Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Warrior-Monks

Our monastery was on the eastern slopes of Pavonis Mons, so that it was illuminated in the morning by a soft blue sunrise, only to fall into shadow in the early evening. It was in the blue light of dawn that we practiced the traditional forms of our ancient martial art.

We, the students, were all young women, pleased by our strength and eager to test it. After our exercises, we would often gather to relax and chat, discussing rumors we had heard from the lowlands. We had just heard about the fall of the Olympian Dictatorship, and the tumult that was following.

"Couldn't we help?" Arbella was saying, "We may not be masters, but we know how to fight."

"We could take bandits, I'm sure. Not much, but it would be better than nothing," Yen agreed.

"Or beasts. I've heard several geneticists had their workshops destroyed and their wares escaped and have started breeding. We could help a lot of people by hunting them down," continued Arbella.

Our teachers seemed ageless, and infinitely patient. They never raised their voices in anger, but only as a means of focusing our attention. So, when the voice of Teacher Scythe suddenly cut across our chatter, we immediately stopped talking and listened.

"Do not fool yourselves. What we do is not practical. You would not survive real combat."

"Surely it cannot be useless," objected Arbella, but was quickly overruled.

"You have learned how to fight unarmed against other unarmed humans. That is all. Do you think you could even survive in a fight with a man in a hoplite suit? A manticore? A sentient weapon? We practice to keep tradition alive, nothing more. We are monks, not warriors."

He paused, seeing that some of us still weren't convinced.

“Tomorrow you will fight a boar. It will be given no means of escape, and that will make it desperate. It will attack you however it can. It will not care about pain. It will not fall for feints. Few of your techniques are of use against a four-legged animal. I do not expect you to win. I expect you to learn."

Friday, May 24, 2019


South of the mountains streches a great salt desert, white dunes as far as the eye can see and a wind that stings the eyes. It is not hot, but rain never falls, and the air is drier than anywhere else in the world. There are no rivers, but there are oases, where water bubbles to the surface. The greatest of these springs is surrounded by the palace of the god-king Hamun, which is surrounded by the city of Hamun-ran, "Hamun's Household," built entirely out of salt.

Hamun has absolute control over the spring. Not a sip is drunk in the city without his blessing. It is his terrace-tower gardens that supply all food. It is his masked and voiceless guard who keep the peace, it is they who prevent any from leaving the city.

Hamun's wife, the Queen of Birds, keeps watch over the people through the eyes of vultures. She alone lives in a building not made of salt, but a gilded stone tower whose shine becomes painful to look at when the sun has risen. No one has seen the Queen of Birds, and it is rumored that there have been many Queens, discarded and replaced at Hamun's whim.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Making Use of an Empty Thing

At the north side of the steppe, where the great grey mountains that birth the ten rivers rise out of the grass, there is an ancient, isolated nation where they practice an ancient and terrible tradition called Making Use of an Empty Thing. They do not believe, or do not care, about the warnings and proscriptions applied by all civilized nations to necromancy. They had convinced themselves that as long as necromancy was practiced on beasts, and not on people, they were not doomed. As a servant of the Saint, it was Allix's duty to save them from themselves.

Allix had seen a military parade where the necromancers displayed their masterworks. Steppe crabs, killed with poison and then animated, riveted with steel plates and painted yellow-gold for the parade. They carried howdahs of black lacquered wood with tall banners and seats for two crab-knights, one armed with a pike, one with a long-barreled musket, and both in black chitin lamellar. 

Allix had fled the parade as fast as he could without attracting attention, and returned to the boarding house where he was staying, hurrying to his room and latching the door behind him. He felt for the burlap bundle beneath his bed and pulled it out, unwrapping it to check the contents. The larvae had almost finished off the pig carcass they had been living in, but it was no matter. Soon they would mature, and then the parasitic wasps they grew into would seek dead flesh, eating and growing and multiplying until no dead thing could last and every undead beast were devoured from the inside.