in my nightmares

How do you cure a non-biological disease?  This week you will be able to read the conclusion of the story which started HERE and was rewritten HERE
Please enjoy, and don’t forget to provide feedback, should you have any.

I don’t hold out much hope of recovery. I think there is a good chance it’s already too late for this quarter; that it is no boil at all but a cancer, and one that has eaten too deep. Certainly, it can not be cut out. Or, indeed, perhaps I am no more effective than the spiritual healers of my homeland, whose trade survives on fabricated tales, on coincidence and serendipitous recoveries. My studies were never so nebulous. I pledged to first do no harm, and then to balance risk and benefit.

If I do nothing, or if I talk but take no action, the plague will one day come to me. That violates the first principle. If I unleash my rage against the perpetrators – once I have located them, of course – I risk damaging the host while strengthening the disease, in the same way that a drinker simply absorbs his first bottle with no noticeable effect. And this without even mentioning the inevitable retribution against myself, which would make a second dose impossible.

With both inaction and direct action out of the picture, what remained to me for my decision? For fifteen years now, I have patched, repaired, cleaned, and replaced. I come here as often as I can – mostly once a week, though sometimes my work keeps me away longer. So, why do I do it?

I do it because I haven’t given up; I do it because I can. I do it because this is the only thing I can think of to do. But there is also one unspoken reason, a reason that keeps me awake in the few hours I have to sleep – I do it because, deep within, I know that this is my life now. Even in my dreams, paint drips from the walls, and glass plinks down from cracked panes. As long as I live, there’s work to be done. No one helps.

And in my nightmares, I live forever.

Emblem Black (2)

still living forever

Hello, Monday!  Breaking with tradition, I’ve decided to upload something on time.  Please enjoy an update to the story from before entitled: I Live Forever.
I give you the next part, plus the first part again, rewritten for style, sense, and a tie-in to the world of Eormen.
If, for some reason, you want to see the original, it is still available HERE
See you in a week!
Update: the final part is available to read HERE

 

I Live Forever

Why do I do it? I suppose that is the question that most comes to mind when people see me at work. In one or two months, three at the most, everything is going to look exactly as it does now, so why do I do it? Why bother, when nobody else makes the effort? Why waste my time and silver when others clearly have no intention of doing the same?

Why do I do it?

Tonight, I’m working on the window. It is the fourth broken window this year, and it is only April. After the pieces have been taken out and the hole boarded up, after the empty space has been prepared to receive the new window (already ordered, of course), I’ll move on to cleansing the obscene daubings from the windowsill.

I recognise the signature, though naturally I wouldn’t recognise the author if I met them on the streets. There are probably a thousand possible candidates. It is now impossible to count the number of gangs roaming the streets in this quarter of the city; poor gangs, apprentice gangs, some slightly-more-progressive mixed gangs – the rich gangs, more properly called ‘bands’ do not come to this part – and then our new addition: the refugee gangs.

You surely do not need me to tell you that peace, whether through victory or defeat, is the most distant of dreams. My generation was the last to know what it meant.

Happily, I am no refugee, in as much as I never fled from war, though I will never belong here, either. When I was young, coming to the city to study the medicine at the Great College of Thenos, my colour clearly set me apart. When I returned to my own land, I was still the outsider; I had learned too much. I was able to watch as freedoms were removed, as whole families were removed – first from sight, and then from the face of the earth.

And because I had learned too much, I knew that they would come for me too, one day. My knowledge of freedom was a threat, my ability to speak my mind, to speak through the filter of experience, and not of prescribed doctrine, was a threat. I returned to the city that had educated me from my land, and I returned to making sick people well. But I was not a refugee. There was no war.

Not yet.

Why do I do it?

During my college years, I had some neighbours unlucky enough to have their window put through by some drunkard on their way home. This window was replaced not with glass, but with a rough cut of wood that I suspect they had liberated from an unattended warehouse. I’m sure it kept the wind out, but it also very perceptibly changed the character of their dwelling.

