A laboratory of invention, a home for stream of consciousness scribbles, passages of undetermined length, and discombobulated story fragments.
Updated Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
We found ourselves on the edge the desert. The sun had reached its apex, and it appeared to have stalled there, as if its intention was to subdue the most basic of laws of day and night just to make our journey harder.
Our destination lay across that desert: the city of Bhelsset and its witch doctors. Our charge, Maldon, lay dying in our cart. His fever had grown in the last day, and his fevered dreams alarmed us. He spoke in his sleep of a flayed, burned host that would devour the world. He spoke of failures and consequences. We tried to make haste. We failed.
One day into our journey into the desert, Maldon woke, but even as he spoke, his eyes were already looking into the after.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't help you any more."
We had a decision to make. Our charge lay dead, and we had already failed in our mission. There was nowhere for us to go, no one for us to turn to. Behind us what was once our home lay in ruin. The ashes of our cities were probably still smouldering. Ahead of us, across the desolate desert, lived an old enemy at best indifferent to our plight.
Maldon meant to change that, but he hadn't shared his plan with us.
His throat began to bulge. Singh noticed it first. Something pushed against it from the inside. Maldon's mouth opened.
The scorpion fell from his mouth onto the desert sand. It was black, with a metallic rainbow sheen, and it had a bright red stinger at the tip of its tail. The scorpion was the size of an open hand. Quarrid emptied a carafe and trapped it within. He sealed it shut, and we stared at the scorpion in disbelief.
That was when the desert began to shake.
The desert continued to shake once a day, for nine days, for a short time when the sun reached its highest point, until we reached the great oasis Fallom Thae.
Quarrid prayed every day. He was certain the shaking was an omen. He likened it to a grumbling stomach. It was the first sign that the world we knew would be devoured, he would say. I didn't believe in such portends. I didn't believe in prophecies. I believed in chaos, and what life we could eke out within that disorder. Maldon liked that. It was a contrast to his own beliefs, and forced him to look at his own from a wider perspective.
The twins didn't appreciate my beliefs. Most people didn't, but the events of the last few months had bonded us, despite our differences.
We took Maldon with us. He was in the cart, like before, pulled by our donkey, but I felt his weight on my shoulders as if I was carrying him myself.
"I must make it to Bhelsset, no matter the circumstances," Maldon said.
Somehow I doubt he had meant even in death, but with the emergence of the scorpion, which we could hear occasionally tapping against the glass of the carafe in Quarrid's pack, we had decided that maybe the witch doctors would like to see him too.
There was nowhere else for us to go besides Bhelsset. We could do nothing but look to the road ahead. We would finish Maldon's quest, even though we had no knowledge of what that quest entailed, outside a destination.
I saw them in the pool's reflection, standing next to the moon. Four Solteshi guards wrapped in white cloth. The sands of the Gourn desert were good for two things: making glass, and concealing footsteps.
"Lissenians, you are far from home, and you pull with you a decaying corpse. Its stench can be smelled across the oasis. What brings you here?"
"Desperation," I answered. I explained our plight, but I skipped some of the details, including the scorpion. "We are seeking the wisdom of your Witch Doctors."
"The desert shakes, and we find an old enemy encroaching upon our land, dragging a corpse behind them," one of the Solteshi guards said. "You will come with us, Kal-Sem will decide your fate."
We were taken to an encampment on the edge of the oasis. Several large burgundy tents lit only by the moon and stars fluttered in the desert wind. There was no other noise. Our four guards paused when we entered the camp, and they ordered us to stop.
"Something's not right," one of them said.
Another of the Solteshi whistled. It was a high pitched call, three different notes in quick succession, sounded twice. They waited for an answer.
A moment later, our donkey brayed. It was an obnoxious, shrill sounding cry. It tried to tear itself away from its reins, but Singh kept the beast under control.
That was when the apparition came before us. They called her the Lady of Death but there was no such creature. These were fables. Ghosts, scorpions crawling out of corpses, earthquakes in deserts that had never shook before. These were all things that could not be. Things I did not believe in.
I saw my friends around me collapse, the Solteshi too. The Lady of Death whispered something, but I cannot recall her words. My head began to spin. I remember the world turning black, and I remember my face hitting the sand.
Damp cold air filled my nostrils. I felt a light breeze upon my face. I sat up, and after the rest of my senses came back to me I found myself in a unexpected place. I was trapped in a small room with four stone walls, a sliver of a window, and a single locked door fashioned of iron bars.
I tried yelling. I yelled the names of Singh and Quarrid, but I was met with only silence in return. There was nothing beyond the door but a hallway that trailed off to where I could not see. The sound of my beating heart filled my ears.
My head began to spin again. The stone walls danced around me. I knew that sensation, and though it wasn't as strong as before, I knew where I would soon end up. I lay down on the floor, and the dark embraced me once more.
I woke up again sometime in the middle of the night. For a brief moment, I'd forgotten my predicament, and the anxiety that came along with it, but the memories quickly came back to as my back began to ache in protest for having slept on the cold, hard stone floor.
The jailer arrived soon after, torch in hand. He was a large man, whose face was scarcely visible beneath his long, heavy hair, and unkempt beard. I could not place him then, not under the cover of the shadows of the night, but I knew he was not Solteshi.
The man lifted the iron bar that held the door to my prison shut, and set it aside. He then, quite simply, walked away. I yelled after him after pushing my cell door open. He did not reply. He just kept walking, and the flame on his torch grew smaller as it drew farther, and farther away.
I chased and caught up to my jailer, and followed him through the winding passageways of the dungeon. We emerged into a sprawling courtyard beneath a sheath of stars. The walls of the fortress were crumbling, and the fort itself lay in rubble.
Within the grounds of the derelict stronghold there camped a war band. I counted them one hundred strong. Three men were tied and left to hang on posts, they wore Solteshi garb, and there, in the middle of the camp, stood the Lady of Death.
The jailer descended the stairs to the courtyard and once more I followed, as if an invisible chain was tugging non-existent shackles on my hands. Soon, however, the jailer turned off, away from the centre of camp. He entered a small building, and shut the door behind him. I was left alone.
I felt as if a belt had tightened around my heart. I was lost. I looked up to the stars, as if they would have the answers. Some people thought the stars and constellations were the writings of gods, and if we could learn to read them, we would uncover the secrets of the universe. To me, they were simply faint, and distant lights, with as many explanations for their existence as there were stars in the sky.
I decided there was only one course of action for me to take. For a moment, I wondered if I’d really decided anything. If there was only one course of action for me to take, then had the choice really been mine? I put that thought out of my mind.
I strode as confidently as I could towards the middle of the war camp. I looked at my captors, such as they were, but I did not recognise them. Their outfits were black and grey and trimmed with gold that shined under the stars, but I could not place them. They were not Solteshi, nor Lissenian. They might have been Morreni, or Caltanian, but those empires, as well as others, were distant, and unknown to me.
Before I reached the centre of the war camp, I spotted a barrel full of water, and a ladle hanging on its side. Until that moment, I hadn’t realised how thirsty I was. I imbibed the water as my captors looked on.
The Lady of Death had skin like caramel porcelain that glowed under starlight, and eyes a green so vivid that it made emeralds envious. Her golden hair cascaded to her shoulders like a gentle waterfall, and her voice sang like a choir in perfect harmony. She wore a gown the colour of the stars.
I’d not been afraid of her, I realised, when I first saw her at the Solteshi encampment. I’d been awestruck by her beauty. My heart lost its rhythm. She wasn’t death, death couldn’t be so beautiful. She was life. She was love. Or so I thought.
I have a hard time remembering exactly what happened. Simply looking upon this woman tempered my mind, stemmed the flow of thought, and hindered the creation of new memories. It was a strange experience, as if I was but a part time observer within someone else's body.
I realised, much later, that all her followers had been like that, only much more far gone than I had been by that point.
"You've brought me an incredible gift, Linneer," she said. Her voice was ethereal, as if she was speaking to you from a dream. "More than any girl could ever ask for."
I don't think I had told her my name.
She picked up the carafe that contained the scorpion, and she pulled free the cork. She tipped the opening to her hand, and the scorpion emerged onto her open palm.
The Lady of Death smiled at the scorpion, and whispered to it words I could not hear. She raised her hand to her lips, and opened her mouth wide. The scorpion began crawling into her mouth. Once it was almost completely through, she tilted her head back, and swallowed.
I wanted to recoil in horror, but I could not move.
I awoke alone in the centre of the courtyard, awash by stars. I raised my hand to my lips and touched them. They felt as lips do right after a passionate kiss; a little numb, and a little swollen. Had I kissed the Lady of Death?
I sat up, and saw in front of me the broken glass of the carafe. It had not been a dream. Oh how I wished that that this whole journey had been but a dream, but this was just the beginning of my nightmare.
