by thefourpartland

It was late the following day, after dealing with the various reports, minor injuries, and other detritus of being a “commander”, that Ira was able to track down Yaden and Canere. Who were engaged, as often, in an argument.

“Look, I need you to come help me with the research. You’re the only other person who’s been willing to help.”

Yaden snorted. “That’s because everyone else has seen you do this kind of crazy thing for years and has figured out that helping you is a waste of their time. So no, I think you need to get one of the archivists to give you a hand. Or to work on it yourself. Me, I have better things to do than be stuck in a library.”

Quirking an eyebrow, Canere gazed at Yaden. “And what, pray tell, are those? Chasing women you can’t catch? Drinking yourself under the table on cheap whiskey? Gambling away what little money you can make for even smaller trinkets? Do tell me, I’ve always wondered what the famous roustabout of Yn Dref actually did in his free time.”

Met with a truly thunderous glare, Canere let his needling die off. There was always the chance of pushing Yaden too far, although his temper had been mostly in abeyance since childhood.

“Does it matter? It’s something I enjoy. If nothing else, I should at least be allowed to live my life so that it’s worth living, not always at the beck and call of everyone else in this damn skycity.”

It was at this point that Ira decided enough was enough. “Are you two arguing about Canere’s plan from yesterday? Why?”

After shooting daggers at one another, Canere and Yaden both stepped forward to explain. Which led to the two of them stumbling over one another’s words, and more angry looks.

Finally, after they had settled down for a moment, Yaden continued. “Canere thinks he’s found a reference that might prove to be helpful. But he needs to spend more time digging through the archives in order to expand on it. And he wants me to go along with him. I’ve already wasted one whole night and day on this fruitless quest, and we’ve chased vapours on the wind the whole time.”

At which, Canere began spluttering. “It was not vapours! It was a rigorous process of narrowing down the list of items that could conceivably have something of use. There has to be a reason why the arcanists of today aren’t as strong as those of yesteryear, and I am determined to find some source for it. Now I think I have. There’s a series of references to both a particular training manual, entitled Keleborn’s Arcanum, as well as an item, perhaps an artefact, that was used to initiate children into the ranks of the arcanists. I’ve never heard of either of those things before this research, and so there has to be something there. Clearly, we’ve lost part of what our ancestor Hanians did to train mages!”

Ira held up her hand, causing the rant to run out of steam. “Okay, fine. You appear to have found something. But according to Yaden, it’s not here. So… now what?”

A certain look came into Canere’s eyes, and he turned so he faced out from the skycity, looking off the edge and towards the rippling mountain peaks to the north. The breezes of the flying world ruffled his hair for a moment before he looked back to Ira and opened his mouth to speak.

“Oh no. No no no. I can see exactly where you’re going with this, and I’m not following you.”

Yaden appeared blank for a moment. “Wait… Canere, you want us to go out there? You think we need to go treasure hunting in another skycity. A fallen skycity. Why?”

“Because Keleborn’s Arcanum makes reference to a skycity called Adweyed. Repeatedly. It’s even mentioned that that’s where Keleborn, whoever he was, lived. It stands to reason that not only would Adweyed have copies of his works, but also the initiation artefacts that were once used.”

Pausing him there, Ira spoke. “You say that… but why don’t we have them here in Yn Dref?”

“I don’t know, and I can’t know until I finish my research in the archives, but wherever they are, they’re not used anymore. A quick study of the entrance records of the arcanist school here shows no such item being mentioned, at least for the last hundred years or so.” Canere turned to Yaden. “What I’m offering you is the chance to go on a grand adventure, one that could save Hania. After all your gazing over the edge of the world, are you really going to turn that down?”

“The thing about gazing over the edge of the world is that gazing is all it is. You’re asking me to leap off the edge of the world. And to read another host of dusty old tomes before I get to the exciting parts.”

“Well, yes. Even so, it would be a remarkable find. And would help you turn from someone who does magic at a brief sleight of hand to a true user of the gift.”

“Given all the work you have to do once that’s true? I might pass. But it’s intriguing. Let me think on it.”

Both of them then looked to Ira, who had been watching the interplay between Canere and Yaden with some amusement. “Let me guess, you want someone who knows which end of a weapon goes into the other man.”

“Excuse me, Ira, but I’m just as good with a blade as you are!” Yaden had drawn himself up to his entirely average height. Which still wasn’t enough to look down his nose at her. On the other hand, he was right. Yaden was almost certainly the only talented swordsman not in the Yn Dref guard.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But you still need me, all the more so because I can requisition supplies and the like. Because I bet neither of you have any idea how to spend a night roughing it, let alone in that wasteland.”

The looks she got in response were rather sheepish. It was quite probable that neither of them had ever slept anywhere aside from Yn Dref, or perhaps a night or two down in one of the farm villages below.

“Right, so you need my expertise and supplies just as much as we’d need Canere’s intelligence to get through this. Given I know you two idiots are going to try and set off with or without me, mostly because Canere has a giant bee up his bonnet, I’ll come along. But only, and I do mean only, after we spend a great deal of time planning on how to make the journey as safe as it can be. Because otherwise, all three of us are going to end up as a morning snack to some great beast.”

The expressions of thanks that followed were effusive and heartfelt. Although they dried up quickly when she suggested that Yaden could best spend his time helping Canere in the archives. But with ill grace he acquiesced, and each went to contribute what they could to the final stages of planning and research.



by thefourpartland

By the time Ira finished taking her trainees around the village, the sun had begun to set. It was a fair amount of trepidation that she followed one of the stock keepers out towards the farthest of the pastures, for despite her brave words to her squad earlier, she had barely been off of the skycity herself, and knew only what woodcraft she had been taught.

What she did know, however, was that most animals hunted by scent, especially those who came in the night.

“Alright you lot, I want people spaced fifteen paces apart around the edge of this pasture. And once you’re there, cover yourself in some of the animal leavings. It’ll disguise you from the wolves. Or make them think you’re cattle.”

The response she got was as expected. Which meant a collection of stunned faces and shaking heads.

“Are you sure we have to do that?” One of the young lads asked.

“Quite sure. Otherwise the wolves won’t bother coming and we’ll have done all this for nothing. One thing I will say, though. Try and get it mostly on the armour, instead of cloth. Armour cleans off more easily.”

Armed with such a helpful piece of advice, the recruits fanned out into the field, all of them tossing glances back at their apparently slightly insane commander.

The gazes didn’t stop being incredulous when Ira finally unlimbered the monstrous contraption that hung across her back, and settled it onto a small stool that she had borrowed from the shepherd who normally kept watch over these fields.

Thus positioned, the machine was revealed as a heavily strengthened and massive crossbow. One that looked more than capable of putting a bolt through a stone wall, never mind flesh. And one that was so cumbersome it could barely be used.

Admittedly, both of those things were actually true. The arbalest had the power to punch through damn near any target, usually killing them on the first shot. On the other hand, it was a bitch to aim, needed a rest, and reloading it took a heavy duty crank and a lot of time. As a weapon, it was impractical at best. But it had the advantage of firing almost perfectly level, unlike more normal ranged weaponry, and even a glancing blow was usually more than enough to finish whatever was being shot at.

Underneath all that, Ira just thought using it was fun, of course.

What wasn’t fun was the waiting. As the sun dipped below the horizon and the chill of night began to seep into bones that weren’t moving, her mood grew short, and she snapped at those trainees that shifted about or called out to one another. Learning to hold a post was a crucial component of being a guard, but damn if it wasn’t a boring one.

And one that became more boring as the moon rose, a thin glimmer in the sky, partially blocked by the clouds. Perhaps the wolves weren’t going to come tonight, no matter their hunger. It should have been the right evening, since the pack apparently hunted every third day, but despite leaving a few choice cattle in the field, now currently mostly dozing placidly amongst the recruits, there had been no movement spotted from the verge of the forest.

The quiet of the night was split by a sound like a saw being drawn across stone. Which, after it repeated itself a few moments later, Ira identified as snoring. “Some bloody lout is getting a foot in his arse in a moment.”

Just as squad leader began to rise from her post behind the arbalest, her eyes, by now thoroughly accustomed to the gloom of night, caught a glimpse of movement amidst the trees, followed by the shine of light from two golden eyes.

