May 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
I remember how it started, lined up tightly in the alleys and closes across the road. It was early morning. I was cold. Water trickled down from a leaking gutter, splashing onto my jerkin. The Ballivo made some kind of speech. I didn’t understand much of it apart from ‘charge’ and we pushed forward to storm the gates. The old locks splintered easily under the hammers of the leading men and we tumbled through, onto the boulevard.
And that’s when it all went so horribly, horribly wrong.
There was nobody there, nothing but the houses on either side and the leaves dusting the cobbles in front of us, but we fell anyway. The man in front of me doubled up, gasping, like he’d been hit in the stomach. Hit hard. Blood coughed up between his lips as he fell to the ground. His body lay limp. I jumped past him and carried on, my baton raised, more from the lack of other options than duty. Tillea, running beside me, glanced over briefly before her head whipped back with a sickening crack. She grunted weakly. I remember watching her helmet tumble backwards and clang on the cobbling. There was mist curling around our feet.
Distracted, I caught a vague movement on the edge of my vision. I was twisting away before I realised what was happening, raw fear controlling my movements, but even so something solid crunched into my jaw. Light exploded and danced in front of me. I hung suspended in the air somehow until, suddenly, my knees cracked against the ground and I jerked back into thought.
I couldn’t move. I started to panic. I was held, rigid, kneeling on a paving slab by the edge of the boulevard. Cold needles pinned into my shoulders, numbness spreading out through my body. I could see pale blue flowers lining a bed of dark soil. They seemed to glow slightly.
It was barely a voice. A rustling of pine needles, the scratch of dust swirling down an empty corridor. It didn’t matter. The sound didn’t need to travel. I felt it in the very bones of my skull.
Anger. Blistering, consuming anger. But not just that. Outrage, indignation and a kind of sadness.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. It sounded pitiful. My voice cracking like a child’s, slurred out through my broken jaw. “We…,” I gasped as the word stretched my mouth and pain shot through my head, flaring sharp against the icy numbness. Thought was difficult, slow. The flowers. Watch the flowers. Bright. Blue. Rows. Ordered. Think.
“Orders…” I coughed the sound, barely deserving the name of word, through a coating of mucus. “Had…orders.”
The flowers. Dull now, just outlines. Rippling slightly in a breeze. Bending. Nodding.
And I fell, released, into their midst.
After that, all is darkness and whispers for what felt like a thousand upon a thousand years until a voice came and asked for me. A soft voice, yet strong and imperious. It cuts through the darkness like moonlight. I am needed. We all are needed.
Night is falling and Whither must awaken.
October 6, 2013 § 1 Comment
The City stretches boundlessly and there are none who, if not exactly welcomed, are not tolerated under the great munificence of our Lord. From the winding alleyways of the Riddle to the open plazas of the Limbic Quarter, in the huddled camps out by the Sleeping Cliffs to the clamouring throngs of Dyall Square; diversity is victorious.
Yet, even these places are commonplace next to the great City within the City; the eerily glimmering necropolis of Whither.
Behind black-iron gates, gates that are locked from the inside, lies this rarely mentioned Dark Borough. No tombs or catacombs stand here, no gravel paths lead through weeping yews, for this is not a place of eternal rest. Shadowed boulevards stretch into the gloom whilst glowering townhouses line their routes like stern-eyed pallbearers. Perpetual fog lurks under leafless branches, ignoring the changing seasons as it has for time out of memory.
Occasionally, as dusk falls on some quiet evening, a black hearse will draw up to the Whither Gate and the Master Undertaker, paler and more aged than his calling perhaps demands, will step down onto the cobbles. His assistants will bring out a bundle – sometimes large, sometimes small – and place it on the low, worn stone by the gate. They will pull the black, horsehair cord above and retreat quietly, quickly. There will be no reply, no acknowledgement, and for this they are grateful.
By morning, the bundle will be gone. By morning, a pledge will have been fulfilled. Only one man has remained, on a youthful wager they say, to watch the bundle be accepted. He does not speak of what he saw. He does not speak of anything, any more.
Our Lord’s honoured grandfather, long may he be remembered, saw the Whither’s existence as a snub against his rule, an island of silent independence in a place of otherwise universal dominion. Before dawn on one cool, spring morning he sent the militia to storm the gates and reclaim the Borough in his name. No man who crossed the threshold made it more than a dozen steps before collapsing into the gutters, grasping at their throats in silent torment as eyes bulged and ears bled. Our one-time Lord, many honoured even now, is said to have risen from sleep in his chambers ashen-faced and gaunt with a parchment clutched in his shaking fist. This parchment, written in his own hand but with signed addenda in perfect copperplate of unknown authorship, outlines what has become known as The Agreement; Whither will never again be assailed or otherwise defiled, a seat will be made available at the Conclave for any ambassador that Whither may wish to send according to their whim and there will be a tribute offered to the Lords of Whither by the Lords of the City.
Though a chair sits waiting in the Rose Office even today no ambassador has ever issued from the Borough, much to the relief of all sane men. Yet Whither remains unmolested and the tributes, delivered in bundles on demand, continue