This story takes place at the same time as the events in Tarranau,in the city of Bhreac Veryan.
Canlynedig panted as he ran through the streets of Bhreac Veryan, his eyes glancing behind him. He could hear the shouts as the Brawdoliaeth chan Danio charged after him, knocking aside pedestrians and shoppers.
He ducked down an ally between several stalls, pulling at one as he went past to knock it over, and hopefully delay pursuit. Canlynedig had no idea why the secret police was chasing him. He was just a fruit seller in the market, and owned little more than a few trees near his home. Maybe he’d sold a rotten fruit that made them ill?
Thoughts disappeared from his head as he rounded the corner of the alley to see another Brawd standing there, his head turning as he saw the running man. Cursing, Canlynedig ducked down another alley, hoping that this one did not dead end like so many in the city did.
He was in luck, and sprinted out into the clear, his lungs bursting as he wove through the crowd. Behind, he could hear the shouts growing fainter and fainter, until at last they all but stopped. At that the fruit seller stopped running, and slipped out of the crowd to wait between buildings until his breath came back to him.
Soon the factories disgorged their masses, and in the flood of sweaty, smelly humanity, Canlynedig made his way to the market where his stall had been. He daren’t approach to close, and indeed he did not, merely peering through the crowd. He could see none of the Brawdoliaeth chan Danio lying in wait, but he was sure they were there. Likewise, he was sure they were at his house.
Canlynedig spent that night in a ditch with the beggars, huddled near the oasis that formed the centre of the city. The next day he was able to slip some fruit from the stand of a fellow seller, a man who had long known him. Still he did not return home, and begged what little food he could off of friends and acquaintances, his head covered in a deep cowl against the sight of others.
A week he spent, filthy, living in the ditch, barely able to beg drink. He had not the money to buy chits, those tokens needed to exchange for water, and so relied on the kindness of others to stay alive under the baking desert sun.
By the end, he had to return to his house, for new clothes, some food, some water. Most importantly, he hoped to grab what little coin he had stored and use it to slip out of town, passing along the trade route to the east and Fal Skiddy. He waited until night had fallen, and then until the midnight hour had passed, and only then did he slip into his house.
The fruit seller ran for the trapdoor that stored his drink, pulling free a ceramic jug full of clear water. Smiling in delight, he swallowed it down until he choked.
A hand clapped his shoulder and Canlynedig sunk to the floor, tears spilling from his eyes. “You still wait for me?”
“We do what we must.” Canlynedig looked up to see the speaker, and shrank away in fear, scuttling back against the wall. An Arbenigwr Ceisiedydd stood above him. More than a member of the Brawdoliaeth, these men were known sadists and tortures, and had long since gained the epithet ‘bloodshirts’ for their stained attire.
“Why you? What did I do that you come after me?”
The Arbenigwr Ceisiedydd grinned, a smile of nothing more than teeth. “You? You did nothing. But you fled from us. We don’t like running.” A club came down, slamming Canlynedig to the floor.
He woke in a glowing cage, rattling through the streets of Bhreac Veryan. Lined with the hide of the jeminan lizard, it reflected sunlight down on the unfortunate passenger until dehydration slew him. Lying at the bottom of the cage was a small knife, a present from the Arbenigwr Ceisiedydd for his innocence.
Canlynedig grasped the knife, and quickly drew it across his throat.
There stood upon all the plains a single light. It was a dull thing, little more than a soft glow amongst the tall stalks of wheat that covered the many square miles, but it was there. It had been there each night for many years now, and no one had stopped to observe it, for there was no one left to observe.
The plains were empty of all animal life, and had been for a great many years. Yet still the light burned, and that was a curious thing, for had not the men who created it long since disappeared?
Indeed they had, and all but a few of their buildings had fallen to ruin, and where once dwelt many thousands in great hives called cities, there was only the gentle swaying of vines in the breeze, and the smell of fresh budded flowers.
Yet here upon the plains there was that light, and it came from a window of an old building, squat and square and crumbling. And if one stepped closer to examine the structure, and had knowledge of the lost times, one would see that it had once been a house, a place for men and the children of men to stay in comfort.
