The Great Conflict, and the world, has ended. Magic is forbidden, so that the world can heal. I believe it’s stolen your memories, too. Which is why you and I are keeping this journal. You, reading this tomorrow, and me, writing this today.
Remember this if you can: your name is Carth. You are a warrior, aged boy. You travel with a woman named Aos and a man named Desmon. Do not concern yourself with the torn patch of boiled leather on you breast, nor the ones on your companions’, nor the looks that the empty patch may garner. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.
* * *
You three have collected your provisions—corn, corn and more corn once again. You gathered in the same alley as yesterday, in between the charred husks of houses. Once you started eating, you wondered if some of the ash didn’t make it into your food. If you happen to wake up with a taste like ashes in your mouth, you’ll have a small understanding of the ordeal it was to swallow that bile.
“War’s a bitch,” Aos said, “What did they do to this food?”
“Might be the seasoning,” you suggested.
Desmon giggled, sending pinkish corn-juice dribbling down his chin. “You don’t season corn!”
“Might be someone thought to use a heap of soil,” Aos suggested. Yellow filled the gaps between her teeth. “Perhaps they needed a light garnish.”
Before you or Desmon could respond, you three noticed a boy staring at you from the other end of the alley. He looked like a skeleton; he’d only a shadow of skin and a face that pocketed deep-sunken eyes that couldn’t remember to blink. His tunic was torn and he was caked with dirt and dust. One side of his yellow hair had been matted down and crusted with dried blood. Whether it belonged to him or someone else, you couldn’t say. He had only one leg and leaned on a makeshift wooden crutch for support.
You never knew people came that small.
Aos shouted at him; and then kept shouting until the boy hopped over to you. She tried to impress the boy with her longsword, but the one-legged boy only held out cupped hands, saying the same word over and over, as if he couldn’t hear Aos.
The word was foreign, though its meaning was discernible. “Food,” he was saying. “Food, food.”
So Aos gave up, laughed and dribbled some corn into the boy’s tiny hands. Desmon called the boy over and closed his small, dirty fingers over the corn. He whispered something you didn’t understand. Then the boy hopped off, plucking the corn into his mouth.
You asked Desmon what he said, ignoring Aos’s rhythmic chanting of, “One leg…one leg…one leg…” as she stared blankly into space.
“I told him to be careful—made sure he knew not to let anyone see his food—” Desmon stopped to smack the back of Aos’s head. “Stop staring!”
“Lord of Bones, that’s a boy with one leg!” Aos said. She turned you then with a smile like a curved dagger. “Some poor soul must have miswung.”
You decided you’d had enough of Aos and went off to forget her. But she and Desmon followed you, reasoning it was dangerous to leave you alone for very long. I happen to agree. Though they bickered through the whole walk until you found a river just outside the town. It looked like the best spot to rest for a while.
You sat there and watched your reflection. You put your feet in the river contemplated everything you’d read from me. Thoughts of a siege rattled your mind. You bunched up your cloak, dark as night time. You wondered what might happen to Desmon and Aos. You thought they had been as siblings to you. Though you weren’t even sure how long or how well they knew you.
You churned through your empty head for some god to pray to, but nothing came. You reread what I told you about lightning lords long before and you realized that you didn’t—or perhaps couldn’t—believe in such things. Gods? Fate? Comforts. Do you think this is happening for a reason?
You didn’t have time to contemplate this, for you heard Desmon shouting and Aos rising to her feet. You three rushed back to the ravaged town.
“The enemy is here!” Aos said. From just over a hill, you saw banners snapping and metal clanking, pikes and swords peeking over the apex.
“Get ready to fight, Carth,” Aos urged you. She shoved you forward. “Move! Let’s go!”
And you did. You fought the monstrous warband. That’s whose blood is smeared on your sword. And you’re using red ink—or has it dried to brown by now? Has it taken you this long to realize you didn’t hang on to any spare berries last night? All you need is a thin stick to write with. Crude, yes, but it gets the job done.
Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron