Digger’s Lament

Digger’s Lament is a side story to an epic science-fantasy trilogy I’ve had percolating in my head for a little over five years. Palta and Ananda were supposed to be minor secondary characters, but they are the first to hit the page. Robert Helmbrecht at the sadly defunct Hazardous Press, who bought my first ever story, asked me to contribute to the anthology “Tales of the Black Arts” and I wrote the first draft in one night. I’m more than a little in love with these two characters and have a pair of other adventures in mind for them before I tackle the Big Trilogy, “This Side of the Blue”.

In the night, the valley was so filled with smoke that Palta could not make out the dimmest guidestars. He had a dozen other ways to divine the time and his location, but it still filled him with a slippery dread, a feeling of being half-lost and pointed in the wrong direction. His tent, barely half the size of the reeves’ tents and still stinking of the marsh crossing, seemed to close in on him like a fist as he tried to catch a few fitful moments of sleep.

He’d wet his scarf and tied a thin strip to his face, but the sharp stench of the burned town and a hundred cook-fires crept through, clinging to the soft tissue of his eyes and nose. Outside, he could hear the 17th Expeditionary Host of Imperial Kattaka, the insectile buzz of a thousand men talking grimly by the fires, reeking of dismay and unease. He knew it wouldn’t be long until they started to blame him for the men who’d died that day.

Continue reading “Digger’s Lament”

Between the Walls

The Eastern Empire
Late July, Year of our Lord, 626

When Lecho saw the three walls of Constantinople, rising up like a storm on the horizon, each taller than the last, he knew he’d made his worst mistake. Around him marched the great host of the Avar Khaganate, dragging the skeletal fragments of siege towers. Ahead, he could pick out individual Roman watchmen lining the middle wall, leaning with relaxed arrogance on the crenelations.

Lecho summoned the vilest curses he could and spat them in a circle at his feet. Not for the first time, he damned the blind, hateful luck that had brought him to the foot of the greatest city in the East, ready to grind his flesh into the unbreachable walls until there was little but dust and blood.

As the sun sank in the west, and camps were staked, his motley detachment of Bulgar raiders, Carolingian fugitives, Slavic peasants, and mercenaries from across the continent gathered to hear the words of a minor Avar Khan. Lots were drawn, and they received the honor of being the first over the walls. Lecho watched the Khan palm the tile with the low number etched on it, and pretend to draw it from the ceremonial leather sack, made from some great enemy’s scrotum. He’d known they’d be first, one way or another, but he could do little more than spit in a circle and try not to catch the Khan’s eye.

Continue reading “Between the Walls”

East

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Storm.

It’s always been there, behind us, whispering through the shuddering ground. A background roar behind the wind. We’d been ahead for so long, moving slightly faster than its clockwork crawl. Until the mountains. Then, as we ground ourselves upward against these slopes, we heard it rumbling closer, a rising quake in the earth. But it’s been a while since I turned around and actually saw it. Sitting here on the side of the mountain, in the frigid morning, it fills my vision and stings my eyes with the monstrous unreality of it.

It rises like an unbroken wall into the sky, obscured only by the limits of my sight, fading into the clear blue, and stretching away north and south, curving away with the earth. The sunlight doesn’t seem to touch it. Nothing does. At the ground, where the churning wall of sickly blue lightning and black clouds grinds across the earth, I can see the Unmaking. The lower peaks, already shaking apart, burst and ablate away at the event horizon of the Storm. The land dips before the onslaught, as if shying away from the kiss of the boiling wall. I can feel the violence beneath my feet as millions of tons of ancient mountain falls away into its infinite maw.

It’s going to be on me in a few hours. I wonder if I’ll die when the peak caves away, crushed in a free-fall of slate and stone, or whether I’ll be alive when the Storm touches me, shredded and atomized, erased and Unmade. I wonder, again, what it might feel like.

Continue reading “East”