides. I ran and ran, and just as the frog-flood was about to catch up, I finally was in my apartment and closed the door. But the worst was yet to come.

Deafening croaking from all sides. Little eyes reflecting through the windows. The frogs stacked up higher and higher, with the lowest layers of frogs turning into sludge. Soon, I’d be trapped in here for good.

Frogs started to pour in through the toilet and sinks, a window shattered, the bedroom was lost. I climbed up on the balcony, worked up my courage and jumped right in, or rather, on, the frog pile. The slippery bastards gave way, but only to some extend. I slid down the pile like a water slide, and ended up on the street, only to be covered by frogs again.

There only was time for one last prayer.

Suddenly, the croaking ended, and the frogs were gone. What had I done?

“Ah, here it is”, said Jesus. “Dad thought he’d lost it in Egypt a long time ago”.

Talkathief

— Slowly, slowly! don’t rush me, the first thief said. He was currently working on decoding the lock to the safe.
— The shift of the next guard starts in 3 minutes. You’ll have to hurry if we want to do this!
— You telling me that there isn’t much time left isn’t gonna make it easier to crack this safe.
— Stop defending yourself! I just wanted to give you a time frame.
— I don’t care about the time frame, it’s not going to pick itself faster magically just because we have very little time left!
— Well, alright, then I’ll say nothing anymore.
— Good. Now let me continue.

The thief started focussing his attention towards the lock again. But he hadn’t really started again when his friend started bugging him again.

— Frank, there is…
— … not much time left, I know! Can’t you shut up about that for a god damned second?
— That’s not what I wanted to say, there is…
— … a guard coming, said the guard, who just came in.

Dabchick, Explorer of Earth’s Third Pole

— Come on, bring my boat to the ocean, said Dabchick, pointing at the former can of tuna, that had a hole cut out for him
— What, why? it’s in the middle of winter, you’ll catch a cold, I replied
— That is precisely why you should bring me there. We will explore the new found third pole of earth. Right here, right now, else we won’t be the first to explore it and get famous!
— What would you do with this fame?
— Name it the Dabchick pole, obviously!
— Alright, Dabchick, go ahead, but don’t expect me to get into the cold water with you.
— Doesn’t matter. You could’ve brought your own boat. Let’s go!

A while later, I was standing at the village lake, Dabchick in one hand, his boat in the other. The other side, which was perpetually shielded from the sun due to the many big trees around it, was somewhat frozen.

— Let me down! I can go explore the rest of this pole by myself.
— Have you prepared a speech before you venture into the unknown?
— No, but you can come up with something before I return. If I return, that is.
— You don’t expect to drown in this lake, do you?
— I fear not death, I fear not the cold! Long live the regime!, Dabchick cried out, waddling towards the shore, and then stopped.
— What is it, Dabchick?
What is it, he asks. Very funny. Ruining another grand moment. If they had sent you on the moon, the first thing earth would’ve heard was you farting while climbing down the ladder!
— Good thing they didn’t send me to the moon then. So?
— So? Give me my damn boat before I process you to fish food!

And there he went, thinking about his glorious return when earth would no doubt bow for him and name him the finest explorer.

Some kids came by and saw Dabchick struggling to sail his boat across the centimetre-high waves. He was almost 5 meters in to his long journey. The kids started skipping stones, not for fun, but to hit Dabchick.

— The enemy is engaging, Dabchick screamed, — open fire!
— I’m not going to punch children for you, Dabchick.
— Then take them hosta – – – at this moment, a stone hit and promptly sank the boat.
— SAAAVE ME!

I told the kids to stop throwing rocks and went into the water. It was hip-deep by the time I reached Dabchick. Dabchick gasped after air, clinging onto the can that was now barely swimming, and then finally jumped onto me.

— Let’s go home, I said.
— That’s probably for the best.