The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 23

“You’re to be here for a few days, so perhaps you can help a bit with the cooking while you’re here,” Darma continued, “I’m always eager to learn as much about Sage cooking as possible. Some people say that it’s really your diet that’s the secret of your longevity. And you Sages are so secretive about your recipes. Oh, and let’s exercise together in the morning. Your exercises must surely be helpful too. Amida and Noone refuse to let me see them exercise. So secretive about that too. One other fellow—Eloh I believe—who stayed here briefly a number of years ago showed me some of your exercises. I hardly remember them. What do you think? Maybe not tomorrow morning, since Noone’ll be here. But after she leaves. What do you say?”

“Okay. I see no reason why not. We rise early though. It’s better in the early morning.”

Darma smiled broadly and said, “Wonderful!” and squealed a little with excitement. Darma then showed Salles around the house. The halls were narrow, not like the spacious halls of the cloister and Salles felt cramped, especially without windows, which were everywhere in the cloister, and always open throughout the spring and summer.

They passed Amida and Noone’s rooms, which were both closed. Then they came on the main bedroom. “Here’s me and Dorin’s room,” Darma said. It was a spacious room with a large bed covered in beautifully dyed sheets, with a wardrobe and a chest of drawers in the corner. “You’ll find it’s an absolute delight to sleep on this bed since it’s so warm and soft, it just wraps you up light a mountain of fur,” Darma said.

There were oil lamps on the walls high up and three fitted into a loose chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Currently, the room was still well lit by late day sun pouring in from a window. Some nearby tall buildings partially blocked the view through the window, but between them he could see the city extending in the distance with many lights beginning to glow in preparation for evening. She said to Salles, “Take a good look, at the view before I close the shutters for the evening.” He stepped closer to the window and breathed the dusk air. Darma stood near him and pointed at landmarks in the city: temples, markets, large statues here and there. “There’s so much I could show you. It would be so fun, wouldn’t it, to go exploring? So much you could discover. I do hope you shall have some free time for me to show you around.”

Darma closed the inner shutters and locked them and they left the bedroom to look through the rest of the house. Down the stairs was the dining room, where Salles saw a long dining table, and beside it a separate room with chairs where they would entertain company and sometimes sit and relax alone. Heading into the kitchen, they saw the man who had greeted them at the door was now preparing dinner.

“This is Onur,” Darma said, “He is our man-about-the-house. He sometimes sleeps here, sometimes at his own house.” The kitchen had dried grains in sacks and some dried fruits and cheeses and even some fresh vegetables. Onur worked on a large pot and cut some vegetables.

She then took Salles down to the cellar. There was a closed room where they stored some food and drink and then there was a second room where they had a toilet. It was a wooden seat with a hole in it. Salles wasn’t even sure what it was: looking down in it he just saw a black hole and he could feel a cool wind blowing up from within it. A stench poured out of it and Salles asked, “What is it?”

Darma said, “Isn’t it obvious. It’s what you use instead of the chamber pot. You sit on it when you’ve got to, you know, evacuate your bowels. Heck, you don’t even have to use the chamber pot. Some of you oddball sages prefer the chamber pot. I don’t know why. Eloh told me his butt always got cold. And he told me you make use of all that waste. Onur tells me that in the cloth-making district, the dyers go around and collect people’s urine. I told Eloh if he wanted to, I’d let down there on a rope and he could shovel out excrement to last him for years. These are old holes; our ancestors dug these holes looking for metals; who knows how far down they go. Eloh didn’t like the idea.”

They then went upstairs. Noone was waiting in the sitting room, drinking water and talking to Amida, who rose when she saw Darma and Salles. Amida’s beautiful black hair poofed outwards and she moved with worldly grace as she approached Salles. She eyed Darma suspiciously, but brightened when Salles began to smile at her. “Salles, it’s been a while,” she said and hugged him, “You finally get to see Lamosa and meet Darma. And Noone tells me you’ll be meeting Anders at the Premiers Open Table tomorrow. What a pleasure,” she said half sarcastically.

“Let’s talk more over dinner,” Darma said, “We’ve got something great for tonight.”

<-- Go to Part 22         Go to Part 24 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 22

The woman spoke with the same elegant dignity with which she moved, welcoming everyone into her bounty.

“He’s not young,” Noone corrected her, “He’s got a daughter who’s nearly as old as you.”

“He must be another of your sages then. Well, he’s young for a sage. My, has he aged well,” the woman observed, “But what’s his name?”

Noone turned to Salles saying, “You can speak for yourself.”

“I’m Salles. And Noone didn’t tell me your name.”

“I am Darma. I am mistress of this house, to which you are welcome. Let me show you around. You must stay for dinner, and even for the night if you can. I’d love to have you. We have extra rooms that are more than comfortable.”

“He will be staying a number of nights,” Noone said, “At least until Alles returns, and maybe longer. I will be staying only tonight. And I’ll be taking Amida with me.”

“Oh, Amida has been such a delight,” Darma said, disappointed, “I shall be sorry to see her go. But I’m sure this handsome young man (or not quite so young man) will be a good replacement. And what’s this about Alles’ return?”

“I probably should not have mentioned that, since it’s supposed to be confidential,” Noone demurred.

But Darma persisted, “Oh, I do love a secret. Do tell. I’m sure it’s not so important we must keep it to ourselves. Anders and his people are always hiding so much they needn’t for no reason other than to be secretive, if I do say. We can have our own little rebellion against that climate of secrecy, by sharing a trifling secret, can’t we?”

“I guess I can tell you at least that Alles and some troops went to investigate a small town, which lies at the fringes of our territory, in the disputed regions. The town converted to the Fourth Order many years ago. Alles will be returning soon with his men. And with one woman soldier, I should add. She’s Salles’s daughter, in fact, and she’s just about your age, Darma. I’m trying to remember, what’s her name?” Noone turned to Salles, but he shrugged his shoulders. Noone lit up, “Annsi! That’s it! You might get to meet this Annsi. And of course, you and Salles shall have to take a chance to talk with Alles himself. You see, I brought this acolyte along solely because his daughter is a close compatriot of Alles, who I deeply want to provide us with assistance.”

Darma was visibly uncomfortable, but she kept up her demeanor, “A woman soldier? That sounds delightful. I shall love to meet her. Perhaps I can ask her some questions. Perhaps satisfy my curiosity at why a woman would choose such an occupation.”

“She was not born as wealthy as you,” Noone spoke up, her voice still even and controlled, but assertive, “I do not intend to insult you. For the moment could you show us to our rooms? And I’d prefer something not too comfortable for Salles. He is used to austerity.”

Darma paused uncertainly for a second. “I don’t really have any austere rooms,” Darma said with apparent shame. “Perhaps he can sleep on the doorstep,” she said half seriously, “Or we have a horse, which we store in a stable just down the street. The horse isn’t there, since my husband has it. He can lay on some hay there.”

“Oh well,” Noone said, “Just give him whatever’s open.”

“I can take the bed out of his room and he can sleep on the floor,” Darma suggested.

“When will you be serving dinner?” Noone asked.

“Dinner is being prepared and Amida’s expected shortly. We hope that she’ll be here by the time it’s ready,” Darma answered, “For now let me show Salles to his room and show him around the house. You can find your way to your room, right?”

“Yes,” Noone said and walked off. Darma showed Salles to his room, a small, windowless space, with a bed to sleep on, a chest at its foot, a table with a small oil lamp on it now burning, and a fine earthenware chamber pot in the corner.

“This is nice isn’t it,” Darma said, adding, “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have made you sleep in the stables or on the floor. I sometimes can’t tell whether Noone is being serious, though.” She laughed quietly and elegantly after she said this, touching Salles on the shoulder as she laughed.

<-- Go to Part 21         Go to Part 23 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 21

Salles and Noone could see Lamosa from a great distance as they approached. They passed through the gates of the outer bulwark, a long stone wall that extended along the ridges and passes above Lamosa. It was now unguarded and in considerable disrepair — the mortar cracked, sections collapsed and pieces of the wall littering the ground around it — but it once acted as the formidable barrier against the itinerant tribes in the untamed stretches winterward from Lamosa. As Salles and Noone reached a ridge overlooking Lamosa, before them stretched the entirety of Sanlosslee Park, a valley stretching summerward for many days’ journey. The park was settled intermittently with dense cities and broad stretches of farmland that shone many colors in the sinking sun. Not the smallest sliver of land in Sanloslee Park was unoccupied as far as the eye could see, with farmlands and buildings overtaking the whole valley, except around the Great Dunes, which were surrounded by a large buffer of uncultivated land. Lamosa was the large cluster of city at the winterward edge of Sanloslee Park just below where Salles and Noone stood.

“I’ve always wanted to see the Walking Mountains,” Salles said, looking down at the Great Dunes. Strong winds slowly pushed these mountains of sand away from Lamosa, constantly eroding and reshaping them. The Great Dunes were about a quarter of a day’s journey summerward from where they were, rounded by a river, and buttressed against the mountains on the sunriseward edge.

To Salles this was all too unbelievable. This is where the endless supplies of men and women that would sometimes pass through and even reside in the Sages’ Cloisters came from: Houses and buildings further than the horizon, food enough budding in the fields to feed the sages and all their residents for generations, and even small dots that he could see were people in the distance, people more than enough to crowd shoulder to shoulder all the Sage’ vast farmland.

Salles and Noone quickly descended the slopes, though Salles’s legs ached from long walking. And even after this, as Salles could little stand to go any further, they still had to follow the road between long stretches of farmland to get to Lamosa at the center of the valley. Salles had asked to rest before and Noone usually refused, but she now let him take two rests before they finally entered the edge of the city. They passed unfettered through the unguarded gates of the inner bulwark, which hung over a long canal, now brimming with water. Between the wall and the call was a continuous and imposing palisade, well-maintained, but also unguarded.

Entering into the walls, the high buildings began to crowd around them immediately. The city was a maze of narrow meandering streets, which, fortunately, Noone knew her way around. The buildings within the wall were sturdy stone structures, some of them pierced through and built around extant, standing steel beams that protruded out of ancient patches of cement which cut through the cobblestone streets in haphazard patches. Gutters on the edges of the sidewalks flowed with dirty water and cloth and clothing hung on lines above them that extended across the streets. Little courtyards extended off to the side in many directions, where Salles could see groups of people seated outside huddled over their evening meals, and where children played exuberantly.

They shortly arrived at their destination: a large stone house with a massive front door flanked by two columns. Noone knocked on the door and while they waited, Salles asked, “Can you tell me now why you wanted me to come with you?”

Her only response was sarcastic, “I’ve heard plenty about you. I understand you’re lazy, so I thought you might appreciate this leisurely assignment away from the hard labor of reassembling the watermill, back at the cloister. In Lamosa you can relax.”

Before Salles could ask her again, the door opened and a man beckoned them in, saying “Good day to you Noone. The lady is in the garden.”

Noone led Salles through the house around a few corners and up a set of stairs to an open-air garden on the side of the house. A woman there watered the flowers from a bowl of water. A beautiful young woman draped in a glowing length of white fabric and beaming with joy turned at the sound of their approach and gleefully proclaimed: “Oh, Noone, I did not think to expect you so soon. I love to see you, but really you shouldn’t be traveling so much at your age. Oh, and who is this young man that you brought with you?”

<-- Go to Part 20         Go to Part 22 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Aresan Clan Summary - Parts 11-20

Salles investigates the light and discovers that the Cloisters’ watermill is on fire. He finds Eloh, another Sage, lying on the floor inside the watermill and pulls him out, waking up everyone in order to fight the fire. After they tame the fire, Noone, the Eldest of the Sages, interrogates Eloh, who is suffering from smoke inhalation, and he recalls that, before the fire was started, he saw a shadow inside, went to investigate and was knocked out. On a wall, Salles finds a mark in the shape of bird, a sign of the Fourth Order, which indicates that the fire was an act of sabotage by a representative of the Fourth Order.

Lipmon continues his trek, buoyed up by the thought that, though he was disdained by the citizens of his town of Still Creek, he is the lone survivor and their salvation, and he will save Tann from his captors. He is also growing feverish.

Salles leaves the Cloisters, accompanied by Noone, travelling by foot to Lamosa, the capital of the Omnia, in order to ask the Omnia for assistance in building fortifications for their Cloisters.

Amida, a Sage and representative of the Aresan Clan, meets briefly with Anders, the Premier of the Omnia, in Lamosa. The meeting is in the Public House, at the Open Table, a public place where citizens are supposed to present their grievances to the leaders. In private, Anders tells a confidant that he eagerly wants the Aresan Clan to join the Omnia. He also meets with Strya, a courier to the many spies Anders employs outside Lamosa.

Alles and his soldiers are randomly attacked by a pack of wolves. Annsi leaps inside the palanquin with Tann for her own protection. The wolves are driven away, but Alles, seeing Annsi emerging from the palanquin, is wary of her. He fears that she might be under Tann’s influence due to contact with him in the small palanquin.

Erek-Monte, a leader of a small Itinerant Tribe (one of many small roaming tribes that occupy the sparsely populated, mountainous region between the territory of the Omnia and the Aresan clan and the territory of the Fourth Order), sees the soldiers carrying a palanquin, and is curious about who is this little boy and why they’re carrying him in such a way.

<-- Summary of Parts 1-10            Summary of Parts 21-30 -->

You can see all parts of The Aresan Clan written so far collected here.

Aresan Clan pt 20

Erek-Monte ran forward to highest tree amenable to climbing he could find, and spryly darted up the trunk. He stopped only when he arrived at the highest branch that could safely bear his weight and perched himself in place. Erek-Monte was a thickly-bearded giant of a man, with a barrel chest upon which the ends of his long, braided hair rested.

From the tree, he looked downslope to the small caravan of travelers and their mysterious black palanquin. He and his itinerant band had been following them since the day before, provoked mostly by curiosity. The caravan looked little promising for a raid: little food, no clothing of value, not much in the way of useful supplies and a contingent of soldiers that outnumbered his band. Nonetheless, Erek-Monte and his men continued to follow them.

Two men led at the head of the caravan, followed by a group of soldiers that surrounded the palanquin on all sides. Four soldiers carried the palanquin, and all the soldiers carried a shoulder supply on their backs. A caravan of supply handlers, unarmed that carried the bulk of the supplies trailed behind this lead unit, and at the back were two more soldiers. He could clearly tell they’d packed sparingly, and they moved quickly. There wasn’t much of the land to live off of in this regions of the mountains – some animals to hunt and some plants to gather; no farms or livestock – but they still looked as if they hadn’t brought more than just enough food to keep their ribs from sticking out further than the stomach.

Erek-Monte supposed the caravan was Aresan or from the Omnia based on their dress and the direction they traveled, but they carried no banners or insignia. Most troops would announce themselves boldly to anyone that might see them in the distance with clear markings so that any itinerant band they might stumble across would know whom they were dealing with and stay away. But this caravan seemed to want to sneak through unseen.

He watched the palanquin be set down and the sole female soldier open it up and pull out a small hooded person and walk the person about for a few minutes. A private chamber with four people to carry it around seemed to Erek-Monte’s mind like a profound royal honor, yet this child was hauled around like a slave or prisoner, and he or she was always covered, even treated with some trepidation. Their attitude towards this child was strange. Admittedly, Erek-Monte and his men had always found the Aresan Clan and the Omnia unceasingly strange, based on their few encounters. He didn’t tend to like them. Their lumbering cities infested the large valleys and they only continued to spread and expand, their people vitiating the land as they spread over it. Erek-Monte and his band much liked the Fourth Order better. They proselytized: picking up small settlements, giving them the Fourth Road to Divinity and some spare military protection. It wasn’t quite as much of an infestation that way, or so Erek-Monte thought.

Erek-Monte leapt down from the tree and pulled his small itinerant tribe of warriors and hunters together. He towered over them, standing a full head above the next tallest among them, and looked down as he spoke to them. “I want to go in closer and check them out tonight,” Erek-Monte said, “We shouldn’t expect much out of this. We’re just going to sweep in, investigate, and sweep out before they notice us. Arm yourselves for speed. We’ll bivouac upslope from their next camp. Are we all in?”

“We’re in,” said a few of them. “The rest of you,” Erek-Monte asked. They were thinking, then they said in accord, “We’re in too.”

“We’ll sweep in when some of their fires are still up. It’ll give us some light to see and blind them from our approach. Sound Good?”

“Good,” they all said.

“The little person they carry around in that enclosure, I want to know about that little someone. We’re curious and we want information. You good?”

“We’re good,” they sounded again.

“Let’s keep on the move. These men are slow and lazy and we’ll run in and out of their camp tonight like the flick of a lizard’s tongue,” Erek-Monte said, “Right ho!?”

