Ash and Cinders – 1. The Old Woman That is The World

“The world is ending.”

It is a younger boy who says it. Her brother, she assumes. She lived his fear when she was his age.

He hears the world murmur; feels it shake. He can just barely glimpse the town’s longhouse over the hill, banded with arches of golden-gleaming Arkynian bronze. To the boy, it sounds as if the bands are speaking—even if he doesn’t understand what they are saying. Gurgle they say. Gur-giggle. Then they let out a bloody wail that does not stop. The arches ripple and bend and snap back into position. The longhouse behaves like a rocking chair.

“Cinder?” The boy addresses the girl behind him. She is on her knees, weeping over a pile of firewood. “Cinder, what’s happening?”

He is too young to understand, Cinder knows. He’s three, maybe four? Her thoughts are cluttered. She can’t remember. She’s too busy reminding herself that the tears streaking her face are only from the remnants of smoke wafting up from the dead campfire. But she knows the boy is too young to have witnessed a morph before now. But not her. She knows. She’s only seen it once before, but the old man down the road tells her about morphs every day.

She remembers when her Mother took her to see him. She’d held her Mother’s hand by her two tree-bark middle fingers and followed her to his home in the wake of her first morph. She remembers looking up at her Mother, her flesh speckled with patches of leaves and tree bark. She had thought her beautiful. Others, she knew, did not. Cinder knew the story behind her name. How the midwife made her give birth in an empty hearth.

She pushes the memory down when something in her gut rises.

But she needs to tell the boy. He needs to understand. And there’s no one else to explain it to him. Still kneeling, still crying, never bothering to look, she recites what she remembers.

The land is alive. It is an old, old, woman. Every day the old woman wakes up, groaning and yawning and stretching. She can pucker and spit. Crack joints and bones. She bites her lip when she’s in pain. Gains weight. Loses it. Gains it all back. These are the morphs. That’s what the boy seeing. The old woman is waking up, groaning and stretching. It’s been a few years since she’s exercised this part of her body. Her foot’s fallen asleep, and the only way to bring back feeling is to move it. The trouble comes if they can’t get a Wizard to quell her before the feeling comes back and she starts walking around. “But that’s not for a few weeks,” she tells the boy. “At least a month off. Orym will be back with a Wizard by then.” She tries to keep her voice level. It’s the most she can manage as she kneels over the pile of ashes that had once been a fireplace. That had once been—no. She can’t say that part. She can’t even think it.

The Arkynian bronze stops wailing, but it does not stop rippling. Now it is singing whoop-whoop-whoop.

“How do you know we have that much time?” the boy asks.

Cinder gives herself a once-over. Checks the leaves woven through her arms, legs and hair, the three on the vine poking through her budding breasts. They dance while the old woman stretches. “I can sense it,” she says.

“Why can’t I?” the boy asks.

“You take after Father’s side of the family, Myle,” she snaps. “Don’t you remember?” She knows she shouldn’t have said it like that. Not so mean, at least. She doesn’t need to tear her gaze from the fireplace to know her brother’s ready to cry. “I’m sorry, Myle.” she sighs. “I got angry. I shouldn’t do that. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t choose not to be half a Nymph,” the boy snaps. He stomps his foot and almost loses his balance.

The girl’s fingers sift through the ash of the fireplace. They dig into her palms. There’s no stopping her tears now, but she tells herself that Myle doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He can hardly conceive what this pile of ash and cinders even means. “I didn’t choose either.” Her voice is hoarser than she expects it to be. She wants to say it again, but she’s afraid she may sound worse if she does.

Instead, Myle asks, “How do you know we’ll be safe until Orym’s back with the Wizard?”

Cinder thinks back to old Orym. He has so many stories. So she tells Myle the legend of Arkynian bronze:

Arkyn was the first Kingdom ever made. They were the ones who brought mankind forth from their savagery. They began as a town much like their own. But in Arkyn they built forges and smelted metals together. At first it was simply for weapons of war—to keep the Shamblemucks and Crackstones at bay. But as their metallurgy advanced, they stumbled upon Arkynian bronze: something to fortify their structures during the morphs. Something to absorb the old woman’s movements and direct it away from their longhouses and homes. Their structures got better. Great towers and spires. And they advanced into more land, collecting knowledge and tools and new ways to battle the old woman that is the world.

“What happened to them?” Myle asks.

“A morph in the capital,” Cinder answers. “Just like any other. But their empire was so big that they couldn’t get a Wizard across the empire to quell it. The capital fell, and the empire broke apart like the rest of the land.” Cinder tries to smile. She has to focus to hammer it into place. “That won’t happen here, though. Tull is much smaller. And Orym knows weird ways of contacting our Wizard.” She shrugs. “He shouldn’t be able to summon Thavian that quickly, but I’m not about to complain.”

A long silence passes. Myle sits down next to Cinder; does not speak. Thoughts creep back into Cinder’s mind slowly, like the small stones before an avalanche.

“Myle?”

“Cinder?”

“Please ask more questions.”

“Why?”

“I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts.”

“Okay.”

“So what’s your question?”

“Where’s Mother?”

Cinder sucks in a breath between her teeth, and then stops breathing. The exact question she did not want to explain to him, and he asked it. Her fingers are digging so hard into her palm that she draws blood. The ashes sting the cuts. She doesn’t care. She bites down on her lip to stifle the cry before it comes out. She stares at the campfire. At the ash and cinders. “They thought—they—they thought she was making the morphs happen. I mean—at least—I mean I think that’s what happened. I can’t be sure.”

“She left last night to speak with Orym. She’s been doing that a lot since Father died.”

I know!” Softer, now: “I know…”

“When is she coming back?”

Cinder scoops up a handful of ash; watches it sift through her fingers. “She’s not.” She wants to scream, but those words have tightened her throat. So she leaves the shrieking to glittering arches of Arkynian bronze banding the longhouse just over the hill.

Dark Business – Part Four

“The monsters have made their first move since they destroyed our bases,” Isora told me.

Metal grated against asphalt as Boss Ivan’s daughter hauled a scrap of twisted metal machinery out of her way. It landed with a clatter amidst gears and gyros that were all that was left of the old mechs the monsters had sent to loot the remains of our bases.

Isora and I picked our way through the ruins of the bases. Ivan had sent the two of us there to see if the monsters had managed to find anything of use in the ruins. A few crows had come across mechs leftover from the Old World attempting to loot the ruins while I was away in the Giant’s Quarter. Now, Boss Ivan had commissioned me to oversee his daughter’s safety during the hurried efforts to salvage as much as possible from his bases.

Clockwork gears whirred around broken bits of machinery that were all that remained of the Fangs’ mechs in the wake of their looting. Isora sifted through them, spinning them softly.

“They sound slick,” I told her. “Oiled. Whoever’s been maintaining these is no stranger to mechs, Isora.”

“Which makes it all the more urgent to find them,” Isora told me. “If we’re dealing with folks who know how to utilize mechs, then the Fangs just doubled their deadliness as long as their maintainer remains alive.” Belatedly, she added, “And it’s Madame Isora, Silas.”

I hoped she didn’t hear my fingers scraping lines into my palm.

I unsheathed my blade and used it to stir the twisted metalwork on the ground. I could smell tin, copper, iron…these mechs were built hundreds of years apart, all of them lasting well beyond their makers. These things were worth a fortune. And the crows who stumbled onto it had to have trashed at least three in the pile, from the smell of it. “Is there a chance the Fangs would’ve used mechs this expensive if there wasn’t a guarantee that crows weren’t lurking about?”

“There were, Silas.”

“They weren’t assigned to be there, were they? Why overlook ruins?”

Her teeth knock together when he jaw tightened. “I suppose not.”

“Do you think it’s a security breach?”

She stopped moving. Her heartbeat quickene d. “Unlikely,” she said after a momentary pause. “Mechs are powerful, and any raid would have been bound to cost the Fangs something. Considering the current state of our gangs, they likely figured the risk of trashing a few mechs was worth the reward—and if they had someone to maintain their mechs, it’s doubtless that the risk was relatively low. And don’t underestimate how low your plans have brought my father’s gang.” She kicked a scrap of clockwork in my direction.

“I had a vision,” I told her.

“A vision, Silas Cord, without a plan, is useless,” Isora said. She kicked through the wreckage like a child wading through a pile of dead leaves. “I might not possess your ever-so imaginative mind. But my plans are effective. Do not mistake my position here as something as simple as nepotism. I’ve worked to be where I am in the Murder. I was given this position because my plans work. We cannot resolve the Murder to any one thing like border bases or new mechs. Destroy it,” she picked up a gyro and tossed it back and forth between her hands, “And our criminal empire topples.” She tossed the gyro into the mess, where it clattered, far off.

I rubbed my temples. “Okay,” I muttered. “Okay okay okay okay okay. Okay. So.” Through a clenched jaw I asked her, “What do we do?”

“Go back and assemble a mech-repair team. They may be able to design them in such a way that the mechs will lead us back to their maintainer, assuming they haven’t already picked up and moved. I’ll assemble a company to guard these ruins until we can extract what little the Fangs left us when they trashed them.”

“And what of the Fang’s base? They’ll as soon cut off the hand than let us take the whole.”

“Which is why I’m sending one of my father’s greatest assets to apprehend their mech maintainers. As soon as we locate them, that is.”

“Oh. That.” I coughed. “Well…I don’t know about greatest. I’m not one to be modest, but I would say—”

“You are a sword, Silas. A weapon to be wielded. That wasn’t a compliment. Asyou’re your wielder, I’ve assigned you an adjunct to oversee you. His name is Ormic. He’ll be going with you to ensure you do not make the same mistakes you did during your last tangle with our enemies. And Silas?”

“Isora?”

“Please heed my advice. Don’t go running after the Fangs alone again. You’ll remember what happened the last time you tried to solve this problem on your own. It didn’t end well, did it? Let’s not repeat the same mistake. My father may have forgiven your incompetence, but you still have to prove yourself to me. I am not as forgiving as my father. Remember that.”

I turned heel and maneuvered through the wreck for the door. I kicked a clockwork skull into the doorframe on my way out. Almost broke my toe in the process. I winced through that pain and said, “Don’t worry. I will.”

I’d had enough business with the Murder for today. I limped home, hoping I had enough money to pay for food tonight.

 

Previously

First

 

 

Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron

 

Dark Business – Part Three

After the stunt I pulled threatening to kill him in the heart of his own base, Boss Steffron must’ve admired the audacity, because he agreed to my request for a spy. I wouldn’t say she was the one I wanted, considering he gave me Nyssa—the same raven who had tried to kill me on his own orders, but you know what they say about beggars and choosers.

And to make things even better, Boss Steffron agreed to make his gang a vassal to the Murder of Crows—meaning Boss Ivan would supply the Gathering of Ravens with arms and supplies needed to conduct business in the Giant’s Quarter so long as the revenue they shared with Ivan remained in surplus.

“I can hardly deny my dear friend Boss Ivan in his time of need,” Steffron had said, as he and I slipped along the length of downed, gigantic statues. We wandered the Giant’s Quarter, just walking and talking together. We felt our way along their perimeter, mapping the way we had come. It was something of a labyrinthine walk we went on, and I half expected another display of treachery from him.

Paranoia, all of it. The man is too desperate to attach himself to Ivan.

He continued, “I have heard of the great tragedy in your Boss’s district. To hear it told, the monster-gang—the Fangs, that is—they stormed his border-bases. I’ve heard talk of his border projects for years. Who’d have thought it would all be undone by monsters wanting nothing more than to wreck his cutting-edge steel and destroy his blueprints for the first new mechs since the Old World died?”

“Monsters are known for their lies,” I waved the notion aside. “It’s all exaggerations and rumors from creatures who wish nothing more than undue credit for a blow to one of the greatest criminal empires in the city.”

That, of course, was my job.

Regardless of how little I wanted it.

Who could’ve guessed that abandoning your post to track monsters back to their hideout full of bigger, badder monsters could land you in trouble? There was no way I could’ve known that was coming! But Ivan just wouldn’t let the matter go.

I was close to unearthing their base at the time, too. So, so close. If they hadn’t caught me first, this wouldn’t even be a problem. But they had caught me. And the affront of Ivan’s border-bases that I had helped to helm was an insult even the monsters couldn’t stomach—to have the Murder of Crows watching them, building newer, better weapons that could sally out to meet them. It was arrogance. It was only a matter of time before it boiled over. My capture was the only thing that spared me from their massacre when they trashed the bases.

My incompetence saved me.

“Rumors,” Steffron said, bringing me out of my own head, “Of course.” He scuffed a rock with his boot as we ducked underneath the arch of a grasping stone finger. My hand whispered the length of its fingernail as I skirted around it.  “Whatever meager resources I control are now Boss Ivan’s to use as he needs them. Regardless of whatever people might gossip about him in hushed voices.”

“And as long as you keep your revenue total in surplus of the cost of the supplies he will send you, then you will receive his continued support,” I explained. “One tiny little problem I’d like to mention—do not be late with payments. Even one day late and the Murder may withdraw its support. Just business, you understand.”

I took about three steps before I noticed I didn’t hear him crunching through the gravel after me. I turned in the direction of his sweaty scent. “Is there a problem?”

He sighed, and picked up the pace again. “How did you fall in with the Murder of Crows, Silas Cord?”

“I knew the right people, I suppose,” I told him. If we’re telling the truth, I suppose I knew the wrong people, and as positively exhilarating as my business with Boss Steffron had been, I wasn’t exactly prepared to tell the man my life story. I kept it to, “Circumstances aligned, I stumbled on the right information in my time in the Butcher’s Corner of the city—” I told the right people the wrong information. Got the right nobody’s killed. Got noticed.  “It was an accident really.” Like playing with fire and burning down an orphanage full of serial killers. It’s difficult to know how to feel about that. Life is complicated that way.

“I trust Nyssa will be suited to your purposes?” Steffron said by way of query.

“About that,” I told him as we circled back around the way we had come. “I’ll need some sort of collateral. To ensure her silence. You understand, yes?”

“Just business,” he reassured me with a too-hard slap to my back that sent me stumbling forward. I could feel a handprint on the back of my cloak. “I understand. You strike me as a gambling man, Silas. Did you not say so earlier?”

“I did.”

“Why don’t we roll the dice?”

“I need assurance the dice are there before I roll them, Steffron. That aside, even if they are, I must ensure I’m not gambling with loaded dice.”

Steffron hrmed and hawed for a moment, and then decided, “Nyssa has a husband and child—”

“No,” I cut him off. “I don’t involve family.”

“You’re hardly in a position to argue, Silas. You may have them as a hostage if you so prefer—”

I do not!” I said, a little too enthusiastically. “I do not prefer! Never ask me that again, please.” I don’t doubt I sounded far too manic for his tastes. Which is to say: I sounded manic. He made a few halfhearted excuses before I waved the matter aside. “I’ll tell you what,” I told him, “To ensure your cooperation, the Murder will allow you…let’s say two weeks, yes? Two weeks to gather your resources, draw up writs and contracts, and at that time you will receive the documents, sign them, and send Nyssa back to deliver them to men. Henceforth you will begin your vassalage to the Murder of Crows.”

“And what of the support and protection the Murder has promised? I could go to your Boss with this information. He would reward me greatly.”

I drew my blade three inches from its sheath. “You won’t,” I told him. “Because then I’d have nothing left to lose. You think a man like me doesn’t prepare for that? We all have our plans and counterplans. If you wish to win the game, think before you move your pieces.”

“As good advice as any,” he said, cloak breathing against his shoulders as he shrugged. “Will you require and escort back to Muninn Point?”

“No,” I told him. “Just bring me my two-wheeler. I know the way back.”

“I can fill up your tank before you go, if you like.” I heard his lips slither back across his gums. A wide, toothy grin. “A compassionate gesture. Between two friends.”

Previously

Next

First

 

 

Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron

Dark Business – Part Two

Boss Ivan’s vassal gang held their council in a district known as the Giant’s Quarter. That’s about a day’s ride from Ivan’s home at Muninn Point. I was sentthere to forge an alliance between the greatest human crime organization in the city: the Murder of Crows, with a small-time gang knock-offs calling themselves the Gathering of Ravens.

The Giant’s Quarter is where a lot of the infirm are housed after debilitating injuries. It’s one of the poorest districts in the city. So poor that Boss Ivan didn’t even consider it worth his money and resources to take it into his empire.

That was a mistake. And it ends today. The Giant’s Quarter, as it turns out, is so poorly funded that a bunch of amateurs can make a killing through protection rackets and illegal tariffs on imports from other districts. And since it’s only the Giant’s Quarter nobody in the Crown is going to raise an eyebrow.

The little things add up, in these instances.

The district reeks of old people and something of gin and tonic. Some say it was a             drop site during the Great Detonations. That’s why everyone there is sick, they say. It used to be a place of great importance in the Old World. Folks here built high and strong. Huge statues have been battered down over the centuries, scattered across the district. Their remnants are what mark the border to the Giant’s Quarter. It’s where they get their name in the first place.

That’s to say nothing of the towers, whose skeletons, some say, still scrape at the sky. Few are willing to climb them to see how far up they go. But during the Great Detonations they took their fair share of battering that sprawled them across a block or five. I had to be careful not to run my two-wheeler into their loose rubble as I rode in. I had to keep always for stray metal, or rock—or listening for worms and bugs burrowing homes underneath the stone. Took half a day of riding to get to the Gathering of Ravens.

They had a drawbridge where the weathered stone made a steep, deep ditch separating them from the rest of the district. Their base was built from old wheelers they’d stripped for parts and reassembled. I smelled at least a dozen different paint jobs. Most like it was pretty motely, to hear tales of how many colors those Old World’s wheelers came in. The drawbridge with the use of cranks that smelled like they hadn’t been oiled for a few years.

By the sound of the gears and gyros, make was similar to the clockwork-mechs that have roamed the world since the Great Detonations killed half the world. Someone probably disassembled a few of them in order to build the drawbridge.

Everything nowadays is built from the scraps of the Old World.

As I flipped down the kickstand, I heard a blade hiss out of a leather sheath.

To my left, a woman said, “Identify yourself.”

“I’m here on business from Boss Ivan of Muninn Point,” I told her.

Her fingers tensed on the grip. “We’ve been expecting you. We’ll need your blade.”

I wrung my hands on my handlebars, let out a low whistle. “I can’t do that,” I said.

“It is customary to prove that you are defenseless when meeting with a gang Boss,” the woman said.

“It is insulting to disarm yourself for the sake to pacify your Boss’s ego,” I told her. “You are a fledgling gang, trying to impart orders on the messenger sent to represent the most powerful crime empire in the city. You’re in talks to be a vassal gang. Really? Really? Are we doing this? Really?” I revved my engine. “’Cause if we’re doing this, I can just go. You guys want me to go? Because I can go. If you want.”

She took a step forward, breathed, “No!”

I turned off the engine and leaned over the handlebars. “Let’s talk with your Boss. Where are they?”

I heard fingers the woman’s fingers dig into her palm. She stopped breathing. And a moment later she sheathed her sword. “Follow me,” she said.

I dismounted my two-wheeler and followed her down the length of the tunnel. It grew increasingly chillier as I went. So much so that I had to hug my cloak over my arms to stay warm. Every few minutes she would tap my arm to indicate which way I needed to turn. Every now and again she would double back around. She played her game for about ten minutes before I was led into a new room that smelled of sweat and rust.

The floor was an iron grate, and something (or somethings) skittered beneath it. A quiet noise. Rats, most likely. Not that I wanted to find out.

My footsteps echoed across the grate. The sentry told her Boss, “Steffron, we’ve got a crow here to see you. Says he comes with news from Boss Ivan about vassalage.”

“Welcome to the Gathering of Ravens, Mister…” Boss Steffron began. His voice sounded from the other end of the hall. He was short of breath, and I heard a cheesecloth slither across his forehead. His voice was deep and loud.

“Silas Cord,” I said, and sketched a bow, tapping the floor three times so that he could discern its depth. “The Murder of Crows sends their regards.”

“He’s kept his blade, Boss Steffron,” the woman told him.

“You wish to treat with me after such insult?” Steffron said. Cloaks flapped aside and hands touched leather hilts.

I shrugged. “I thought you might like to meet early. I figured this was generous,” I told him. “The Murder of Crows has only so much time to spare. Boss Ivan sends me on many missions. I wished to cut down on time, so that I might better serve him. You understand, yes?”

Boss Steffron hrmed. And then: “What can I do for the Murder, Mister Cord?”

“As a start? Dismiss your audience, Boss.”

He was silent for a moment. If he reacted, I didn’t hear it. After a momentary pause, he said, “Leave us,” and one by one his ravens filed out. I listened for an extra scent, an extra heartbeat—anything to indicate someone else was in the room. When it was only him and me, he said, “What can I do for the Murder now, Mister Cord?”

“We both know what you will do for the Murder. Let’s not pretend you’re not all too eager to join us as a vassal-gang. Let’s talk about what you can do for me.”

“Oh?” There was a goading edge to his voice, barely sheathed. “Do tell.”

“I need a spy.”

“And why is this?”

“I have…disappointed my Boss. I’m sure we both know what that’s like. We’ve all had our failures. The problem is that my particular failure has made me somewhat expendable, in the eyes of some crows back in Muninn Point. I would like to know just how expendable he thinks I am. I’d like to change that.”

His lips smacked in a parted smile, and his feet slapped along the grate as he half-waddled in a circle around me. “Do you know the kind of reward that would be on your head if this information reached the wrong ears? I could charge so much for your head that it’s almost insulting that you’ve told me this. Are you even aware what kind of bounty the Fangs already have on you?”

After the trouble my spearheading of the border-bases and New Mech program had caused them, I could imagine. But I kept my tongue still.

“It’s almost a compliment, Mister Cord. If I killed you now, would anybody even know?”

I said nothing. I let him perform his laps around me. When I did not speak Steffron waddled closer, his belly pressed up against mine, breath hot and moist on my face. “Silas Cord, are you brave or foolish?”

He snapped, and I a new pair of footsteps joined us. They sounded familiar. “This is Nyssa. You met her on your way in here. She is my bodyguard.”

I reached for my blade.

“Don’t make this difficult,” Steffron told me.

“I make no promises.” I unsheathed my blade sending it whistling in a deadly arc towards Steffron. I stopped it just shy of his neck. “You a betting man?” I asked.                He laughed. Whether out of nervousness or not I couldn’t tell. “Interesting…I believe we will be great friends, Silas Cord.”

“That’s better,” I told him. “Now, I need you to listen carefully…”

 

Previously

 

 

Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron

 

Dark Business – Part One

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Many people who earn a living by commission will tell you that they’re often asked to do work for free. Fortunately, when the thing you’re being commissioned to do is highly illegal activities for one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the city, payment in exposure only goes so far.

If you’re being exposed, after all, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Unfortunately, as anyone who earns a living by commission will also tell you, it takes quite a few of them to earn enough to stay alive. Doesn’t offer much time to make something of your life outside of those commissions, but I suppose everyone needs to keep busy.

That’s probably why as soon as I reached Boss Ivan’s district, I smelled the crow-feathered cloaks Ivan smothers his soldiers in. He must’ve sent them to retrieve me for another assignment.

They led me through back streets of his district, Munnin Point. through the rusting, metal giant of a deadciv, built back when humanity could still see.

The Great Detonations of the twenty-first age killed half the world a long, long time ago. And yet more: it mutated we who survived. Our eyes don’t quite work anymore. But our other senses are far greater.

So great, in fact, that the leaves of rust that flake from the ancient metal sounds, to the modern ear, like what a net of birds taking wing might sound to someone who lived when the Old World was thriving. We can feel their impact as they float to the ground, just so.

It’s not all bad, though. In the dark, you see, everything is anything it should be.

 

***

Boss Ivan’s base was a run-down hall that stank of mildew and dust. I could hear voices echoing within the mostly-empty hall and could just hear the wood knocking against wood in its backyard where Ivan’s Murder of Crows trained in the tourney grounds out back.

I threw down my two-wheeler’s kickstand, and the moment I dismounted it, one of Ivan’s crows told me, “We’ll need your blade.”

“That’s a new protocol,” I muttered.

“I’m afraid I cannot allow you before Boss Ivan so armed, Silas Cord.” The crow told me. “Not after the…accident at the border.”

“Yeah, yeah…” I muttered and tossed him my swordbelt. The buckle rattled in the air, “Fetch,” I said, and he caught it by the sheath.

There were footsteps all around me, then. I heard hands squeaking closed around leather hilts. One of the crows touched my hand. “This way,” he said, and I followed his voice.

I could hear the rumble, not unlike the roar of a two-wheeler, as the door to Ivan’s hall was slid upwards into the ceiling. I could almost imagine the moonlight spilling into the hallway, as told in the tales from the Old World. The gray blobs of my limited vision darkened as the hallway’s shadows swallowed us.

The crows led me through to Boss Ivan on the other side. I could hear him clasp his hands behind his back, heard them whisper across the crow-feathered cloak that spilled down his back. His crows crowded into the room, thumping about and fan out, guarding the many entrances. Ivan’s base is a labyrinth. All halls will lead to his office eventually. Bare as that office is.

I heard stiff backs crack as knees scuffed the floor. I bowed with the others.

Ivan’s bootsteps grew louder. Closer. His sheath slapped against his thigh as he walked. “Silas Cord,” Boss Ivan said. “Explain yourself. What’s happened now?”

I swallowed thickly. “Well,” I said, tip-toeing my words carefully. “You see…of course…that I…am…sorry?”

A whistle, and Ivan’s open hand stung my cheek and sent me sprawling to the floor. “I have been building my contacts within the Majesty’s Crown for eleven years, Mister Cord. Eleven years a painful patience, calculations. Bribes. Talking to the right officials at the right times. All to protect my district from the monsters birthed in the Great Detonations that took our sight. All that planning, and what does it get me?”

“I didn’t—”

His boot struck my ribs—which strangely enough I felt in my throat when I coughed. Like his boot had dislodged something. Dimly, I was aware that my head was on the carpeted floor, and when I picked it up, a line of drool thinned and snapped.

“All of my planning,” Ivan roared, “has bought me mere husks of once-great border bases and useless, melted ore. Our rivals—the Fangs and their vassal-gangs—have since destroyed the bases and New Mechs that the Crown allowed me to build.”

“Boss,” I said, “I was trying—”

“The monsters have melted the ore we need for precious Arkynian steel,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard me. He kept walking toward me as I scrambled back on my hands and knees. “The same Arkynian steel required for good blades and New Mechs, the first since the Great Detonations. The most effective steel our line of work—and it has all been wasted. Our greatest asset is gone. The Murder of Crows has never skirted so close to disaster. All thanks to you.”

“Boss, what did I—” I started to protest, and then thought better of it. Not in front of all the sentries.

“You captured key members of the Fangs’ vassal-gangs after they stole the blueprints for my manufacturing bases. Then you released them so that they would lead you back to their masters. You let them go. Deliberately.”

“I…take responsibility for my actions,” I told Boss Ivan. “But I was hardly alone in my failings. The arrogance of our border-bases and Crown-approved steel courted disaster from day one.”

He sighed so heavily that I thought he was going to deflate. “Yes,” he relented. “My captains share the blame just as much as you do, Silas Cord. I will give you that. But my captains were murdered when the monsters assaulted our base. You are the only one still living left to suffer my anger.”

I tested my footing, tried to stand. I winced as I did so, hoping Ivan wouldn’t throw me back to the ground. “I’ll make this better,” I told him. “The Fangs will not go unpunished.”

“No,” he said. “They will not.”

I let myself breathe. Though I must’ve been a bit too relieved, because I exhaled so fast that I felt dizzy for a moment.

Ivan continued, “But you will not carry out the punishment. My daughter Isora always argued against the New Mech-making project. She alone properly estimated the monsters’ threat. She is to assume primacy, and you shall act in accordance with her will. It is only the time and money I have invested in you thus far that has spared your life. Do not make me regret my generosity.”

“I will not fail you, your Grace.”

“Save the formalities,” Ivan said. “You must first finish your dealings with the Gathering of Ravens. You are to bring them into the fold as a vassal-gang of our own.”

I couldn’t believe it. “You want me to haggle? Really? Haggling?  Boss, you know—you know me! You know me!” I sighed, sagging somewhat. “You’re paying me to be a glorified salesman?”

“I’m paying you not to ask questions.” His voice was clipped. Like an owl biting through bone. He walked towards me. Slow. Deliberate. Steps. I could feel his breath hot on my face. “Do you understand?”

“Transparently,” I told him.

“Then go.”

 

Next

 

Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron

 

Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 16

READ ME:

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 are in the service to the Warlord’s clan in his mission to restore order to the Realm. Ask daily for your payments. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.

* * *

You were ambushed, Carth. It was only a small skirmish, but there’s more that I want us to remember, now. Though I can’t give you much—do you think anyone truly remembers fights clearly? Or do only you and I suffer from this affliction?

You need to remember Anthea dragging a twin away from his brother’s limp body, leaving the corpse on the road for the carrion crows.

She herself would be dragged away later when she saw that her dog had suffered the same fate.

You need to remember Anthea spearing an injured horse—and the cavalryman whose leg it had crushed. He looked at you, then. Even through your fog of shattered memories, you knew what that look meant. And you know it now as you read this.

You and I both know how these men felt. I suspect we all know. We’ve all learned the guilt that comes with being alive.

* * *

Remember this if you can:

A field of grass bowing under your progression, crunched underfoot and cut apart before it could twine around you.

A village of stone-and-mortar homes.

White-knuckled hands wrapped around longswords.

The glint steel against the sun.

Scattered shrieks and raising shields.

Your hand, red and wet and holding a longsword plunged up to the hilt into a wide-eyed monster. Only a boy. A no-tusked, pale-fleshed boy.

Clarissant saying, “Couldn’t be helped.”

Clarissant saying, “Carth?”

Clarissant saying, “Talk to me.”

First

Previously

Table of Contents

 

 

Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron

Announcing: Patreon

Between Death and Dreams (2)
Find my Patreon here!

Hello, dear readers! Thank you for taking the time to look over this Patreon account. I’ve got some great stories in store for you and I hope you’ll be able to help me on my journey! My name is Connor Perry. I used the middle initial since it looks pretentious prestigious.

I am a quadruplet who started writing so that I could have something I didn’t have to share with three other children the same age as me. Right now, I am the only writer for The Mythlings. I tend to gravitate toward writing historical fiction and fantasy, but I’ll write basically anything as long as I get to include swords. To quote the site:​​

“The Mythlings are a compendium of fantastical stories. Here, we aim to steep our stories in history, legend and myth—or create our own, if necessary. The Mythlings are focused on telling small myths with a big impact. We update every Friday with a new story or opinion piece.”

Such aforementioned sword-stories include: “The Trojan War AU featuring lesbian Vikings”, “What if Robin Hood secretly fought vampires?”, “Game of Thrones from extra #3’s point of view: the amnesiac”, and “How long can an old man tolerate a twelve-year-old girl who can shoot fire from her hands?”.

If you’re interested in such topics, I encourage you to read on. If not…I…I really don’t know what to tell you, man. Not sure how you even found this corner of the internet if lesbian Vikings aren’t your thing.

Moving on.

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I’ve got a pretty solid success streak for reliably publishing a new short story or article every Friday since July of 2016 and let me tell you—these stories have fantastic reviews. Tremendous reviews. Reviews such as:

“It’s entertaining, brilliant […] and highly engrossing”

–My Mother

“[He] puts out consistently great work every week, constantly pushing the boundaries.”

–My Mother

“These stories are a steaming pile of […] great!”

–My Father

As I’m sure is obvious, my legions of adoring fans are always saying, “Hey, Connor—you write the greatest stuff. Just the best material on the web. The Vile Assembly was a work of pure genius. You’ve got such great opinions! But the past two years of material that you can read for free online right now is hardly enough for me! Why can’t you write more?”

To which my response is, “How are you vocally linking your words to my website?” and, “I have to buy, like, sandwiches and stuff.”

Much like the Vikings I write about, I need to be able to eat heartily! Such is the price of day jobs. Less time to write. To that end, every single cent that one of you puts forward will bring me one step closer to doing this “writing stories for a living” thing full time as well as a truly disturbing amount of caffeine but let’s be real that’s part of the whole writing thing anyways amiright? Every cent pledged is a step forward to spending more time creating more content—better content—for all of you.

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So what do you get out of this? Well, depending on how much your heart wants to give, you will receive a reward in accordance. Time is money, so by contributing, you’ve given me more time to put into my work, and I’ll be giving that back to you.

For starters, everyone gets a PDF of the final product, as well as acknowledgements at the end of every story/article. You’ll also receive an extra thing(s) depending on how much you’d like to contribute.

These things vary from a read-only Google Doc that keeps you up to date with how the story is going to a once a month commission of some small thing you’d like to see in whatever story I’m writing. However you choose to interpret “commission some small thing you’d like to see” is up to you: Do you want to put yourself in the story? Viking shieldmaidens? Weapons-grade plutonium? All viable options! I’ve even got a handy contact form available on my website!

Everyone out there, regardless of how much you contribute, will receive acknowledgements and a free copy of the final product outside of the WordPress model.

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If you’re reading this: thank you. The fact that you’ve made it this far means I was either entertaining or you’ve at least considered doing the right thing making a pledge. Even your entertainment—your consideration—means the world to me. And for what it’s worth, I hope you’ll stick around and watch where things go from here.