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.
* * *
I cannot say how long you cowered, palms sweat-slick on the grip of your blade. Tears rimmed your vision and ran rivets down your face. You waited. You listened. You heard heavy footsteps and smelled the scales of ivory. There were wet sounds awaiting you without, on the ground below.
Heavy, labored breaths rasped outside your door. You could hear feet rustling along the carpet, just so. The moonlight spilled an ivory creature’s shadow from the crack beneath your door. It did not press through (I suspect it knew you were armed), and you heard each exhalation sputter out like death-rattles.
On the ground below you, you heard short, sharp, suckling sound, like boots pried out of the mud. There were other noises too: a sticky, chewing sound and the chatter of chomping teeth. You tried to picture Aos in your mind’s eye and told yourself not to forget her.
You had another companion. I’ve fixed that for you. Do not worry about him. You thought he came with you when you left the Warlord’s service. You were wrong. He remained with the Warlord. You needn’t concern yourself with that. I’ve fixed it for you. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry.
But Aos…what happened last night? How did she fall? Was it truly a chance accident when the sill broke? Mayhaps it was your own doing. Mayhaps you’ve lied to yourself. Mayhaps you pushed her.
But if you think I’ll be giving you the answers so easily, you haven’t been paying attention.
The night wore on and silence between sounds lengthened. Leaving only a strange silence. The ambient noise did not break the silence. It was the silence. The wind on the windows was as much a part of the silence as the breathing on the other side of the door, or the creak of floorboards, or your strangled sobs. was the slithering sound of carcasses dragged through the sand. The bell that tolled every hour underpinned that silence.
And there in the dark, you tried to picture your companions in your mind’s eye. But you could feel them leaving your mind like a dream in the seconds after waking. Already what shattered shards of memory remained were unspooling, and you could do nothing about it.
Do you think we made them up, Carth? Were they ever truly real? Or have you invented them to have something you could remember? Mayhaps so. I cannot say. That is for you to decide.
At length, you heard the first vestiges of morning as the sun crested the horizon, bleeding in through the window. The smell of ivory faded, but the labored breaths did not. Your knuckles whitened around the grip of your blade, and, turning, you opened the door wide, swordpoint poised…
…And you found a fat old man with a cauldron-sized chest. He did not shrink from the sight of your naked steel. He did not even blink. He dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead with a cheesecloth. “Did you enjoy your stay?” He asked, wiping his hands, now. “How may I be of service?”
You lowered your blade an inch. You tried to ask, “What?” but only the semblance of the word passed your lips.
“How may I be of service?” He said again, still not blinking, lips a thing smile.
You shook your head and shoved the man aside, sheathing your blade, as you scrambled down the hall, floorboards squealing like dying hogs. A few folk milled about throughout the inn, eating from empty plates and drinking from empty glasses. Never blinking. Always smiling.
“This is wrong,” you muttered. Your cloak billowed behind you as you made a break for the door. Not a single occupant in the tavern gave you so much as a sideways glance.
You sifted through the masses of flesh in the houses of bulbous hotrock. The ground was undisturbed where Aos’s body had hit it. There was not even so much as a trace of blood seeped into the sand.
So you pressed on, looking for some sign of the creatures you saw the night before. After all, they had to be here, didn’t they?
You pressed through Sanctum, trying to discern where they could have gone. But if there was any sign of them, the residents showed no sign that they no where they were. You pressed on through ermine-trimmed cloaks and mercenaries in boiled leather and armor, wearing smiles as curved as their daggers. You saw no scales of ivory before them.
Beyond that, you spied ragged women with babies tucked in the crook of their arms milling about their hotrock homes; their thick boots crunching over grass-woven carpets and the sharp shards of obsidian beneath, with little and less in the way of ivory scales. This relieved you, believe it or not. If you were trapped in Sanctum again, then you were glad to know you wouldn’t have to kill children.
I suppose it’s possible that they might be able to transform. Mayhaps they were the monsters. But I doubt it. If they did such despicable acts, I doubt they would have let us leave. And even if they did, we’d have certainly seen the vestiges of…something on their faces. Some indication of what they’ve done. Wouldn’t they show some sign of guilt? Satisfaction?
No. There was nothing. Just hollow eyes and empty smiles.
So you left Sanctum, alone. Clefts of grass and rock spotted the sand before you as you wandered into whatever vestiges of the world yet remained beyond you.
You’ve since sworn an oath to yourself that you will not think of your doomed companions again. It hurts your head to think about them.
You should forget.
You’re good at that.
Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron