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. You travel with a woman named Anthea. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.

* * *

I don’t have much time to write this.

You and Anthea laid down in a basin to sleep last night. Your memories left you not long before you were awoken by the sound of marching in the distance. I had the page open to the latest entry in your index, which gave you some measure of relief as it pertains to your current situation.

But I had said nothing about marching. It was a faint rumble. You could feel Anthea’s eyes on you as you fidgeted in your bedroll, looking at the glow of torches that glittered like fireflies in the gaps where this city’s walls had come down.

“Don’t worry, Carth,” Anthea told you. “It’s only a Warlord. There are many who roam about, these days.”

“What’s a Warlord?” you asked.

“Kings without Kingdoms,” she said. I cannot say why this made more sense to you.

“I’m guessing you might know some of that Warlord’s army,” Anthea said. “Folk hop from Warlord to Warlord. Mayhaps some of the men who serve with that one served the same Warlord as you. They are going south.”

“South? They’re going north!” you protested.

“It’s too dark to tell,” Anthea whispered. “Just stay still and say nothing.”

“But you’re saying something now.”

“Hush, Carth! Write in your journal if you’re so desperate for something to do.”

You watched the trail of fire and steel dwindle down to nothing, and it grew fainter and fainter as they marched away.

But soon while you two waited for sleep to take you, you could swear your heard the wind whispering your name. You sat up, searching about. But saw nothing. Anthea told you to go to sleep.

But you saw something out of the corner of your eye. Over the stone basin in which you slept you thought you saw a shadow.

“Anthea—Anthea! Wake up!” you hissed. “There’s something out there.”

“The army is far away by now, Carth. Nobody saw us.”

The shadow seemed to sway, as if it’d had too much to drink. It pitched from one foot to the other, yet it moved with surprising speed. The moonlight silhouetted it as it made a circuit of your camp.

“I’m telling you, there’s something out there.”

“Stop acting simple,” Anthea muttered. “We’re far and away from anyone who could’ve seen us.”

“Just look, dammit.”

Anthea, with some groaning and many words I will not repeat for you here, sat up and looked about. “I’m taking watch. I’m sure I’d know if someone was…”

“Look out!” you shrieked. The shadow was upon Anthea in a heartbeat, sending her slamming back into the rocks sand. You reached for your sword but the shadow kicked it out of your reach, and then made the same motion to strike your jaw, sending you sprawling back.

Anthea rebounded, a dagger held in her hand, pointed down the length of her forearm, knife-flat flesh with its underside. You heard a brief scuffle. Hissing and whispered shouts soft as wind. But the shadow’s knee drove into Anthea’s stomach and she doubled over. The other knee smacked her head and she crumpled to the ground.

The shadow had the dagger now, and you managed, in your dazed state, to retrieve your sword and came charging for the shadow. But it sidestepped your slash and seized your sword. It threw their legs in front of your charge, and used the momentum of your swing to send you tumbling to the ground.

An explosion of weight drove the breath from your body as it fell on you. You felt cold steel at your throat. “Fear not. I you to see the sunlight” they said.

Moonlight lit up your attacker’s face, smiling like a crescent moon. “You were supposed to come with us through Sanctum. This should be over by now. It’s good to see you again, Carth,” said the figure. “I’m here for the crystal you stole from me.”

You saw his hand reach for his belt, and then a shadow moved in the dark. Something round and heavy swung like a morningstar through the darkness, down and atop your assailant’s head. There was a sickening crunch.

Anthea dropped her rucksack, and a perfectly circular dark-purple crystal rolled out. Your assailant slumped off of you and did not move again.

You rolled onto your knees and spilled your jerky onto the cobblestones. Anthea rushed to the gigantic crystal sphere, rolling it over in her hands. “I had to save you,” she muttered. “I had to…”

You realized at length that she was crying, and saw that the crystal had been smashed. Purple fumes wafted away from where it had been dented to reveal the quartz inside. Shattered shards of memory played across what remained of the sphere. The memories felt familiar, but you’re foolish if you think I’ll tell you what they were.

You don’t deserve to know that.

You don’t deserve to know that.

Anthea collapsed, huddling over the crystal. “I can’t fix anything without this,” she choked out. “I was just trying to save you. I was just trying to save you.” She hugged the broken relic close to her chest and wept softly as the sun rose of the anniversary of the deadciv’s destruction.

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Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 15

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. You travel with a woman named Anthea. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.

* * *

Do you remember what happened last night?

I suppose I’ll discover tomorrow if our mind was fixed. But in case it’s not, I should probably explain:

Anthea told you that today was the only day for at least another ten years when she could fix your mind. She explained this to you as you sat in the scattered remnants of the deadciv, chewing dried up, stringy jerky. Anthea would not tell you where she got it from. I’ll spare reminding you what it tasted like.

She had a spell in her bag that she sprinkled on top of a few loose stones she’d gathered into a circle, and sparks splayed across the silvery-white pool that glowed within. You reached for it.

“Don’t touch it,” she snapped. “It would just as soon melt your hand off. But we’ll need you good and healthy if we’re to fix ourselves up tomorrow.”

“Why tomorrow?” you asked her.

She paused, folding her concentration into the task of tearing off a strip of jerky, chewing it. She swallowed audibly, the silverglow bathing her face in light, like a second moon. “It’s the anniversary of this city’s destruction.” She told you. “I wish you could remember. I’ve told you this at least three times already.”

“But how does this relate to me? To us?” you asked.

She was silent for a moment. She knuckled something out of her eye. “You did this,” she told you. “You were chosen for a purpose. The fate of this city was only a part of that purpose…I suppose it doesn’t matter. You failed in the end, anyway.”

“But–“

“Don’t ask me to tell you any more,” she said. “Please. I have already seen the breadth of your life. I know what you have done, and I will not recount it. Not until you are healed. I have already done this twice now.” She spat a globule of saliva into the white glow. It bubbled, simmered, and then was still.

You reached for it again, but Anthea caught your wrist and held it there, outstretched over the fire.

Her gaze met yours. “I told you not to touch it,” she said.

Your skin prickled against the heat of the spell. Your flexed your hand, as if you could move the pain out of it. “Anthea,” you said.

“I need you to trust me, Carth!”

Your hand felt red-hot, like metal fresh from a forge fire. “Anthea!” She was looking at you, but did not seem to see you. Not truly.

“I have seen you lain low, Carth. I have seen you from the moment you were born to the moment I stumbled into you. I know what this world has done to you and I know how to fix it. We can make things as they should be. We can fix it–“

Anthea!”

“–But in order to do that I need you to listen to me so that we can get you back to the way you were before this. I can fix you, and I can fix myself, but first you need to listen to me–“

You pulled your hand free, falling back onto the uneven cobblestones behind you. The deadciv was spinning around you. You could hear the spell bubbling, distantly. It was dimmer now, and you felt a little colder. Anthea hadn’t moved. Her hand was stretched to a finger’s point over the silver-white pool.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

You propped yourself up on one elbow. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t ever want you to get hurt. You know that, yes?”

“Of course,” you lied said.

“I’m your Mother,” she said. “Sort of,” she added. “In a sense.” She shrugged.

You tilted your head at her. “Are you my friend?”

Anthea pinched her eyes between two fingers. She looked at you for a while, squinting. She was silent, for a while then. “What am I doing?” she asked, and lowered her gaze to the ground. “To…to have friendship, Carth…you’d need to love someone. You’d have to be invested in making them happy. And these things. These emotions..friendship and love and happiness. It’s all so small. It lasts less than a second. A momentary pause. An momentary ideation in the mind of a chess player. Friendship? No…that’s not the right word for it. That doesn’t quite get across our…” she steeped her fingers, stared off into the distance for a moment. “…connection,” she finished.

“Connection,” you said. “Right.” And then: “I’m sorry?”

She blinked her surprise. “Let me try this: what brings you joy, Carth?”

You reeled a moment from that. Vertigo overtook you from the breadth of that question. You couldn’t even remember who you were. You couldn’t remember even yesterday.

And then something happened.

You remembered.

At was only two words, but across the empty canvas of memories, those two words sank into your mind, nestled there. Some long-forgotten woman’s voice. Not Anthea’s. Aos’s, mayhaps? She had whispered it to you, softly. Conspiratorially. Help me.

“Help…” you began. But that wasn’t quite the right word, in the same sense that quiet isn’t quite the same thing as silence. “Changing things. People.” You paused. “Finding joy,” you answered. “No matter how many days I live my life for the first time ever, I need to find joy. I need to find joy in life. It’s always a choice.”

You opened your journal and began leafing through the pages. “No matter how many deadcivs you camp out in…how many friends perish, in the end…how many times you visit a town full of cannibals…you need to find joy. The warm featherbed before the cannibal strolls through. Eating ashen corn with your friends, sharing it with a one legged boy.” You laughed. “Taunting yourself over your own stupid, stupid memory. Joy’s all I have. It’s all I have.”

She didn’t speak for some time. She simply stared at you, eyes wet and glistening glistening, but not quite crying. “You’re beautiful,” she managed to choke out. “I’ve missed you,” she said. “I spent so long looking for you and I just…I feel as though you’re remembering.” The contours of her headscarf hardened and she straightened her back. “What am I saying? The anniversary’s tomorrow. We ought to get some sleep. You must, leastways.”

“What about you?” you asked her.

“Do you remember what I said about us being followed?” she asked you. And when you told her that you didn’t, she explained it all to you. “I need to keep watch,” she explained. “The captain of the regiment sent out to hunt us has survived my avalanche. He searches for you, dogged as a hound.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ve met him before,” she said. “Same as you.”

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Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 14

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. You travel with a woman named Anthea. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.

* * *

Your Mother led to some lost civilization whose broken remnants litter the ground in the wake of the Great Conflict. You tried to keep your gaze on her robes during the march over there. They were always flowing. Shimmering, almost. Like she was underwater.

You did not want to look at what lay between the rocks on your way down. You thought you saw the glint of metal against the morning sun, and more often than not you saw glimmering out of the corner of your eye, but it was only dewdrops. Nothing more.

Try not to think about it.

The gate to the ruins was cracked in such a way that you wondered if your Mother had dug up the spell she used last night from this place. Had it seeped into the dirt here, long ago? Was this why she brought you here?

Your Mother wrapped her hands, white knuckled, around the gates to the city. Leaves of red rust peeled away at her touch.

“Mother,” you began.

She massaged her temples. “Carth,” she spoke slowly as if she did not expect you would understand, “I told you, call me Anthea.”

“Anthea.”

“Yes,” she sighed. “Write it down.”

“Where are we going?” you asked.

“We have no time. We have lingered too long already. I’ve explained too many times. I need you to trust me,” she told you (I must say I sympathize. After all, I need you to trust me. I can understand what she’s going through. She exhaled. “We’re going inside,” she explained. “Just follow.”

She pulled a glittering band of dribbling green light out of her satchel and smeared it along the rust. Motes of the light filtered up into the sky, the band shined brighter as it ate through the layers of rust, scattering to the wind like so many leaves.

You stopped to marvel at her magic as she stepped through what remained of the gate. “Where did you get these spells?”

“I’ve seen my share of Conflict-grounds in my time,” she explained.

You had consulted with your index earlier that day, and told her, “Magic is forbidden. There are only so many spells you can pry from a Conflict-site. How do you know where to find the spells that do what? I thought that took months.”

She shifted the weight of her pack, spells humming softly in her sack. “I was there,” she explained. “I saw the battles. I know what spells were used, and where.”

“How?”

“What did I tell you?” She snapped. And then her countenance softened, and she offered you her hand. “Come,” she told you. “We’re going to make you well.”

Anthea led you through the ruins, all basalt. Do not mistake me. This is not an exaggeration. The whole city looks to be carved from a single slab of rock, grafted with gates and the chewed-up remains of gemstones and amethysts in the richer parts of town. Every stone had a different number. The richer parts of town had one or two numbers. But the poorer ruins were all three numbers or above.

The poorer districts were plainer, with fewer leaves of dried paint to mark what remained of murals depicting great, forgotten things. You found no sign of life, however. No scattered beds or markets of houses. No bones or clothes or food. You wondered how long this place had been standing that nobody had squirreled themselves away in its husk. This place was run down to be sure, but it could be fortified quicker than most deadcivs. After all, it takes more work to make a city from the ground up than it does to plaster over some ruins. But if it hadn’t yet been overtaken, what happened to its citizens?

You wanted to ask Anthea, but decided against it. She spent the better part of a day dragging you around the city, sharply turning back the way she had come, sometimes kneeling to inspect an expected disturbance in the sand. Sifting it through her fingers. More than once her hands whispered against something round and smooth and heavy tugging at the constraints of her satchel. It looked heavy.

She took odd angles, and sometimes walked you around the same block up to three times. Mayhaps four. One time you lost count.

As the air grew colder, and the sky was colored in pinks and purples, you heard her whisper, “Carth?” And you saw the linen over her mouth ripple as her mouth tightened. She was rigid all over.

You approached hesitantly. “Anthea?” you asked.

“We’re being followed.”

Your hand went to your sword, but Anthea’s linens snapped against your wrist and stayed it.

“Don’t,” she said. There was an urgency to her voice, barely sheathed.

“Who follows us?” you whispered.

“The red haired guard captain. He’s been following us for three days.”

You wondered how long it had been since the rockslide.

“I don’t have time to explain,” she told you, “But I will stand guard to make time for you to write.”

You asked her why.

“I need to you to remember to find me here, in the marketplace, by the stone marked twenty-two. In case the guard-captain separates us. We need to reconvene here.”

“Why here?”

“The deadciv has buried something under the ground here. I’ve spent the better part of today making sure we have the right place.”

“How do you know this?” you asked her.

“I have seen it, my son. The same way I saw all those battles. And you.” Her hand went to the thing in her satchel, knuckles white as bleached bone.

“I need you to remember.  Carth, my son–” she said, “I’m going to fix your mind. And mine.”

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Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 13

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. You travel with a woman named Anthea. For an index of items, places, people and locations, refer to the scrolls next to this one.

* * *

I’m ashamed of you, Carth. You’re supposed to read this every day. Do you know how long it’s been since Sanctum? Can you even imagine the breadth of what you’ve done these past few days?

I suppose you’ll find out soon enough.

Be careful as you wake. First, because the roots and rocks you lie upon are as comfortable as a bed of knuckles, and second, because the roots and rock you lie upon are a valley.

There was trouble, you see. I don’t have time to explain it. I write this by the moonlight as I watch soldiers from the north splash through the shallows in the gorge below, torchlight casting flickering orange islands about them. They wear bronze breastplates and hold iron spears. But you must be careful if you wish to confront them. They’ve got a short sword and their shields are twice as wide as a man’s chest.

There will be a woman with you when you wake. She is smothered in linen laced with cloth-of-gold, and she has amber-colored eyes. Do not be afraid of her. She is a friend.

She helped you last night, as you listened intently to the northern soldiers arguing below. The gorge carried their voices as they splashed through. “Less noise, winesops!” their leader shouted. “We’re not looking for a deaf man.”

“Why are we looking for him, ser?” you heard another ask. “It’s late, and the soldiers miss their featherbeds.”

“Our city has their allies,” their leader told his soldiers. “And if we do not wish to be ransacked, we will come to their aid when someone steals a holy relic.”

Even I do not profess to know what holy relic you stole, Carth. If any. I’ve checked your satchel, but the only thing in there is your index.

You heard someone say something like, “Doubtless miles from the border by now,” when the woman tsked at you, at when she saw she had your attention, held your eyes in her amber. She put a finger to her lips, summoning silence. You hoped there were lips under all that linen. You couldn’t tell, for a scrap of it covered all but those amber eyes. You heard her muttering to herself as she paced back and forth.

“I saw the fullness of you and couldn’t conceive it,” she said, sandaled feet whispering through the bed of grass atop the rocks. “But I will conceive it. I will remember it. I promised.”

“What did you promise?” you asked. “Who did you promise to?” Her hands went to something at her hip–for a moment you thought she was reaching for a sword. You saw a light at her hip, and realized she had her hands cupped around a bright spell dribbling between her fingers. She had her hands cupped around it, adjusting her grip to keep it from falling.

“Where did you get that?” you asked her. You’ve been asking her a lot of questions. She hasn’t answered any of them. I doubt she’ll answer any for you after you read this. “Who are you?” you tried to ask her. “How do I know you?”

“I have told you already,” she said, her voice muffled. “I will not say again.”

“What is…?” The light of the spell reflected in your pupils.