Grass sprung from the cracks in the building, but insects and flies troubled the green stalks not at all, for they had gone too. Only the rustle of the wind broke the stillness of the plains, until with a sharp clatter the last pane of glass in the window fell in.
In that instant, the wind died, and all about fell still, for the light had gone out before the coming of the dawn. That had never happened in all these long years, but at last it had come. With the dimming of the light, there would be no more artificial light in this world, for that light had been the last tool of men to function.
And if one had stepped inside the house, they would have seen the pane of glass had cut a wire that ran from a car battery to a child’s night light. It kept the child safe no more.
Noise slipped into the background, as if muffled through thick cloth. Pressure filled the room, and the walls stretched. The ceiling bowed upwards, fleeing from the floor beneath it. The floor pressed down, digging into the earth below.
The windows were the first to escape, their shards of glass fleeing into the night, lost amidst a storm of warring clouds. Next the door, the wood breaking free and making for the shelter of a nearby wood.
The pressure eased, and the walls returned to their normal shape. Sound returned, a cacophony after the silence. A moment passed.
The building heaved, forced outward. Again the ceiling strove to escape, and the floor to dig to freedom. The pressure built, straining, falling.
Nature’s chorus, the call of birds in fear.
A thin hiss beneath.
A cat, squirming from the building.
A push, a thrust, a pulse, and then the walls grow still and silent, and the ceiling sags down, exhausted. The floor rests upon the dirt, making of it an open coffin.
Birds fled, carrying the cat with them to safety.
A darkness of wreathes blotted the open doorway.
It had returned.
The sixteenth installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.
Several minutes passed, and then Rhyfelwyr pulled the two soldiers with him to the top of the mound, lying flat on their stomach so they could see the Lianese patrol. There were ten men, two standing guard, sitting down and having a light meal, their midday pause before the end of the patrol. Presumably, the Lianese forces had scouted the disposition of the central arm of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, and were returning with that information, in which case it was even more imperative that they be slain.
“Prepare yourselves, should be any minute now.”
“What are we waiting for?” Rhocas asked again, nerves showing in his voice.
“Quite down and wait, and just follow me in.” Taflen nodded at that, but Rhocas had a slightly wild look in his eyes, a prey animal who has just seen a predator. Rhyfelwyr sighed, placing his hand on the recruit’s shoulder.
Llofruddiwr burst up from the ground not five yards from the campsite, his two favourite longknives in his grasp. A quick slash with one cut the throat of the picket he was standing near, and he charged into the mass of Lianese soldiers, his blades flickering from left to right, catching incoming thrusts and deflecting them aside as the Veryan soldier tore through the camp at a full sprint, wounding several soldiers and killing two. Those still standing made to follow, grabbing their gear and chasing after Llof, who appeared to flee, directly towards where Rhy was waiting. As the Lianese soldiers burst into a run, Gwyth and Locsyn slammed into them from either side. Gwyth’s heavy shield sent one soldier flying into another, knocking both down into a tangle on the ground, while Locsyn feinted a shield slam, pulling up at the last moment to deliver a short stabbing blow with his sword underneath the rim of the shield, ripping through the leathers over his opponent’s thigh.
Rhyfelwyr hoisted Rhocas up, and the three soldiers sprinted at full speed to join the battle, Llofruddiwr turning to join them. A dagger flew over Rhocas’ shoulder, and the young man turned his head back in fear, but it was Llof’s throw, and the dagger protruded from the thin collar armour of the leading pursuers. Gwyth and Locsyn were sore pressed now, facing two against six Lianese. Several of the Lianese had been wounded, and discomfited as they were by the strange tactics of their opponents, they had not managed to take full advantage of their weight of numbers until moments ago, and then the remaining four Veryan soldiers arrived to join the battle, evening the field once more.
Llofruddiwr danced around the outside, lunging in with lightning fast thrusts, always hunting for an opening in the guard of his enemy. With quick stabbing motions, he would leap around one of the other Veryan soldiers, strike, and then be back out of range before the counter could even begin. Gwyth stood as a wall, facing off against two enemies and laughing while battering their attacks aside through sheer size and brute force, his countering blows nearly driving foes to their knees as they sought to catch the force on their shield or mace.
