3

Feb

by thefourpartland

This piece is set in the near future of The Four Part Land, shortly after the events in Chloddio.

An arrow flew past his face, leaving him staggered. He drew and fired, a distant scream confirming his aim. He was safe here, mostly, standing atop the battlements while his foes sought to climb them with ladders and break them down with rams.

He shook his head and chuckled. A month ago, his army had attacked theirs, out in the badlands east of the city. And now here they were, sitting outside the walls of his city. That had sure been a turn in the wrong direction.

He stood, aimed, and fired, cursing as his arrow skipped off the armour of his foe. Damn stuff was good. Not as good as what he wore, but good enough. More importantly, there were a lot more people in their armour than there were in his. If it wasn’t for the wall spanning the mouth of the valley, then this would have been over a long time ago. Even now, it looked like it would be over soon enough.

A woosh flew overhead, and he stumbled to the ground, face red. Fireballs. Earth-damned fireballs. Another and another, splashing across the buildings inside the city wall. The structures steamed for a minute, then went out. Firemages would have had more luck if everything here wasn’t made of bare earth and stone. Might be the only city in the world where there was no wood used in the construction of anything.

The pop of rocks against armour.

Oh good, our mages aren’t cowards after all. There just aren’t enough of them, like everything else when you compare us to them.

Still dazed from the near miss, he leant over the parapet and fired straight down. Then again. A shattering sound made him drop back down behind the wall. Two dead. He’d need to do better than that. They all did.

A crunch, and then shouts.

Shit.

He dashed along the wall to the main gate, one panel hanging open, hinges broken. Armoured footsoldiers were swarming through the gap, held for the moment by the reserve troops. He fired wildly, arrow after arrow plunging down.

Slowly the mass was forced back. He grinned. Best heavy infantry in the world, right there. Armour a foot thick, and the skulls to match.

To replace the broken gate, stones were brought up, and piled higher and higher, sealing it with rubble. He turned and surveyed the plains beyond the wall, the seething mass of soldiers who wanted to kill him, destroy his city. He chuckled.

“Well isn’t this the life?”

30

Jan

by thefourpartland

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.

29

Jan

by thefourpartland

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.

27

Jan

by thefourpartland

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.

Another.

Once more.

Silence.

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.

20

Jan

by thefourpartland

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.

19

Jan

by thefourpartland

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.

19

Jan

by thefourpartland

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.

10

Dec

by thefourpartland

And upon a hill stood a moonlit guardian, bathed in eternal night. It was marble, of a certain hue, weathered and old. Where an arm had once reached into the sky there was nought but a broken stump, and the arm was nowhere to be found.

The statue had lived here for oh these many years, and upon its brow was stamped words in a language long forgotten. Their edges had been eaten away by moss, but recent times had seen a cleaning of the statue, and in the twilight it glowed with a pale radiance.

Its face was passing strange, for writ large was an expression most unusual, and those who came to see it could not say if it was fear, or ecstasy, or some other that formed a juncture between the two. Indeed, those who lived nearby spoke of it in hushed tones, for they thought that the appearance did change with the passing of the years.

Now children played at the foot of the guardian, for the hill upon which is stood had become a park. Little boys imagined it a terrible monster, and came to hunt it with the full flowering of their imagination while their parents clustered about and talked of this and that.

Scholars came too, for they found the inscription on the statue most challenging. None had yet had the wit to discern what it meant, or even what language it came from, but still they tried, for curiosity ever ruled their minds.

One morning children came to hunt the guardian, and found that it was gone. They rushed to their parents who called the police, and then pondered how such a statue could disappear over night. With the police came the scholars, for a bronze plaque had been found.

Engraven in the surface was a single sentence, in clearest English. “In Purgatory were you punished, but now I take you into my arms, to be forever free.”

9

Dec

by thefourpartland

The phone rang, once. Then it stopped.

The phone rang, once. Then it stopped. Again.

A knock sounded at the door, twice. Then that stopped.

A knock sounded at the door, thrice. Then a pause.

A solitary thump. A body striking a door, perhaps?

Somewhere, a window shattered. Then another.

Plasterboard crumbled, leaving only bare beams. Dust choked the room.

Furniture spun about the room, breaking apart. Then in another room.

A beam broke with a snap. The ceiling fell in.

A knock sounded at the door, twice. The door collapsed.

The phone rang, once.

5

Dec

by thefourpartland

This story is a continuation of Into The Swamp

“Bugger! Bugger! Bugger!” Ellgis cursed long and loud as the bucket of stones was hoisted into the air. Even with his inventive pulley system, the strain still showed in his back and face. Fryca watched anxiously, slowly paying out a guide rope that kept the basket hidden from the path.

The hourglass sitting on a rock nearby had almost run dry by the time they finally got the basket into position. Pinning it there with with the release catch, they turned and fled. If the ropes broke or it didn’t catch all of the Knights of the Broken Wheel, so be it.

At their home outside the village, Ellgis stuffed books and notes into a bag. Experiments he could rebuild if he had the notes, but without his notes? He was worthless. Fryca threw food together, and some warm clothes. As they exited their house, a massive thump sounded through the swamp, followed by shouts and curses.

Maybe the trap caught the Knights, maybe not, but the two experimenters ran either way, pushing a small skiff deep into the swamp, following a twisting path they had marked out when they first came to the village. It was different now, the swamp changing as a living thing, but they had left signs amongst the old trees, and enough remained that they were able to find their way to a small mound, rising out of murky water.

On top was a simple hut, one room, nothing more, but it had enough supplies within that they could stay here for a time. The waters about the camp had proven fruitful fishing, and they had stayed here in the past. This was not the first village they had been forced to flee from, nor would it be the last. The Knights of the Broken Wheel were persistent in hunting down those accused of heresy, of bringing back the old ways that had shattered the world and brought down a plague upon the living.

No matter that it had been magic that had done that, and not knowledge, but the Knights discriminated not at all between magic and what they saw as analogous to magic, and so Ellgis and Fryca fled from village to village, staying only long enough to be spotted by some Wheelie sympathizer and forced to flee.

That had happened once again, and if any of the Knights had survived, well, the village would be put to the torch. Or more likely hacked apart with axes, for nothing burned well in the swamp.

The two experimenters waited for a week in their hidey-hole in the swamp, and only after the hourglass had turned over for the eighth day did they venture back towards the village and their trap.