“Of course the wolves arrive just as that fool starts snoring. Of course.”

The wolves padded forward, out of the trees, their forms grey shadows in the moonlight. Uncertain of whether her trainees had seen the oncoming creatures, but not wanting to startle them until they were within range of the spears and swords of the guards, Ira instead kicked the steer that had fallen asleep a pace from her.

The steer snorted, loudly, an edge of panic in its call, and then levered itself to its four hooves, clearly trying to figure out what had struck and woken it. The shattering bellow that followed moments later as the animal caught the scent of a predator did exactly what Ira hoped it would – spurred the wolves on to charge.

And charge they did, loping one after the other through the long grasses outside the fencing of the pasture, angling out into a long line that was clearly meant to encircle and trap the now panicked steer.

Unfortunately, it appeared her soldiers were equally panicked, either unable to see the creatures, or waking from a sleep they should never have entered, or just overcome by nervous energy. Thankfully, their shouting and fumbling did nothing to discourage the onrushing predators, although by the sounds of the matter, if her trainees met their opposite number at this precise moment, the Hanian half was going to come off the worst for wear.

So Ira sighted along the iron markings across the top of her creation, leading the first of the wolves by only half a pace, such was the speed of a bolt from the arbalest. Once certain of her shot, she pulled on the triggering lever, cursing as the recoil slammed the butt of the weapon into her shoulder.

But the shot had been good and true, and the wolf struck by it bowled over backwards in a spray of blood and fur, able to emit only a brief whimper as it tumbled through the air.

So sudden was the death that the other wolves didn’t notice, and continued their charge, the leaders beginning to leap over the fence and into the pasture with the cattle. Now, things quickly began to devolve into a fractured melee, as the trainees screamed, shouted, and hacked away at shapes moving in the night, some of them having nothing to do with the wolves, while the cattle bellowed in the background, and wolves slipped around and through the thin human line in search of more substantial prey.

Which turned out to be the steer whose startled awakening had been the beginning of the whole mess. Harassed by a predator nipping at its ankles, it spun first left and right, and then, bitten again hard on the buttocks, charged forward, hoping that speed could free it from the entanglements.

Before it could gather too much momentum, however, a large shape rose in front of it, causing the animal to spin away, panic filling its voice. But the large shape resolved itself into one of the trainees, able to catch the one of the trailing wolves with a sharp jab from a spear. It wasn’t a killing blow, but the stab caused the struck limb to collapse under it, sending the predator to the ground, where it was soon finished off.

All this time, Ira was attempting to shout orders, but in the noise and confusion, her voice could do little more than add to the matter, and so she waded in, leaving the arbalest where it lay and hoping it would survive the night undamaged. Now with her sword in hand, she tried to pick her moments carefully, swinging only at things that came within reach and she was sure were members of the pack.

Moments later, there came the consistent sound of yelping, and the sinuous shapes of the wolves could be seen breaking away, sprinting into the long grass and brush that verged the forest. They left behind two of their number, although from the glistening of the grass, perhaps another few had been wounded. Likely, the Hanians would never know, since the wolves would presumably move on to other prey for the time being.



by thefourpartland

Canere, having exhausted even his masterful powers of focus, had left the archives around the time of the morning meal, and then collapsed into bed until the chimes sounded for the first bell after noon. He then spent the next hour in bed, reading the notes that he had created.

Which led to much muttering about the quality of his handwriting. It was, in a word, shocking.

“If only I could use magic for something so basic. But I just can’t…”

As the next bell reminded him. Sighing to himself, Canere made his way to the remaining headquarters of the arcanists of Yn Dref, a rather forlorn building that sagged around the edges. Once, it had no doubt looked majestic, but with the colour faded and the architecture in dire need of repairs, there was little of that former grandeur left.

A nod from the apprentice sitting in the entrance way let Canere in, and a few turns later, he was heading down into the depths of the skycity, towards the mystical centre, the artefact that kept everything afloat.

The chamber in which the artefact rested was vast, hewn from the rock of this former mountaintop by the energies of his long ago forefathers. The artefact itself manifested visually as a sphere of unblemished crystal, rotating at a slow pace. Somehow, it was supposedly tied to the movements of the heavens, but no Hanian of recent days had ever been able to explain how or why.