Locsyn fought in the more traditional style of a Veryan soldier, round shield held high in front of the face, one-handed sword stabbing out from beneath it to strike or catch a blow. He was using all the years of combat to his best advantage though, and a quick lunge sent a knee crushing into a Lianese groin, staggering his foe and making the follow on attack easy. Rhyfelwyr arrived in the fight with a sideways strike towards the kneecaps of his enemy, and when the sword swept down to intervene, his shield’s edge snapped up and crashed into the helmet, knocking the Lianese soldier backwards and almost off of his feet. Rhyfelwyr pressed the attack, but a thrust from the staggering soldier bounced off the edge of his shield and caught Rhy across the thigh, leaving a deep red gash that began to bleed. Backing away with his shield held to protect his wounded lead leg, the sergeant was forced to let his opponent recover.
Taflen moved into battle with precise form, each strike a cut taken exactly from the training regimens of the Veryan army. That was not to say that he was predictable, for each cut may have been straight from the book, but they followed one another in such a vast profusion that his opponent appeared almost stunned by the rapid strikes. Taflen had left his right flank for Rhocas to cover, for that was the recruit’s position, but Rhocas hung back, his sword arm low and his shield held high, an entirely defensive posture. Seeing the opening, a Lianese soldier charged into the side of Taflen, sending the historian sprawling and bringing his mace down. Taflen’s shield came up to block the strike, but the force of the blow cracked the shield in the middle, and he knew he could not survive another such attack. Rhy cried out and sought to lunge towards his downed squadmate, but the wound in his leg took the speed from him, and he knew he would arrive too slow to save Taflen.
The strike that would finish Taflen began to descend, and tears sprung to Rhyfelwyr’s eyes, for he had known Taflen many a year, the two men growing old and surviving many battles together. He had always worried that one of his squad would die in battle, but he had been blessed that he and these other four had been able to keep one another hale for so long. It appeared now, in this place and after all this time, that Rhy would lose one of his friends.
For the last little while, I have been working on a joint writing project with six other authors, planning, mapping and building a world that we all shared, and that we all wrote within. Well, the first evidence of that is now here, as each week, the six of us will post a series of flash stories, serials, and essays in and about the Splintered Lands. Eventually, these stories and others will be collected, polished to a bright shine, and published in an anthology.
The second of three stories I wrote last night in my return to flash fiction after a month or two off.
The bell rang, a single peal loud and long across the valley. A low sound, a mournful sound, it sent the birds scattering from their perches, and the womenfolk of the village running for the meagre cover of a copse of trees.
The men of the watch tower scrambled to defend their families, but they were ridden over and struck down, and the women in the copse found death at their own hands when they saw what had come. The copse became a funeral pyre, as did the village.
The land withered and desiccated, until the lush fields that had fed the village turned to little more than dust. Wind swept the land, and the last husks of civilization were blown away, eroded into nothingness.
Years turned, and new springs dug channels through the parched ground as rain pattered down. Weeds clawed at the land, their roots breaking apart centuries old rock and dirt. In time, verdant life spread throughout the valley, and men returned, once more turning nature to their hand.
A farmer digging in the field found the old bell with his plough, and it was set once more into a watch-tower, upon the same hill where once the old had stood.
The bell rung smooth and clean, but would only emit a single peal per day, and so the village called it the “Nightly Chorus”, and let its fading echoes mark the coming of twilight, and the end of another day.
Many years passed as the bell sung the death of the sun, and the new village grew large and content, perhaps even becoming a town in the later years. It was a pleasant place, full of country vigour and joy, and people found life there fulfilling, if hard.
The bell rang, a single peal loud and long across the valley. A low sound, a mournful sound, it sent the birds scattering from their perches. That night, the village burned anew.
Effectively my first piece back from two months of break (I last wrote seriously in November). Hopefully, I haven’t lost my touch too badly.
I lost a friend today. A good friend. One of those you can call in the middle of the night to talk to, one who will hold me when I’m down and knows the right words to say to bring me back. It was a slow fading that took her. We both could see it coming, but neither wished to acknowledge what was happening, and so we meandered on through life, until one day she was gone, and I was without my support.
