Neil Gaiman Masterclass : World Builing

Fiona looked around her. She'd never been this deep into the forest before. The air was rich with an earthy smell, and every now and then the heady odour of wet leaves would waft past her, carried on the breeze as it sussurated among the branches. The soft hush of the wind waving through the trees was how she imagined a mother's comfort to sound. As peaceful as it was, there was also a hint of warning to it all. Those sighing branches had snagged her clothes and scratched her hands and face during their flight. Brambles adhered to her clothing, refusing to let go without violence. The grass was soft beneath her feet, but the earth beneath it was slippery, and the tree roots that wormed their way through the ground would occasionally breach the surface and threaten to trip her and drag her down. After the disappearence of the dragon the sound of birds and other wildlife started to warily return. The whole  place seemed impossibly alive. It was wonderous in its majesty. Yet it was also intimidating and ominous. There were no clear paths to see and the canopy above let in just enough light to see by. Come nightfall it would be shrouded in darkness and they would become hopelessly lost. Fiona had never felt so awed by anything in her life. Neither had she felt so much like an alien, lost in an unfamiliar place.

Fiona looked about her. The situation did not look good. But there had to be some way out of the forest. Perhaps if they had something that could help them find their way? Fiona reached for her power again. Ben stepped nervously back as another swirling tear appeared in the air in front of the princess.

"What are you d-d-doing?"

"Getting us out of here," she replied with an effort.

With a pop, a small, round item made of glass and gold appeared in Fiona's hand.

"Ah ha!" she declared.

"What is it?" Ben quizzed as he looked at the object from over her shoulder.

"A compass."

"What d-d-does it d-d-do?"

"Tells us which way is north. That way we'll find our way back to the castle."

"Excellent!" Ben beamed. "So what d-d-direction would we need to go in t-t-to go in t-t-to get there?"

Fiona was about to answer when her brain finally caught up with the fact that she had no idea. 

"Erm," she stammered. "I'm... not sure actually."

Ben visibly deflated. 

"You've never noticed where the sun sets and rises?"

Fiona sagged under the weight of her own sheltered ignorance.

"Not really, no," she replied. 

"So..." Ben reasoned. "It's useless?"

"Yeah," Fiona relented as she let go of the power holding the compass to this dimension, and it flickered out of existence. "Oh!" she then declared. "I know! Something to fly us out of here."

Fiona opened up her power again and pictured what she wanted - something that could fly straight up in order to get them over the trees. With a flash and a snap, Fiona opened her eyes to view what had been called to her. 

Ben's eyes were wide with wonder. The contraption the princess had called was like a giant dragonfly, only this didn't have wings on the side, but on the top and were shaped more like a sycamore seed. 

"A helicopter!" Fiona announced. "It's a machine that can fly straight up. Those things on the top like a windmill's sails? They're called rotors. They spin really fast, and that makes the machine fly."

Ben was impressed. 

"Excellent!" he said, before pausing in thought. "How's it g-g-going to d-d-do that with the trees so c-c-close?"

"What?" Fiona quizzed before inspecting the helicopter. 

Fiona visibly deflated. Ben was right. The rotor blades were long and needed a wide, clear area to spin. If they tried to fly it surrounded by trees as they were, the delicate rotor blades would snap against the thick trunks of the trees. 

"Blast it all," Fiona muttered as she dismissed the machine back to where it came from. 

"It was a g-g-good idea," Ben said placatingly. "Maybe we just need something a b-b-bit less b-b-big and not so c-c-complicated?"

Fiona huffed as she sat sulkily on a tree bole. 

"Some birthday this is," she mumbled as Ben plonked himself down beside her. 

"I'm sorry p-p-princess," he said. "I c-c-can't imagine this day has g-g-gone at all like you would have wanted."

"It was never going to go like that to begin with!" she said bitterly. "Because I'm the next 'Lady of the Gate' and apparently that means I have to have a stupid tournament filled with people I don't know to choose a champion I don't want. I couldn't have just had a normal birthday with cake and balloons..."

"'B-b-balloons'?" Ben asked. "What are they?"

"Oh, they're..." Fiona drifted off as she suddenly had an idea. "Of course!"

Ben's face remained a mask of confusion as Fiona shot up to her feet, closed her eyes and reached out with her power once more. This time she focussed on exactly what kind of thing she wanted. Sure enough, with a flash and a bang, something appeared amongst the trees before them. 

It was a large woven wicker basket, which looked big enough to hold six people. The centre of the basket however was taken up by what looked to Ben like an iron stove with a wide chimney, which was apparently already lit. Attached to one side of the basket was what seemed to be a sail-boat's rudder, attached to which was a large crank. The rudder paddle also sported a small, four-bladed wheel similar to the 'rotors' that had been attached to the top and tail of the 'helicopter' contraption. A number of heavy sacks were hung over the other sides of the basket, which was also tied by four strong ropes to a large bag made of stitched cow leather. 

"This," Fiona explained. "Is a hot air balloon. We fill the burner with coal from a bag in the basket. That creates hot air which fills the bag. When the bag is full enough with hot air, it should lift the basket. The leather should be thick and strong enough to not get punctured by the branches with luck. Once we rise above the tree tops, we can turn the crank attached to the rudder, which should make the propeller spin and make us fly in the direction we want to go. I would have made it an engine, but I figured we'd want to make as little noise as possible. If we need to rise higher, we feed the burner more coal. When we need to sink, there's a special flap in the bag that opens up to let some of the hot air out when we tug on its rope. What do you think?"

Ben got to his feet with a broad smile. 

"That's amazing," he declared. "I reckon on this doing the trick nicely."

"Let's hope so," Fiona said. 

"B-b-but once we manage to get within sight of the castle, what do we do then?"

Fiona shrugged. 

"Not sure," she replied. "We'll deal with that once we're out of this forest."