We surrounded the city, but its walls were impregnable. They were twice as thick and high as any other, even those our once proud capital, Yerron.
Five months had passed. We established convoys, and brought in some of the comforts of home. We feasted, we drank, we sang, we fucked, and we lived. Once in a while, we forgot there was a war on, and that our enemies were dying of infighting and starvation behind their walls. It was ironic, the very thing that was to protect them, was killing them instead.
I was called in by Captain Len Gyrra, late one evening. My orders were simple. I was to accompany, and guard, a delegation into the city. The enemy was ready to negotiate.
Ethome was a beautiful city. Even from the outside, the walls, as formidable as they were, were built not by traditional tradesmen, but by those instead of the famed Olemurn teachings. They were craftsmen too, in the simplest sense of the word, but they blended masonry with science and art. The didn’t build structures, they built wonders.
But the Olemurn Guild was near extinct now, and their knowledge nearly gone. Those that remained knew how to maintain the structures, but they didn’t have the knowledge, or artistry, to create something new. The reason behind their decline was a simple, and common one: revolution.
I walked through the city streets with the delegation and witnessed a stark contrast between the old and the new. The city had fallen a hundred years past. The new rulers looted the Olemurn’s greatest achievements, and the newer buildings were pale imitations, built with only one purpose: to provide shelter. Beauty had no longer been a consideration.
It quickly became apparent why the looting had been carried out. The city palace was lavish. The floors, walls, and ceilings all depicted sprawling scenes from historical events in the form of mosaics and collections of detailed carvings. Everything was painted in vivid reds, greens, and yellows. This wasn’t art, however. As stunning as it all looked, it was all overwrought. The palace was an exercise in vanity, a symbol of superiority.
In the city, we saw people who were starving. We saw bodies left to rot in the alleyways. We saw a people who were afraid, and who were weary. Within the palace, instead of bodies, we saw food left to rot on tables.
The delegation, including myself, was only four people. I wondered, truly, why I had been sent there. Our escort through the city consisted of twenty guards. Through the palace, six accompanied us. I counted eight that stood in the Sovereign's council room, where the Sovereign Monarch himself sat, and waited. I was sent as a guard, but if our enemy had decided to kill us, there would have been nothing I could’ve done.
The Sovereign’s question was a simple one.
“What do you want, in exchange for my freedom?”
He didn’t care about his people, that much was obvious from the amount of wasted food we had seen already in our short jaunt through the palace, but to his credit, he did not try to hide the fact. He was single minded, candid, and fearful. I was surprised, really. This great sovereign that had started three separate wars, finished two, was all too human.
“Freedom isn’t achievable,” the delegate said. “You have to answer for the Lissenians, and for the Solteshi.”
This caused the Sovereign’s eyebrows to rise.
“Why do you care for those ghosts?”
It had been twenty years since the Solteshi and the Lissenians had been wiped out. They were once proud, thriving people, perhaps too vested in their old world beliefs and magics. The Morsan Empire did not stop at those, however. They left those kingdoms burning and continued their conquest into the Land of Seas, with little stated reason for their aggression.
“You ask too much of one man,” the sovereign said. “I can’t pay reparations for all the lives lost, for all the homes destroyed, for all knowledge now forever gone. You can put me to death, but what will that serve? My empire has faltered, too. My people are broken, our coffers are empty. We cannot make reparations.”
“A symbol can be more valuable than all the gold in the world,” the delegate said. “Your surrender and capture will symbolise the end of darkness, and the emergence again of light.”
“And what if instead, I shared with you the why of the matter? Why do you think I started these wars, and marched until my undefeatable army was spent?”
The delegate refused. He said his reason didn’t matter.
“I will not allow you legitimise your atrocities, and in any case, my charge is to bring you to King Sollith.”
The sovereign monarch smiled.
“I understand. In that case, I will come with you willingly, and keep my reasons to myself, for now. This war as at end.”
I detected surprise on the delegates face. Not just his own, but on the guards in the room as well, even through the narrow slits in their helms.
The war was over.
The man now stripped of his office and titles came silently with us. His hands were bound, and his head hung low. He’d taken the time to change into a more common garb, likely in an attempt to conceal his identity from the city’s citizens, who we were about to march amongst. The ruse worked, until we passed the guards again at the city gates.
The guards looked gaunt and weary as if they’d not slept singe our siege began.
“Is that him?” one of the guards asked.
Another guard looked the once-sovereign over, and drew his blade, but the sword was not meant for us, it instead thirsted for their once ruler’s blood.
“No good will come of your actions here,” the delegate said. “Spilled blood will not fill your bellies, or allow you to close your eyes when the daylight dims. It is over.”
The guards, after some hesitation, let us pass.
“What now?” one of them yelled once we’d walked some distance from the city. “What are we to do?”
“Find someone new to rule you,” the delegate yelled back. “Preferably someone better, this time,” he followed up, but not loud enough for them to hear.
I spent the entire journey silent. When I joined the delegation, one of the group, his name I do not know, called my own name, and bid me to join them as they were about to depart.
On the journey through the camp, through the no man's land, and through Ethome, not one of us spoke. On the return journey, back to our camp, only the man once sovereign spoke a few words. The rest of us were silent.
"The air smells different out here," he said.
There was a touch of melancholy in his voice.
Back in camp, upon our arrival, we were instructed to escort the prisoner directly to the tent of King Sollith. Within the tent, the King dismissed all but the once-sovereign, and myself.
When the others had left the tent, the King approach the prisoner and loosened his restraints. The prisoner thanked him as he rubbed his wrists where the rope had blistered his skin.
After a short pause, the two of them erupted in laughter and embraced. They patted each other on the back like two brothers that hadn’t seen each other in years.
I felt as if I’d stumbled into the one place in the world that I wasn’t meant to be. I was not meant to witness these events. I was not meant to hear their familial words to each other. I was not meant to know the deaths caused by this long siege could have been prevented. They could’ve been prevented, right? I wasn’t sure. I wanted to ask, but it wasn’t was my place.
Their expression quickly turned serious, however.
“It’s time,” the King said, “Sennerthion. You must go see her.”
“I know,” the once-sovereign said. “I can’t put it off any longer.” Sennerthion glanced in my direction. “Is he to be my escort?”
Upon the road, I strode with an unbound man named Sennerthion. He’d caused the deaths of thousands, and was hated by thousands more. He’d wiped out fiefdoms with his armies, and cut through our lands like a plague. He’d stopped only when he and his tired. When they lacked the resources to continue.
Now, his strength was spent. He was a sovereign monarch no more, he had no higher, ruling presence about him, he was weak, and ragged, and no soul would follow him any longer. Looking at him, it was hard to believe he'd been responsible for all that carnage.
We walked side by side.
“Camelio,” the King said to me when Sennerthion departed the tent. “I know I do not know you, but I know of you, you are what every man strives to be. Strong, loyal, brave, and proud. We should all be more like you. We cannot stop what is coming, but Sennerthion may have bought us some time to prepare. Do not judge him too harshly. I know this is all very confusing. I cannot undo these knots for you. I can only ask you for a favour. Spend some time with him. Let him return to us, before you reach your destination. He was a good man, once. I believe him to still have an important part to play in all of this. He can find his way back. He just needs time rise again from depths he’s sunk to, and he needs someone like you to help him.”
Our journey took three days and tree nights. We passed two villages along the way, and no one recognised Sennerthion. I still couldn’t reconcile my feelings for this man, for what he’d done and for what he represented. Part of me want to shout his name, reveal his nature and see the people raise him upon a stake to be burned. I think he saw these feelings in my eyes, but I saw, I think, in his own that he believed my feelings were justified.
We spoke briefly, on our journey. The words didn’t come easily to either of us. There was a chasm between us, and we both felt it. He struggled with it a little more than I did, I could tell. He wasn’t used to talking openly to anyone at the same level. We reached our destination upon a seaside cliff. There was a circular rune etched into the ground. The twilight sky glimmered over the horizon as the first stars began the sparkle.
I shivered, but not from the cold. I spun around and there stood a woman with skin the colour of firewood behind us. Her lime green eyes shined brighter than any star, and her golden hair cascaded down to her hips. She looked like death come to life. Her eyes bore into me, and I felt myself slipping into a dream.
“Wait,” Sennerthion said. “We’ll come willingly.”
I stood where there was once a city. These are not words that I write lightly. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands lived upon that land. Land that was now scorched, blighted, turned to ash and cinder as far as the eye could see. There was a river once there too, that ran through the city, and it too disappeared, choked on debris until its very breath ceased to flow, and its heart stopped to beat.
And in I walked, into the Fields of Ash, in search of perhaps that one thing that might have survived, my son.