Around the edges of the sphere were smaller lumps of unformed crystal, each sitting atop a little plinth. It was to one of those plinths that the young mage was supposed to go, for they allowed arcanists to channel their energy into the artefact, burning their personal force in return for keeping the skycity afloat.

Surprisingly, the chamber wasn’t empty, as it usually was at this time of day. Instead, another mage was standing over one of the plinths, face drawn in concentration as sweat beaded on her brow. As Canere was all too well aware, dumping the vast majority of one’s daily energy at a single go was a taxing affair, and so some amongst the Hanian arcanists preferred to visit multiple times a day, and so spare themselves the effort.

Canere, on the other hand, preferred to deal with it in one go. And knowing the strain it took, waited quietly at the entrance to the chamber until his compatriot shuddered, rising on unsteady legs from where she had sat before the plinth.

“Morning, Canere. Or rather, afternoon. I heard you were off on one of your jaunts through the archives again last night.”

There was nothing Canere could do but laugh. Raiztae always knew what was going on in Yn Dref. Always. She was known amongst the other mages as the queen of all gossip, and was rumoured to spend some of her magical energy eavesdropping on every petty conversation. Although Canere, like most people, just assumed that wasn’t true.

“The font of all knowledge, as always. Who told you this time?”

“That young lad who runs messages from the archives to the guild and back. Blonde hair, scrawny.”

“Doesn’t that describe half the children around here?”

“Birthmark under his left eye.”

“Oh, that one. I hope you gave him a trinket for his efforts.”

“I was able to sneak him a little something. You know me, I help where I can.”

Which was true, and the other reason no one ever really disliked Raiztae – she always had a kind word and a small token for the least fortunate in the skycity.

Canere gestured to acknowledge the comment. “So what’s the juiciest titbit you’ve got today? Aside from animals harassing the pastures. Ira beat you to that one.”

A frown swept across Raiztae’s features momentarily. “Blast, that was what I had. Hmm. There’s supposedly an affair or two going on with the senior mages, but that’s been wandering around for months now. Other than that it’s the doom and gloom about the coming weather that you’ve no doubt heard yourself.”

“Oh yes, the big storm that will rain thunder and hail down upon Yn Dref. We get those every year. Why should this be any different?”

She shrugged. “Because it gives people something to talk about. Look forward to in a way. Not much else of that, around here. You know I’d love to be able to research, but I’m not allowed to.”

With all the energy of the arcanists being needed to keep the skycity in the air, they had precious little effort to expend in other areas. Some of which might have helped resolve the current situation.

“You’re suggesting that Yn Dref is an anchor on our people.” Canere had heard this mentioned before, but mostly obliquely.

He was met with a sigh. “We use all our talents keeping a rotting hulk flying. Why not move the rest of the people to the ground and let the skycity fall into an empty valley? That way, we could at least use our talents to help the rest of Hania more directly. Today, the best I can do is give away the spare bits and pieces I don’t need. Maybe then I could actually make a difference.”

Canere could understand the sentiment. “That’s why I spend so much time in the archives. There has to be something in there that can help, but I’ve not found it yet. Maybe I never will. But I think I’ve hit on a new idea.”

“You always do have one of those.” Raiztae chuckled. “But if you don’t mind, I need to rest after feeding the demon.”

The young mage swept a shallow bow to Raiztae as she departed, then went to do his part for keeping the skycity afloat.



by thefourpartland

Ira met up with her trainees at the portal, one of the last functioning pieces of high magic in Yn Dref. A vast ring bolted to the ground in the central square of the skycity, through it could be seen the huts and shelters of the village below them, and the people going about their day. But between her group and the portal stood both a fence and other guards, alert and skittish.

While the gateway might be a vast artefact, it still drew magical energy from the surroundings. Magic that would otherwise be used to help keep the skycity afloat. Thus it was that anyone seeking to travel from Yn Dref to the ground below needed to get approved for the travel, although there was enough leeway in the process that only those truly unnecessary trips tended to be withheld.

A quick command set her squad of eight into two ragged lines, their armour pitted with age, and their weapons likewise. Given that the worst they should find today was a band of wolves, that would not pose much of a problem.

“I know some of you haven’t spent much time on the ground, but it isn’t much different from here in Yn Dref. And all the people we’ll see are Hanians, so you’re among friends. First things first – I know it’ll be different, but never stare. That’s as rude as can be. Secondly, we’re going into the outlands, on the very edge of the settlement and maybe beyond. You won’t know how to deal with terrain like that, unless you were born down there, so make sure to follow what I say exactly, and to keep others in sight at all times. Now, any questions before we go down?”

The blacksmith’s lad raised his hand, which drew an acknowledgement from Ira.

“What is that… thing you’re carrying?”

A genuine chuckle escaped before Ira remembered she was supposed to be stern.

“It’s a crossbow, of sorts, I’ve been building and designing myself.”

“But it’s over six feet long!”

“If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see me use it when we go down. Now form up!”

Obediently, the trainees shifted formation as Ira trotted forward to the guards, who gestured her through with a quick wave. Her students jogged through behind her.

“This is going to be a little disorienting, so when you step through, try not to vomit on anyone.” Which Ira had done, and at great amusement to the rest of the squad, since she’d covered her squad leader right after stepping through the portal. Not one of her finest moments as a member of the Yn Dref guards.

Standing tall, she strode through the portal at a fast trot, taking clear to be several steps clear before the first of the trainees was dumped out onto the ground below. And then collapsed to one knee, gasping for breath, as the aftereffects of the trip caught her. The best description of it she’d ever heard was that it felt like being kicked in the balls while all the air was sucked from her lungs. Now, she didn’t know exactly what that was like, but given how many of the male soldiers had agreed with it, it must be pretty close to true.

It was certainly unpleasant, and within moments there were trainees scattered about, retching or nearly so as they felt the impact of the transition. Only one of the women stayed standing, although the grimace on her face said that it was more an act of willpower than anything else.

After several long breaths steadied her, Ira rose to her feet and looked over the motley and somewhat vomit spattered group. “On your feet, the one thing I’m sure of is the creatures we’ve come to visit aren’t going to hang around and wait for you to recover. And make sure to clean one another off, you all smell enough already.”

Once the squad had composed themselves properly, Ira led them off at a trot. Might as well take them on a tour of the village before nightfall, when the real work would begin.



by thefourpartland

The sound of a bell startled Yaden awake from where he had been dozing, nose down in a particularly dry and academic tract on the families of the High Arcanist, and what had caused each one to rise to that position.

Across from him, Canere was still awake, although with bags under his eyes. And sitting to either side of him was two stacks, one much taller than the other. As Yaden watched, the pamphlet in Canere’s hand was dropped onto the shorter of the two stacks.

“Canere, what time is it?”

The first answer he got was a yawn, followed by a stretch.


“I think that was the dawn bell, although I’m not sure. I lost track a while ago. It’s the downside of being tucked into these archives.”

“The dawn bell? I said I was going to be finished at the midnight bell! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was too busy studying. You’ve known me how long and you thought I’d remember what time of day it was when I found something interesting?”

Yaden sighed. That comment was, sadly, entirely true. Canere had never been able to devote anything less than his full and undivided attention to something he found interesting. Hence why he was so suited for the life of an arcanist.

“Fine, fair point. But what do we do now?”

“Well, I have to go to classes soon.” The young mage paused. “Blast. No, I don’t. I have to teach the children’s classes. That’s much worse than I thought. You sure you don’t want to cover for me, Yaden? I’m sure you could cope…”

“I just spent a night helping you on your newest crazy idea and now you want to drag me into that? Not a chance. Me, I’m going in search of a good breakfast, and then a bed. It will at least keep up my reputation as the last roustabout of Yn Dref, provided no one knows why I was up all night long. If you want to rope someone into help you, I suggest Ira. She’s going to be fresh this morning.”

Canere snorted. “I prefer my legs unbroken, thank you. Her denials can be rather… vigorous sometimes.”

Laughing, Yaden waved goodbye to his friend as the two departed the archives.


Ira, for her part, was in fact engaged in something vigorous at the precise moment of Canere’s comment. And in much the same vein as he had meant it.

“No, you dolt. You don’t try and block like that, you step to the side. It’s much easier and doesn’t risk your weapon being broken. You really should have learned that by now, I’ve shown you enough times.”

The trouble of it was, the lad that Ira was instructing as part of guardsmen training was making the block work. He was the second son of one of the few remaining blacksmiths, and much like his kin, was the size of a small stone tower. And about as rugged. Which meant that if he wanted to block a strike and got his training blade in the way, the strike was going to be blocked, whether it should have been or not.

And no amount of shouting, cajoling, instructing, or other techniques had been able to get the trainee to adjust what he was doing. Yes, it worked, but it wasted energy and meant that the lad would eventually run up against someone with enough skill to take advantage of the hole.

That was the theory, at least, although in Ira’s experience, the only enemy the guards ever defended against was the wild and sometimes starving predators that roamed the peaks of the Ogleddol expanse, and against those creatures, brawn counted for far more than almost anything else.

There hadn’t been an actual invasion of Hania since the collapse of the skycities. Why should there be? If someone wanted the fabled magical artefacts of the Hanians, they could easily find a fallen skycity and plunder it, rather than invade the lands of the last working one. And no doubt that had been done, although the truly inhospitable terrain and hidden valleys that had proven so useful to the Hanians in the past were no doubt still serving to keep most treasure seekers away.

Frustrated with everything, but perhaps herself most of all, Ira waved off the few trainees, sending them to get some food and water. Trainees… There were eight of them, six boys and two girls, and that was the entirety of this year’s guardsmen class. And four of them would be useless in a fight. No courage, no willingness to take a hit, and no hint of skill with a blade.

Sitting as she was, she could only hear the approaching footsteps.

“Another rough day, Ira?”

A glance up showed her Vendol, Senior Guardsman and what passed for the leader of the ragtag Hanian fighting force.

“Even in the year I joined, some of these would have been turned away.”

“Aye, I know. But we make do with what the gods have chosen to give us, not what we wish we could have. I could wish for the serried ranks of the Dark Havoc to rise once more, but that elite corps is consigned to the pages of history. And so we take gutter orphans and make them soldiers.”

“How? I always thought I was good at training, until I met this lot. The blacksmith’s boy will be the best of them, but that’s his father’s gifts, not mine. Several of the rest will be functional, and the bottom few little more than animal feed. Three of them against a single of the winter wolves would probably see them all killed. And when the news of that filters back, it will come to rest on my head.”

Vendol clasped her shoulder, turning Ira to face him. “No one else’s death is on your head unless you run them through. I’ve done my best over the years with the guards, but that doesn’t mean no one has died. If someone’s standing livestock duty alone, and an ice bear charges him down, unless he’s got Fasnachu’s own luck, he’s dead. Doesn’t matter if it’s you, me, or anyone else. Not one of us can manage an ice bear solo. And you’re selling yourself and the students short. They’ll turn out to be better than you think in the long run, and you’ll be the one who put them there. So smile and bear up, because the gods know we need every living soul who can.”

That drew a slightly pained grin from Ira, but a grin it was. “Fair enough, Ven. And while you’re here and in a good mood, do you mind if I take the kids down below? There’s been reports of some wolves harassing the outlying livestock pen, and I’d like to check it out.”

“Just remember to issue them real armour. Having any crippled this early on would set back the whole class.”

Ira nodded. “I understand. Was planning on bringing my homemade bow as a just in case.”

Vendol sighed. “That monstrosity? Fine. But if you break your back carrying that thing through the brush, it’s all on you.”

“Always is, chief.” Sketching a rather jaunty salute, Ira trotted off towards her home.



by thefourpartland

Dinner had been a tepid affair, as it always was these days, with little to recommend it and no flavours to speak of. It was nutrition, pure and simple, and that was all that could be said in its favour. Indeed, it was a meal to dampen the spirits, as were all the meals taken on Yn Dref these days. It was in those dampened spirits that the three friends found themselves wandering the city streets, past grey mothers and greyer children.

Ira waved a hand at the Hanians that flocked around them. “Are you sure you don’t want to help these people, Yaden? There’s little reason not to.”

