Monday, May 6. 2013
And it was the year of the incontinent pig in the Gregorian Calendar. And it was the year of the thirteenth eclipse in the Blind Readers’ calendar. Right here you can see the problems in the Land. No one could agree what time it was, let alone who owned what land. So naturally they went to war over it. One thing everyone agrees is that as wars go it wasn’t great. Nothing like the wars we have these days. Back then people got raided they would pack their belongings and flee down the Ilsaran road. Refugees trod the road, a high dirt track that ran between flooded fields. It was in one such bunch that the joke was told
“So I said, those aren’t my bananas,”
A ripple of laughter ran through the group. The originator of the joke grinned. His name was usually Sweeper but sometimes Gundrea. Rain trickled down his lined face, as it afflicted everyone in the little group of refugees. That included a little girl whose hand Gundrea clasped. In his other hand he carried a broom.
“Ok I’ve got one,” The speaker was a man who’d been fat but recently done a lot of exercise. “Why did the basilisk cross the road?”
“Go on, give it to us,” said a woman with no eyebrows.
“It thought it was a cockatrice,” finished the fat man.
There was a short period of headscratching, to the sound of the refugees’ footfalls.
“Keep at it Lou,” said Gundrea. His eyes were on the girl. What her eyes were on he couldn’t guess.
“Well if you’d read a bestiary, sweeper,”
“Are those horses?” asked a woman with no eyebrows.
All eyes turned to the horizon.
Lou speculated to no one in particular “Deserters?”
The horses closed rapidly, masked riders on their backs.
“Off the road,” urged someone.
They scattered. Man or woman they dived down the embankment, plunging into knee-high floodwaters without a second thought. Gundrea dragged the girl with him
“Stay low,” he said calmly.
The riders slowed to a canter, their armour bore scars of battle. Leisurely they strung bows. People waded away in all directions. No warning was given. The only communication was the twang of a bow An arrow splashed into the waters.
“Go on,” said Gundrea.
He gave the girl a push, she struggled ahead. He turned back.
The reaction was instant. The arrow whistled through the air. Gundrea twirled his broom. A crack echoed across the fields. He picked the broken arrow from the waters.
“Say, is this the road to Ilsaran?”
Another arrow was loosed. Gundrea caught this one. His palm burned from the friction. He waved it at them.
“Sorry, think you dropped this,”
The riders took aim.
Continue reading "Formative Influences"
Thursday, December 6. 2012
Numbers floated by. Daniel leaned back and the lights flickered. A tiny pool of light in a sea of dark office. He picked up his cards and began shuffling them. There was nothing else to do. 31%. The computer had slowed down after five. It only worked eight hours a day, just like his co-workers. 31% The computer was calculating Zeno's paradox apparently as every percent took twice as long as the last. Daniel drew a card. Seven of spades. Don’t forget your shovel if you want to go to work. He remembered lying in bed, wondering if he should call in sick this morning. Life was full of little regrets like that. He drew another card. It was also a seven of spades. Daniel sighed. He remembered the exact moment when his boss had appeared. It had been 4:59, against a brilliant red dusk. Red sky at night, prepare for blight.
“Hey, Daniel, how are you?” Steve had a nasty habit of creeping up on you, especially when you were reading the sports fixtures.
“Just finished those projections for next week,” Daniel said, minimising the web browser.
“Yeah, about those,” Steve said.
Daniel made a face at the computer. Then turned around with what he hoped was an innocent curiosity.
“Yes, actually. Turns out they didn’t want to include the Northwind figures,”
Daniel made a show of sighing “Oh boy. I’ll have to start again,”
“My bad, seriously. I should have checked with them before telling you to go ahead,”
“No problem, Steve. I can turn them round in time for next week,”
Steve’s face twisted, like a kid swallowing bad medicine. “That’s… the other problem,”
Continue reading "Rat Race"
Sunday, January 15. 2012
“I said it didn’t I? I did say it,”
Yllen shook her head for the fourth time. “I don’t recall you mentioning it,”
Gundrea was insistent. “I'm sure I specifically said she’s smart. Not your average kind of smart neither. That she wouldn’t send a hundred guards to capture us. She’d send one with his arm tied behind his back,”
“Maybe in another life, master,” Yllen hid her smile.
“Would the venerable gentleman and the sprightly young lady please put a sock in it?” growled Kavcho from behind his mask. His nose itched so badly and the rope binding his arm chafed. He escorted the two prisoners toward the estate. Now and then they passed clusters of White Demons. Not a single townie could be seen. They knew a storm was coming.
Gundrea had that offended air Kavcho had seen in his grandfather once“Here, I’ve never been venerable. I got tested and everything,”
“It means old, master,” Yllen looked exasperated.
“He should just say that then,” Gundrea sulked, kicking a stone at an empty stall. It bounced off and arced into the air, hitting armour with a distinctive clang. The struck White Demon snarled.
“Why are you being so circumspect, if I may ask?” Yllen asked Kavcho. She swapped hands with her broom, holding the end off the ground with a craftsman's care.
Kavcho bit back a snarky reply. Sounding calmer than he was he said “No threats, no violence and no age or sex related insults,”
Gundrea made a noise of disgust. “See? She’s too sharp that woman. We made a mistake coming here,”
Even Yllen felt a bit put out. “Nothing? Not even a, haha what are you going to do without any weapons little girl?”
Kavcho decided he'd have to remember that. “Nope. The Lady says they give you your power,”
Yllen shared a sidelong glance with Gundrea.
“Well, She’s half-right,” he said finally.
Continue reading "A Thrilling Anti-climax"
Sunday, January 8. 2012
Yllen stared upward. Through blurry vision she saw a face, blackened beyond comprehension. The face of a demon.
“Svarog’s oath, she’s alive!” it exclaimed.
Yllen jerked upright, hand wrapping around the speaker’s throat. It gave a strangled cry, flailing weakly. Then the fog burned away from her eyes. She let go of Korkl sheepishly.
Korkl held his neck gingerly. The first words he could summon beyond a wheeze were “Sleeping dogs!”
“Sorry,” said Yllen. Then she realised how quiet it was in her head.
It was morning and the Wold now roosted amidst the caravanserai. Young trees had sprouted in the yard and the walls were coated with vines. They had thrust their way through stone and dirt, bringing new if temporary life to the ruin. The Green Machines moved amongst their new friends. They tended the plants religiously, scattering shredded iron in paths which they trod in worship. Now and then the iron was mixed with blood from wounds not yet closed.
Yllen rose from her sleeping mat. She was in the midst of the surviving prisoners, huddled in one corner. There were no guards around them, the prisoners had merely been moved out of the way to make room for the Green Machine's rituals. Yllen noticed how none looked at her. Only Korkl met her gaze, scowling. She counted, a pit forming in her stomach as her numbers came up short.
“Korkl,” her voice was so soft it startled the gruff poacher “Is this all of us?”
“Mmm,” he muttered.
There was nothing else to be said. Yllen stepped onto one of the iron paths. She strode right past the frowns of the Green Machines, heading unerringly for the inn building.
Continue reading "Penultimate Ponderings"
Saturday, August 20. 2011
“She was a beautiful girl,” Gundrea sang.
Yllen pulled her head off the table. Her mouth tasted like beer. She was surrounded by empty bottles. She wiped sticky palms on her shirt and stared muzzily around the dancehall. Then she looked down. A shirt and tie, even a jacket! And then Gundrea thrust a hat into her face.
“You’ll need this,” he said cheerfully. He bustled away, waving a tray.
Yllen flipped the hat over by its brim and plopped it on her head. The crease fit snugly against her hair. She stood up, smoothed out the creases of her suit and tried to mingle.
Couples swayed across the floor. The men wore starch suits, similar to her own. The dames were all dresses and feathered hair. The music was abysmal, radiating from a glowing box against the wall. Yllen did her best to ignore it. She did not have to search long.
Continue reading "Bloodstains on the Carpet"
Wednesday, August 10. 2011
The inn sat at the edge of the Wold. A promised waystation, it had been abandoned with the road. Weeds had their way with the courtyard. Bees nested beneath cracked tiles. Whatever majesty the caravanserai had once had laid peeling with the paint. Yet, as the carts approached, a light appeared in one dark window. Hell at one dark window. The men muttered and whispered. A ball of fire darted ahead of them. It zigzagged down the road, leaving trails of pink embers in its wake. In response the light turned green. The muttering settled. All was according to plan.
Boku turned. Stepping into the yard was a young woman. She wore travelling clothes but her face was clean. Over one eye was slung a black patch, the other glinted gold.
Boku’s lips split in a grin. “Sis,” He held his arms out as she came and hugged her tightly.
“Have you been giving my boys trouble?” asked Boku, putting his little sister down.
“I was very well behaved!” she exclaimed. “Just ask Kern,”
Kern appeared from the inn. There were two more with him, all tattooed and sour faced.
“Gretchen wasn’t any trouble. It’s good to see you boss,”
Boku nodded, patting his sister on the head. “The Crimson Peddlers always come through. We need to get the ritual going,”
Kern acknowledged the order and took the girl by the hand. “Come on Gretchen, let’s find Havain,”
He led her away, a nervous smile on her lips. Boku turned to other matters.
Continue reading "According to Plan"
Monday, August 1. 2011
Stone crumbled beneath vines. The town had never been a prosperous one. Now it was a plant ridden ruin. Dandelions sprouted from abandoned streets. Mushrooms hung from rotting wood. Most woeful of all was the clocktower. The town's pride and joy, it lay toppled to the ground. Amidst the ruins grew a fresh, young orchard. The Green Machines took their work seriously.
Two of them crept toward the collapsed clocktower. The shields across their backs were encrusted with moss. The more cheerful of the two kicked the dandelions as she went, laughing at seeds bursting across the cobbles.
“Quit that. He's not going to be happy,”
“He's never happy,” said the serial kicker. She reached down to pluck a flower from the street. She wiped her knife on its petals and then took a sniff. Its now crimson petals smelled of blood. She laughed once more, tossing it at her companion.
There was a cluster of Green Machines around the freshly minted orchard. Some indulged in its apples. Others still chanted, calling vines to dance across the ruins. There were scarcely a hundred in all. It was enough. A lone figure watched them congregate. Never quite still, he swayed with the breeze. The metal staff in his hand shed a leaf and he watched it float away. Lorkinea of Redwood occupied himself with troubling thoughts. They had to be close else they would not have deserted so easily. How close? Could they have awakened it? Why did his back ache so much?
Gradually the party atmosphere dissolved. As the heat of their success drained away the Green Machines turned, one by one, to Redwood. He waited until the last pair of scouts returned. Their silence said enough. It was time.
“My fellow druids!”
Eyes green and brown fixed upon him.
“The demons flee again. They and their relic seek to escape the law of nature. But their taint marks the earth. The weeds they trample remember and have whispered their trail to me,”
It was theatrical. It was expected.
“They have fled toward the Peacock!”
Murmurs rippled through the gangers.
“We will follow! And be the Peacock their friend he too will rue!” Tabasco lifted his staff. “My druids, we march!”
Everyone cheered. He could see the younger ones beating their chests. There would be boasting and talk of victory. Indeed all was right but for one young woman. He picked her out, staring at him quizzically. Raising his staff the assembly fell silent. Lorkinea pointed at her.
“You have a question?” he asked pointedly.
She cocked her head and gave him an embarrassed grin. “Um, you didn’t say which way,”
Continue reading "Unfocused"
Sunday, July 3. 2011
Sunlight cascaded down the hillside. It burst against the treeline, becoming a thousand rays that tangled themselves within the branches of Jurik Wold. The old gods still walked in the Wold and few humans braved its borders. Once, long ago an ambitious lord had lain a road through it. Soon after he fell into disgrace and his estates ruined. Old folk tutted and pursed their lips, as the elderly often did. The road had survived its creators though little used. Its arrow path from the riverlands to the coastal towns was trod by the desperate, the criminal and the sweepers.
“So what will we do now master?” asked Yllen with reverant awe.
“I was thinking of settling down,” said Gundrea dreamily. He stood in the shadow of an ancient monolith. Long ago some primitive tribe at erected it at the edge of the Wold, in honour of the gods who walked there.
Yllen watched a small bug with fascination. “I never thought enlightenment could be achieved,”
A slight cloud crossed Gundrea’s blissful expression. “What was that?”
Yllen repeated the word. “Enlightenment,”
“Excuse me,” said a voice in Yllen's head.
“Huh?” She'd almost forgotten the demon.
Gundrea was frowning now. How could something be troubling him after what they'd witnessed?
“This will hurt,” said the demon matter-of-factly.
Gundrea turned toward the monolith, his expression almost angry. Then the demon did something and Yllen hurt a lot.
Continue reading "Hitchhiking"
Sunday, June 19. 2011
“Hmm,” Gundrea sat balanced on the end of his broom.
“Hmm,” he said again and rubbed his bare chin.
The wall said nothing in return.
Deep it plunged, dark and obsessive.
“They're endless, master,” called someone.
The gloom spat forth a girl with cold eyes.
Old Gundrea smiled and tapped the engravings.
As far as he could see were murals.
They spiralled down the staircase.
Another shaft, twinned to its brother before the door.
Something stirred within the girl.
A dark thing stretched out its hand and touched the wall.
Gundrea ignored it, hopping from his broom.
He ambled downward, apprentice close behind.
Until the stairs crumbled away suddenly.
The maze kept jealously its secrets.
Cold eyes watched her master fall yelling.
She peered over the side, treated to sights of nothing.
Gundrea's hand drew her back from the edge.
The other rubbed a bump on his head.
The darkness rumbled within Yllen.
“How does he do that?”
Yllen just sighed.
“As if gravity would care about a sweeper,”
More steps dropped away.
Something groaned at the sweepers' trespass.
Yllen flailed against the wall.
“Why is everything stilted!”
Her inner demon coiled about her arm.
“We are bound in prophesy,” it rumbled.
Gundrea grabbed his apprentice by the arm.
He shook her and hissed in her ear.
The stairway they stood on shattered.
The walls rushed past their whirling forms.
Yllen remembered her master's word.
Eyes closed the lines of focus converged.
The demon drifted out of mind.
“To trick a trick?”
One relief glowed among the others.
A woman with an outstretched fist, striking a wall.
Understanding blossomed in Yllen’s mind.
She punched the stone.
Continue reading "Stairs of Prophesy"
Saturday, May 28. 2011
It took the day to reach Gundrea’s destination. They travelled rocky foothills that slipped and crumbled underfoot. Yllen spent the time ignoring the demon in her head, meditating strictly whenever it tried to ask a question. It started to rain that evening and when the cave appeared Yllen was glad of the shelter. Only when Gundrea continued into its depths did she realise they were headed there anyway.
Continue reading "Equals One Another"
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