She followed your gaze to the spell she held. “It’s not the relic, if that’s what you’re asking. Just a spell I wrought from the earth in one of the Great Conflict’s battlefields.”

“What does it do?”

“This,” she said, and the spell sifted between her fingers, running rivers into the rocks below, setting every crack and crevice alike.

“I don’t understand,” you said.

She did not answer. You felt a gloved hand seized your collar as she hauled you back. You made a choking sound that the rocks themselves seemed to echo as they crackled, sparks spitting into the darkness as they ground down the length of each other, crumbling in on itself. You heard a soldier below cry out as a boulder caught him square on the chest and he crumpled beneath its weight. One by one, the orange islands winked out beneath the rock and sand and dust.

As you heard the rocks clatter to a halt their cacophony was replaced by scattered shrieks and shouts from the soldiers below as the cleft of rock crumbled, roiling in on itself and grumbling down the into the gorge, cutting a cleft into its side.

The dust settled in a gray film over your face. It choked down your lungs and your retched up your last meal (it tasted like crushed scorpions, in case you were curious)

What was that?” you hissed, still struggling to be heard over the wails and calls for quarter, mother, and mercy below. “Why did you do that?

She regarded you seriously. “Do you have any idea the gravity of the situation you’re under? The sheer magnitude of the crimes you have committed these past few days?” You knit your eyebrows together into a V, and her gaze seemed to soften. “You weren’t kidding yesterday,” she marveled. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

“Should I?” you asked.

“How could I have overlooked this?” You were not sure if she spoke to you. “I’ve seen how this will end. I told you how this would end. I was hasty. Foolish. I thought you were exaggerating when you said you would forget.” she opened her mouth to say more, and then her teeth came down hard on her bottom lip. “I will explain,” she told you, “in the morning. You and I have already been through a great deal together. You must rest. And heal.”

“Heal?”

“That’s what I said, yes.”

“I can write,” you whispered. The screams sounded distant, now. In the dark you could forget the suffering below you. You hoped they deserved this (They did, Carth. You must believe me).  “Just tell me who you are, at least.”

“Carth,” she told you. “I’m your Mother.”

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Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 12

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 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.

Except…

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.

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Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 11

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 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’re safe for now. So I’ll tell you what I can.

You awoke to Aos shaking you violently, your head jerking. Through the blur of movement, you discerned two bodies on the floor and red, wet blood dribbling between the floorboards.

“Carth!” Aos shouted. “Carth, wake up! We have to go!”

I know you won’t understand this, Carth, but people are…different, when they first wake. Sluggish and stupid—so you did not understand what it meant at the time, nor what peril awaited you.

Following Aos’s pull on your arm, you fell out of bed and stumbled across the room. Aos retrieved a sword from one of the bodies and belted it around her waist.

You retrieved your own and did the same. “What’s going on?” you asked Aos.

“We have to get out of here.”

“Why?”

“There’s no time to explain,” she told you. “Hurry!” The door squealed open, and you could see moonlight streaming through the open window at the end of the hall. Aos ducked her head out and looked both ways before returning to you, and waving for you to follow.

You did so, bounding after her heels like a puppy, all too ready to accept whatever was going on around you.

Aos had her shield ready. You tightened your grip on your sword. You didn’t even know Aos had a shield, did you? Did I leave that part out in previous recollections?

Or maybe I’m lying. Mayhaps I just want you to feel safe. Don’t say I’m not looking out for you.

Not after tonight.

The floorboards crawed like crows under your weight. Even with your scattered memories of that evening, you knew that no safe structure should be making this much noise. Every footstep was a muffled squeal.

And then you heard just that.

Not the floorboards, but a real attempt to shriek, cut short and muffled into silence. You heard wet sounds and grunts that you would have assigned an altogether different meaning, were it not for the two corpses back in your room.

“Is that the thing that killed—?” you began.

“Quiet!” Aos hissed. Her voice made as much noise as a snake slithering across a pile of wet leaves. “I’ll not discuss it. Not him.” She swallowed, thickly. “Not yet.”

You heard crickets outside, and on instinct your knuckles whitened around your axe-haft.  “There’s no sound,” you whispered.

“I noticed.”

You squared up to the door you had heard the noise in, and there came a long rattle from the other side. As if the voice’s owner were gargling pebbles.

Aos unsheathed her blade as the thing burst through, all rippling fat and swirling samite. The innkeeper hurled himself at Aos, and though she raked her sword down his face, sparks showered from his right eyebrow down to his left jaw, and he grinned, unhurt. His lips peeled back to reveal pointed teeth. He wasn’t blinking. “It is time to pay now,” he said.

Aos took an involuntary step back, so the innkeeper stepped forward, bathing himself in moonlight. Every scrap of him that was awash in the glow revealed a new form.

There was no flesh. Only rows and rows of teethlike scales piled up over taut red muscle. He had no lips to speak of, and the scales of ivory that smothered his face were lightly chipped where Aos had cut him. He held out a hand of interwoven teeth, red muscles twitching and rippling beneath the gaps between them. “It is time to pay now,” he said again.

Backing away, Aos said, “Carth. Kill.”

You obeyed, dogged as a hound.

Regardless, you flew at the thing, sword raised, and as it surged forward you brought it down on its skull. I suspect your blade getting caught between the gaps must have done something and if not, dragging it headfirst to the floor as you made your clumsy retreat and retrieval of your blade certainly did.

You turned to Aos, only to find her staring out the open window at the end of the hall, eyes wet and glimmering. “They’re everywhere,” she said. “The whole town. They’re all borne of this—this thing.”

You kicked the corpse onto its stomach, but could not stand to look at his face for very long. “He created them?” you asked.

“No!” Aos said. “That’s not—no. I don’t think—” she rubbed the corners her eyes between two fingers. “I don’t know. It’s magic, most like. Leftover from the Great Conflict. These folk are poisoned. But I’m not sure how we’re going to get out.”

“Is there another way out?”

You two ran for the stairs, but by the time you had reached their precipice, you heard a crash at the door below, and heavy footfalls. Without a word to each other, you both turned heel and sprinted across the carpeted hallway. “That may as well have happened,” with a shrug and an involuntary laugh.

“Only one way out now,” you told her. “The window—”

“We’ll die.”

“I have a plan!”

“What is it?”

“I’ll figure it out when we get there!”

The stairs whined behind you. You heard growling and stomping as the first of these ivory monsters vaulted up the steps.

You two leapt up to the sill and then caught yourself at the last minute, your hand braced flat on Aos’s back.

“What’s your plan?” Aos asked you.

The monsters in the hallway surged forward, iron cudgels and axes at the ready.

“I’m thinking,” you said.

Below you were scattered, pulpy bodies shrouded in beggars’ linen.

“What’s your plan, Carth?”

“Let me think!” Your hand twitched.

It was then that a loose floorboard snapped under Aos’s foot. She gave a whoop of surprise and, as she flailed, kicked your jaw and sent you tumbling back.

You turned back. The ivory creatures were scattered, looting the inn. One of them hurtled toward you, a sword raised that halved its face. “Come now, your Grace,” it said, unblinking and grinning. “Show me your skill with a blade!”

Its grating voice compelled you forward, into the path of the thing’s blade as you threw your own gray in its path. The steel scraped against steel, raw and harsh to hear. It broke the bind and darted to the side of the hall, ducking underneath your next swing.

You threw your sword down on the monster in murderous arcs. He turned each cut aside and your swords snaked around each other, trying to find a gap in your opponent’s defenses. The swords kissed thrice, sprang apart, and you circled each other, letting the steel breathe.  

Your arms did not feel like your own. Your shoulders were throbbing. Your head was spinning, but you could see the thing in front of you.

Your swords bit each other, scraping sadly down the length of the blades, aiming for exposed flesh. If the red between the rows of teeth smothering its body could be called flesh.

With a shove, the thing sent you stumbling backwards, toward the window. Hands numb from your sword’s vibration, you turned his downcut aside, but the force of it had sent you to one knee.

The creature brought its sword down and cursed as you slid away like a wriggling fish. You kicked up your heel and brought it down on your friend’s hand, smashing it against the sill. His grip came loose on his sword. You pulled yourself to your feet, still standing on thing’s. Your swordpoint tunneled toward its chest, but he turned away at the last.

Your sword was trembling with your hands. The creature watched you, laughing. You could feel your heartbeat in your face and chest and back. You could feel a thousand bruises all over your body. But you had your sword ready, levelled at Albarran.  