Yaden sighed. For once, the boisterous nature was gone. “Ira, I’ve nothing of what they truly need.” He flicked his hand into the air, and a light shower of sparks came from it, twinkling as they extinguished themselves in the night air. “You’ve witnessed something near to the extent of my powers right there. And what we stand on is the floating remains of a mountain top, ripped from the ground and upended by magics that we can barely comprehend. The gulf between my meagre talents and the arcanists of the golden era of Hania is so vast as to swallow all the valleys that feed us and then some. To save our people, we need gifted who can cross that gulf. Instead, the very best we have exhaust themselves daily just trying to keep what remains flying. And they’re failing. The old Market District is somewhere down below, now. As are the original barracks, some of the Temple Quarter, and who knows what else that fell before I was old enough to understand. The entire might of our existing arcanists is not enough to keep one skycity in the air, and yet in the history books, we learn of a time when there were dozens, if not a hundred or more, floating above the vast canyons of Ogleddol. So no, it’s not that I won’t, it’s that I can’t.”

Canere, ever the scholar, began to muse. “But why has our talent level fallen so far? We’ve the same bloodline as the arcanists who came before. Indeed, most of the upper families remaining can trace their heritage back to the greatest of the great, and are more intermingled than any twisted vine. So that’s the same. The world around us has changed, for sure. The old empire of Arhosa is no more, but Hanian society was long somewhat separate on our skycities in the first place. The Enayinbo magicians who helped forge Arhosa were our equals, not our betters.” He paused. “I’m going to the archives. The answer has to be in there somewhere.”

The other two groaned. They had seen what happened when Canere got caught in the throes of an idea, and it would mean him spending hours upon hours digging through whatever had caught his fancy. And then dragging the two of them into it.

“Tomorrow, Canere. Despite being the one who wasn’t a fool on the edge of the world today, I’m tired. Maybe that’s because I was doing actual work. So, before you have your mad moment, I’m leaving and going to bed. Yaden, I suggest you do the same.” Ira departed, shaking her head at the ideas that would sometimes sprout in that mage’s mind.

“Yaden, I kept you safe today. The least you can do is give me a little bit of a hand with the research.”

“Canere, I’m going to say yes, even though I’ll regret it within moments. I’ll help until the midnight bell, but then I’m off to the comforts of my bed, such as they are.”

With that, the two of them set off in the direction of the arcanist archives.


It had taken some begging and other whining to have the librarians allow the two of them access, but after being persuaded it was a historical topic, they relented. The librarians, mages themselves, had seen too many young fools hoping to find the secret to the lost power of Hania somewhere in the stacks. Usually followed by said young fool attempting to cast one of the spells he had found and killing himself and possibly others.

And yet it was precisely to those shelves that Canere first went. Although he did send Yaden off to collect a host of histories from around the golden age until the present. As a fully trained arcanist, albeit one quite far down the pecking order due to youth, Canere did technically have access to the shelves in the back, although his instructors had rather pointedly not mentioned them to him. He’d had to discover their existence for himself, as well as what they contained. But his studies in the dusty corners of the archives had given him some of the insights that allowed him to become the arcanist he was today. Which, on the whole, was not saying a great deal.

Yaden returned to find his friend nose deep in a scroll, peering at oddly scribed words. “I’ve got the mess of documents that you wanted. Now what?”

Canere poked his nose over the scroll. “Start reading.”

“I need to know what I’m reading for…”

“Something that’s not the same as it is today.”

“Canere, that’s everything. Aside from the fact we still, barely, live on a skycity.”

The young mage paused, marshalling his thoughts. “Okay, here. Look for things that aren’t done the same way as today. Especially magical things. Something’s changed between their day and ours, and I want to find it. Our connection to magical energy isn’t as strong as it once was, and it’s not the bloodlines that’s causing it. So somewhere in those documents should be at least a hint of what’s causing it. Habits, behaviour, something’s changed that brought about Hania’s downfall. And it has to be wide enough to affect a whole civilization.”

“And if there isn’t?”

“It’s either in your documents or mine, so start reading. Hemming and hawing isn’t going to get through them any faster.”

Shaking his head at his friend’s surety, Yaden began to pour through the stack of old books in front of him.



by thefourpartland

The Last City is the next in the series of short stories and novellas that take place in the land of Arhosa, a long standing setting of mine.

The city of Yn Dref floats among the clouds of the Ogleddol Mountains, the great expanse that spans the north-eastern region of Arhosa, inhospitable to almost all life. Peaks permanently covered in snow and ice rise from the mists that wreath their noble shoulders, and even the birds do not frequent these icy slopes, preferring warmer and softer climes.

But there is life here. Small creatures dash across the snowy covering, sleeping away the winter and reviving in the summer to eat of what little food they can find. And then there are the secret valleys, nestled between the forbidding peaks, full of cold and hard earth, barely fertile. These valleys are the lifeblood of the Hanian people, for, scattered and weak, they farm amongst the rocky mountains, providing the grains that feed their floating cities.

There is little of life here, up atop the crown of the world, and it is life that gets smaller every year, for the people of Hania breed slowly, and die at a faster pace. Once great mages who travelled the lands in their flying cities, they are now reduced to little more than maintainers of the past, holding on to the remains of what once was theirs. Their libraries are full of old texts on manipulation and modification, on making a stone as light as the air or a feather weigh the same as a boulder. Yet almost none of the mages living can manage those spells, and the shrinking brotherhood watches as their flying home crumbles into the mountains below.


“You might want to consider stepping away from the ledge, given how much of the city has fallen in recent years.” Canere stared over at Yaden, his lifelong friend. And a bit of a fool, in Canere’s eyes.

“But if I do that, I can’t see what’s below me. And it’s such a view.”

Indeed, it was, for although Yn Dref was failing, its perch high above the ground gave it a view of the world that naught but the birds had ever possessed. Well, the birds and once the entire Hanian civilization. Now most of the people who claimed that heritage worked down in the valleys below, harvesting grain and managing what livestock there was. In decades past, those hands would have wrought spells, summoned food with a flick of the wrist, but now they were the lowest of peasants, unable to do anything but grub in the dirt.

“Yaden, I don’t want to have to explain to your parents why you’re nothing more than a red coating on some rocks. Even if it is a lovely shade of red.”

“Fine, fine.” Yaden slipped back from where he had lain, peering over the edge. “But I still think you’re being overly cautious.”

“To you, being cautious is being overly concerned.”

Yaden shrugged. “Well, what else is there to live for? The glory of our people? We all know that’s long gone. A beautiful wife? Most of the people around here look more weathered than the stone. Good cheer? We eat gruel and stew, and pray to Challineb we have a harvest each year. So I take what pleasure where I can.”

“You could spend your talents bettering the situation, working on restoring Hanian and Yn Dref.”

Yaden snorted. “That’s why you became a mage, and I didn’t. I don’t have the scales over my eyes.”

Canere pointed at the implements that hung from Yaden’s belt. “You might not claim to be a mage, but you still have some talents in that direction. Talents that could help this city and its people.”

“Talents that I am perfectly happy using for my own amusements, I’ll have you know.”

“Oh? Is that why you use them trying to entice Ira?”

For once, Yaden had the good grace to blush. “I do nothing of the sort, I merely acquire presents for her when the moment seems right.”

“Presents for whom?” Ira laughed as she ducked around a fallen pillar, her reddish blonde hair drifting in the breeze.

“According to Yaden, anyone but you. You’re just too hideous to give anything but a mask.” Canere was already ducking the punch coming his way as he said it.

Although he ducked the wrong way, since he was expecting it from Yaden, and instead got smacked by Ira.

“Ow! That hurt!”

“Best be careful what sharpness comes out of your mouth then.”

Canere rolled his eyes at Ira, causing her and Yaden to burst into fits of laughter.

“On a better note, I’ve been sent to summon you lot to dinner. Not that the magister will be entirely happy, if he finds out you were up to your old tricks of hanging off the lip again.”

“I counselled against it, as I always do.”

“Canere, you’ve been counselling against it since Yaden was five, ad you’ve never stopped him once. At this point, that just makes you as complicit as him.”

Yaden smirked. “You see, Canere? You should be doing the things I do, rather than just standing around and watching. At least you’d have earned getting in trouble then.”

Ira glared at Yaden, who grinned and sauntered off in the direction of dinner. Staring over the edge of the world did give him a frightful appetite, after all.