“Ho!” they sounded in resounding accord.

<-- Go to Part 19         Go to Part 21 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 19

Annsi sat with her closed eyes, listening intently to the sound of the dog attempting to pry into the palanquin. She sat afraid and helpless, even thinking she heard another dog approaching and attempting to push inside.

While she sat facing the child, she suddenly felt his small hands touching her. It made her jump with fright, since she didn’t immediately know what it was, but she quickly relaxed as she recognized the small hands of Samuel. He had begun touching her arms, which were wrapped around her legs, and began to journey upwards. He moved slowly up her arms, feeling her chest and her shoulders and her neck across and around the cumbersome armor that she wore, investigating slowly with his hands like some blind person.

Annsi became curious herself so she removed her gloves and reached out her hands to him. As she removed her gloves, he did a mock gesture of removing gloves from his hands as well, which she could hear him performing. She then touched the shoulders of the boy and reached up to touch his face, and his skin, so weathered and worn already for such a young boy. She then touched his eyes as gently as she could and felt the clamped together lashes of his closed eyes. She opened her eyes to look at him, while he still felt across her face, around her chin and across her lips. His face was small and his skin was dark and he had his eyes squeezed together tightly. He was such a little boy, with a round, innocent face and dirty, disheveled hair, sitting with his knees against his chest in imitation of her posture.

As his hands approached her eyes, she closed them, so that he might feel them closed, leaning in close to him so that he might reach her more easily. In imitation he also leant forward, just like her, and when she retracted her hands from touching his face, he also retracted his hands from her face. After a moment, Samuel reached out to touch her mouth, to see what expression was upon it, and she smiled as he touched it. Then Samuel smiled too, and she reached out to feel his silent smile.

All the while, the wolves still tried to get inside. One now sniffed in at the window slits and tried to press its way in with its nose forward. Annsi could see its eager nose and feel its breath through the slits.

The dog’s opportunity was short-lived, since a moment later it was kicked to the side with a yelp and they could both hear that foot step in the grass beside them. The dog on top was knocked off next, landing on its back and whimpering as it retreated with its pack.

Annsi now was able to slide the door open and step out, opening her eyes to the sunlight and seeing Alles standing besides the palanquin facing the retreating animals. When he saw her emerge he quickly pushed the door closed and looked at her affrighted, recoiling a little and still holding his sword with his hands. “You haven’t become enchanted by the child?” he asked.

Annsi replied quickly, “I kept my eyes closed. Don’t worry. And I didn’t touch him.” Alles relaxed a little at this, finally sheathing his sword, but as he took his survey of the rest of his soldiery and the progress of the wolves he still frequently turned back to look at her apprehensively.

As the soldiers and support staff began to re-collect around Alles and the palanquin, it seemed clear that no one else had noticed Annsi emerging from the palanquin — no one else looked at her so distrustfully as Alles had.

One soldier, though, returned limping, being held up on the shoulders of two soldiers. His name was Solis and blood flowed from a wound on his leg just above the top of his boot where he had been bit. He was laid down and Jesek attended to him, stripping off the boot, cleaning the wound with water and alcohol and dressing it with a strip of cloth.

Alles ordered a makeshift seat contrived with a piece of cloth stretched across the bars by which the palanquin was carried. Solis, laid himself down in this seat, with his legs hanging over the edge, and the four soldiers picked up the palanquin and him, as they continued their long journey.

<-- Go to Part 18         Go to Part 20 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 18

The next day word began to circulate among the troops that Samuel was cursed and that he attracted danger and evil upon them with his powers. More powers were attributed to him than were originally supposed. They started to believe that not only could he control people with his eyes but that he also had command of the vile beasts of the earth and was calling them forth to protect him. The soldiers speculated that his mind would call out to any that would hear him, to come to his aid, but only the basest animals would heed the call.

It began simply enough when a black bear crossed directly in front of their path. They scared it away with some loud noise and it promptly fled. Though nothing came of it, it was unusual enough that it ignited low-speech and insinuation. A thick flock of black birds followed soon after and flew in low above them. Some of the soldiers began to murmur of the ill omens of this in combination with the bear with trepidation.

What most firmly fixed this thought in their brains, though, was a far more unfortunate encounter. They were passing by the ancient ruins of a small village. The remains of a brick wall stood in the trees on top of a cement foundation, which had been all but completely swallowed up by the undergrowth. Beside it, the fragmented skeleton of a building was still standing, with steel spires sticking out of the undergrowth. Many ancient ruins were scattered through the scarcely populated mountainous region between the Fourth Order’s theocratic empire and the Omnia, most of them only the barely visible footprints of buildings on the ground with, at most, only some brick or cement walls preserved. Metal usually was scavenged from them, but these ruins, much weathered by age, hadn’t been stripped by humans, either because it was too far away from any settlements or because it had a reputation for being a sinister place.

Just as they neared these ruins, a pack of gray wolves, seldom wont to attack large groups of humans, made a bold assault upon them. It was probably the meat and food the wolves were after, but it put the soldiers and their attendants were in peril.

The pack drove swiftly down a slope from the group’s flank led by their blazing white alpha male and scattered the troops in a moment of sudden panic. The palanquin was dropped by the four men that carried it and all of those around it quickly fled. Annsi alone remained, standing beside the palanquin, refusing to abandon Samuel. She leapt on top of the palanquin to escape the wolves that swirled around her. The palanquin was far too short to prevent the wolves from leaping at her, making her citadel little better than nothing, but so long as the wolves were distracted by other quarry than her, she remained.

From inside Samuel sat still, listening to sounds that he could recognize. He had heard of wolves that would sometimes taunt and kill the livestock in Still Creek-forr and recognized their sound distinctly, along with the confused sounds of the scattering soldiers. He’d been told that the wolves would even take little children if they did not find any livestock that they liked. And he too heard someone leaping atop of and standing upon his little palanquin, as she shifted around and the wood creaked beneath her weight.

When a wolf did finally approach Annsi, pacing towards her growling as she held the thin sword in front of herself with two hands ready for a direct defense, she changed her mind. She leapt down, dropping her sword, and opened the door of the palanquin, closing her eyes as the door opened and then blindly climbing inside and awkwardly closing it behind her. It was cramped inside, not being designed for two people though it was soft, pillowed on all sides. She sat with her knees pulled close against her chest to avoid touching Samuel and squeezed her eyes close to avoid the influence of his Sable Eyes.

Unfortunately the dog had not given up immediately, but could be heard to leap on top of the palanquin and try to follow her, pressing its sniffing nose against the door, squeezing it between the sliding door and the wall of the palanquin.

<-- Go to Part 17         Go to Part 19 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 17

Anders confessed to Tine with some passion “I resent dealing with these Aresans. Their king’s a lecherous oaf, and the Sages are too smart for their own good. The Sages think too much about everything and do nothing. If they just became the fourteenth clan of Omnia it’d be better for everybody: they could sit at the table and I wouldn’t always clash with their king. But the king won’t consent because he’ll lose power and the Sages won’t try to persuade him because they’ll lose influence; the whole order of the Sages would just wither away and die without the king.”

“I’ve told you before sir. I don’t believe there is any other way but brute force. ‘You cannot peal the shell of a nut, only crack it,’” Tine noted, quoting a well-known aphorism.

“The Aresan Clan is strong and their lands and people are vast,” Anders said, shaking his head, “All the more reason why, if they were to join the Omnia, its strength would grow, its power would flower into something greater. We, its leadership would be able to accomplish greater things, spread ourselves further, conquer the Fourth Order and bring the whole region under peace. If they would join us.”

Tine only replied, “Let’s talk to Strya.”

A second door led out of the Sand Garden into the room of the Closed Table. This was the room of the Public House where the Premier would consult privately with the thirteen other leaders of the clans of the Omnia. Unlike the Open Table it was not open to the public, not open to visitors, not a place where one would come to see the Premier.

As Anders and Tine entered, they found the room empty except for Strya who sat in the shadows on the opposite end of the Closed Table. The Closed Table itself was a long piece of salvaged glass, jagged at the edges, that rested on a base of carved wood and was supported by several large, solid-stone legs. The room where it stood was little larger than the table itself, surrounded by seats of leather stretched over wooden frames, the largest being the seat at the head of table where Anders would sit. Above the table a window in the ceiling looked up into the afternoon sky.

As Anders and Tine entered, Strya turned to see them. He put his hands on the table and spread out his spindly fingers to stretch them. He addressed Anders: “Premier.”

“What do you have for us?” Anders asked.

“The word from Orinda is that the Fourth Order is focusing on proselytizing on the winterward and sunsetward frontiers. They’ve been neglecting the Middle Park region, and the disputed zones in general. I think it’s because of the itinerant tribes, who seem to be quite active in those regions.”

“Yes, the Sages have been complaining about them too,” Tine nodded his head, “They were just asking again right now for more military support. This bodes well for us. It’s a good time to try and push our borders winterward.”

“Do you agree?” Anders asked Strya.

Strya shrugged his shoulders, admitting, “I don’t know much about the political situation with the Aresan clan. I don’t think they would appreciate it. But from a strategic perspective, from a military perspective, I agree.”

“Always the Aresan clan giving us problems,” Anders sighed, “You are dismissed Strya.”

Strya stood up and as he was crossing the room he nodded at the large mural he passed and said, “I was noticing the mural. Whoever picked it for this room?”

The mural depicted the well-known episode of the monk, Hieronymous, driving away Aza-toth’s eldest son, the powerful demon Char-Sensa-doon. In the mural, Hieronymous had at his feet the box of mirrors where Char-Sensa-doon was trapped. He was raising his arms in the ritual of divine exorcism, banishing Char-Sensa-doon to the Second Realm, where he would labor in servitude for three eternities. Above him the clouds opened up and birds circled in the air.

Strya said, “I imagine that the Closed Table could hardly find the idea of someone in power being banished and imprisoned as an appealing theme.”

“It predates my tenure by many decades,” Anders said, “But I think you misinterpret it. It is a symbol of good overcoming evil. It is what we like to think we in power strive for. Don’t you agree?”

Strya again simply shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I don’t know anything about that.”

Anders looked up through the window in the ceiling and said, “The sky itself is a great table, of which we see only the underside. There, during the day, Anan and his council of his gods confer, their hands resting on top of the table out of sight and their great feet touching the ground beyond the horizon. Just as they are responsible for the overthrow of Aza-toth, we down here, also, stand as a bulwark against evil. That is the significance of this mural.”

“Like I said,” Strya shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know anything about that.” He then walked out of the room, exiting into the sand garden, stealthily climbing the wall and disappearing into the city.

<-- Go to Part 16        Go to Part 18 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 16

The Public House looked like the first two steps of a great, cyclopean staircase into the sky – a square building lower in front than in the rear that stood bold and stately in the center of Lamosa. Four square walls, of naked stone and planks of wood, held up the two tiers of flat, overhanging ceiling. Through the large double doors in the front one was presented with a colonnade, a dense forest of columns of salvaged stone and metal, broken down the center by the central pathway leading up to the audience area. In the audience area was a long table perpendicular to the entrance, the Open Table. When the city was smaller it was a table where citizens could sit and speak with their leaders. Now it was mostly symbolic, functioning as a podium between the citizens and the leaders. Citizens could present themselves at the table and speak with the Premier and other delegates of the fourteen clans of the Omnia.

Fourteen chairs were arranged on the raised platform behind the table, in the center of which was the seat of the Premier, who currently was occupying it. All the other seats were empty, except for the seat of the Sevedin Sept occupied by Tine, a dignified old war hero, scarred and aged but still stout and prickly in his advanced years.

Tine was in stark contrast to the Premier, Anders, a clean-shaven, short-haired man in his thirties, with narrow, scheming eyes and the soft skin of a luxuriant lifestyle. The chair on which Anders sat was salvaged whole and intact from nearby ruins, made of beautiful wood with touches of detailed craftsmanship. It was similar to the whole of Anders’ entire outfit and demeanor: simple but of exceptional quality and expense. His official robes of state were glowing white, bordered with lines of purple. He as well spoke, in public, always with plain and simple diction, which nonetheless couldn’t hide his well-educated background.

One of Anders’ most challenging tasks as a leader was to present himself convincingly to the public as a kind and benevolent benefactor who cared for the citizens he represented. Instead, he generally came across looking like a man who is trying to convince another person of something he does not believe himself.

He now smiled a smile that he intended to appear as pleasant and inviting but instead appeared cunning and wily, while he spoke, now engaged in conversation with Amida, a regular presence at court. Rushing through the formalities Anders announced, “The Premier recognizes Elder Amida of the Sages, speaking on behalf of the Chief Royal of the Aresan clan. Go ahead please.”

Amida was the current delegate of the Aresan clan, an intimate ally of Omnia, but not among the fourteen member clans. She had radiant eyes and olive skin that glowed, and she spoke with an unswerving vehemence while in the audience area of the Public House. Her hair was wild and untamable, though she would pull it back into a ponytail to look respectable, and was dressed in the typical beige frock of the Order of Sages, of which she was a member.

“Thank you Premier Anders. I am here to request an increase in the import cap on corn by two hundred baskets. And a decrease in Omnia’s import duties on spirits for the Aresan Clan. There’s been significant rise in demand for corn in Lamosa, which has been causing your prices to rise, and…”

“Yes, yes, yes, I’ll allow it,” Anders impatiently interrupted without waiting for further explanation, “Both of those are fine. Anything further?”

“No further orders of business today, Premier, though the Sages have requested that you reconsider plans to assist in fortifying our Winterward defenses against the itinerant tribes.”

Amida was popular with the members of the Closed Table and Anders especially both because she possessed a polished ability to speak succinctly and because she would seldom speak more than necessary, but there were topics that Anders was not patient enough to even hear her succinctly expound upon. “Yes, yes, we’ve heard this a few times now,” Anders interrupted again, “I’ll bring it before the Closed Table. Is there anything further?”

“No Premier,” Amida said and bowed her head.

“Thank you, then we’ll bring our meeting to a close,” he said standing up. Then, addressing a man sitting who sat in the corner taking notes on the activity of the meeting, “If the senior scribe can take care of the first two orders of business, then I’ll be on my way.”

Anders stood from his seat with his glowing robes flowing behind him and stepped down from the platform to a side door leading out to the Sand Garden. The Sand Garden was open to the sky but walled on all sides and Anders entered it through the door. It was filled with sand smoothly spread upon its floor in gentle rolling dunes, only broken by a boardwalk that meandered through the garden and a number of carved stones that rested upon little mounds of sand. The sand was hauled from the Great Dunes, the “walking mountains” as they were also called, located sunriseward from the city.

Tine followed Anders into the Sand Garden, and after the door was closed and they were alone, Tine said, “Strya’s waiting inside.” Anders nodded in acknowledgement.

<-- Go to Part 15         Go to Part 17 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 15

Salles had few things that he could be said to belong to — only his clothing and a few of his tools and utensils. He packed clothing and a little bit of food. He was going to take some of his transcription work, but Eloh told him to leave it. He snuck a few scraps of paper and a pen and ink to take some notes on his journey.

As they were walking towards the exit, Noone told Eloh in a quiet voice, “Concerning our inquiries, be sure to check up on all the residents who have moved in recently. But keep it very quiet. I don’t want anybody to even suspect that this idea has crossed our minds.” Eloh nodded.

Then they stepped out beyond the confines of the cloisters and onto the path to Lamosa. At the door, Eloh waved them goodbye. Salles noticed that Eloh was crying, which he thought inappropriate for the occasion. Salles pretended he didn’t notice and walked away, following behind Noone in the direction of Lamosa.

It would take them near half the daylight to walk summerward to Lamosa. Salles was at first worried about the aged Noone making the journey. She was so small and frail and had passed her first century almost twenty years ago, but as soon as they started walking, he found that he was having trouble keeping up with her.

Noone told Salles a bit about the Premier as they walked: ”We’re going to be speaking with Premier Anders at the Public House tomorrow. He is from the Hooktends Clan. He hasn’t sat at the head of the Closed Table for more than eight seasons, but the rest of his table is devoted and intimate.

“He keeps a close watch on the whole of Omnia. He’s got dedicated eyes in both valleys that are bringing him constant communiqués about what is going on. His predecessors from as far back as when I began to advise weren’t this well informed; this is a new thing. He probably doesn’t know about the fire yet, but he might by the time we get there. We planned this meeting a while ago. Amida is in Lamosa (I don’t know if you’ve met her) and speaks with him regularly, about every five or ten days, but he doesn’t see me very often and he’s never seen you. So we want to downplay the significance of your presence. We’ll just say we’re transitioning you into the role of our liaison for a while. You’re going to be staying in Lamosa until Alles gets back, which should only be a few days, and I’ll be returning to the cloister.”

Salles stopped walking at this point, looking at her with surprise in his eyes: “You realize I’ve never been to Lamosa before. I’ve met a lot of people at the cloister from Lamosa and they’ve told me about it, but I know nothing about the place.”

Noone smiled and pulled him to continue walking, saying, ”There are friends of the Sages that we have in Lamosa; they’ll take care of you. They love to have us with them. They always hope some of our wisdom will magically migrate in their direction. There are members on the Closed Table that are sympathetic to the Aresan Clan and the Sages. You will have companions and peers.”

Salles, now some distance away, stopped to look back to the cloisters and its surroundings which he had never until this day gone more than a short distance from. The long twisting buildings of the cloister settled into the low places along the slope. The charred ruins of the watermill stuck out at one end where a number of fast moving water channels were funneled together, and where they forked out below in jagged meandering courses like a spray of lightning. A thick wind pushed through a notch above the cloisters and then hung close to the slope where a small windmill would pick it up and now was spinning feebly. Many houses spread across the slope around it and grain-filled fields spread out across the valley floor, creeping up the bottom of the slope in terraces like a rising tide. He wept as he looked back over it, afraid that he would never see it again. It was the first time he’d ever left the cloisters.

“We have a long journey and little time to stop,” Noone said

She continued hiking cross-slope and he fell in step behind her, struggling to catch up with her. He tried to hold back further tears but he was unsuccessful, as he turned to look back at the cloister again over his shoulder.

<-- Go to Part 14         Go to Part 16 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 14

Salles usually woke up on a regular schedule around the time when the sun would rise in spring, but he was awoken that morning a bit earlier than his body was accustomed to by the abrupt entrance of his teacher, Eloh. Eloh leaned inside the room and said, “Up, up and rise,” in a voice that was inappropriately chipper for such an early morning. He smiled at Salles with his infectious smile and cheerfully winked. It always amazed Salles how this man of over one hundred years could so youthful and vibrant, and especially at hours so early. “Bed-rise, exercise, dines before sunrise,” Eloh said, repeating a Sage proverb.

As Salles blinked awake Eloh told him, “I hope you slept well acolyte, because you are going to be dining with Noone and I this morning. You can take your morning exercise here in your room, but be quick. Then meet the Eldest and I in the dining room.”

Eloh leaned a little further inward to check and see if Salles truly was awake, “Did you hear all of that?” There was a groan that came from the mattress to indicate the affirmative. Eloh asked, “And what is it that I said?”

Salles sleepily replied, “Take my exercises here, then come eat breakfast in the dining room.”

“Very good,” Eloh said, “But I want to see you out of bed before I leave.” Salles stood up, drooping, but on his feet, and Eloh was satisfied, closing the door. Salles immediately fell back onto his bed once Eloh left and stared at the ceiling for near half of the brief time he was supposed to have spent exercising. He eventually pulled himself out of bed and began a shortened exercise program on his floor.

He was about to leave, when he noticed his chamber pot in the corner. Instead of taking it down to the piss barrel at the other end of the cloisters, as he was supposed to, he simply opened his shutters, which looked outwards to the exterior of the courtyard, and quickly poured it into the soil below his window where a few weeds grew awkwardly; it was early and no one was there to see him. He then left the chamber pot on the floor and walked promptly out the door.

When he arrived in the dining hall, since it still was somewhat early for the rest of the cloistered sages to be rising for their morning meal, it was only Eloh and Noone waiting for him, and they waited silently. Apparently Noone had not wanted to begin the conversation until Salles was present. The motives behind this and its precise meaning Salles could not immediately understand. He was even more struck by the initiation of the conversation as soon as he sat at the table, since he was barely familiar with the Eldest, let alone comfortable with talking with her on a personal level.

The cold part of the meal was already waiting at the table, and the three were all served by Eloh as soon as Salles sat. Salles of course apologized and he deferred as much as possible to the Eldest. It was upon this impetus that the conversation between them began.

Noone spoke, “Reconstruction of the watermill will of course commence this morning, and I trust, Eloh, that you can be sure to oversee that effectively. I want as much of our resources dedicated to the mill’s reconstruction. Instruction of acolytes will be suspended until it’s completion, the food and crop details will be reduced and exercise will be shortened. All the sages and residents will be wanted to help out, as much as possible. And don’t think that your overseeing of the project is an excuse to exclude you from the work. If you don’t have enough wood, see what buildings can spare the wood temporarily, so we can get the windmill running immediately. Normally, I would have this young acolyte Salles, here to help and wouldn’t take him away for a simple meeting with the Premier, but today is unusual and our meeting with the Premier is important.”

Eloh responded, “I understand. It will be done,” and then returned to his meal.

“As for you Salles,” Noone continued, “You will joining me on our trip to Lamosa.”

“Why me?” Salles asked, confused, “I don’t know anything about Lamosa or the Premier or Omnia politics. I’m just an acolyte.”

“You will learn,” Noone said simply, “We are hoping some of your relations will prove useful.”

It was on those words that the breakfast was ended and they left the table. Salles was ordered to pack up a few things for his trip. He hardly knew what to pack, but Eloh told him what to take.

“The big city is bigger than you’ll believe. They have everything there. Anything you want you can get, if you can pay for it. Fortunately you have no money,” Eloh said to him, “Remember, in the city, you’re going to be surrounded by thousands of strangers for whom you’re just a shadow in the dirt. Do not trust them. Stick close to and rely on those you know.”

<-- Go to Part 13         Go to Part 15 -->

You can see what's been written so far collected here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 13

It did not help Lipmon’s mind and its rambling thought that his fever grew worse. His forehead burned as he put his hand to it. He could feel the contrast of an overwhelming warmth from within, and a shivering cold on the surface of the skin. It made the air around him so frigid and unbearable in his light attire.

The parade of the images of all of the lovers that had rejected him walked steadily through his mind. The parade of all his failures moved in the opposite direction behind them. He thought how appropriate it was that he was the first person to step before the invading warrior the previous day.

He was the most expendable, and to be killed on behalf of the whole town (the willing sacrifice that they might give forth that the town might be spared) was about all he was considered good for. He who was always so quick on his feet, so rash and unhesitating, that it was appropriate he should step forward to be the first to be killed. And how inappropriate that he should in fact not be killed, and whole town should be sacrificed so that he might be spared. But was appropriate that he should be their chosen messenger, so fleet-footed with his light, skipping feet, flying to their distant nearest neighbor and calling forth all the wrath of the Fourth Order.

Admittedly, Still Creek-forr had surreptitiously dismissed the Fourth Order long ago. The Fourth Order had never really been a part of them. A small travelling mission had swept in one day out of nowhere and converted the entire village to their religion with promises of protecting them from nearby enemies and granting them the eternal beneficence of the gods. The townspeople accepted them because they were religiously pliant and wavering, accepting whatever new and promising ideas came their way. The town had been renamed in the image of the Fourth Order (from Still Creek, to Still Creek-forr) in honor of their conversion. A representative of the Fourth Order, Elden the priest, was installed in their town, to administer doctrine and communicate with the divinity. But this resident priest began worshipping Tann like a prophet along with the townsfolk. Nonetheless, since their surreptitious apostasy was a secret that Lipmon was loathe to tell the Fourth Order of, they would still bring the revenge that the pseudo-blind soldier and his minions earned with their obdurate obliteration of his home village.

Lipmon thought of Elden, the priest. He’d been popular with the girls. He was young enough to still be fecund, and he was ambitious. Before Tann had been born, Elden had wanted nothing more than to find somewhere else to priest over, and every young girl wanted to run away with him as his bride. He probably had more than one clandestine affair. He was looking for another appointment in a more prestigious town. But then he discovered Tann and everything changed for him. Elden from that point forward could do nothing else but promote the glory of Tann.

Tann had such sympathetic eyes. No other person would ever look at Lipmon the way that Tann did. And Tann was so sweet to him. Tann was perhaps the only one who didn’t care that Lipmon was the least of all, giving him all his sympathy and warmth and support. Tann listened to him when he told of his sorrows and he looked at him still and again with those consoling eyes. As Lipmon crossed the valley in the daylight he thought so much of how he loved the gentle touch of Tann.

Lipmon sat down to rest against a tree, full of fatigue, his head swimming with fever, pleading that he might be able to find someone to help him tomorrow, hoping that he might survive another night, and even if he should die before he might see the revenge exacted, at least to pass on the information that needed to be said. To tell someone who might testify of his town’s utter destruction and Tann’s kidnapping. That, at least.

<-- Go to Part 12         Go to Part 14 -->

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 12

Lipmon woke the next day shivering in the early morning cold. There was no part of him that didn’t ache, and though adrenaline and anxiety had kept his appetite moderate the day before, now it engulfed his stomach. He pulled the dirt and leaves that kept him warm closer against him and rolled back in forth in agony as the light of the rising sun moved deeper into the valley.

His first priority was to find some food for himself, some roots and berries at the very least. It’d be nice if he could trap an animal, but he didn’t have the skill or energy for it. Actually, the first priority was to get up and get his addled body in motion. He discovered that the hardest thing of all was simply getting up.

The thing that consoled him as he struggled to stand was the thought that it was him, of all people in Still Creek-forr, who had survived. A perverse fantasy had gone through his mind during those long minutes of trying to persuade himself to move. He imagined that all the townspeople had seen him fleeing from the town, the sole escapee, before they died and that a total a reevaluation of Lipmon occurred in their mind in that moment: instead of thinking of him, as they normally did, as the least among all the citizens of Still Creek-forr, they saw him as their salvation and savior. If they ever thought someone would save them, they would assume it’d be one of their leading citizens, like Elden the priest or Dinosis the merchant. Lipmon would probably be the last person they would expect. Thus, the source of this perverse fantasy: to see the hope across their face just before they died, to see their image of him transform from reclusive failure to emissary of vengeance in those final seconds of life. Though he suspected that none had observed him on his clandestine escape, he thought that perhaps they were observing and supporting him from the afterlife and that they would know, when he succeeded, that he was solely responsible for their vengeance being fulfilled. This alone got him to rise, finally, from his reclining position.

When Lipmon was younger he’d courted almost every available female without success. He’d proposed marriage to every girl he could, only excluding the ones that were already engaged or married. He was consistent and persistent, following his first “No,” with a new courtship of another woman, which was always followed by an even more deferential marriage proposal and another “No.” Dispirited and depressed, courtship was eventually avoided entirely, and he proposed to still-available girl after girl without the foreplay of courtship, undaunted though increasingly resentful. He’d asked every girl he could at least once, many more than once. The girls wouldn’t even take him in the absence of other available men. One girl, Liss, he asked many time, as she struggled to find a partner just as much as him, but she calmly refused him again and again. Liss got impregnated by an unknown man (it was believed to be Elden, the priest) immediately at the beginning of the next Madrus, which he found even more insulting. She would rather bear the shame and scorn of an adulterous child than marry him. And most of the townspeople even looked favorably on her choice, sympathizing with her plight.

As Lipmon recollected these events, he wanted every girl who’d refused his proposal to see him as their solitary remainder. He wanted Liss to see him walking away, surviving, while she was dying. This was the sum of his impetus—his role as savior of the town, his ability to be the one that they all rejected who ultimately brought the vengeance they were impotent to exact. It was an impetus to keep going and collect food so that he might live.

In Still Creek-forr he’d had the worst, least desirable work assignments in the village, like fertilizer detail and trash collection, so he should have been inured to unpleasant chores. Collecting food when one’s entire anatomy is in pain was nothing compared to those chores he told himself.

As soon as he actually finally looked for food, he found it, since he was rather experienced in food gathering. And though as he ate it, it did not satisfy, it at least gave him strength, to march uphill across Sling Pass, and look upon the next great valley he had to cross.

<-- Go to Part 11         Go to Part 13 -->

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 11

“What were you doing out here in the watermill at night?” Noone asked Eloh, who reclined on the ground and took long, deep breaths broken by intermittent bouts of coughing.

“I’d heard a sound, which woke me up,” he said in a croaking voice, “I looked out my window and saw a light in the watermill and a shadow moving about. So, I ran out here to investigate. When I reached the watermill, I saw a small, but growing fire, and was ready to try and put it out when…” Eloh stopped at this point, apparently trying to recall what had happened next. “That’s all I remember, really, until Salles pulled me out of there.”

“So, what you’re saying is that someone started this fire?” Noone said.

Eloh nodded, just before he began to cough again. “I admit, our night guard should have been better. We can’t permit people infiltrating our grounds at night. And we should have been on top of this fire sooner, the perpetrator should have never gotten in and I can’t begin to apologize,” Eloh added.

The Eldest stopped him: “Don’t waste my time with any apologies. They won’t help us. Besides, we don’t know whether our arsonist was from within the cloisters or without. Let us keep this succinct so I can return to my sleep. Let’s see if we can find any sign of our arsonist.” She spoke, hunching a little over her greatly aged body yet still exuding a commanding presence.

Some minutes later, as Salles was walking around he discovered a sign of the Fourth Order marked onto a wall of the cloister. A bird had been drawn with the smoke stains of a small flame, probably a candle or a lamp; three triangular black marks were placed together to form the body and two wings of a bird. The bird, in Fourth Order mythology, was the symbol of death and destruction, and suggested that the Fouth Order were taking credit for the destruction of the watermill. Salles called the Eldest over, and Noone walked over and inspected the mark.

Eloh trailed behind and, once he arrived, Noone said to him: “This would suggest the perpetrator came from without. Someone from the Fourth Order has been visiting.”

Salles could not help interjecting at this point, lowering his head in a sign of deference he said, “Eldest Senior-ess, I am an acolyte at present under Eloh’s instruction and I have a suggestion if you wish to hear it.”

“More succinctness and fewer formalities,” she said to him.

“Maybe the Fourth Order has planted someone among our residents,” Salles said.

“A possibility. Or maybe someone put this here as a deliberate ruse,” Noone admitted, “But enough of speculation. We need to answer this question with verifiable facts. As I am already scheduled to leave for Lamosa tomorrow, it will be up to Eloh to lead this investigation. Is this alright?”

“I would be glad to,” Eloh replied, “Though I thought I was scheduled to travel with you on that trip.”

“I have decided to take a new travel companion,” Noone said, turning to Salles, “He’s younger and I think will prove a bit more useful, for reasons I won’t elaborate on now. So, what do you think Eloh’s acolyte? Would you like to see Lamosa with me tomorrow?” Noone stopped speaking for a moment, then she continued before Salles had a chance to answer, “You don’t need to answer that. You’re coming no matter how much you like it.”

After saying this, Noone said, “Now I go to bed. See to it, that a minimum of sleep is lost tonight. Our efforts will be better spent in the morning. I’ll be waking you up early, and would like both of you to join me for breakfast.”

Once Noone had left, Eloh turned to his acolyte with a smile and then laughed. This made Salles confused, so Eloh said, “Maybe you shouldn’t have spoken up. But I think you’ll enjoy seeing Lamosa.” Eloh then wrapped his arm around Salles’s shoulder and said, “You should go to sleep directly, though. You need the rest. You’ve been losing too much sleep catching up on your work and trying to impress me,” winking at the end.

Salles departed graciously passing through the halls, closing his door and laying his deeply fatigued body upon his mattress.

<-- Go to Part 10         Go to Part 12 -->

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Aresan Clan Summary - Parts 1-10

Alles, a military leader from the Aresan Clan, infiltrates a small village called Sill Creek pretending to be a blind traveller. Still Creek is a member of the theocratic empire of the Fourth Order, which is hostile to the Aresan Clan and their allies, the Omnia, an alliance of thirteen smaller clans. The citizens of Still Creek are preparing a feast for a boy named Tann, who they hold in great reverence. Alles kidnaps Tann, who he refers to as a “sable” and is believed to have power to manipulate people with his eyes. After taking the child, Alles and his soldiers, including Annsi, attack the village, killing everyone they find and burning the village to the ground, commemorating their victory with an animal sacrifice.

One citizen of Still Creek survives, named Lipmon, and, though he was injured by Alles, he starts a long walk towards the nearest Fourth Order city, Orinda. He intends to tell of the destruction of his town and the kidnapping of Tann, who he, along with all the other citizens of Still Creek, loved and adored.

As the soldiers carry Tann (who Alles has named Samuel) in a closed palanquin, Annsi takes care of him and talks to him. The soldiers, though, think Tann is a bad omen and has dark powers. At night, Annsi sleeps with Alles, using a “soldier’s sponge” as a contraceptive, since Alles can protect her against the lecheries of the other male soldiers

Salles, a Sage, living at their isolated residence, the Cloisters, is up late transcribing an illustrated manuscript. In the midst of his work, he notices an orange and yellow glow outside.