What hurt most was never saying goodbye, knowing that there was so much life that had been left unlived, so many gifts the world had not received because of a life that was broken too young. Of the two of us, she was the better, the one with more promise to offer the world. You could find people like me anywhere you looked, but her? They came along rarely, for they healed the world about them.
She had healed me, over many long days and nights of conversation and friendship, and so I thought to pick up her mantle when she had gone, but people did not respond to me as they did to her, and I did not have the talent to heal. I became bitter, for I felt rejected by those around me. I had reached out a hand in kindness, and found all too often it was bitten and cursed with foul words and foul intent.
And so here I am now, a changed man once more. No longer healed, but perhaps happier all the same. I feel more myself than I have in some time. Perhaps it’s my renewed taste in food. The ancients always believed you gathered strength from the souls of those you killed, and I have. I have gathered strength from every soul but one.
Killing my friend was an act of kindness, for she was grey and wan when I came to her, and smiled at me as I kissed her forehead. It was the last time we whispered our love for one another, friends, and once, more.
I could not gather her soul to me, for it needed to fly free. I let it go, my best wishes sent winging after it. Then I turned my attention to the room next to hers, and began to gather souls again.
Tasala slumped down by the fire, chewing on the burnt leg of week old meat in his hands. Tough, the first hints of rot coming through in the taste. It was nourishment, but only just. His unit had been chased all across the central plains of Karlak, never given time to stop and rest, and was now so battered and bruised that it was at less than half normal strength. Most of the other half, well… the other half was chasing them. Tasala had seen one of his friends kill another, hacking at the head until it had been a pulped smear on the ground. One had been dead then, and both of them were dead now.
The necromancers and channellers who’d risen against the emperor had been waging a war for five years, pushing inward from the northern border, each year another chunk disappearing under their control. This year… this year was the worst of all. The undead were all the way to the fertile plains, and that meant no crop for the kingdom. Another year like this one and they’d lose not to the undead, but to starvation. There had already been circumstances of cannibalism to stay alive, and the coming days promised more.
Troops were free for the necromancers. They dug up graveyards, slaughterhouses, old battlefields, wherever there were dead bodies. The kingdom had been warlike enough to make the supply limitless. Tasala had seen, and smelled, some of the rites to their god, needed to bring the dead to life. The sorcerers liked performing the rites across from the living, letting the human soldiers know that the horde grew every night. The next morning, the channellers would be marching the newest warriors out to fight.
The living had seen every conceivable beast by then, from freshly killed warriors to farmyard animals. Tasala and the troops with him had laughed when they’d first seen the chickens. “We’ve won this war now, they’re reduced to fighting us with food!” Joy became fear once the tactics became apparent. The undead troops would attack, and while the living were occupied with those their own size, the chickens would peck at their feet and legs. The necromancers had pulled out the beaks and replaced them with nails, spikes, bits of broken blade, anything that could wound. Rusty and filthy, anyone injured by one of these weapons would have wounds that festered and rotted, making them a heavy drain on the living’s resources.
Tasala continued to gnaw on the meat, the sour taste overcome by the fear of starvation, the knowledge that the next meal was a day or more away. He and his soldiers had fought today, and lost, again, forced back further across the plains. The generals had thought they could hold the undead cohorts here, for the rotting soldiers moved slowly and disjointedly, the necromancers who kept them mobile unable to control the whole army at once. So, raiding parties had been sent out, Tasala among them, to harass the supplies coming for the living leaders of the dead army.
They had failed. The supply trains were not wagons and mules, but long strings of undead soldiers marching to join their brethren at the front, carrying the supplies with them on crude carts. Once attacked, they dropped the supplies and pulled out weapons, winning the battles by weight of numbers. The deep raiders dwindled, eventually forced to flee by hunting groups of undead or caught and wiped out.
Harassing attacks on the main army had served no better. Through long experience, the living knew that ruining the head or chest of an undead destroyed the store of magical energy that kept it powered. The first two raids had gone well enough, only a few men lost to infrequent resistance, and large numbers of the undead smashed by bullets from the slings and crossbows the cavalry now carried.
