Fantasy story excerpt: Between two cities

Okay so it’s just about midnight. I’ve ran out of time today and I’m exhausted. I thought about giving myself a rest day for the 1k. I mean I figure it’s okay because of the Sabbath or something. It *is* reasonable to have one day off a week. But the thing is, that it would mean that I lose momentum. That I can’t say I really stuck with 1k every day for a whole week at least.

These lines of demarcation are arbitrary but so is the nature of any challenge.

I can’t continue BuddyBot today, I can barely keep my eyes open. Instead I will write something weird. It is an extract, or a short story, a piece of fiction from what is hopefully my next novel, tentatively titled. I am sleepy, it is late, so I’m writing this off the top. I apologize if it is thoroughly mediocre.

Quantity, not quality.

The children of the pantheon

Between two cities

The battle took place in the desert, between the frozen waves of two titanic sand dunes. Overhead the spheres of Ishtara and Durgor hovered, disks that had drifted from the east, as distant from the earth as the stars or the moon. The gods would be present. Both houses claimed the Gods watched from directly above their armies; one through a stirring speech from the warlord Habuto, the other a whispered wave that traveled through the exhausted lines of Kundakar’s troops. The two armies were to meet here, between the ruins of two cities, named differently by each side, profane places that had fallen from their lofty heights through defiance of the God emperor, or because of impiety, or because they had employed forbidden sigils and destroyed themselves, or a dozen other tales preserved by no writing.

As there is no writing on earth, nor shall there ever be again.

Halar passed his wineskin to Kunai, who barely managed to continue marching underneath the unforgiving red sun. He and all the others who had to march, had been marching for days, leaning upon their spears, shuffling forward as men and camels dropped beneath their feet, no one bothering to move them, so that they were trampled till they burst. The rot fillled everyone’s nostrils, mixed with the flinty smell of sand and the stink of unwashed thousands.

“Kunai, just get on my camel. It’s fine, no one will stop you. Even the captain’s are too exhausted to bother.”

“Thanks. No. I’m okay. The water was enough. We’re almost there anyway. Look- the dune.” He pointed with one sun shrunk finger towards the emerging lip of the great dune. “Get on your camel Hal. The others could do with some inspiration.”

Halar nodded. He broke off a piece of cracker, handed it to Kunai, who plopped it into his mouth and crunched slowly, chewing it like cud and mumbling between bites: “I take back ever shaying to you thash fishing is dull. Wash the lucky one all along. Never knew it would be like this. Just marching. Endless. Bloody. Marching.”

Hal affected an unconvincing chuckle. “You’ll never complain about the water again Kun. Well, at least for a whole two weeks right? More time for me to stare at the wife.”

Kunai said: “Not in the mood today Hal. Might be the last time I get to think about Dittya.”

“There we go, be morose. It makes me think of home.”

He earned a dry laugh. Hal pointed to the flanks of their column, past the banners that hung, limp, past the rows of diamond bright spear tips, past the crested helmets of the camel riding mages, to the distant stones of the cities on either side: “Look, the boundary menhirs. You can actually see them. Look, see, from north to south, they curve inwards. Symmetrical. Wonder who put them there in the first place. You know, no one has ever crossed those stones and lived. No one. I think it’s a sickness. I think once you’re inside the city boundaries you catch the plague and you’re dead.”

Kunai started chanting protective mantras to himself in dry fits. Presently he stopped. “It’s clever. The boundary stones are barely ten feet from our ranks, when we spread out. Yeah. Definitely.”

“Your ability to judge distances is just plain unnatural Kun.”

“Right. And you aren’t. Give us a show Hal. Seriously. Something to draw attention to, you know. What’s coming.”

Hal squeezed his old friend’s shoulders. He moved towards his camel, the one he’d left with someone who name he’d already forgotten. Taking the reins, he mounted his camel. He retrieved the silver horn from the leather sack that swung from his saddle. Inhaled deeply enough that a gust of sand entered his mouth, reducing him to choked caughing. A few of the veterans around him chuckled cruelly. Hal righted himself, embarrassed, then pulled out his scarf, held it in front of his face and inhaled again. He blew into the silver horn, a single, clear note.

Immediately all that were riding the camels thrust down the visors, shielding the eyes of their mounts. A few snorted and whined in suprise, but none broke, and most had been trained sufficiently to accept this, barely breaking stride as they continued to march. Hal took out the bone cylinder he kept hanging from his belt. He pulled the top of, unfurled the handles of the scroll, catching the bottom handle and securing it to his belt. He held the other in his left hand, and with his right dipped his index finger into his chalk pocket.

He made the symbol with sweeping movements, effortlessly drawing it onto the paper. He made the last stroke and angled the paper upwards. A fountain of red light burst out of the page. It traveled upwards, a red spear, and at about twenty feet burst into sparks. The sparks fell, shimmering, until what remained was an arrow, pointing forwards and upwards, towards the distant dunes. Over the thirty seconds or so that it faded, loud voices sounded, cries of recognition, then all at once a surge of energy swept through the column, shouts and cheers and a great clanging of spear tips against one another. Halar shouted to Kunai: “How about THAT?” After exactly sixty seconds since he drew it, the chalk symbol on Halar’s scrolls erased itself, from one corner to the other, the chalk blowing from the paper like sand. Halamar then took out the horn, blew twice, and the eyes of the camels were uncovered.

They reached the dunes and spread out. Spears were thrust into the sand as defenses were erected; stakes and pits were dug. Acolytes, in teams of three, took their handmade sticks and carved runes into the sand, tracing symbols that caused the sand to drop away, to create pits, whilst other sticks were taken to hastily carve the sides of the pits, and the third with the longest stick would carve a small symbol at the bottom of the pits. The net results- wells of water, that were then used to pack the sand. After exactly sixty seconds all symbols erased themselves. Some of the younger acolytes continued their training here- trying to predict exactly when sixty seconds would pass, just as their superiors knew, by instinct, when the sigils disappear.