             Summary of Parts 11-20 -->

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 10

Salles’ room was practically unfurnished, just a bed and a writing desk, low to the ground at which he worked sitting cross-legged upon the stone floor. A large window looked outside and he’d left open the wooden shutters to let in some moonlight. Through this window he saw the glow on the trees.

Curious, Salles extinguished his lamp, despite that he didn’t have any way to re-ignite it and had wanted to finish his lettering tonight. He stood up from his seat upon the floor and moved silently towards the door. He listened for the sound of movement in the hall. He was supposed to be sleeping at this time, and not out wandering about. He peaked his head out of he room and could hear some noise in the direction of the watermill. He threw on his brown raiment and walk towards the sound.

The noise was leading him outside to their compound’s courtyard where he could see the glow of a bright light. When he emerged into the courtyard he was dazzled by what he should have heard earlier and now stood agape before: their watermill was engulfed in flames.

He was about to turn around and fetch as many people as he could wake to put out the fire, when he noticed someone inside the watermill. Instead he shouted loudly, “Fire! Fire! In the watermill! Wake up everyone!” as he ran towards the watermill.

As he got close to the door, the heat began to overwhelm him, and sweat started to bead on his forehead. He crouched down to avoid the spray of fire that spewed from out of the door and climbed up the walls. He crawled towards the body that he could see sprawled on the floor. The stone floor was hot to the touch and he used his sleeves to protect his hands. As he got closer, he recognized the face, it was Eloh, the second oldest of the sages and his advisor and instructor. He guessed that it was Eloh’s steps that he’d heard in the hall earlier. There was a metal bucket lying next to him, and when he tried to push it aside, he burned his hand. He then grabbed Eloh and dragged him body from the mouth of the flames.

By the time he had dragged Eloh out into the cool grass by the stream that fed the watermill, crowds had started to gather. People were running to find buckets, and those few with buckets already, were filling them from the stream and tossing them at the fire. Salles was coughing heavily and his throat felt hot and ragged, but he was more worried about Eloh. He put his ear to Eloh’s chest, and could hear the sound of breathing and a heartbeat and was relieved, lying back and relaxing after his ordeal.

The Eldest, Noone soon arrived and her voice could be heard with orders being thrown in all directions. There were soon people on the rooftops of the buildings surrounding the mill who assiduously tossed water onto the mill from above and forestalled any spreading of that fire to the neighboring buildings as buckets were being handed up to them. Once the full force of the Sage’s cloister was assembled, the fire was on the decrease and with considerable further labor and not too much patience the fire was extinguished.

Noone approached Eloh and Salles and looked at Salles with what he thought to be a disapproving look in her calm blue eyes, asking, “What happened?”

“The watermill was on fire when I arrived,” Salles explained, “I found Eloh inside and dragged him out. He appears to be alive, but hasn’t regained consciousness.”

Noone grabbed a bucket and directly dumped the water onto Eloh, like one waking up some oversleeping servant. Eloh’s body suddenly came to life, his arms flailing about as he abruptly sat up. Before he could say a word, he began to cough excessively. Salles could only imagine what his throat felt like. Salles’ own felt ragged, like he’d spent the whole day shouting at the top of his voice, and he’d only breathed in the smoke for a few seconds.

Eloh must have been in there for minutes. It would only be after some long coughing before Eloh could finally speak and recount to Salles and Noone his part of the story.

<-- Go to Part 9         Go to Part 11 -->

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 9

Alles continued his story: “Elisa died, on a small campaign against the Onutians. I was near the rear and saw her carrying two injured men, one for each shoulder, from the van. The blood from her fatal wound was visible on her side, dripping down beneath her armor. I should have let her go back out and let her bleed to death on that battlefield, fighting, but I was a coward. I wanted her there with me. She even struggled against me to let her go back out and fight, and there I was holding her back, trying to get one of the Heavy Hands to heal her.” Even as he spoke these things, his voice was flat and emotionless, but he abruptly stopped as if he’d revealed too much about himself in saying these words.

He then added: “You are not like her. You shouldn’t be on these military missions. I only brought you along because I thought you might be good at taking care of the child. You’re soft; your breasts are plump; your voice is sweet. She was not such a beautiful temptation to the men as you are. They admired her and wanted to fight beside her. The men desire you and want to lie beside you.”

He again broke off. He looked at her and said, “That is enough for tonight. Go to sleep.” And then he turned onto his side and began to sleep, while Annsi lay beside him and watched his bare chest grow with each long, sleeping breath.

Salles carefully annotated an illustration by the light of an oil lamp on which a small flame burned on a grass wick. He wrote out a long description, which occupied nearly half of the large parchment that he worked upon, and he hunched himself over not only to closely watch his careful lettering, but also to hide the light of his lamp. It was generally considered neglectful for a Sage to be up so late and wasting his oil to catch up on work he should have completed during the day. So he crouched over the lamp to prevent its light from being seen under the door to his room by any of the elders potentially passing through the hall. He had been falling behind on this project for some time—he’d made sluggish effort mastering his papermaking skills and his handwriting had always been slow and labored, both due to his obsession with details and his unsteady hand. No effort on his part could improve his facility and productivity at calligraphy. To make up for his poor handwriting, he’d diligently perfected the picture, delicately applying the red strokes with his small brush, made from a carved twig and a clump of his own hair.

The picture itself was a scene from Omnia mythology: the story of the fall of the Five Cities. In the scene depicted lay the white stag, slain on the ground with an arrow through its neck, the stag in which the devil Ser-thoth had decided to hide in order to infect one of the Royals. The senior Royal, William Sirr, was taking the first bite of the heart of the freshly felled prey, which would infect him with Ser-thoth and ultimately lead to the downfall of the Five Cities. Beside William Sirr was another Royal, Richard Bale, as well as the servant who slew the animal, both of whom would subsequently follow him with an honorary bite of the freshly killed animal and be infected. All of this and more, Salles endeavored to explain in his text with the straightforward succinctness his teacher’s valued. He’d never been good at straightforward succinctness either. It was long, ornate writing that suited his tastes, filled with beautiful, long sentences and extravagant metaphors.

The common reprimand was of course that the paint was not to be wasted on something that could as be easily said in half the words—the process of mixing the mineral, oil, and beeswax paint that they recorded these stories with was time-consuming to produce and there were better applications of a Sage’s time. Time to a sage was always in short supply and wastefulness was anathema to their ethic.

He wrote out another careful succession of a letters until a sound from the hallway made him hunch all that much closer to his painting sheet to hide the light. Steps passed by his room and he kept still to avoid notice. They passed and his lettering continued.

Only afterwards did he notice a glow from outside. He could see an orange and yellow light reflected on the trees visible through his window. It was an uncommonly bight light to be seen at night. Salles stood up, knowing he’d have to investigate.

<-- Go to Part 8         Go to Part 10 -->

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 8

Annsi greeted Alles affectionately, kissing him on one cheek, while she touched his face. But he continued facing the wall as he spoke, asking her, “Did the child get to sleep?”

“Yes, he did,” she said, “I’ve been telling him some stories from Aresan history. Tonight I told him about the Attack of the Great Eagles. At least he’s learning things. I can never tell whether he likes it or not, but I guess he does since he doesn’t complain. He’s the easiest child to take care of I’ve ever dealt with; I wish I could give him something better.” She didn’t know if Alles was listening to her, until her finally looked in her direction, and she continued, “I feel that if I treat him well it might begin to make up for destroying his home and everyone he’s known and everything he knew. But I also think about his mother and father, who must have, just like the rest of the town, sat back and worshipped him like a mindless idolater bowing before a false God, and never being real parents to him. So, maybe he’s not missing out on all that much.”

“Don’t grow too soft to him,” Alles said, “He may be dangerous. You saw how he captivated that village. Nonetheless, you’ve done well. You are a good soldier.”

This made her blush. Alles was sparse in bestowing compliments, and she felt pleasure at even the smallest one. She kissed him on the cheek, moving in slowly, closing her eyes, kissing him all over the face and neck while his whole head remained motionlessly facing forward, eyes closed. All he wore was a long piece of cloth wrapped around his waist. She hung on his bare shoulder and kissed him again and took off her outer cloak and her boots and her trousers and her shirt, standing beside him while he stared at the wall with an emotionless expression. As she undressed, he switched to a kneeling postured and continued to pray.

She walked over to his washing bowl to clean the dust from her face and from her arms and then rinsed off some of the sweat from the rest of her. She pulled from her bag a small leather sack, in which she carried a precious contraceptive. The contraceptive looked, to one unfamiliar, like a wet mass of green hair. It was made from a dense nest of moss sprinkled with tree oil and stored inside the leather sack in a jam of crushed berries and honey, which fermented in the warmth of her body heat into a sour paste. It was a trusted expedient, commonly used by painted harlots, but known by the moniker of the “Soldier’s Sponge,” for its use among notoriously unchaste female soldiers.

After she inserted this inside of her, she beckoned Alles to the bed behind the deerskin, laying down upon his hay mattress and silently whispering his name. After some moments of prayer, he rose, walked over to the hidden bed and pulled back the skin to expose the naked body of the waiting woman: her pointy, mountain-shaped breasts and the thick triangle of curly hair between her legs. She slowly unrolled the wrap around his waist, and let him lie down between her legs.

After they finished, and he rolled off of her, they lay besides each other and she asked him questions about his life. He mentioned the name of Elisa, a name Annsi had heard before, and she asked, “Who is Elisa?”

“She was a soldier, and quite a soldier at that,” Alles said with great admiration, “I met her in peacetime. She was introduced to me by her father who held a very high opinion of me both as a leader and as a man. I fell in love with her before I even saw her in her first campaign. I had already admired her enough to want to marry her, but it was like a new vein of gold suddenly exposed when I saw her fight. She looked like a soldier too: hard and tough and lean. She was not soft like you. She was not a woman that one wants to wrap one’s arms around naked, but a solid statue to prostrate oneself before. She intimidated the other soldiers, and very likely she could’ve taken down several men at once had they been stupid enough to attack her. Unlike you, she came to my tent every night not because she needed my protection from the other men, but because she wanted to. Out on that battlefield, with her face covered, you could forget her sex; the enemies never knew they met death at the hands of a woman.”

<-- Go to Part 7         Go to Part 9 -->

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 7

As they carried Samuel through the mountains, he was so compliant and peaceful. Annsi would remove him from his palanquin thrice daily – just as he woke up, at midday and just before bed. She would hood him, leading him around a little to exercise his legs and stopping him somewhere to let him relieve himself, before feeding him a little and giving him some water. And he would always follow along without any resistance. Alles had assigned Annsi to take care of the boy, to hold his hand in her gloved hand while she walked him around, to walk beside his palanquin and speak to him through the walls while he was inside. She would help push the palanquin upward on the steeper slopes and support it downward as they climbed through the mountain landscape. All the while the boy was so docile and compliant. He did everything on command: he bent his head to accept the hood each time and he would reach up to take Annsi’s gloved hand when she walked with him blindfolded by the hood and silenced by his own speechlessness.

While he was inside the palanquin, Annsi would talk quietly to him through the walls. She told him stories about herself, about her people, about the Aresan Clan and the country of Omnia.

“My family belongs to the Aresan clan, and my father is a Heavy Hand,” she told him, “It means he’s a Mage, a Mage of the Heavy Hands. He heals the sick and he heals the wounded. The Aresan clan is known for its healers. He’s very good at it. He has such a touch, such warm hands. When I grew ill as a child he would place his warm hands upon me and give me some things to eat and drink and my sickness would almost seem to evaporate at his touch. He taught me a few things, but I just never had the touch; I just never had his warms hands and his perfect sense for exactly what was wrong.

“My mom, his daughter, raised me on her own. She was a sweet woman, but stern, always smacking me about when I did wrong. She had small eyes and a smile all the time that only disappeared when she was angry with me. My father was Salles, who’s a Sage, which means I don’t really know him and means his father (my other grandfather) was an Aresan prince. I only met my father once when I was fifteen and I’ve never met my other grandfather. I remember my father as stiff and formal, but very graceful. He met me and my mother once to try and arrange a marriage for me, but I defied them by volunteering for the military. So, here I am. They tell me that my chances of finding a husband now are thin—no men wants to marry a former soldier, even if I survive — and I’ll soon be too old be marry. But I would love to have children, especially a little boy like you. But I know you’ll marry some day, I hope. You’ll grow up strong and perhaps some young Aresan Mage’s apprentice will be captivated by your eyes.”

After marching through most of the daylight, they stopped for the evening. The palanquin was set down, and the soldiers’ tents were built. Alles had the largest tent of the group, but it lacked the usual opulence of a commander. He had no decorations, wall hangings or rugs; only a few straw mats lying on the floor for visitors, and one in the corner to sleep on. The skin of a dear he had killed himself served as a curtain to separate his bed from the rest of the tent, and just outside this little cove was a water pitcher with a washing bowl. The colors were subdued: the fabrics and leathers the tent of the tent were entirely undyed, and the mattress linens also were in the raw earthy color from which they were woven.

His dark cloak hung, drying from the ceiling and he sat rigidly and dignified on the ground his legs beneath him, as he tried to focus and quiet his thoughts. Several large scars appeared across his strong chest and arms, created by the blades of a few fortunate adversaries who’d managed to temporarily breach his defenses.

Annsi entered, folding aside the door flap of the tent and stepping inside. He gave no acknowledgment of her entrance, and remained motionless until she sat beside him and put her hands on his shoulder. He turned to look at her with only a brief hint of annoyance, before he turned away and resumed his prayer.

Smiles seldom crossed his face, nor frowns. It was mostly with his eyes alone that he emoted and with these only slightly. His emotions, like his actions, were characterized by a complete absence of extremes: never over-reacting or under-reacting to anything.

<-- Go to Part 6         Go to Part 8 -->

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Aresan Clan pt 6

Lipmon stumbled sloppily down the slope, his mind crawling through a daze. As he tripped awkwardly the pain of the whole stretch of his wound leapt forward. After having stewed the wound in the creek water of his hiding place, it bit at his skin. He collapsed on a flat of ground after having crossed a long downhill stretch, now angling around the valley towards what looked like a promising place for rest, a place where he knew berries could often be found.

With each painful movement he looked towards the thick trees and undergrowth sprouting around a stream hidden within them and thought to himself about laying down with a handful of berries in his hand, lying next to a craggy brook and relaxing. He must have seen the small relief of that arrival more than a dozen times in his mind before he finally knelt down at the edge of the stream and took a drink. But this small relief was such a relief. He rolled onto his back and he looked around with his eyes for some familiar plant.

He was less than half a day’s walk from the home where he’d grown up and where he’d always lived, and nonetheless he barely knew this area. He’d never ventured in this direction, down this ravine, here to this spot by this little creek, though he’d been told about it.

As he thought about his beautiful home and the people that might have taken care of him and the miles of struggle ahead of him even just to stay alive, he permitted himself a violent sob and a long cry and felt the urge to give up already. He thought he could just stay here and rest, forever. There was no one there to see him, no one watching. No one could reprimand him for his decision, or look derisively down upon him. Only he would know he’d given up.

But he did stand up. What finally made him stand was the thought that when he made it through this whole ordeal he would be able to always say, while he told this story to others, that he never once sat down for any more than a moment’s rest, that he would never have given up even at the verge of death, and that resignation never crossed his mind.

It was a time of small triumph and small bits of hope. He saw a small group of familiar plants and tore them out of the ground to feast on their roots, and though his stomach ached and his head burned, that small relief was huge. He pulled a handful of bitterly sour berries from a familiar shrub and wolfed them down.

He made attempts to clean his wound from the stream water, splashing and rubbing the cold mountain water onto the warm open wound. He peeled off his shirt from off his chest as it clung to the thickening blood, which still trickled out of him a little in spots along the slash. He washed it off some more with water and watched with distress as drips of red still flowed into the river whenever his wound touched the water. As the skin and the wound dried he felt that pain of an open wound tightening as it dried.

He took another large gulp from the stream and then lay down again to rest himself for a while. He touched his forehead and could feel a strong predilection of death as his head burned with fever.

He again continued reclining in the so pleasurable rest, all the while saying to himself, “I’m going to get up right now,” “Now I’m going to stand up and go,” “Right now I’m moving,” and so on. But it was many minutes before he achieved the small triumph of actually obeying the command of that spoken will, rising slowly and unsteadily.

His head swam and was dizzy as the blood rushed from out of his head, and he could feel a strong feeling of sickness in his full stomach.

He ultimately made it nearly as far up the slope toward the Sling Pass as he’d planned, falling to the ground in fatigue in the evening. He tucked himself beneath some underbrush and pushed earth and leaves around him to keep himself warm before he finally let himself drift off into sleep.

<-- Go to Part 5         Go to Part 7 -->

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