Was it perhaps due to this that empty bottles began to accumulate before their door, and that it became necessary to step over the unconscious owner of said bottles some mornings? A definitive answer it difficult, but the fact is that, not long after, their house – that precise board, in fact – was chosen as target practice for some rather foul eggs, while my own was spared.

It was when a group of quite ordinary-looking men who should know better started pitching stones at the upstairs window, hitting the houses either side – including my own – that I decided that not only people but places, too, could get diseases. This, I realised, was how a quarter became a slum. It took only one broken window, one daubed wall; without immediate treatment, that wound became infected, and the boil began to rise.

And then I went home, to the land of my birth, and saw how the mind could be as diseased as the body, and twice as contagious. The Black Prophets came, spouting their ‘wisdom’, and my people succumbed to it in their droves. The older I get, the more I realise that there are very few things that can not become diseased. But the question is why do I do it?, and I’m not doing a very good job of answering it.

Emblem Black (2)

we are sisyphus

I have to ask for forgiveness.  In the first*, for leaving for so long with no explanation and nothing, not so much as a pilfered link to make up for my absence.  The explanation is simple enough: I moved countries.  The work involved with packing one car with everything you might need for the foreseeable future, renting out your apartment, securing a job, opening and closing your bank accounts, etc. is not to be sneezed at.

It also makes for incredibly dull reading, which is why I won’t bore you with it here.

Instead, I’d like to share with you a recently-completed writing exercise from The Art Of Writing‘s blog, to paraphrase: ‘When do pointless things have a point?’  This was, at least, where I started from though, as usual, things developed.  It also helped me to become once more the Pilgrim of Eormen, rather than John Falconer, as I used the exercise to help me build my world.

Since it is a little longer, I’ll upload it in two (or three) parts in the coming weeks.  Comments, questions, feedback, you know the procedure.

*and in the second, for attempting to appear clever by name-dropping a Greek legend.

This post is now available in updated form HERE

 

I Live Forever

Why do I do it? I suppose that is the question that most comes to mind when people see me at work. In one or two months, three at the most, everything is going to look exactly as it does now, so why do I do it? Why bother, when nobody else makes the effort? Why waste my time and silver when others clearly have no intention of doing the same?

Why do I do it?

Tonight, I’m working on the window. It is the fourth broken window this year, and it is only April. After the pieces have been taken out and the hole boarded up, after the empty space has been prepared to receive the new window (already ordered, of course), I’ll move on to cleansing the obscene daubings from the windowsill.

I recognise the signature, though naturally I wouldn’t recognise the author if I met them on the streets. There are probably a thousand possible candidates. It is now impossible to count the number of gangs roaming the streets in this quarter of the city; poor gangs, apprentice gangs, some slightly-more-progressive mixed gangs – the rich gangs, more properly called ‘bands’ do not come to this part – and then our new addition: the refugee gangs.

You surely do not need me to tell you that peace, whether through victory or defeat, is the most distant of dreams. My generation was the last to know what it meant.

Happily, I am no refugee, in as much as I never fled from war, though I will never belong here, either. When I was young, coming to the city to study the medicine at the Great College of Thenos, my colour clearly set me apart. When I returned to my own land, I was still the outsider; I had learned too much. I was able to watch as freedoms were removed, as whole families were removed – first from sight, and then from the face of the earth.

And because I had learned too much, I knew that they would come for me too, one day. My knowledge of freedom was a threat, my ability to speak my mind, to speak through the filter of experience, and not of prescribed doctrine, was a threat. I returned to the city that had educated me from my land, and I returned to making sick people well. But I was not a refugee. There was no war.

Not yet.

Emblem Black (2)

The blog from which this challenge came is called ‘The Art of Writing’, by Tobias Mastgrave.  You can see the original post HERE

 

want to go back to the circus?

My dearest darlings, today we find out if the circus master really does always have a plan, or if – as the whispers on the street seem to say – he has lost his wits altogether.
Perhaps you would like to refresh your memories with PART ONE

It will be a quick fight. The tiny humanoid seems terrified of the monstrous man, and who could blame him? For years, Chran has fought with axe and shield, leather trousers for dignity, but otherwise naked. What need has he for armour? There are few that can get close to him, and for those who do, death comes swiftly. Smash! goes the axe, and the body parts bounce off the dirt. Well, usually. This little one is particularly fleet of foot; it manages to avoid the first blow and to dodge behind Chran’s back, amid jeers and riotous applause.

And once more, the applause turns to laughter, as Chran’s opponent hops onto his back, wrapping arms and legs around his torso and holding on for life. Chran thrashes this way and that, but cannot dislodge it. His massive muscles prevent him from reaching behind his own back. Why doesn’t he simply fall down? That is an easy question. Chran knows that once a fighter is off-balance, he is doomed. What is to stop the tiny creature from leaping off Chran’s back as he falls, stabbing him in the heart with its little dagger?

Gasps, now; gasps from the spectators. Where did this dagger appear from? The creature did not have one at the start. No matter; it has one now, and it jams the blade between Chran’s shoulders, making the big man bellow with rage. Not pain, no. Surely not pain from Chran, who has destroyed so many men, borne so many wounds without complaint. Anyway, the knife is tiny, too small to damage such a man as Chran.

And yet, does Chran not seem to be growing desperate? See his limbs flail without clear purpose. Hear his mighty roars, becoming more and more like howls. Around and around he spins, his opponent still holding on – but no. It cannot be the same opponent. This one has thick thighs, bulging with muscles. And Chran, too, looks different. His skin, before of solid white marble, now is shot through with blue, furiously-pumping veins.

The axe and shield fall from his fingers. Chran takes a knee. What can be happening to the hero of a hundred fights? Nobody knows. They can only watch as his throes become rhythmic and mechanical, but no less ineffectual. They can only watch as the bones of his ribs begin to strain against his skin. They can only watch as the strange creature on his back continues to swell and grow, sucking the very life from Chran not through a dagger at all, they can see that now, but through an elongated thumb. The thing on Chran’s back begins to shriek in joyful gluttony; it is now the same size as any normal man, and as fat as any king.

We will never know whether, as Chran struggled to his feet, he had already planned to crush his opponent, or whether it was the effort of standing that finally finished him, but what every man, woman, and child will remember to their dying day is the sound that the swollen monster made as it burst. As best as this old man can describe it, he will: imagine a butcher’s cleaver cutting through a steak in one stroke. Imagine, at the same time, a chamber pot being emptied from an upstairs window. Imagine, too, the sucking sound of horses’ hooves as they walk over a muddy river bed.

And now…the circus needs a new hero. And they will get one, as sure as the sun will rise in the morning. I may be an old man, but I knew what I was doing when I bought that strange little creature from the eastern pirates – though I do not think I will have them bring me another. It is always so disappointing when the slaves must roll two bodies into the flames.

It is true what they say; the circus master always has a plan. And it will forever be true that no man – and there are no exceptions – no man escapes the pit forever.

Emblem Black (2)

let’s all go to the circus!

What do you give the man who has killed everything?  Only one way to find out!
PART TWO now online!

The Circus

Ah, the roar of the crowd. How pleasing! The circus never fails to impress; the jolly colours flying from the poles; the smell of spices from the furthest reaches of the Archipelago (and a liberal helping of sweat, of course); the tang of iron almost visible in the air…the children and the old men say they can taste it, even, but of course, they are the foolish ones.

Under the roar, always, the drone of flies, clustered thick around the coagulating pools. They feast for a while then, startled by the approach of slaves, they launch into the air, an angry, fuzzy cloud. A cloud that drips.

How many have lost their lives in the circus? Too many to count, but that is not important. The more important question is: how many have made their lives in the circus? And that is important, because the man striding onto the clay is a living legend. Forget, for a moment, that people have paid to watch him kill. Forget also that some have paid hoping to see him die. Know only this – Chran lives for the circus, and the circus lives in him.

To date, Chran has killed the following things: from the land of Naaset, three monsters from the desert, one ipphus, and one of their strange reptiles (a rather tame battle); from Wushnia, a giant, standing at nine feet; a pelted elephant from Tarysha; a giant bird from I do not know where. Other monsters, as well, too many to name. And that, in addition to over a hundred men and women, not including the heroes, of course.

How does he do it? children ask their parents, and never twice receive the same answer. “It is his skill,” some say, when they wish for their children to focus on their own training. “It is his strength,” reply others, “which is a result of cleaning his plate, and of good, hard work.” The bearded men tell their acolytes that it is the will of the Gods, and that piety is the best way to thank them. Whatever the answer, Chran remains scarred but alive.

He raises his hands and the roars multiply. Is this the day that Chran is finally thrown into the pit? That is what they all ask themselves. Will the slaves take his lifeless body from the clay and roll it into the fires? Many take bets to this effect, for no man – and there are no exceptions – no man escapes the pit forever. Looking at the body of that warrior, however…seemingly carved out of living stone, white, and shining, and thunderously muscled…it is difficult to imagine the opponent that could best him.

As the door opens on the other side of the arena, even the imagination of the wildest child is tested to the limit. For it is a frail, minuscule thing that is pushed onto the clay, dressed in silks, not leather. It isn’t even armed. The roars turn to bellows of laughter. Surely, wives say to husbands, surely Chran is not expected to fight this thing? Heads are shaken in reply, or else there is simply a knowing smile. The circus master always has a plan, they say, and wait to be proven right.

monsters in the desert

This one’s a little special as, unlike many of the other stories on this website, it actually takes place on Eormen.  Hope you enjoy it.  If you don’t, you can leave me a nasty comment below.

COEP

The boy was tall for his age, not yet as tall as his older brother, but as tall as one can reasonably expect to be who is only eight years old. As a rule, he followed his brother like a shadow, but today Raan was elusive. At fourteen, Raan was practically a man; next year their father would present him with his own kolt, and that would be that. Coep feared losing his brother to adulthood but, being a child, found the thought easy to push from his mind.

He stood with one foot on the wooden fence, watching the sun go down. The desert sun was a punishing thing; it waged a war of attrition with the land, looking down with scorn on the people, the animals, the plants who toiled beneath it. It sapped the energy from everything it touched, and sooner or later even the strongest man gave up trying to fight it, and his family placed him deep into the earth, where it was cool, and the sun could no longer reach him, and only then could he rest.

Coep, however, was still only a boy, and filled with the wild spirit that went with it. His chores for the day were finished and now he had plenty of time to impersonate his brother while Raan was busy with whatever it was older brothers did. He placed one hand on his hip and scratched at his temple, as Raan always did when he was thinking. He supposed Raan was probably with their father, as both were nowhere to be seen.

Only about five hundred yards away, a light appeared on the cooling sands, the source impossible to make out in the gathering dusk. It danced in the distance, flickering and waving like a drunk, but Coep knew better than to leave the safety of the ranch; out in the desert were monsters. Nobody had yet identified how many kinds there were, but there was a complex food chain out there in the desert, and humans were always at the bottom.

The light had grown closer.

A good man with a well-made kolt could kill one monster, and a really good man might kill four, but a kolt must eventually be reloaded, and before you’ve done that, your belly is open to the wind and your guts are coiling up on the sand. “A kolt is a formidable weapon,” Coep’s father would say, “but when it is empty, all that is left is the man.” Sometimes, he would talk of the monsters he had seen and killed in the desert. Some walked on two legs, some on four, some on many more, or none at all. But the ones that Coep feared the most were the ones that lured their prey with a familiar shape.

“Like a hermit sleeping under rags,” their father had said, “and the desert is no place for a hermit, especially at night. I approached that hermit and lost two toes.” He had lifted his right foot and wiggled his remaining toes and his sons had listened, encased in the warmth of the fire and safe from the outside. “Maybe I should have seen that it wasn’t human, maybe I could have seen the claws if I had tried, but I didn’t, and I lost two toes.” He had gathered his sons up in his arms, softening his next words with the embrace.

“My sons: you will never – EVER – set foot outside the boundaries I have set up. Within sight of the house I can protect you. Outside the fence…” His eyes had grown cold and hard. “Outside the fence, the desert will chew you and swallow you.”

Naturally, Raan and Coep had begun their tests of manliness only a few days later. When their father was busy, they were able to sit on the fence and touch the outside with their toes. Raan had even stood outside the fence, but Coep had not dared. Later, without him, he had managed it, but Raan had not seen it and had accused him of lying.

The light had grown closer now, and Coep could see that it truly was a drunk out in the desert. The light was a lantern strung on a pole, which the figure carried braced against his shoulder as he weaved across the cooling sands. “Hey!” Coep shouted, but the drunk did not hear. In the dark, he might miss the ranch altogether, and then it would surely be death for him. Coep repeated his cry but it was swallowed by the night. He would have to get closer.

Coep lowered himself until his feet were touching the sand and took a few tentative steps towards the light. “Hey!” he cried again. Nothing. Coep jogged a few paces toward him and shouted. Nothing. Coep decided to fetch him; if he couldn’t hear at this distance, perhaps he was deaf. Perhaps he was ill. The light winked out and Coep’s insides went cold.

Too far behind him, the lanterns of the ranch burned. In front of him, there was nothing. Night had fallen and he might as well have been blind. Something approached him at speed, with a clicking as of many legs, and Coep lost all pretence of bravery. Screaming, he sprinted for the lights, watching as the figures of Raan and their father stepped out of the barn. The sight brought little relief; they were so far away. By the time they reached him, the desert would have chewed and swallowed.

A blinding pain in his shin felled him. Coep screamed at himself to stand but his energy was spent, sucked away by fear and by pain. A loud crack sounded above him and a skittering sound receded a short distance. Coep probed his leg and found it still where it should be. The fence! Coep had struck the fence, and the monster had crashed through it. He stood, but his leg could not support him and he fell once more. He heard the monster approach again and the light he had seen in the desert appeared, this time much closer.

Coep could see the beast’s every scale as it reared up and waved scythe-like appendages. It no longer looked like a drunk. The light it carried at the end of a long and flexible proboscis waved about, throwing crazy shadows over itself and the prone figure on the ground. Loose skin flapped about it like a cloak while too many legs to count continued to weave their insane dance. Coep screwed his eyes tight shut. Never – EVER – leave the boundaries…There was scuffling, and a scream, and then splatch.

Coep’s face was covered in salty blood. Splatch. Splatch. He opened his eyes as the monster stumbled and fell. From the flat of his back, he watched as his father stalked toward the prostrate monster, his kolt aimed squarely at the head, watching for the minutest movement. Apparently satisfied, he moved away, towards a second heap on the ground.

On shaky legs, Coep approached where his father crouched, every step forcing the dread up from his guts until he thought he would vomit. The iron smell of blood was in his nostrils and he could hear his father tearing his clothes into bandages. Raan lay on the floor, a deep gash in his leg and his blood draining into the thirsty sands. The face Coep’s father turned to him was one of pure disappointment; there was no love in that look, only a weary determination. His voice was stone.

“Pack your things and pack your brother’s things. At first light, we return to the city.”

raiders three

no meaningless words from me, simply the final instalment of THE RAIDERS

MISSED THE FIRST PART?

He leapt from the structure, rolling as he landed, and was up and running before the raiders knew he was there. He cut straight for the trees. From the sounds behind him, he knew that they were following, but night was quickly falling and they would surely miss him in the dim light.

Surely.

When the sounds behind him grew fainter, he doubled back. The raiders would continue to look for him, that he knew, but whether they would think to look behind them he doubted very much. It was said that trying to out-think the raiders was like trying to out-think fire; they were savage and impulsive, but there was also a kind of mad cunning to them. Evasir was clever enough not to be complacent. When a man thought he understood the raiders, that was when the danger came, that was when the fires turned his town to ash and his legs were cut from underneath him.

