As I promised, here’s the story I’ve been working on all month. I make no excuses for its quality, I reached a few points of “flow” while I was writing it. It was a good exercise, and I’ll probably do it again some time.
“Children of Orichon, I bid you welcome to your new home!”
The head master’s robes fluttered in the harsh sea wind. We were all huddled together on the dock, trying to avoid the sick that took at least 10 of our fellows. We had left port in Maradon with 30. Though the chill reached down to my very soul, the air smelled good. It smelled clean. Thanks to Orichon, indeed.
My name is Tuck. It is only one I have. A year ago I lived across the sea in an Saint Rifov’s Orphanage in Maradon, the capital of the Empire. It is a crowded place, teeming with the refugees from the war with the demons in the East. Even in so far in the Empire’s borders, the cities are within the walls of great keeps to protect the people within from the beasts without. Sometimes shanty towns are built on the outside, but they don’t last long.
Saint Rifov’s was forced out of its tenement because the rents were too high. Like the Empire, we found new hope in the colonies to the West, across the sea. The headmaster continued his speech.
“We will be making our way through this new colony of…” He adjusted a pair of spectacles on his nose. “Newlandia. Hm, not very original, is it? You have been assigned to different family farms along our route to the western border. Those who have not been assigned at the end of the journey, however unlikely, will return to the port and await further instructions from the local diocese.”
He wrenched the spectacles from his face. Some of the boys suspected the headmaster had spent some time in the theater. “Take heart, Children of Orichon! This maybe a savage New…Land, but be certain that you are providing a service to the Empire by populating her new colonies. Single file please, take hand in hand, and no talking!”
The port was much like Maradon. It’s no surprise, it was settled by its people. This town was probably all they could do to keep from going insane from homesick. We heard many stories of this strange new land. We learned of herds of beasts that would cover plains the size of whole kingdoms under a sea of thundering flesh, mountain ranges that scrape the edge of heaven, and storms that would lay the finest armies of Orichon to mere dust. But, there were no demons here. And there was room.
I grabbed the hand of Alan Duqesne. He came to the orphanage when he was 4, not a lifer like me. Wherever he came from, he was fed with something that made him grow large, a full head larger than the other children. He would not let go if something strange got a hold of me in this city. My other hand was snatched by Little Jim. He was a lifer too. A quiet creature, never said much unless it was related to chess, draughts, or any other games of logic.
Our little troupe snaked through the streets, arm in arm. The deeper we went into the city, the more and more it did not look like Orichon. The Pope’s soldiers were nowhere to be found. In Maradon, you could see squads of them clearing out slums or dispersing crowds. We could only see the odd warrior bearing the holy disc somewhere on his person. They all had limbs of living metal in one form or another. Some eyepatches, one had a false jaw. There were shops cleaning bones that were larger than two grown men. Workers were carving them into shapes for easy transport. It became obvious to me that the shopfronts were almost all made of bone, and the awnings were made from tanned hide. The whole city started to look like it had been hewn from slain beasts.
Our group stopped at the livery. As soon as the headmaster produced his pouch of gold, we were brought into a wagon pulled by one of the Newlandian beasts.
It was called an Ornox. It was covered in velvet fur, and stood almost as big as our tenement at the shoulder. It’s massive head bore a crown muscle, almost like a hump. The hump almost disguised the creatures single small eye at the side, which stared back at us with such wild insanity that I could not look away. My stare was interrupted by the headmaster lifting me on to the wagon.
“There you go Tuck,” he said. “Nothing to be afraid of! This fine fellow will take you to your new home!”
I could not imagine one of these running wild on a plain, much less a whole herd of them. The wagon lurched forward, and soon the city gave away to a small dirt path through an unending forest. The Ornox snapped and chewed at branches as the driver whipped him forward. I peered outside the through a hole in the wagon’s canvas. A small party of travellers had joined us. They all seemed like big, strong men, clothed in the furs of an Ornox. Across their backs, they carries weapons, swords and arrows crafted from the bone we had seen in town. Were they hunters?
The path opened up farms, and one after another, our companions were let off. The families were care-worn and thin, but they seemed to appreciate our arrival. For some reason they just at me, Alan and Little Jim, as if we were more…pathetic than we were. I couldn’t explain it.
Soon it was just us three in the wagon. The travellers were still quietly striding beside us. The headmaster was quietly humming a short hymn to himself. His mood betrayed the gray shade that the trees were casting all around us. The sound of horses broke his tune. His eyes snapped open and listened.
“Attention Travellers,” a voice boomed outside. “Your cargo has been deemed of interest to Knights of Adrick. We are here to claim it. Step aside!”