I waded through the ashes. It reminded me of an autumn day, leaves heavy on the ground, rustling beneath my feet. Yet I could not find joy in this endeavour. I walked here instead through the dust of flesh and bone, of wood and stone.
I'd walked these streets a thousand times before, and even in this sea of grey, I knew where they lay. I knew how many steps I needed to walk, I knew which corners I needed to turn, as if the city stood there still. In my mind it did. A ghost of what once was.
It looked no different than any other spot in the city then, but I knew I was standing where once my home had been.
I began to disperse the ash first with my feet. The fires that burned through the city were hot, and even the bricks eventually crumbled in the heat. I drew an outline of my home, of where I thought the walls had once been. I stared at that outline for a moment. I could almost see my home standing again, but the sallow deathscape quickly brought me back to the current reality.
I walked to where my son slept. Where his bed lay. I fell onto my knees, and started brushing the ash away in broad strokes with my arms. The swept away his entire room, and he was nowhere to be found. I continued through the house, sweeping room by room, yet found nothing of my son. Nothing of the man that I had raised.
I spent the better part of the day sweeping the ash and digging through the ash, searching. I was covered in it. The ash had infiltrated every orifice of my body, it had wedged itself beneath my nails, covered and stained every morsel of my skin, and I could feel it in my lungs. I cried, and my tears were of ash.
I slept in a bed of ash.
In the morning, I continued to sweep through the ash, frantically. I feared I was growing delusional, but I found him. I'd miscounted my steps when searching for my home. He lay there, blackened by the flames, but was otherwise untouched, as he had been for seventeen years.
I brushed at the blackened stains on the skull. The runes were still there, untouched. They'd protected him from the flames.
"I'm sorry," I said as I detached the skull from the rest of his skeleton, "I can't carry all of you to our destination."
I began to hear his voice again. I tried not to listen. I knew he was angry. I knew that he was in pain and that it never stopped. I knew that he was tired and couldn't sleep. My heart broke for my son, even as he threatened me, even as he used the most profane words towards me, words a mother should never hear from her son.
I passed through the desert with no name. Others gave it a name, of course, but in our culture, the desert represented death. It wasn't something worth giving a name.
Beyond the desert with no name my brother waited for me. He was accompanied by someone I didn't recognise. Was it the Seeker? Had he come early?
Sennerthion introduced him as Camelio. He said he was a good man, one of the last of his kind.
"If not for him I might not be standing here. It's crossed my mind more than once, my dear sister, that what I'm doing here isn't worth it. Why prolong and endure all this suffering? Camelio here, well, is the answer to that question."
I raised an eyebrow at that. Good men are not to be trusted. I've made that mistake before. I didn't say anything, however, I just gave my brother a much deserved hug.
Sennerthion couldn't hear his nephew, not since he died. The once King didn't have the gifted sense. I was glad. If he had heard Cobb, he would've crumbled.
Cobb had lost his mind long ago, before he died. He started having terrible nightmares at the age of five, though he would never speak of them. He would repeat the same words to me almost daily:
"I can't die."
At the age of 19, he took his own life. Later, I would discover that he had his bones engraved. The runes kept his mind tethered to his bones. As long as his bones survived, he would remain. He started speaking to me in earnest then, when I wept over his corpse.
"I had no choice. I couldn't die. I might not be able to stop the end of the world, but at least now, I can try. If you help me.
Since his death, however, Cobb has been going madder by the day.
I didn’t know how the world would end, or how my son thought it might end, or even how, or why, he thought he could, maybe, save it. For a long time, I didn’t believe him, I didn’t believe any of it. I thought he had quite simply gone mad. I even felt responsible.
My father had gone mad a few years after my birth. The way my mother tells it, he slowly lost grip on what was real. He would speak of things that never happened. Things that he and mother had done that my mother had no recollection of. His own life was slowly replaced by these false memories.
I’d passed on that madness through myself to my son. I never should have had a child, I thought, it was selfish of me, I knew this kind of sickness can be passed down through generations, but then, the world truly began to end.
Sennerthion, Camelio and I continued on our path, as instructed to me by the detached skull I carried in my pack. I kept that bit of information from Camelio, and for the time being, Sennerthion seemed to be happy to as well.
“East,” my son said. “To the east lies salvation, and then north, through the Acleud peaks, to a land whose people are almost but a memory.”
We were headed to Cazzadam, the land of the Solteshi, and Lissenians. The Morreni, and Caltanians. I had more questions than answers, chief of which was why was Sennethion’s war needed? So many deaths? Did they matter?