He danced through the trees, his fear driving him on at reckless speed. Twigs snapped at his face and legs. Thorns and brambles bit him at every opportunity. He did not stop to listen for his pursuit, but from the smells he could not escape. Night smells; the greens earthier than before, but now also a sharp silver scent, and always the brownish tang of the things that hunted at night. He did not know for how long he had run, but when his legs could no longer carry him he sank, shredded and bleeding, to the ground. It was no longer raining. The moon was up and the forest was bright. A hunter’s moon, and he the prey. The Gods truly despised him.

Although he had not fully recovered his breath, he got to his feet and began walking. Truly, he had no idea where he was. The forest had twisted and turned him, but his goal was to somehow get back to that village on the coast. In a village already sacked by the raiders, he might be safe – but of course he could never be sure.

Like trying to out-think fire.

He emerged into a small clearing. There was a large stack of rocks in the middle, with smaller jumbles all around it. He listened. The night was silent, which meant that the raiders were not close by; they were not famed for their stealth. He approached the stack and began to climb. From the top, he would command a much better view of the surrounding forest, and would be able to pick a direction with a little more certainty. He had no qualms about showing his silhouette against the night sky; either the raiders already knew where he was, or they were looking in the wrong direction.

He reached the top of the stack and balanced lightly on the balls of his feet. The night was not dark, but it yielded none of its secrets to the man on the rocks. Around him he saw only forest, endless forest. No coast; no village; no beautiful woman, dead by his own hand. One direction would be as good as any oth–

The earth rocked as if struck by a hammer and he stumbled. The light of the moon threw long shadows across the clearing, making the jumbles of pale rock appear to shine. Evasir whipped around; he saw nothing. The earth shook once more, and this time he lost his footing and half-slid, half-fell from his lookout. Evasir hit the floor hard, and looked back to see legs as thick as his body stomping towards him. Legs made of stone.

Acting on instinct, he rolled to the side as something crashed into the earth beside him. The moon he had once cursed gave enough light for him to recognise that the weapon the beast carried was indeed a hammer. It was a well-made hammer of polished wood, probably the whole trunk of a tree, with an enormous carved stone head. Animals could not make such weapons. Did the raiders have beasts of war now?

Like trying to out-think fire. He turned on his heel and ran.

He quickly made headway across the clearing, but once in the forest again, the monster had the advantage. The bushes and thorns that snagged at Evasir’s clothing were mere nuisances to the beast, which crashed through them, bellowing like a bull, an open invitation to every raider in the forest. Looming in the distance, he saw another pile of rocks. They might have provided him some safety until they, too, rose up and lifted a warhammer. This was the end of the road. If he slowed down to change direction, he was lost. If he stopped to climb a tree, he was lost. By now he had sprinted nearly to the feet of the second creature, and he knew that when he got there, he would be lost. He closed his eyes and dived.

He had judged it perfectly. Though the leap had been desperate, he had made it through the gap between the beast’s legs; he took the fall on his shoulder and was rolling to his feet as the two animals collided. Evasir skipped sideways through a gap in the trees. He paused. A crash behind him announced the two monsters falling to the ground. Questioning his sanity, Evasir crept back to observe, crawling deep into a thick bush. By the time the cumbersome creatures found their feet, the man had completely hidden himself.

Instantly forgetting their quarry, the monsters began swinging their hammers at each other, the colossal heads crunching into chests and bouncing off arms. Evasir carefully noted that the creatures were not particularly artful about where they hit each other, preferring instead to rely on their terrible strength and size. Against a man, or even a company of men, the effect would have been devastating. Against another each other, the result was predictable: the fight would probably continue until one of them struck a lucky blow to the other’s head and knocked it out. Evasir did not plan on waiting that long. He gently withdrew from the bush and crept silently away. When he had reached a safe distance, he began to run.