The Eleven Islands

3. The SkinTorn Youth

Arit veered toward the sounds. She heard groaning, inept sobs and irregular gasping, as if just then the pain became unbearable. A young man’s voice. She stopped to let Hellion pass her, so that he might be first on the scene.

Hellion swore seeing torn skin, blood and pus but dropped his pack and stepped gently down into the wallow. As dry now as the rest of the country, that dip might hold water a short time after rain. Hellion kneeled by a youth, murmuring and chatting as if he soothed a wild creature.

He readied his hands to help. The youth, whom Hellion guessed to be no older than sixteen, wore what looked like a replica human skin, made of leather, too tightly fitted. The boy worked at freeing himself from it, though his hand holding his knife shook too hard for accuracy. Underneath, his skin bled from new cuts and in places suppurated with infection.

For afterwards, Hellion might need their whole store of ordinary bandages, if Arit understood what she was seeing. “A blanket?” she said. To get the young man out of the dust, she meant.

“No,” the patient himself said. “The Gift must … be buried.” He sobbed. “I am Skin-Torn.”

They understood only the boy’s needs; nothing of his feverish distress. “I’m a medic,” Hellion said. “Will you allow us to help you?”

The youth searched both their faces with his dark-sea-blue gaze. He nodded.

Arit opened Hellion’s pack and spread it wide near him. She readied the antiseptic powder, the scalpels, needles, sutures and several of the carbonized bandages that she constantly knitted.

Hellion took up a scalpel and showed how he would use it. “Tell me where it hurts most, where I can start to cut away the leather suit? Though probably I’ll need to continue from where you already began. It’s quite a tight fit.”

He invited the youth to tell him why the tight fit by holding back further words. He continued with the cutting. In places like the elbows and knees, the suit adhered to the boy’s skin, as though at these places living skin and leather had at first constantly rubbed together.

As though, Hellion thought with growing horror, the leather suit had been put on the boy while still a raw skin. There were barely any seams and earlier, the boy had called it a gift?

The boy held each discarded piece of the suit with trembling reverence before burying it in the hole he had dug beside him. “I was Skin-Torn by a big fish, a shark. But Arno Sealeader put me on the land and bade me to hide. He … he said … our people have come on hard times. That they would need me to lead them.” He sobbed again. “I am the youngest of the Swimmers and the whole way to the delta I could barely keep up with them?”

“Leather stretches when it’s wet,” Arit said. She poured water from their water-bag into the cook pot and dissolved some of the antiseptic powder. Swirled a cloth into the pot and set it beside Hellion for him to start sopping the mixture onto the older, festering wounds.

That boy had been working at freeing himself for more than a week. “To think there are more encased in such gifts,” she murmured. “The way the boy’s suit adheres to him … there is no way to take them off between sorties. They have to stay wet at all times?” A people who already had hard times, in her opinion.

To be continued …

2. Arit and Hellion Reede

Despite the recommendation of no travel to The Eleven Islands, the ship’s boat landed Arit and Hellion at the Southern Ocean end of the Red Sand Channel. They climbed over the side and stood in the water. One of the oarsmen handed them their packs.

The bosun at the tiller pointed to the island to the west. “Bight, the Isle of Wizards. They leave no flesh and no bones to be healed when they take their prey.” He changed hands to keep his command over the boat. Pointed eastward. “Souzadelay. In the north of the island, four city states ruled by a feudal overlord.

“The east south and west are agricultural lands in part. Fortified villages. The delta. People trying to live peacefully. The Clay Faces rove and maraud. They enslave whoever they find on the road or out of their proper encampments.” He cracked a grin. “Plenty of work for a medic and a carbon-knitter, be they nippy on their feet and keep themselves out of the way of the slavers. Now free us the boat from off the sand.” Hellion pushed the boat backward, back into the Southern Ocean, and the oarsmen rowed it back to their ship.

Arit and Hellion Reede splashed to the Souzadelay shore.

“Toss the dice?” Arit said. “For following the coastline to a port or stepping into the wilds without guide?”

“The sunkelamp is still broken,” Hellion said. “In a port we may find a repairer. Or not. The cities lie in the north, our shipmate said. I vote for the wilds. Find a good place for a camp. Fix the recalcitrant technotic ourselves.” He used the local word self-consciously.

Arit laughed. “There’s nothing technotic about a sunkelamp. Just the two steel plates clamped face to face with a carbon-based knit between; and lay it in the sun to cure. It will be that it has a screw missing or loose.”

To be continued …

1. The Eleven Islands

Twenty years ago, when I started inventing The Eleven Islands universe, I had some ideas for stories that I wanted to set in a far-future version of Australia.

I wanted to retain the special ambience of the Australian continent and did not want to have to invent vegetation types, landscapes and geological processes. Note that at the time I had very little idea of the kind of stories I’ve ended up writing.

It was before the days of Google Earth, when everything still had to be done with paper maps and acrylic overlays. Not knowing any better … actual sea-level rises were still largely guestimates … I imagined a two hundred and fifty meter rise. The result was a collection of ten or eleven islands contained in the outlines of the Australian continent.

With the growth of more accurate real world models, actual sea-level rises of about 80 meters are proposed (2019). Shall I reconnect some of the islands? I will not.

The Eleven Islands has become a truly a fictional universe with no likeliness to Australia in the present day other than sharing some of its landscapes, animals and vegetation types.

A narrow strand of red sand fronting a shallow red lake.
The Red Sand Channel in The Eleven Islands

The Red Sand Channel is a place where at low tide it’s possible to cross from Souzadelay, one of the southern islands, to Bight.

Although saying ‘to’ may lead to a serious misunderstanding. You don’t go to Bight.

The truth is that as a paying passenger, you may intend to try to cross Bight … from east to west, or west to east. Your survival will be dependent on the caravan boss you engage to take you. Some caravans manage the risks better than others and some do not manage them at all.

Bight is the stronghold of the mysterious Wizards of Bight.

#worldbuilding #TheElevenIslands #worldcreation

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