I responded to a microprompt on Mastodon the other day by @FrostPoem with the topic word of “Breakfast”.
This was my original toot:
I’d discovered a level under the sewers of the city. Walls streaked in the filth of 100,000 had led to a proliferation of flora, new to science. I’d been cataloguing them. Several new mycelia jostled for space among vines that sprouted razor-edged blooms that smelled enticing.
I rounded the boundary of the farthest I’d ventured thus far. In a large antechamber, a column of plant matter, opened its maw and said, in perfect common—“Breakfast!”
I was happy with my submission, although I had to work hard to bring it under the character limit for a single toot, which was in the mid 400’s after I’d included the hashtags and “@FrostPoem”. The thing is, the idea wouldn’t let go. I spent the morning thinking about it. What if I explored this more? What if the main character was a put-upon botanist who was exploring this undercity to catalogue these plants and use them in his alchemical experiments in order to… spoilers well, hopefully you’ll find out.
So I got to work, and honestly it came pouring out. I wrote the chapter below that afternoon. I discovered that the main character’s name was Phylum, and he was a anthropomorphic squirrel botanist/alchemist. He also turned out to be loquacious and sesquipadalian, (I love those words,) and talks almost incessantly, loving to show off his expansive vocabulary. He’s also a terribly unreliable narrator, (he disagrees,) who’s often too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice things around him.
He’s also “not terribly dexterous,” (read: slightly uncoordinated and clumsy,) and would probably lose a fight against a box of tissues.
In discovering more about Phylum, the world around him began to coalesce too. It is a medieval fantasy world of anthropomorphic animals, including all forms of mammals, and also fish-people who can breathe air, apparently.
I’ve given him a bodyguard/business partner in the form of Koshkaya, a bengal cat who will provide much-needed martial skill and will be a foil for Phylum.
So, below the line is the first, rough draft, work-in-progress chapter of Phylum’s journey. Feedback and constructive criticism is welcomed, either here, or on Mastodon, where I go by @Narshada on masto.ai (most active,) and writing.exchange (just joined,).
“I’d discovered a level under the sewers of the city—a kind of undercity, if you will,” I said, sopping a portion of the bar with ale. Dexterity had never been a strong point, but now that I’d composed myself with several cups, it had gotten much worse. On the positive side, there was always more ale.
“Walls streaked in the filth of a hundred thousand arses had led,” I said, luring them in with bawdy talk, “over the years, to a proliferation of flora, new to science!” I waited for the inevitable gasp, as my audience peeled that morsel like an orange. With their brains.
The beer was also apparently affecting my proficiency with analogies too. But not sentences stuffed with alliteration, like sausages. Anyway, no-one gasped. Not one. They all carried on breathing perfectly normally, just like the ignorant ingrates they were—no, ARE!
The heavyset hammerhead barman just scowled at me when I looked to him for support. Allegedly I’d just narrated that last bit out loud, to the entire pub. Something of a faux pas.
I’m still doing it?
“Well listen in then, for a tale of botanical terror and intrigue, the likes of which I’ve never told before, because I’m a botanist and reluctant, and some would say, unreliable narrator.”
“But to them I say, pish-posh! Pish-posh, says I.”
I took another large mouthful from my tankard, choked, and sprayed a anglerman in front of me with a fine mist of beer. I watched as his lure lit up and swayed rather soothingly in front of me, then heard a wet, slapping sound and subsequently woke up on the floor of the bar some minutes later.
I sat bolt upright. “Because my recollection is reliable, and I am no liar sir,” I continued.
“Oh gods, he’s awake again,” said the barman. His stoic tone belying his obvious relief at my rousing unharmed—apart from a rapid-onset swelling on my left eye.
“I’ve been cataloguing them,” I said, “I’d already seen several new mycelia jostling for space among vines that climbed the walls, and sprouted razor-edged blooms that smelled utterly enticing. But I fancy there is more treasure down there, further in. New types of plants entirely!”
Everyone looked at me non-plussed, a sea of dour, scaled faces. I was wasted here. I stood up, rather gracefully I thought, and drew to my full height of three foot, four inches.
“Unbelievers! I spin no tale. Ye of little faith, should mark your words and return to the caverns with me. I shall prove my worthiness thusly, and by entrancing my entourage, so you will yours!”
I spread my arms wide in a universal gesture of acceptance. No one stirred.
“Mayhap you would have more luck recruiting from a different bar,” said the barman as he twisted a rag inside a tankard, “mayhap one filled with adventurers, rather than my clientele of retired fisher-folk?”
The oafish brute had a point, and even hastily scrawled a map for me to find such a venue, despite my having yet again said all this out loud.
I scurried through the cobbled streets, nary attending aught but the map. The night was filled with screaming carriage and wagon drivers, yelling things like, “Get out of the road you half-idiot,” and, “Gangway, short-arse,” and, “Look up from your map, you diminutive cretin!” Alas, I was unable to locate the poor creature whose clumsiness inspired their ire as I made my way along the route.
Finally I reached the adventurer’s pub and squeezed through a throng of boiled leather, plate and chain mails, and a sea of hilts, hafts, and gnarled staves. Realising I was never going to be heard in such a bustle, especially with the clamour of adventurer’s rambles maintaining a dull roar, I clambered onto a stool, and from thence, the bar top itself.
“Adventurers, listen,” I began in my booming basso profundo, “I have a mission of grave import for those I deem worthy!”
For a moment, silence hung like a chandelier, then a round of derisive laughter split the air. More ingrates.
“What’s this half-pint squeaking about,” yelled one lagomorph, at which the laughter intensified.
“Wassa matta,” called one barbarian ursid with a patch over one eye, “you lost ya mummy?”
Infuriatingly, my every retort was drowned out by whoops and hoots of mirth. Some of them were utterly scathing too. If not for the noise, several of them would have been sporting singed eyebrows as I dashed them to bits on the rocks of satire.
“Do us a dance,” yelled one, “or fuck off!” Descending into the pits of mob mentality, the whole bar began chanting, “Do a dance!” I’d had enough. My pride was bruised, my left eye was partially shut, and my faith in adventurers shredded to ribbons. I raised my hand, and put on my most defiant look. Slowly, a hush descended.
“I just wanted to inform you all…” I began, but was cut short by the necessity of having to avoid a tankard that whizzed by my head. Still buzzed from the ale and possibly the merest suggestion of a concussion, coupled with my normal misgivings in the dexterity department, I managed, impressively and expertly to remain on my feet.
“Not bad,” said some gutter-pile in a leather jerkin and iron helmet that sported for some unknown reason, drooping goat’s horns, “let’s see some more dancing, you quart-sized twot!”
Another tankard flew from his grip, aimed at my left leg. I responded in time to escape injury, but still got soaked by the contents. The barman rolled his eyes, tutted, and then walked to a door behind the bar. As the sound of the lock clicked, the air filled with tankards.
I dodged and weaved, spun, and twisted my form, managing to avoid a good twenty-percent of them. It was really only when the iron tankard crashed into my forehead at the same time another collided heavily with my groin that I started to lose both the battle and my footing on the bar.
“Rubbish,” an oxen-faced man bellowed.
“Get out fuzzy-tail,” crowed a raven-headed woman.
I crawled across the sticky floor, replete with peanut and sunflower shells that nicked at my skin or tugged at my fur. Outside, it was turning into a rather pleasant evening all told, with the first stars peeking through the cloud cover.
As I lay on my back, contemplating my consternation at recent events, an upside-down faced leered over me.
“What were you trying to tell them?”
I shuffled around, and sat up, so the face was the correct way. It was a youngish feline woman with light grey fur mottled with dark rings. She proffered a hand, and helped me to my feet. My concussion, worsened by the iron tankard, objected loudly and I crumpled to a sitting position once more.
“I was trying to inform those, those…”
“Well I used that word earlier, so I was attempting to show an expansive vocabulary,” I said.
“Not within my earshot,” the felidae said, “and it’s apt, so go ahead.”
“Very well… ingrates,”
“Excellent, go on,” she said.
“To tell those ingrates, that I had discovered something spectacular—an undercity that lies beneath the sewer system.”
“I’ll come with you,” she purred, “for a half-cut of any valuables we find down there.”
I paused and rested my chin in my palm. I had originally intended to proposition her to accompany me for any valuables we found, with me taking all of the real treasure—the botanical samples that I could utilise in my alchemical compounds. Then I had decided that a few valuables might prove necessary to cover the running costs of equipment, meals and lodgings and had been about to offer a twenty-five—seventy-five percent split in her favour. Fifty-fifty would leave me better off, most assuredly.
“Deal,” I said, holding out a hand, “Provided I get to keep any botanical samples procured.”
“Deal,” she said, “Provided I get a thirty-five percent share of any profits you make from selling elixirs, potions, remedies, or any and all other derivatives from the samples—in perpetuity.”
I drew my hand back slightly, then stuck it out again. “Deal,” I said.
“Looks like we’re in business together,” she said.
“A Felidae and a Sciurian,” I marvelled, “whatever next?”
She helped me back to my feet. I was woozy but elated.
“I’m Koshkaya,” she said.
“Phylum,” I replied.
“Well Phylum, I’d say the first order of business is to get a decent steak,” she said.
“For my eye?” It was mostly closed now and I was also irritated by whomever was constantly ringing a bell at this hour.
“For my belly,” Koshkaya said, “but we can get one for your eye too.”