DRIFTWOOD by Marie Brennan preview: “The Ascent of Unreason”
In celebration of the release of Marie Brennan’s DRIFTWOOD, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that is “an exciting delve into a conglomerate land filled with magic and mystery”
The Ascent of Unreason
The world he chose for the launching point had two important lacks: people and wind.
It was, as Last had advised, close to the Crush—close enough that what little of it still existed had been abandoned quite some time ago. Nobody was around to object when Tolyat paid a pair of Ffes to knock down what remained of the only surviving building and flatten the ground, into which he set one half of each shauein pair. As for wind, none of the neighboring Shreds had storms that would spill over into this nameless world-fragment and threaten to knock the basket from its alignment above the stones.
By now the rumors had spread; half the population of the Shreds seemed to know that Tolyat the scholar was trying something mad, and most of them had come to watch. The prophesied leader of the Bhauish had taken an interest in the matter, and some of her people were keeping the mob away from Tolyat as he made his final preparations—or, more likely, keeping the mob away from their precious stones. But they parted to allow Last through, along with the cart he was dragging behind him.
Tolyat paused to stare. “What in the name of everybody else’s god is that?”
“Backup.” Last dropped the cart shafts, and a flounce of cloth spilled out the front. “Help me attach this to your basket.”
“Not until you tell me what it is.”
The guide sighed and stepped closer, lowering his voice so the watching crowd wouldn’t hear. “You’ve heard the stories about me, right?”
“The ones that say I can’t die.”
“Oh.” Tolyat scratched his earhole in embarrassment. “Yes.”
It was, he thought, the foundation of their friendship, or at least part of it: he never asked questions about Last. He’d given it some thought, back when they first met. If it was true that Last was immortal, that he was the one thing in Driftwood that didn’t die, then the trick to it must not be anything he could share with other people; otherwise he would’ve been the richest man in any world. If it wasn’t true, then the man was probably tired of people chasing after a secret he didn’t have. Either way, there was no point in Tolyat asking.
But now Last had brought it up, and curiosity overwhelmed that logic. He couldn’t resist saying, “Are those stories true?”
Last’s mouth was set in a line that might have indicated either terror or suppressed hilarity. “I have no intention of giving you a chance to find out. The fabric’s a big sack, open on one end; we attach it to the basket, with the open end down, and light this furnace underneath to fill it with hot air. Once it’s full, we’ll float.”
Tolyat dropped his armful of fabric. “You want me to trust my life to magic floating hot air?”
“You’re already trusting it to magic floating stones, aren’t you? This works, trust me.” Last shrugged. “Hasn’t been used in Driftwood since Ad Aprinchenlin went into the Crush, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Falling hurts, Tolyat—a lot. I’d rather have two things between me and the ground, not just one.”
Grumbling, Tolyat helped. The sack was shaped like a bottle with a narrow neck; enormous as it was, he didn’t trust the flimsy fabric to hold anything. But the weight was negligible, even with the furnace, and it seemed to make Last feel better.
Once the sack was in place, Tolyat turned around—and realized there was silence. The entire crowd was watching in breathless anticipation. They packed the narrow streets of the adjacent Shreds, peering out of windows and from rooftops of abandoned buildings, in every world-fragment but the even smaller ones that lay Crushward. And judging by their expressions, they wanted a speech.
He’d been too busy with calculations and the gathering of supplies to plan any kind of speech. “Um,” Tolyat said, scratching his earhole again. It was Last’s original question all over again, with him feeling like he ought to have something grand to say in response.
“I’m going to go make a map of Driftwood,” he said. “As detailed as I can. Maybe you think that’s a waste of time, and maybe you’re right. But I’m going to do it anyway. So wish me luck—pray I don’t die—and when I get back to the ground, I’ll tell you what I saw.”
And with that sorry attempt behind him, he turned and climbed into the basket.