The defenses erected, massive sheafs of stitched together pages were unfurled. They brought them together, secured them with stitching, till a vast moat of paper encircled the entire army. Thousands of men stood inside a circle of paper; an endeavor that had been prepared for for months, all under the command of Misarak the sorcerer, the only person mad enough to march to meet the Warlord Habuto, rather than wait and defend. Then they began to wait. The men were thankful. They were not tense, they were not worried. They were exhausted enough that some claimed they would prefer death to any more marching. Even this was a welcome respite.

The first they saw of the enemy was their outriders. They retreated. Then came the main force. It was three times there own. Upon a massive chariot, from which soared flames maintained by magic made permanent, an impossibility as far as anyone knew. They arrayed themselves. Their battle mages wore black, with masks surrounded by extending rays of stiff red. Misarak’s voice rang out. “PREPARE THE SHIELD. ON THREE BURSTS.” Hal put his horn to his lips with one hand, withdrew his ink wet callgraphers brush with the other. Only the best were entrusted to do this. He rehearsed the movement in his mind several times. A few minutes passed. The enemy had stopped. The star masked mages began their distant movements.

Soldiers cursed on the high dune. Halar prepared himself. Then someone, somewhere, maybe Misarak himself drew in the sand, the symbol for thunder. A loud THOOM went out across the desert, felt by everyones sand sodden feet and then as one Hal and the others blew their horns, once, twice, three times. Then seventy mages with seventy brushes began to scribble seventy symbols simultaneously. They were ten seconds into their movements when Misarak cried out: “REMEMBER THE BOMBARDMENT, DO NOT STOP, DO NOT PAUSE.” And immediately afterwards an eerie red light lit the sand as massive boulders, crimson, surrounded by flames, began to fall towards Misarak’s forces.

Seventy brushes finished their movements simultaneously.

The red boulder exploded on some invisible dome, shattering into constituent shards that rolled down the sides of the invisible dome, suggesting it’s outlines. As they fell they cooled, until as rocks they thudded into the sand around the shield, throwing up sand and debris that slid harmlessly of the shield that began at the edges of the paper. Halar counted down the seconds in his head. At exactly fifty Misarak called out: “BALLISTAS!” A great creaking of wood could be heard behind Halar. On sixty one Misarak yelled “LOOSE.” And the ballistae fired their heavy bolts, as the symbols erased themselves. Halar held his breath until the bolts were clear of the shield. Exhaled and laughed as they fell upon the ranks of the warlords men. He felt a hand clasp his shoulder. Kunai’s. “HAL! ITS WORKING! BY THE GODS ITS WORKING!”

Three more times the shield went up, down, the ballista reloading in that minute, firing- the timing was perfect, the drills had worked.

The enemy ranks were pummeled. Huge rifts broke into them, and a few on the flanks, a few dozen, broke and ran. They were cut down by their own outriders and no one else broke. After the third volley a wedge detached from the front of the army- cavalry, they ran towards the dune- bare red flags waving in the air, armor glinting silver in the heat. At their head was the warlord himself. Hal said: “Fool. Utter Fool. Misarak would never risk himself like this.”

They began to reload.

The cavalry paused after a few hundred feet.

Hal and the other prepared to draw their symbols.

The riders jumped of their camels and with their hands hastily drew in the sand- a massive symbol that contained all of them. “LOOSE!” The ballista fired another round, this time at the cavalry. In mid air the quarrels seemed to hang. They slammed into the sand, the empty sand- where the riders were, only a burst of rising sand remained, the symbol disappearing. Then all at once they were screaming, as the riders and their mounts appeared several feet in the air, in the middle of Misaraks army. Hal turned and saw a burst of flame engulf a group of soldiers. Kunai was screaming something. Then Halar was thrown to the ground, a wave of sand raining on him. A bright light flashed, so bright that even through closed eyes Hal was seeing spots. He got up and saw soldiers being cut down by the armored men. “That isn’t possible. None of this is possible.” An armored soldier approached him. Hal began to make a mark on his hand. The soldier drew a javelin and hurled it without breaking stride. It plunged into Hal’s belly. He fell backward onto one of the boulders, his feet tearing the parchment he had been drawing on. He started to pray. Holding the spear, his entrails spilling out around it as he choked on his own blood. The armored man grabbed his throat with one steel shod fist. “There are no Gods boy. There will be no God emperor.”

Hal choked “No man can sit His throne.” He spat in the soldiers face, staining his helmet with blood.

The guard raised his visor. Underneath was the face of a man, heavily scarred. All over his skin were markings, runes and sigils Hal did not understand and had never seen. The Warlord said: “I am a God.” And he crushed Halar’s throat.

When the battle ended the Gods above, perhaps satisfied, drifted away in opposite directions.

Kunai survived. He was taken prisoner by one of the steel men. He was present when the Warlord conquered each city state one by one. He was outside the golden gates when the Warlord went to confront the God Emperor. He heard the Warlord’s screams when the God Emperor smote him for his insolence and he saw his wardens burn from the inside out when The God Emperor punished them for their transgression.

He survived and told his son his story, who told his son, who told his.

There is no written history on earth, as there is no writing that survives the end of a single minute.

Thus the oldest story is that of the Warlord, who transgressed against God and was destroyed for it. All have heard it, in all it’s twisted variations. The lesson, common to all versions, is clear. Thou shalt not violate the kingdom of heaven. Magic and writing are not for mortals.

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