You ducked under a swipe and tried to shove your blade up and under the monster’s scaly teeth. He jumped back, arching away from your sword’s point.

“You’ll have to do better than that!” he laughed. And as it did, you put your blade between two ivory scales on its neck.

You spared a glance at the hall: the creatures were tearing the place apart, ransacking and looting. But none had reached you. You could hardly discern if they had seen you. I can’t say if there were others at the inn that they were feasting on. But I suspect your companions saved you one last time.

You wanted to retch at the thought of it. You felt like a wave breaking as you half-fell through the threshold of the doorway. You shut the door behind you and braced your back against the door. Here you will remain. Safe, for now. I will update you at first light.

Previously

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Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron

Regards of Great Forgotten Things – Day 10

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 […]

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.

* * *

Sanctum is not what you expected it would be.

The whole town is carved from bulbous black stone that Aos says once glowed red hot like the light from a forge fire, and swarmed this place in thick ropes flaming fluid. It has dried to hotrock, and after years of chipping away, these residents built Sanctum as you and your companions know it now.

The town had no sentries posted at the gates and beyond was motley mass of greasy flesh and cloaks hemmed with mud. Such folk crowded the winding streets of Sanctum, careful of the shattered shards of obsidian and glass that littered the road. You could feel eyes on you.

“Are we in trouble?” you asked your companions.”

“These westrons are pale,” Desmon answered. “Did you expect we wouldn’t attract attention?”

You checked your hands against the pale skin of the men and women of Sanctum. They had blue eyes and fair hair. You couldn’t stick out more if you tried. The watchmen eyeing you had yellow beards that swept down their mailed chests. You eyed them back, and kept eyeing them.

Until you crashed into the mass of folk surging through the street. The two of you tumbled, tangled together. With some effort, you two untwined.

“Apologies about our friend,” Aos said as she helped you to your feet. “He’s quite simple.”

You realized you had crashed into a one-eyed woman. She did not blink. For a moment you mistook that for surprise. She still sat where she had fallen. “How fortunate,” she said. “We in Sanctum have been hungry, of late.”

Desmon licked his lips. “I could do with some food.”

“So say we all,” said the woman. She stood, still not blinking. She smelled of burning hair and rusting iron.

You turned your head to one side. “Do I know you?” you asked the woman.

She was still smiling. Never blinking. You couldn’t stop staring at the gaping hole where her other eye should have been. She cupped a leathery hand over your face. “There will be time for that later, my child,” she said. Unblinking. Still smiling.

Aos and Desmon seized you by either arm and dragged you away.

Aos and Desmon pulled you through ermine-trimmed bliauts of wealthy merchants who were themselves sizing up courtesans in satin sewn with cloth of gold, with pearl-inlaid broaching winking just above their breasts. Beyond them were armed men, spiderwebbed with scars, bearing swords and maces and axes and longbows. You wondered how hot they were in their wolf-trimmed cloaks. Their ringmail scraped against your pauldrons as you passed.

You navigated around whining beggars, too. None called for coin. Only food. You’ll find this is not uncommon nowadays. Such things are common, if your earlier account about the boy you met in service to the Warlord is to be believed.

Until at last Desmon shoved you forward and you braced yourself against the lip of a well, as black and ropey as the houses built from the dried-up hotrock.

“Water,” was all Desmon could say between his shriveled, cracked lips like two worms decomposing.

“Pull the rope, Carth,” Aos rasped.

You did as they bid you. “It’s heavy,” you said.

“It’s a bucket of water. It’s supposed to be heavy,” Aos snapped.

Grunting and hauling, such that your muscles burned with the exertion, you hauled the bucket to the lip of the well.

Desmon’s hands were shaking like a dicetoss when he got his hands on the bucket. But as he turned it toward him you found a viscous silver within: a spell. A withered, dying thing leftover from the Great Conflict. It blasted hot air in your face as it dried up into nothing.

For three heartbeats, no one spoke. And then Aos said, “That was a joke, right?”

“I don’t think so,” you said.

“You don’t think, Carth,” Desmon said. Lines on his forehead cut into a V shape as he eyed the townsfolk milling about, shuffling and shambling.  “There’s got to be a tavern here somewhere.”

