Thousands of years ago, a star fell upon the Earth. It was a black star, born of the infinite void and cold to its infinite depths.

Men sought out that star, brought it into their home, and formed it in their fires. They shaped and bent the star into a sword, though no matter how hot it was bathed it remained cold in its heart.

Great kings and warriors carried this sword, passing it from leader to leader, though it brought with it a curse. The sword sought the blood of men and it drank deeply. On the battlefield, the sword was a force of nature that destroyed armies without slowing. When it hung in peace, though, it drove those who carried it to madness and, eventually, death.

This sword crept through the world, seeking death and blood wherever it went. It was bent and broken, reforged and reformed numerous times. Every time seeking power and not understanding the price of blood. Eventually the sword became only known not by its many names but what it does – That Which Drinks Blood, or just the Drinker.

The sword fell from history but did not disappear. Its victims became those who were not known, those who were on the edges of the places where people lived.

Until the blade fell into the hands of Imanuel Kresk.

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Drestin rotated the lock on his pipe with one deft hand, setting bowl sideways on the small table near his chair, and pulled a small leather pouch off of his belt. “Do you mind if I imbibe, zev?”

Hashim chuckled, “Yes, and there’s no reason to call me teacher anymore. Though it does warm my heart to know that you remember the Words of the Law still.” Hashim sat himself in another chair, opposite Drestin, and poured a small amount of a glassy, amber liquid for himself.

Passa, mouth still agape, stared at the two in turn. “You still haven’t explained what’s going on here. How is this man with mecka older than I am supposed to help with the Duke?”

Drestin looked up from his task of moving the black, tar-like substance from his pouch to the pipe. “Yes, Hashim. Now would be a good time to tell both of us about my task.” Looking at the mass for a second to appraise it, Drestin decided it was fine, used his hand to seal the pipe back up, and pushed a small artfully hidden button to light the greaseweed. A small, delicate sigh escaped him as he settled into the chair and a dark cloud already forming above them.

Hashim took a long, slow sip of his drink, leaned over his knees and held the glass in both hands. “Yes, Drestin, I suppose now is a good time to tell you about the zesh’desor, the blood-eater, that I asked you to come for.”

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A Long Road

May 26, 2017

Black, oily smoke poured from his nose as he sighed. The view from the end of the pass looked down on the foothills of the Tarthian mountains and seemed to frame the village of Missran perfectly. The steep peaks of the houses, the domed Temple of the Law set into the mountain herself, and the humming of the Machineshrine built on top of their modest Vent. The only reason this town was here.

His pipe hung loosely in his mouth, working around the grimace he carried from the extreme cold of the mountain. The spines of his mecka seemed to twist and grind in the cold lately and the weight bearing on his leg didn’t help. His arm, at least, he could carry in a sling.

He grasped he cart jerked his head a bit to his mecka cart and headed down the winding switchbacks toward Missran, a filmy haze of greasesmoke trailing behind him as if to warn the others out there. The others in the deep pine forests spotted with powerful redwoods that seemed to guard the woods.

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The wind sounded mournful as it flew gracefully over the dunes and hills that made up the four miles of territory I had come to call home in the last five years. I had come here from far across the desert, from a town that still had a single, lonesome tower staring out into the darkness. Waiting and watching for the first rays of sunlight and dreading the coming cloak of night for generations. Thousands of eyes have lived and died in that tower, keeping watch so that the horrors of our world can be kept safely at bay. A tower that houses the relics of a bygone age. Gleaming steel swords. Armor made hard and fast. Shields of boughs bent to shape and sheathed in iron and leather. Relics left to be oiled by the eyes that watch now. Eyes that see the old ways and their safety but must watch, vigilant, on the new ways. On the Scourge that eats the steel, that brings diaphanous destruction where it goes.

A soft flutter, of wings beating against the wind determined to find somewhere safe from the dust and dirt, is all that it takes to alert the town to fear. That one little thing, creeping and crawling toward safety, eats steel and bone. Consumes all that it can touch with little exception. The worst of it, though, is when the damn things die. They break into a powder so fine that it seeps through denim masks, a powder that with just the right spark turns into a raging inferno in the blink of an eye. A powder that turned lush forests, rolling green hills, and verdant farmland into a desert of pain, misery, and fear.

Scrub grows now, and cacti. New plants, some engineered by alchemists and some that were here but didn’t have a purchase, didn’t have a way to get what they needed. Not until the fire burnt down all around them but left them standing. Uniquely built by the hand of fate, by the accidents of struggle and power, to withstand such intense fire.

From one of these mighty survivors, the towering trees that most call bloodwood around my little stretch of prairie, a man came down. I knew he was there. He let me know, subtly, several days ago. His name was Enrique Salvador. Most around here knew him as Abbot, though, or El Cazador. He finds initiates for the Marshals and brings them here, to the four miles of dirt and dust I call home now so that they can learn.

He climbed down slowly but carefully, not letting me see where the handholds were or where the traps were. This was his house and I was simply visiting. I heard him land with the soft whisper of well oiled leather and stilled iron. He sauntered over to me with the slow deliberation of a teacher, heavy with wisdom dewing on his tongue. He tossed me a flask, an old glass hip flask full of the damn near lethal stuff he called whiskey, and he sat down across from me by my cold fire.

A single flash, no more than a star blinking on then off in the haze of the distant sky, and he exhaled a single playful twister of smoke into the old fire pit. His fingers wove a jig for it, mixing it around to the silent waltz he heard somewhere in his mind.

“When you were a child…” His voice was old and cracked, like the leather he wore, but was measured. His tone even and thoughtful. “You learned of the gods and heroes, yes?”

The question hung in the air, pregnant like the moon. Full of possibility. Full of impertinence and childhood. Full of mistakes.

“Yeah.” I am not, as they say, good with words.

He nodded slowly and took a long drag, letting each syllable of his next sentence spin and sidle with smoke. “And what did you learn from those stories?”

I grunted, we’d done this before. We’ve had this conversation. “The big things, the things that make me, that make us, what and who we are. Honor. Bravery. Compassion. Dedication.”

He nodded thoughtfully. It was the same answer. We both knew. Word for word, pause for pause. Even the grunt was as tired as my boots.

“And when you were older…” More smoke, hanging in the air, writing out the script again. He knew what I would say. “You heard the stories again, yes? What about then?”

I sighed long and low. I let the silence fill between us again, let us both bask in the middle times, those times before the story got along to be getting along. “I learned context. Nuance. I learned that to be brave it sometimes takes sacrifice. I learned that to be wise it sometimes takes making mistakes. I learned that to have honor is to sometimes do something you never thought you’d have to do. It’s takin’ life one thing at a time and doin’ your best. Regardless of what the gods think of what you’re doin’.”

He nodded, an old sage nod like he knew the secrets of the words now that he’s heard them three hundred times. “Do you remember when you came here?”

Now this was new. Something I wasn’t expecting, not in a hundred thousand years. I shook my head, “’Course I do, you damn near killed me!”

He smiled, a knowing smile. “What did we damn near kill you with?”

I looked at him, bug eyes, from across the camp. “That big damn gun up in that keep of yours! Damn near took my head clean off and it was aiming at my hips! Killed my horse with fright, it did.”

He stood up, snapping his cigarette out, and tossed a package in front of me. “We are here to teach you something new. Things have changed.”

I unwrapped it slowly and there, in well oiled leather with a string of rounds, was my very own nine shot, single action revolver. The Big Iron. The thing that made you a Marshal.

“I’m gonna learn the creed?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “No, something more important. Something bigger than the big things.”

I looked at him as I belted the gun on. It felt good on my hip, already resting just right where I liked it. “What’s more important than somethin’ that big?”

He offered me a cigarette and took a drink. I whispered and my fingers danced, a spring of fire welling up between two of my fingers and setting the weed alight. “Nuance, Maria, nuance.”

With that he stalked off into the darkness.

A New Thing

October 12, 2013

“Boneyard, 935, Hind bitn Iqbal. It has been several days since I left Gorcix on top of the escarpment overlooking the Boneyard. While the bloodspiders have been easy to dodge, it has proven difficult to avoid the looming spectre of death here. Places where I thought the ground had started to sag into muck or mire, a swamp perhaps brining some semblance of life back to this broken necropolis, proved only to be the bloated loam of decay yet incomplete. Today, however, I heard breaking bones in the distance and what sounded like the movement of someone or something near the size of a man or horse. So far my sight glass hasn’t shown me anything and there are no obvious signs of anything out of the ordinary. It is early afternoon, perhaps late morning, on the sixth day of the ninth month by the moon.”
Hind shut the small door on the brass box she ws talking into and set it back into her pack carefully. She was very careful to not make any sound, as she did not want to alert the bloodspiders where she was. The area already reeked of their death pheremone thanks to her needing breakfast, with the husk of a deseccrated spider several hundred feet back on the trail where she had shot it that very morning.
Skipping forward down the path, jumping lightly over the fallen bones and tangles of iron0-grey nettles, she kept watch out to the center of the Field of Sorrow, the primary battlefield that makes up the Boneyard. After several minutes of working herway away from the spider carcas, she paused and pulled out her spyglass again. Scanning the ecenter of the battlefield she finally saw what she had been searching for all morning – a sign of life. This particular sign was a gleaming red shield, the size of a large child or a small family’s dining table, hanging despondently from a massive ribcage fallen from some ancient, massive evil. The shield was bright red with a large brass boss right in the middle, gleaming in the midday sun. Painted to each side of the boss was resplendent lions with crossed swords under them, the heraldry of an ancient order of holy warriors known as the Praetori, the Judges. A small sound floated across the loam as well, the small sound of labored breathing and frustration.
She picked her way over carefully, circling around the shield slowly with her bow in hand and an arrow nocked. She carefully stepped from stone to petrified bone silently and watched her quarry. It was a man, sitting on a large stone in the middle of the open ribcage, obviously winded. He was wearing what looked like freshly polished armor that was as old as the battlefield itself, clasped over a vibrant green long tunic and a brightly plumed steel helmet. It was as if one of the soldiers who had died here had stepped out of the past and sat down to get their wits together. As his breathing slowed again, she watched him stand slowly , shivering the entire time, and take up the shield once again. It was clear that his muscles were powerful, the way they strained in his arms when he hoisted the shield and the way they tensed in his thighs (thick, powerful, warrior’s thighs that were left bare by the distance between his tunic and leather boots) when he stood. They seemed weak, however, when he started moving again. She noticed a short sword belted to his waist and he picked up a short throwing spear from the ground next to him before advancing, using the spear to clear debris and bones out of the way. Of all of his clothing and equipment, only the spear was stained – it bore the clear marks of killing bloodspiders (or, perhaps, one of the other vampiric beasts living in the bloody loam of the Boneyard).
She silently crept to a small pile of nettle and bone and turned her cloak around to be similar to the flat grey of most of the ground around her to watch. He moved slowly and deliberately, not like someone who is sick but rather as someone recovering from wounds they are used to. Each footfall was deliberate, each breath practiced. He knew what he was doing and he knew how hard it was. He also knew that he had to keep his wits about him. She tried hard to control her heartbeat, her breathing, but ideas kept popping out of her mouth. Was he some kind of actor? Part of some obscure martial order? Maybe the victim of some practical joke gone awry? Some kind of madman?
The last question, however, was just loud enough. While she was distracted by her own need to know who he is, she kept an eye on him the entire time and had just enough wits about her to realize what happened when he hefted the short spear in his hand as if to throw it and looked toward her, calling out, “Asai? Asai verix pason?”
She sighed and hissed as quietly as possible. Not only did he possibly know where she was, he apparently spoke ancient Imperial. Hoping that the shield was no lie, she carefully raised her hands and stood up. “Asai!” She called out in what she knew of ancient Imperial, though it was clear ther her native tongue was accenting her quite a bit. “I am known as Hind, daughter of Iqbal, archer and scientist! Are you of the esteemed and honorable Legions?”
The man lowered his spear slowly. “I am Preatorius, by the name of Caillus of the House of Vortix. Where am I?” She crept closer, keeping her hands clear of her belt and pack. He was a good looking man, with a thin dusting of facial hair and a strong face tempered by compassion and…something else. His skin looked fresh. New. As if he was still a child, yet the size of a man.
“You are in the Boneyard,” she said, trying her best to stay in his language but having to use Low Flendish for the Boneyard itself. “An ancient battlefield where the esteemed and honorable Legions did march against the Unholy Host in the name of our Warden, may she watch over us all.”
He looked around slowly, eyes tracing the escarpment then looking back to the south west, to the forest that made up the barrier of Estra and Flendar. “This is Syvaius? This is what remains of the fertile plains of the Sylvan host?”
She cocked her head to one side. “Sir honorable and noble Judge, what year is it?”

He chuckled softly, “That is simple, it is the three-hundred and forty-seventh year since the descent of the Warden.”

She shook her head slowly. “You may want to sit, honorable and noble Judge. For it has been nearly six hundred years since then.”

Mist clung to the floor of the world in thick, roping strands. It slithered through the trees, spilled across the meadows, and poured down the hills toward the gullies and rivers that filled then Ten Gorges. Bridges, lit by great torches and defended by ancient guard towers, seemed ablaze in the mist. Towns and villages lived between the distorted bonfires of the bridges, seemingly resting in torpor in the night. Occasionally the gorges themselves would sigh with the rush of the rivers that spawned them, blowing new bursts of mist into the air like silent whales, dissipating into space before they could crash back into the silver sea beneath them.

Smoke sat in one of the trees above the gorges and watched this war of light against the silent encroachment of water on the people of the Gorges. He listened as the animals of the forests and glades glided gently through the rivers of mist along the ground, finding food and shelter with blind precision. He smelled the wet yet fresh air, enjoying the feeling of life coursing through the very scent of mist and rushing water. He readjusted his silk robes and snapped his fingers, reigniting the tall silver pipe that sat with him in the tree, and inhaled deeply of the fragrant pipeweed’s smoke. Exhaling with a sigh and settling against the tree, he started to count the trees once again. Fate, it seemed, was patient.

Smoke had sat in this tree for two years, twelve months, and twenty seven days. He was sent here by the Glorious Magnate of The Moon’s Wisdom and his consort, the Seven Thundering Methods of the Sun’s Radiance. The Way of Changing had said to them that Smoke was needed to find a hero here, a hero that would put to rest an ancient enemy of the living upon the face of Galariel. He had crossed six continents and four seas to get to this tree, and had to learn the young and vainglorious tongue that was spoken in the Ten Gorges to find this forest, and find this tree, so that he might wait. Somewhere, north of his tree, was an old castle with an older order of knights who spoke a tongue even older still. There, a young woman had sought refuge and was about to emerge a hero. Then she would come through this forest, to the Ten Gorges, to help them with a problem only the Grey Paladins could handle. Here, Smoke would see her and offer his assistance, as the Way of Changing had instructed him to.

While Smoke treasured the Way of Changing for its uncounted wisdoms and impeccable accuracy on events, he was frustrated beyond this by how the Way of Changing seemed to have no concept of time. Luckily, however, he had befriended a young druid who sometimes came this way. She was sweet and sometimes brought him food, as well as entertainment. While he did not require either one of these things, being a master of the Timeless Body Methods, it was a wonderful diversion from waiting in a tree for a hero that he was merely a sidekick to.

“When you were a child, Smoke, you said to yourself that to serve in heaven is superior to living and dying a short and terrible life under the rule of the Khan of the Towering Fires. Perhaps that was true those three hundred years ago, but here you are, serving Heaven, and they ask you to sit in a tree like a squirrel, in a land of people who the Khans thought barbarians, waiting for one of these people to come save the world. Perhaps, though, we will be found in the Book of Changes when this is over. Then we will no longer be servants, we will instead be functionaries. With our own house and our own name again.”

Three hundred years of serving Heaven does not always leave one in the most stable of states. This is why Smoke waits, still, the coming of the Grey Paladin. A hero to save the world and, perhaps if he’s lucky, an old man trapped inside the body of a young monk.

The days come, the nights follow, and the world turns again.

The Hub

May 14, 2012

More of a project I’m working on with a friend of mine.

I hope you enjoy it!

As I’ve mentioned before, if you do enjoy it, please consider sending a link to this, or to the blog itself, to friends and fellow readers. If you like it a lot please consider donating to The Writing Engine over on the right hand side. I’m currently supported by a wonderful woman who can’t quite keep me up on her own and I’m slowly working through unemployment payments. Every penny that’s sent is treasured dearly for the food, clothes, and stability it gives me.

Now to work on my post for Wednesday.

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