Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Skeletons

In the north, labor is the duty of the dead. Brightly painted skeletons farm, herd, build, and haul. The living are free to raid their neighbors.

In the south, combat is the duty of the dead. Skeletons, intricately carved with their deeds in life, defend against attack. They have perfect discipline, perfect morale, and perfect technique.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Man-eater

Caves are not shaped for human convenience. Floors are rough, and not always horizontal. Passageways can be large or small, wide or thin, smooth or convoluted. Some passages are so thin that it is only barely possible to make it through, sometimes you have to exhale to fit. Bruises are common, cracked ribs and dislocated shoulders not unheard of. You struggle for every inch. You can practice with a wire hanger to get an idea of how tight a space you can get through.

Caves are dark. Not dark like at night when there are stars, or dark like in bed with street lights peeking around your curtains, but utterly dark, dark like trying to look behind your eyeballs. It is easy to take flashlights and headlamps for granted, but switch them off and you’ll see. It takes your eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, for afterimages to fade, and then you know longer know where the things around you are. Your world is reduced to your thoughts, the touch of rock under your feet and hands, and the sound of your breath.

Being eaten alive is the most horrible of deaths. Excruciating, but not the most painful. Drawn-out, but no the slowest. The most horrible. It means being totally at the power of something which is not even bothering to kill you, waiting in between bites for the chewing to stop and the pain to come again, wondering how long it will take you to die, whether blood-loss will get you first or if the beast will at last tear into something important, utterly powerlessness.

At first I was not sure if I was mis-hearing my own breath. I thought that perhaps sensory deprivation was causing my mind to tricking itself. I thought I heard the heavy breath of something large behind me. Then I was hit by the smell, strong and primal and awful, and then a hand, strong and rough, into my back, knocking me into the ground.

I had been found by the manticore.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Crafting Magic

It was past noon when Alexander arrived at the farm, a small cottage with a larger barn. The farmer was an old man, wrinkled but wiry. Alexander's appearance did not make the old man reconsider for more than a moment.

"I assume yer here fer the rats? I'll show ya," he said, and began walking towards the barn.

"Large as cats, some of 'em, and not as afraid a me as they ought to be. I cooked up some poison but they ignored it. I need em gone before they get ambitions and go after my sheep." We reached the bard and showed me the holes he had discovered. They were uncommonly large.

"Shouldn't be a problem." Alexander said. "I'll weave some weasels out of sunlight. They'll be fierce and fearless and will evict the rats no problem. I'll cut some dogs out of the shadow of the barn, to chase down escapees. Come evening I'll weave an owl out of the wind, to stay with you and kill any survivors."

"How long will this take? And how long will the owl last?"

"It shouldn't take more than an hour. The owl will last one night, but you'll be surprised by how many rats and mice an owl of the wind can kill in just one night."

Told man nodded, and left Alexander to it. It had been some time he had woven creatures. He thought back to his lessons, trying to make butterflies out of candle flames. Ashpool had been the instructor, fond of lectures.

"To create, we combine two things: form and substance. You must have an intimate understanding of both. To know the substance, how tough it is, how brittle it is, how malleable it is, and every other property you can think of. To know form, you must know what the thing you are creating does, what stimuli it respond to, what you need it to do. The deeper your understanding of these things, the longer your creation will be able to last before disintegrating. With time, you will be able to create a sword out of wit, a ship of dreams, or a dog from a fond memory, but for now, concentrate on the flame."

Alexander was startled out of his reverie by a flash of light. The first of the sunlight weasels was finished, a silhouette so bright it looked like an afterimage on his eyes. He got started on the next.