The hotrock had been shaped in a curve to hold the bronze lanterns that swayed in the wind, carved in the face of dragons that lit the street before you found an innkeep. His floor was not the black glass that had scattered the streets. You were thankful for a wooden floor, and a home that was not carved from the hotrock.

The gate to the inn did no open by the roadside. Rather, you three had to enter through an alleyway. I could swear there were eyes on you. But I’ll not confirm this. I’ll let you guess.

The door was locked.

Desmon cursed and Aos groaned. But you noticed a bell above. “Try that?” you said, pointing.

Aos did, and a cold wind brushed past you to open a wicket in the door. A pale, blue-eyed face peered through.

“Open the door, you fucking–” Desmon began. But Aos clamped a hand over his mouth.

“We’ve coin to pay for a room for the night. Please.” Her stomach roared, which you felt illustrated her point.

The owner of the eyes behind the door hmmed and hawed. “No coin. Just food.”

“But we don’t have any food,” Aos said.

The innkeep squinted. “No. You have food.” He opened the door. As you passed the threshold, he locked the door and bolted it behind him. He was smiling. Constantly.

Before I forget, I must remind you: I do not remember watching him blink.

The main room reeked of smoke and sawdust. You could smell nothing cooking over the fire. A few scattered souls sat hunched over empty tankards, and did not regard your entrance with as much as a backwards glance.

Desmon held out a glittering gold coin. “We’ll have a joint of beef and a loaf of bread. Each. My friends and I have the coin to pay.”

“I’ll take a tankard of Ilian wine, while you’re at it,” Aos added.

The innkeep wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. He reeked something like wet sand. “I’m sorry?” he said. “We have no beef, nor loafs or wine.”

“Chicken, then.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” the innkeep said, still smiling.

“Chicken,” Aos said, slowly. As if she were speaking to a child. “You know. It’s a bird. You roast it over a spit.”

The innkeep hacked a globule of saliva between the floorboards. “I’m not sure that will do much roasting. I’ve never been fond of the taste of feathers myself–”

“Do you have food or not?”

He hadn’t stopped smiling, nor had he begun to blink. After two heartbeats of silence, he said, “I’m sorry? I’m afraid I don’t understa–”

“What are we paying for?”

“You pay for lodging. With food. Yes?”

“We’re not–” Desmon and Aos exchanged glances, and then looked at you.

“Are you accusing me of this?” you asked. “How could I be behind this?”

“This entire town is as simple as you,” Aos muttered.

“Yes,” the innkeep broke in. “Simple. A nice feathered bed for each of you in exchange for food. I’ll show you to your rooms now, yes?”

Just the thought of a featherbed made you feel heavy. Tired. You felt as if you were drooping, and with an effort you kept your back straight. “That would be nice, yes.” you told the innkeep.

So you followed him up squealing steps, down a long and narrow hallway sparsely-lit by lanterns. His slippered feet whispered across the carpeted floor flanked with tassels. At the end of the hall you reaches a door that, when opened, squealed even louder than the stairs. And within you found three featherbeds, side by side on the far right corner, and a copper lamp lit suspended from the ceiling. You gagged on a scent meant to imitate something akin to lavender perfume. You could see the scent misting through the room.

I can’t say the man doesn’t prepare. no windows, and a copper, lamp lit in the corner.

There were not winders, but there was a desk with a quill and inkwell in the corner nearest you. The padded seat in front of it looked more comfortable than anything you could remember.

Then again, what can you remember? Perhaps I’m lying. It’s not like you’ll know once you leave this tavern. At least I can give you happy memories. I’ll let you decide which ones are false.

“You will stay here,” said the innkeep. “You will pay with food later tonight, yes? Yes.”

Without another word, he shut the door behind you.

And this is where you write this now, Carth. In this room, by candlelight, careful not to let hot wax slip onto your pages. Desmon and Aos have argued over food. The hunger is affecting their mood. They have decided they’ll clear things up with the innkeep in the morning. At least you three have featherbeds.

And who knows? Perhaps I’ve been lying. Perhaps all I’m doing is trying to scare you. Like one who tells horror stories by firelight. I am your storyteller, Carth. Come close to the fire and listen. Without, someone plays a leather covered-drum, palms striking softly. As soft and smooth as a featherbed…

Previously

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Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron