21

May

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.

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