Adrick? It couldn’t be! I had only heard of their kind in books. Then again, I had only known of Newlandia in books until today!
Adrick was once a hero of Orichon. He was the first of the Pope’s Army to settle in the new continent, but he had betrayed the Empire’s honor. 20 years ago, his war to secede the colonies had nearly cost Orichon the war in the East. Some of the colonies joined him, but Newlandia remained in the Empire as part of an uneasy peace. That is, until today.
We could hear the clacking and unsheathing of bone weapons harder than any steel from the motherland. It was clear what the headmaster hired the travellers for. They were to be our guards.
The terrible whine of arrows ended the lives of two of the travellers. The driver slumped backward into the carriage with an arrow lodged in his throat. The others stepped forward to challenge the horsemen up the road. They clashed with their lances, only to be brought down again by the snipers in the trees.
The headmaster put a single finger to his lips and stepped outside the carriage. Alan, Little Jim and I peered out over the driver’s prone body.
“Take heart, soldiers of Adrick.” said the headmaster. “I only wish to see you go about your business. Tell me what this cargo is and I will fetch it for you.”
The soldier growled at the headmaster. “You can keep walking to the side of the road, father. We will search the carriage ourselves and take what you wish.”
The headmaster, with his hands over his head, did what the soldier asked. “I’m afraid the only treasure you’ll find in there are the foundlings of Orichon. They are of no use to you as soldiers, or are the women of Adrick so barren?”
A soldier bashed his lance into the headmasters face. “Be silent, you old git!”
The first raised his hand to stop the second. “At ease, Morton. He may have already told us what we need to know.”
The headmaster grinned through bloodstained teeth. “And so have you my child”
The headmaster raised his hand to reveal a golden hand-bell. A flick of his wrist produced a sound I had not heard since attending mass back in the motherland. A beautiful chorus of bells that couldn’t come from a little thing like that. As He slowly brought the bell down, we could see no clapper within it. The music was loud, but somehow comforting. It felt like home. We could hear the sounds of bodies falling out of the trees. The snipers writhed out on to the road, screaming in pain.
The two soldiers on horseback were also writhing, but it was as if they were attached to their steeds. The second one called Morton fell to the ground, horse and all. The mass of horse and rider started to shift like a bowl of molasses. The first fought to gain composure.
“Why did you…what have you done?!” He to began to shift and meld with his horse, until the beast’s hoof reached up and tore his skin off like a suit of clothes.
The remains were a black and formless mass billowing over the width of the road.
“Stupid, stupid old man!” said the mass. “Your little whelplings will have to see you die before their eyes. I will make you regret all existence.”
The headmaster look back at us and gave a knowing smile. I knew what I had to do. I grabbed Jim and Alan’s hands and started for the back of the carriage.
“Wait, Tuck!” said Alan. “We don’t know what that thing his, how are we going to outrun it?”
“We don’t,” I said. “We just have to trust the headmaster now. Come on!”
We leaped out of the back of the wagon and started running as far and as fast as our legs could carry us. It was getting dark. A root tripped me up and all three of us went down in the mud. Alan pulled us up. “Tuck! Watch where you’re -Aaagh!”
The forest was replaced by blinding white light. A deafening bang knocked us off our feet again. We held fast to the ground, too terrified to move. It felt like a year of silence had passed before Jim started to struggle to his feet. Alan protested.
“Jim, what are you doing? Stay down!”
“Leave him alone, I think it’s okay now.”
The wind blew through the trees like a lonely whisper. The full moon lit up the road ahead. The carriage, the bodies, the soldiers, and the headmaster were gone.
“We have to go looking for them,” said Alan. “Who knows what else is in this forest?”
“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out if we keep running around in the dark like this! We need to find some place to camp for the night”
“Camping?! As if you know how to camp! You’ve lived in a city all your life!”
“Well, so have you! What makes you think you’re going to find anybody in a forest?”
“I’ll keep watch,” Alan and I both fell silent. There was Jim, who maybe spoke five words a week. His eyes were wide and sure, glinting in the moonlight. “You sleep. I’ll keep watch.”
Jim walked out into the middle of the road and started staring at it. Alan and I just stood there dumbfounded.
“Look, Jim,” I said. “You don’t have to do that. One of us can watch”
Jim looked back at me with a glare. “You…sleep.”
I looked back at Alan. He just shrugged his shoulders.
“Okay, you keep watch.” I said. “Just wake us up when you get tired.”
“You know he’s not going to stay up all night, and he’s not going to wake us up” Alan grumbled, settling down at the foot of a tree.
I tried to arrange some rocks in a more comfortable pattern. “Maybe not, but do you want to argue with him?”