A low fire crackled in the predawn several miles north of the segmented city of Moorhenda. Sytheis Tia Menrha, a young wordsmith, prodded the flames idly with a stick to keep the fire burning. It cast a red light through the trees around him, illuminating the sleeping forms of his unlikely companions.
Strange circumstances had him working the a Banndnori mason called Fortas Tillor, a beggar child known as Chipper and two street thugs known as Rantier Zalnot and Bibbi. Together they had entered the inner city’s sewers to hunt a monster but had ended up fleeing for their lives from Draknori warriors who were thought to be long dead. Their escape had left them in woods miles from the city with one less man than they had begun with.
The sleep that Sytheis had managed only served to stiffen his battered limbs. He had been set to watch the camp for an hour now and that time had been spent trying to loosen up his protesting muscles. There was little else to do. His journal and ink bottles had been destroyed and he had left his instruments back at his room. Luckily his Klash cards had survived inside their waterproof case but he had no desire to handle them in his numb hands.
The air was humid and warm even without the fire. Sweat prickled his skin. He stood up and stretched before walking a short distance from the camp to gather more wood. The sun would be rising soon but a meal of cooked rabbit before they set off would go down a treat. Rantier had assured them that he could catch something for them. Continue reading
Buildings shimmered sickeningly outside the window of a second floor room of an inn called The Rose and Thorn. The distant towering wall of Moorenda’s inner city was little more than an indistinct blur. Sytheis Tia Menrha stood by the window staring out at the city beyond. The sun hung heavily in the sky and only the most determined of people were out in the streets unnecessarily. The days were only getting hotter it seemed and Sytheis had no intention of leaving the shade of his rented room.
He studied his reflection in the glass for a moment, running a hand through his sweat-slick blond hair before slumping back into the chair at his desk. Papers lay scattered all across the surface and words were scrawled across every piece. Some of it was his own work while others belonged to other tellers or bards. He grouped them all together into a category that he liked to call ‘the competition’.
At the top of the pile was Moorenda’s most popular Venndi news pamphlet The Stag. Most of the issue was dedicated to the battle that had taken place outside of the city on what was now referred to as Queen’s Hill several days back. The centrepiece of the pamphlet was written by none other than Sytheis himself. It had been written under a pen name to avoid awkward questions but all of the coin had gone into his pocket. It was pure propaganda filled with buzzwords and emotive phrases but with little depth. This was what sold best though.
He had also sent another version to a Chalemite teller under a different name that outlined the events of the battle in a grim, unflattering light. It had been a commission from the queen of Chalem herself and had paid well. It was that bloodsoaked retelling of the battle that had allowed him to rent this room within a good district of the city.
Absently he flicked through the pamphlet, skimming over the pages about the battle and its political implications, until a rough sketch caught his eye. It depicted some kind of large animal lurking in the shadows. The artist had tried to make it appear terrifying while applying only the vaguest of detail to what the creature actually was. He read through the accompanying writing with growing interest. Continue reading
(Book two of Thorns of the Shadow. Contains spoilers of book one.)
Heat rolled in shimmering waves across every surface. The sun hung proudly in a cloudless sky above. It was the kind of day that seemed to drag on and seep the energy from the world.
On a suburban street, in a house like every other upon it, a young woman sat slouched across a sofa where she had been for the past few hours without moving. She was called Catherine Redthorn, but preferred to go by KT. Her black hair ended half way down her back and she had an athletic build that was currently clad in black jeans and a simple white vest. A few scars marked her arms but many more lay hidden in a chaotic pattern across her torso.
On the other end of the sofa was the sprawled out shape of her twin brother, Mordekai, known better as Kai. He was taller and broader than his sister but shared her green eyes and love of dark clothing. He too bore scars, as did their mother and father, but nothing near to the level that punctuated KT’s skin. Continue reading
Streaks of green flame slid through the darkness of the sky, leaving an ever changing trail of colours in its wake. The stars around it shimmered and distorted like reflections across disturbed water. Mallan Rilarendir watched it idley from the rooftop where he was laid. Vague thoughts crossed his mind, but mostly he was content to just enjoy the view. It was rare to have a clear sky.
“You ever think it’s strange how the past never really goes away. It’s always here in some way or other. We lay here and look at the sky, watching as chunks of a once powerful civilisation drifts through space, and we know all about it even though it happened long before we were born. It’s like they didn’t want to be forgotten so they keep drawing our attention to them, whispering for us to remember them.”
From Mallan’s side, Lilarith Rilarendir snorted. “I think you think to much. Of course the past is here for us to see. Every second becomes the past, becomes history. Us waiting here now, talking about nothing, is history. Maybe in the future someone will think we’re important and look back to this moment. That’s what decides the past. Nothing more than what people in the present believe deserves remembering.”