After those first two, the dead had come back with their own counter: rotting corpses of swift animals. Horses, deer, even birds were seen among the undead ranks. Those large enough carried riders with bows and arrows or javelins, matching cavalry to cavalry. All of the animals had their front legs and forward torso studded with spikes, crushed glass, or blades. Those carrying no rider simply picked a living cavalryman and ran into him, impaling man and mount. These wounds didn’t kill unless the dead had gotten lucky, but they crippled, removing any hit from the field of battle for months, maybe forever.
Tasala’s legion had been one of these raiding parties. They’d had a successful raid today, cutting a great swath through the flank of their enemy, but as they rode away a pack of these devilbeasts, hidden in a thicket along the route home, had swarmed into the cavalry, leaving almost a third of the raiding force as casualties. After that débâcle, his cavalry unit had only four of every ten men healthy for duty, barely enough for them to remain operational. It was a ratio that was sure to get worse.
The fifteenth installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.
Two days later, their turn came in the rotation of squads to go on forage duty. Rhyfelwyr put Llofruddiwr on point. The man was a ghost when he wanted to be, and could almost certainly find danger before it found them. The other five followed at a distance, with Locsyn having the unenviable job of being the rearguard. The squad’s patrol area was off to the western side of the army, between this branch and the next, and so with the rising of the sun, Llofruddiwr turned his back on the glowing orb and headed off.
The march took them across a ruined landscape. They had been told that the first few farms and areas had been already picked clean of anything that might resemble food, and so the soldiers had a ten mile march just to reach their assigned area, and that hike saw them pass the burnt out shells of farmhouses, the skeletal remains of barns, the dead bodies of work animals left to rot and die, and fields that had been turned into ruined husks of what they once were.
“This devastation is unprecedented. I have never, in all my years, heard of a war conducted in such a self-destructive manner. Why, even if they win, the Lianese will be set back a generation by this, if not longer.” Taflen gaped at the terrain they passed through.
“They won’t be the only ones set back a generation if they win. What of Bhreac Veryan? What of us? Our empire crumbles if we lose Niam Liad. It’s the city we use to hold all of the land on this side of Yn Brydio Ad. Without it, the linchpin is pulled from our army, and the other cities will fall away just as easily. We need to win this war more than they do.” Locsyn was feeling particularly sour this morning.
“We’ll win it. Did you see that lot break and run at Miath Mhor? They’ve got nothing for us in combat.” Gwyth grinned.
“The Lianese are well aware of that fact, it is why they are trying to defeat us by lack of food, rather than skill of arms. They are poor soldiers compared to us, but they may have hit upon a strategy which can overcome our superior forces if those forces are weakened and taken from the field of battle before the battle even commences.”
“Taflen, Locsyn, Gwyth, shut it. We’re here to look for food, not plan out the whole campaign in an hour. We can’t control the strategy, so lets worry about finding the food we’re out here to look for and then haul it back to camp.” Rhyfelwyr had had enough of the argument brewing. “You lot can just keep it quiet and tag along.”
Rhocas was the only member of the five who had not spoken, and he continued to march with his head down and his shoulders slumped, looking for all the world as if he would rather be in any other place than where he was now. The battle had taken something from him, and he struggled with that loss. Perhaps he would come out of it; certainly, the hope of this foraging was that Rhyfelwyr and the others could pull him out of that shell that he had built around himself, but there was such a gap in age and experience between the veterans and this novice soldier that perhaps that could not happen, and Rhocas would just wander through the war depressed and uncertain of his position.
A low whistle from up ahead caused Rhyfelwyr to put his hand up, calling for the squad to stop and to hunker down behind a low rise. Slipping back over that rise came Llofruddiwr, making a gesture of ten. When he settled in next to Rhy, the sergeant whispered over. “Ten soldier patrol?” Llof nodded, not saying anything. “Can we go around, or is this a case of going through?”
“Damn it. Do you have any suggestions?”
“Thanks.” Rhy gestured for the others to huddle up around him. “We’ve got a ten soldier patrol up ahead, and Llof says we have to clean up. Gwyth, you take right flank, Locsyn left. Taflen, Rhocas and I will charge.” Gwyth and Locsyn began crawling off to the sides, looking to get into position on the enemy forces. Rhocas leaned over and mumbled. “Llofruddiwr not fighting?”
“You see him here?” Rhy chuckled.
Rhocas glanced around, realizing that somehow Llof had disappeared without anyone noticing.
“He’s the one who’s going to cause the most trouble. Just wait.”
The fourteenth installment of a 30k word short story set in The Four Part Land. It takes place 400 years in the past from the time of Tarranau and Chloddio, and details the collapse of Hymerodraeth Heula, the Empire of the Sun.
Days passed as the Veryan army marched down to Horaim, and for a solid week since their crushing victory at Miath Mhor, they had seen no sign of enemy forces, just burnt farmhouses and fields empty of grain. A few had been harvested in haste and their supplies pulled to the south, but most had been torched, the food and seed they had once promised ashes scattered on the ground. There was dissent now amongst the ranks, for the army had been put on half-rations to conserve the food for the battle outside of Horaim. Glanhaol Fflamboethi had also split apart, moving in three separate columns down the peninsula. Yesterday, the two outside columns had peeled away to take up station twenty miles either side of the main march. It was far enough apart that should any meet the full strength of Niam Liad in battle, it could well go rough for the Veryan forces, but that was a risk the commanders were willing to take in order to widen the search for food and supplies. The hope was that the Lianese could not burn such a wide swathe, not without at least some of it being left unharmed. Or, perhaps, the Veryan soldiers could drive off the Lianese before the burnings had taken place, and then capture all of the food for themselves.
The three wings were to reform two days march outside of Horaim, where they would then invest the city. The plan relied on the presumption that Horaim had become fortified in the three weeks since the battle at Miath Mhor, although given it was the last defensible position before Niam Liad itself, it would have surprised everyone in the Veryan army if Horaim hadn’t been turned into a fortress. With the food stocks as low as they were, the assault on Horaim would have to commence within a few days of the Veryan arrival outside the walls. It was assumed both sides knew, and would be ready for a fast confrontation, although the threat of raids from the Lianese defenders worried the officers of Glanhaol Fflamboethi, because responding to each raid would sap the energy of their troops. All in all, the campaign had taken a decided turn for the worse for the soldiers from Bhreac Veryan.
Rhyfelwyr and his squad marched in the vanguard of the central army, among those leading the thrust down the peninsula. He’d rather have been with one of the two outlying armies, for each had a better chance of finding some fresh food. Oh, the food stocks weren’t as low as everyone rumoured about, but eating compressed meat and trail bread day after day was not a meal the stomach could readily enjoy. There had been a bit of good luck the day passed, for they had come on a farmstead where the basement had still been stuffed full of goods and grains, stored away against a famine. The Lianese must have torched the building and the grain around it, but never checked inside, and so the Veryan soldiers had cheered when extra rations were handed out that night. The men went to sleep with full stomachs, and woke up happier and more contented with their lot in life. The army pressed onwards, marching down a road that split between fields of crops, their ashes tossed by the winds.
It was a sight to sour the mind, and Rhy saw those around him becoming bitter, especially Rhocas, who had not had the years of experience as a soldier to build the barriers about the mind that the others had. It was clear to Rhy that Rhocas was becoming despondent, and in some ways Rhy hoped there was a battle soon, for it could hopefully snap the young man back to himself, rather than his silent and morose self.
Locsyn sidled up to Rhyfelwyr and tapped him on the shoulder. “So what do we do? That kind of attitude’s poison in an army. Everyone sees it and it begins to infect the rest of the soldiers. Granted, he’s not the only one, but every time a soldier looks to the vanguard, they see slump-shoulders over there leading the way, looking like someone just kicked his puppy.”
“I know, I know, but how the hell do I cheer him up? He just looks at me and nods whenever I speak to him, and then just goes on being the old mope he’s become. And I can’t exercise him too much, because there isn’t enough food for that.”
“Maybe get us sent on one of the foraging parties? We should be one of the squads next in line anyhow, and it might provide enough of a change to break that ugly clay he’s baked all over himself.”
“That’s not the worst idea you’ve ever had Loc. Not that that’s saying much. Right, I’ll go talk to an officer or two, see what they can do for us.”