Mallan shrugged and continued to watch the comet split the sky asunder. He was only a young boy, but to him the great war was something that fascinated him. Even trying to imagine the scale and power involved as titans clashed was something beyond his comprehension. Yet it happened. The fragments of alien worlds were a constant reminder of it. Continue reading
“If everyone isn’t in a line by the time I cross the threshold then there’ll be no dinner for the lot of you.”
There was a bustle of feet as two dozen children ran through the drab corridor to line up before a simple stone fireplace. Their clothes were well worn and they all bore a uniform haircut regardless of their age or gender. At a glance they looked to vary in age from three to twelve, though all of them looked underfed and overworked. Their eyes weren’t the mature eyes of adults or the haunted eyes of soldiers, but neither were they the eyes of average children.
A nervous ripple ran through the line. Every head swiveled to the doorway where a tall man stood beside the rat-featured speaker who called himself the Orphan Master. The master’s given name of Ral Colcot was far less grand and suited him much better. The children examined the stranger with every inch of scrutiny that he gave to them.
“Listen well,” the orphan master announced. “This is Sir Theaspin Rothsgrave and he has graced us with his presence. None of you deserve to even share the same air as such an esteemed lord but he has gifted you all with just such an opportunity. Muster what dignity you have and obey his every word. Is this understood?”
“Yes, Master!” the children answered as one.
Rothsgrave sneered. This ‘orphan master’ seemed to derive great pleasure from his complete command of these children. He was lanky with thinning hair and sunken eyes. A failure of a man who took out his frustrations on the one group of people who couldn’t resist him. Pathetic. Rothsgrave took a step forward, his presence filling the room. Continue reading
A gust of wind blew down an old dirt road. Dust billowed and rose like a dark cloud, obscuring the town ahead for a few brief seconds. Konta Farshore shielded his eyes with a pale hand. Each fleck of grit that hit him stung his near translucent skin. He didn’t breath. Any irritation on his lungs would have caused hours of painful coughing.
The wind faded. Konta waited a few moments then lowered his hand and resumed his breathing. If he’d known the weather would pick up like this he would have stayed at home. He shifted position on his seat. Bruises were already forming where the jostling of the cart had knocked him against the wood.
He yawned then set his eyes on the sparkling blue horizon. The Eastern Ocean extended out into infinity, consuming the world beyond the cluster of brightly coloured buildings that formed the port town of Blencca. It was a large settlement that was fuelled on an economy of fish and little else. Despite this, it was the centrepoint of the area and drew in the residents from the hundreds of farms that dotted the plains around it.
Konta and his family were one such group. They had just had the first harvest of the year and were making the trip down to the merchant quarter to sell that which they didn’t need. Tannar Farshore, Konta’s father, sat beside him with reins in hand, urging the old horse onwards at a gentle pace. Two of Konta’s brothers, Jakks and Samil, walked either side of the cart. Jakks walked hand in hand with a young woman bearing the unmistakable bulge of heavy pregnancy.
Konta was the youngest of seven children. He had four brothers and two sisters, all of who might as well have been another race entirely. Looking down at his eldest brother he couldn’t see any similarity that was reflected in himself. Jakks, and all of the men in the family, were tall with broad shoulders and tanned skin. Coarse hands and muscular arms were the hallmarks of all the local farm workers. He was so strong and confident. Continue reading
The sharp click of the button was not the end or the beginning of events. It was the last step in a long process that led to the partial collapse of the very fabric of the universe. Beyond a sheet of transparent carbon alloy the infinite darkness of space shimmered. A million stars pulsed in unison and time itself shuddered with the uncertainty of a failing reality.
“Kiss my living life goodbye
Embrace the fact that I will die
Know that all is but a lie
And never ask your maker why
Tomorrow comes tomorrow passed
Our shattered dreams are all that last
The dice of fate have now been cast
I know my birth of sleep draws fast.”
The singer had first heard that tune whilst still in her mother’s womb and would hear it again as they closed her tomb. She giggled uncontrollably. The world was just so damn musical. No matter what language or species, people made poetry and sang songs. Her own thoughts danced a merry jive through her head.
The words were from an old nursery rhyme. Like all good songs for young children, the topic was about as morbid as possible. Children seemed drawn to the darkness of the world like twisted mirrors of moths, seeking out that which killed them until their wings were clipped and their bodies wrapped in a cocoon of rules and culture before emerging as fat caterpillars good for nothing beyond eating and breeding.
And here she was, Zorya Triumph, a caterpillar given wings. Wings that could tear the universe asunder. As such, she had named the ship Cataclysm and Butterflies. She laughed again, multi-shaded blue hair falling across her face as she rocked back and forth on her chair. The strands danced like blue flames. Continue reading