“Six Cities” teaser piece

Well, it’s finished. Not anything major, mind, just the first draft of the teaser piece I mentioned, oh… two months ago now.

I’ll be honest, this piece became a bit of a nightmare to finish as, whilst I was writing it, I fell out of love with the project and lost steam with my writing, not helped by a number of other distractions coming up that gave me a convenient excuse to stay away. I remembered three days ago that I was writing this piece (and that I had a blog) so set myself the task of finishing it in some form, even if it wasn’t quite what I originally had in mind.

I am not overly happy with the finished product but I have learned a number of lessons whilst working on it that are going to both make things easier for me in future and help me produce more interesting reads. I will talk about a few specifics at the end of the piece but, for those of you who do read it, I’d like to give you the opportunity to form your own opinion first.

I haven’t yet had feedback from my regular goof-checker so expect an edit shortly to fix any big bloopers I have somehow missed. EDIT: Goof-checking feedback now rolled into the text below. Apologies all who read the previous typo-filled version!


The wind howled, throwing ash stained to a coppery brown like dried blood into the air and sending it dancing between the towering rocky outcroppings that jutted at a hundred different angles from the cracked earth. Weaving along the ground between these giant, red scales of stone the woman drew her shawl more tightly around her face, trying not to breathe in the dust as she squinted up through the billowing murk. Beneath her mask she smiled grimly; she could still see him. The man wandered slowly along a path cut high into the rock above her head, his weight falling listlessly from one leg to the next, moving like someone drunk or half-asleep and oblivious to the danger of the drop he teetered near. The high paths and the bridges that ran between them had long since fallen into disrepair, the area having been abandoned long ago, but whatever it was that had affected the man and drawn him from his bed in the middle of the night had also removed whatever care he once had for his safety.

The woman stumbled as a pile of loose stone gave way beneath her feet and she refocused her attention on the winding path in front of her, the man temporarily forgotten as she plotted her course through the maze of rock bursting from the earth in front of her. She wished she’d had more time to prepare or told her daughter where she was going but, like the man she followed, her choices were no longer always her own. She flinched and glanced down as the burnt, tangled remains of a bush crunched beneath her feet.

So much waste, so much loss.

The war had been over for many years now, long enough that she couldn’t remember it from her childhood. It wasn’t even a war her people, or any people, really, had even been involved in; the war between the spirits had largely passed humanity by as they fought their invisible battles, the upheaval of the natural order the only sign that anything was happening to those unfortunate enough to witness it. Its scars remained though, and once again she found herself travelling into them, towards the Rot. The burned earth was a precaution; those spirits still mad with the sickness that had bought the end to the war were unable to easily travel through lands where nothing lived so whenever the rot took hold somewhere new the land around it was salted, burned and abandoned.

She looked ahead again, trying to see sign of where the scorched earth gave way to the twisted oddities that usually signified the spirit sickness taking hold, grimacing as grit blew against her eyes. A faint sound from above, stone grinding on stone, caused her to look up at her quarry once more as he slipped, arms windmilling frantically to keep his balance as loose stones gave way beneath him. She watched as the man frantically took hold of an old post sticking from the rock next to him, part of a long-since ruined guard against falling, steadying himself as the rocks bounced down the dull red slope beneath him. More secure in his footing, she watched as he once again began his halting walk forwards. She followed.

Minutes passed with no sound reaching the woman other than that of the wind whipping about her. She looked up every few moments to watch the man’s progress, noting which direction he went when faced with branching paths leading up and down the sloping rock or one of the rickety bridges still connecting the giant slabs to each other. Occasionally she would have to climb a little way herself to avoid rock fall, or weave carefully amongst the debris of one of the old houses that had once dotted the sides of the slabs. Ash smeared wooden struts jutting from the side of the rock, or standing lonely in the middle of the valleys she picked her way between, spoke of the dwellings and other buildings that had once been here, before it’d been burned. She slipped, once, falling from the skeleton of a burnt out roof onto a pile of green-tinted slate tiles inside its ruins. She landed awkwardly, with her small grunt and clatter of slate borne swiftly away on the wind as her leg slipped from under her and dashed itself against and exposed edge. Catching herself and rolling into a sitting position she examined the damage; the heavy fabric of her shawl was torn where the rock had sliced at her but her tan skin underneath was unblemished, as usual. Her involuntary task was too important for her to sustain injury, something she’d got so used to now that she didn’t even flinch when some remaining tiles from the beams above her head finally came loose after her fall and fell to the ground around her.

How many more times? she asked herself, running her fingers over the dusty skin of her leg where the gash should have been, How much more can you want from me?

No voice answered her, it hadn’t done since shortly after all this had started, but she once again felt the familiar pressure on her mind urging her onwards.

She stared glumly at the exposed patch of leg showing through her shawl then picked herself up, manoeuvring carefully from the pile of lose tiles until she escaped from underneath the shadow of the beams. Looking up, she once again caught sight of her quarry and resumed the careful walk through the rocky maze.

Then she felt it. The pressure at the back of her head changed, ever so slightly, still urging her forward and pressing her to complete its mission, but now holding beneath its calm and encouraging surface an undertone of warning; she was getting close. As if on cue the dust and grit in the air began to become agitated, spinning faster and faster in the air as she pushed forwards, until she turned a corner around a dusky red outcropping. She stepped across a threshold; the wind died entirely, silence descended and the detritus in the air falling gently to the floor as she looked between the slabs ahead of her.

Colour returned to the world a few feet ahead of her, out of the reach of the soft clouds that floated lazily across the barrier that the wind still blew fiercely against. The rocks, previously stained grey by the ash, shone a bright, vital red and the ground underfoot, previously burnt and barren, was covered in grass and moss, the green climbing a few feet up the base of the slanted slabs in places. The woman glanced at the sky, checking for the first signs of the sun breaching the horizon, but didn’t find any; a strange purplish hue filled the night sky above her and its unnatural light filtered down into the ravine where she stood. As she padded forward puffs of dust rose from her clothing in little clouds that floated lazily to the floor, glowing a vibrant pink as the ash and dust danced around each other in their careless descent.

“Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh…”

She started and looked up, her hood falling back from her face as the sudden exhalation from above breaking the tranquillity of the scene. The man she was following, trailed by a rosy cloud of his own, dropped to his knees. He was facing away from her, his upturned face focussed on something in front of him out of her view. The sound was one of pleasure, relief. As she strained to see what the man saw the warning pulse in the back of her head grew more insistent, reminding her of the danger yet still pushing her onwards. She took a step towards the leaning rock, bracing her foot on its surface and leaning forward, shaking her head to free her long, dark hair from where it had collected in her hood before craning to see. She needn’t have bothered.

Silently a tendril moved through the air towards the man, bridging the gap between where he stood poised on one raised walkway and the next, snaking between stone pillars that marked where a bridge may once have stood. The man stood again as it approached, seemingly unworried by the alien movements of the thing approaching him. On the ground the woman leaned further up the slope of the rock, scrabbling for purchase with her fingers and pulling herself up from the mossy earth in an effort to see what it was that was moving towards the man.

It looked like… wood? It certainly seemed to be growing, expanding outwards towards him as she watched, and showed signs of uneven bulging in places as it reinforced parts of its structure to support its own weight. It snaked around the man, slipping under his arms and legs then across his body, moving him gently so that when the tendril began to withdraw and he was lifted from his feet he fell softly into a relaxed position, like a child being carried by its mother. As swiftly and silently as it’d appeared the branch, for it was a branch, slipped back across the ravine and out of sight.

The woman relaxed, slipping back down to the ground. She’d found what she was searching for; the rogue spirit was nearby. The pull she felt that led her to these places, these last victims of a war long finished, was never wrong, but she felt a little glow of pleasure that she’d also discovered where the townsfolk were going when they vanished at night. Her guide was not disinterested in the plight of those affected by these bastions of the Rot, but offered no insight into their affairs. It trusted her to take care of that.

Stepping back from the rusty red rock face she took stock of her surroundings, looking for a route up. Dust from the wind still blew gently in from the gusts that ran up against the barrier a short distance behind her, and a small trail of the now-rosy mix led from the end of the gully to where she now stood. Deciding against heading back out into the ashen winds to find a way to ascend she turned away from it and moved between the convoluted mass of reddish slabs jutting from the floor in front of her.

Soon she found what she sought, a crack running up and across the face of one of the slabs leading from ground level up to the ledges above her. With a small smile she took a length of cloth from around her waist and tied back the long sleeves and skirt of her robe, then flexed her arms in enjoyment of their new-found freedom. She placed her foot gingerly into the crack, probing until she found a bulge in the rock substantial enough to take her weight. Her hands snaked upwards, bracing against the inside of the crack, and she pushed up from the ground. Step by step she edged up the rock face, pausing periodically on more stable footing as she found it to catch her breath. Towards the top the crack began to narrow but, just as she began to worry she would be forced to retreat, she reached the top of the ledge and hefted herself over onto the walkway, rolling onto her back for a moment to enjoy her accomplishment.

A throb in her head bought her back to the moment, reminding her of what she was supposed to be doing. With a sigh she stood up and faced the direction the man had gone. The sigh caught in her throat as she saw what he had seen.

Towering over the top of ledges in front of her was the domed top of a huge tree. The thick branches grew closely together, stopping in perfect symmetry to form a circular shape, and she could see a dancing purple light being cast between the branches. She took a few steps forward trying to get a better look at the tree, then came up short as she reached the edge of the ledge where the man had last stood. The light from the tree seemed to be the same light that permeated the whole area, though despite its unnatural origin she found it soothing rather than inspiring in her the fear and disquiet that often was found with the Rot.

As she watched she saw something emerge from the top of the tree. From a distance it looked like a small, shifting golden cloud as it rose out from within the branches, whirling on a breeze as it broke free from the mass of limbs before suddenly turning in her direction. It approached quickly, and as it did she saw it break apart, becoming a loose golden haze on the wind. As the woman reached up to draw her shawl back across her face the feeling inside her head changed, sending her a stern, reassuring feeling. She stopped moving, then after a moment dropped her arm back to her side and stood facing the onrushing cloud. She breathed deeply as it approached, closing her eyes as it washed over her.

The back of her throat tickled as she breathed in the cloud. It tasted sweet, and as she continued her breathing she felt a soft, fuzzy feeling beginning to build up behind her eyes. As quickly as it began to take hold, though, it was gone, a flash of clarity blasting through her. She opened her eyes, watching the last of the golden dust wash over her and releasing a last, tiny puff of it as she released another breath. Checking behind her she saw the cloud dissipate into the air. Silently giving thanks to the presence in her mind she once again turned her gaze to the tree.

She sighed inwardly as no bridge extended itself for her as it had done to collect the man she had been following. The tree was still some distance away, its base hidden behind other rusty shards of stone, though from what she could see she decided it was unlikely it had sprouted from the ground. She considered going back down the way she had come and approaching from below but, on looking back down the rock face, decided the downward path looked far less appealing from this angle. She eyed the gap between the ledge she stood on and where the path picked up again on the next slab over.

This is all to help you, so now it’s your turn to help me. She didn’t feel any response, but after the amount of time she had spent with her passenger she wasn’t expecting one. She backed away from the gap, measuring her steps as she traced her hand along the rock as it rose next to where she stood to avoid backing over an edge. Once she had made as much space as she could she took a moment to check all the bindings on her cloak, then shut her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. Opening them again she burst into a sprint towards the edge, her feet slapping against the smooth stone beneath her and echoing in the unnatural stillness. Her measurement was perfect; she felt the toe of her sandal curl slightly over the lip of the edge as she threw herself up and outwards, feeling a flush of energy burn through her as her guest used its power to push her forwards. Her arms spun in the air as she flew and she dared a look downwards into the ravine to see the flash of green as she shot over the mossy ground. After a few long seconds she landed and skidded to a stop on the other side of the gap. She caught her breath, enjoying the energy she felt and having to stifle a small cry of success, allowing only a pleased smile and nervous laugh to escape her lips.

She moved along the ledge she now stood upon, coming round a buttress in the rock to bring the tree back into view and suddenly finding herself in the centre of a larger, thicker golden cloud. Again the lightness that threatened to overtake her was quickly stamped out by the force of the being within her, and she watched the golden particles glittering in the strange light as they blew around her, moving over and past her before wheeling on the breeze and coming back around. The cloud followed her as she moved, the sweet taste of the dust–the pollen, she realised–filling her senses. Shaking her head to clear the cloud from her eyes she looked again at the tree she was approaching. She could see more from here; the tree’s sides continued to slope downwards in the circular shape she’d seen before and, though the bottom was still hidden from her, she could see the circle would complete before it touched the ground. It seemed to the woman her decision to stay high had paid off, though it did leave her in the difficult position of having to make her way between the high rock pathways.

Finding she was running out of path ahead of her she turned her mind back to that particular problem. The route that led directly towards the tree broke again before her with a gap too large for her to jump across, even with the extra assistance she had. She could see across the gap a large flat area near the top of the rock where the slope became less steep and on it the remains of another dwelling; if she could make it that far then she’d easily be able to see the entirety of the tree. She reached the edge of her current ledge and once again found there to be no bridge, magical or otherwise, to help her. Luck however was with her as, looking around, she saw a little to the side of where she stood a natural bridge had been formed where the edges of the two slabs sloped together and met in an uneasy collision. She could see why it hadn’t been a popular choice for the old residents to use; the approach on both sides of the meeting was steep and impractical and beneath the join the sections of rock pulled away from each other, leaving only the ravine floor beneath to meet anyone unfortunate enough to slip.

If you’d told me where we were going I would have bought some rope, she complained. Feeling only an insistent push forwards she edged to the side of the path and lowered herself into a sitting position, testing her feet against the rock that sloped downwards to the join. Her sandals held, just, but her feet slipped wildly within them so she eventually gave up and removed them, tying them to her using a spare loop of cloth. Placing her feet against the rock she fought for a moment to control the memories of her home that the sensation brought flooding back then, gingerly, pushed herself to her feet and began her descent.

She immediately regretted her decision. After a few shaky but successful steps her feet suddenly slipped from under her as a thin sheet of rock gave way beneath her feet. She slammed into the rock and began sliding downwards but as she did a small shard of green caught her eye, something she could have sworn was a tiny sprout of a sapling pushing its way out from where the rock had given way. As she frantically tried to find a handhold to slow her descent she saw she was going to miss the bridge; the slope would throw her off into the ravine just short of the rocky protrusion she had been heading towards. She threw her weight to the side, bumping over the uneven surface as she tried to change her path and her head rattled. She felt a sudden wrench in her shoulder as her hand finally found purchase but as soon as she realised what had happened her tired fingers lost their purchase on the rock under the force of the impact and she continued downwards. It was enough, though, and to her relief she saw she now skidded towards the rocky bridge rather than the looming edge.

As her downward slide bought her closer to the edge it also brought something else into view. Snaking from between the red cliffs a huge bough of wood now passed through the gap between the two sides of the ravine, embedding itself into the crossing she was heading towards. As she watched she saw the end of the bough split into a thousand tiny branches, each working its way into or around the bridge, cracks running across the rock’s surface and small stones breaking from the underside and falling into the gap below. As she came close to the edge she saw the heavy wood give a sudden heave downwards, its groan followed by a loud crack as the rock it had buried itself in split apart and began sliding in chunks into the ravine.

She stared in horror at the widening gap before her as the animated branches tore away at the crumbling edges, and then suddenly felt herself propelled upwards. The pulsing in her head intensified for a moment then all fell silent. She found herself crouching nimbly on her feet, her eyes drawn against her will to a tiny fracture in the rock just before the edge. The chaos around her ceased to exist for a moment as she watched the fracture glide slowly closer, her foot moving itself to perfectly catch the imperfection and propel her up, up and out over the gap as her legs sprang under her. In mid-air the calm suddenly ceased and she slammed ungracefully into the opposite rock face, scratching her nails down the rock as she began sliding back down towards the gap. Finding purchase she began pulling herself upwards, climbing onto her knees and then her feet as the slope lessened under her. She jerked forwards as her feet were once again pushed from under her, green sprouts rising from the rock around here and cleaving giant slabs from the slope that began grinding their way into the ravine as she broke into a sprint towards safety. The saplings became thicker around her as she ran and began to tangle themselves around her legs as she pounded upwards, but she thrashed her way through them until finally, panting, she crested the rise and came to the burnt out ruins.

Not daring to stay too close to the edge she continued towards the centre of the old dwelling a few paces before she dared to turn and see what was happening behind her. She was safe, though; all she saw was a final few saplings pulling themselves back into the rock as the bough residing in the valley began to retreat, the wood groaning and creaking as it snaked around the raised island of rock she now stood on. She watched as it passed her, and then brought her gaze to rest on the tree she had been seeking.

The plane she stood on extended far into the distance in front of her, the shells of old buildings dotted around its outside but even if they stood as they once did they would have been totally dwarfed by the glowing sphere of wood that stood at its centre. The tree was huge, its thick branches descending right down to the rock, cutting sharply off in the air to form the perfect shape she’d seen from afar. Past this polished, angular exterior it quickly became a morass of tangled wood extending deep towards its core. From the ruins the woman guessed this used to be the main collection of houses that made up the raised town, though the tree now extended to cover much of what was once here. The branch she had been watching withdrew inside the outer layer of branches, curling into its companions and then becoming still. Silence descended on the wreckage of the village.

She padded forwards, slowly approaching the centre of the ruined town. The light from the centre of the tree danced and pulsed randomly at first, but as she neared it grew in intensity until she had to shield her eyes. She advanced with her arm held protectively in front of her and her shadow flickering in the small cloud of dust rising from her footsteps. When she drew within a few paces of the outer edge of the branches she drew to a stop, and as she did everything froze.

Peering out from under her arm she looked up at the tree in concern. As she did it began to move, not with the groaning of wood as it had when extending branches, but in total silence. The thick branches in front of her peeled back to present an opening, a single branch from within snaking down and flattening itself to form a path. As it touched the floor in front of her feet she stepped back, eyeing it with suspicion. The tree stopped moving when the path had finished extending and a further few moments of silence passed with no activity, the light shining from within the branches staying constant.She took a tentative step forwards, but as she extended her foot to place it on the branch before her a voice rang out from above her and she jumped back.

“Greetings, mortal!”

Looking up she immediately saw the source of the voice. Descending from the light in the centre of the tree was a silhouetted humanoid figure. It paced serenely towards her as it spoke, the light sparkling around it through the haze of golden dust that flowed to follow it.

“It is not often your kind come here without my first inviting them,” the voice called, “though I am of course very pleased to see you.”

The presence inside the woman’s head prickled as the crisp, warm voice washed over them. She pushed the feeling aside as it rose, concentrating on the figure approaching her. Whilst it looked mostly human she could see even from its shadow that it could not be; it was too tall and slender and its arms inhumanly thin as they opened in greeting. She said nothing, watching to see what it would do next.

“You look surprised,” it drawled, “though I can’t say I blame you. It’s not every day one comes face to face with a being such as me.” It continued to descend the wooden pathway as it spoke, meandering from side to side with the curve of the wood. “Nothing to say? Come, my sweet, beautiful thing, there is nothing to be afraid of anymore, I will take care of you.”

The light faded as the being neared the bottom of the ramp and the being came properly into view. It looked something like a wooden skeleton, gnarls of wood where joints should be and limbs of wood creating the humanoid shape she had seen silhouetted, but the limbs were not solid as bone should be. As it moved the wood re-shaped itself, growing and shrinking as the creature moved, giving its movement an unearthly grace and unnatural stillness. The being’s head was a long, flat pane that sloped backwards as it rose with little marking on it except for a shaped, animate mouth and two notched holes for eyes. From these holes a light shone, a ball of it floating behind the mask and travelling in pulses through the rest of the body all in the same golden hue as the tree itself.

“It is unusual to have unexpected guests here,” the creature continued, “but I welcome all worshippers to my shrine.”

It raised its sinewy arms and from behind it another cloud of golden dust burst from between the boughs of the tree. It swept forward, over the woman, but she only blinked slowly, keeping her eyes trained on the spirit. She felt the presence pulsing inside her head settle in to a power deep within her chest.

“Your tricks won’t work on me, spirit. You have stepped outside of your station; I am here to return you to it.” Her voice rang clear across the space dividing them, shattering the silence of the area that the spirits voice had woven with. “Stand down and face judgement.”

The spirit paused, the wood of its mask wrinkling upwards as surprise rippled across it. “These are big words, little one,” it cooed, “but you are out of your depth here. I admit I am curious what it is you do that makes you resist so, but there are more blunt methods to ensure your obedience.”

As it spoke the spirits hands shifted and grew, the wood of the fingers pulsing outwards and sharpening into limbs of their own, curling from its hands like a living cage. “This is your last chance to come calmly, happily, otherwise things become unpleasant.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Then you have a problem.”

The spirit’s voice became a growl as it spoke before, with the sound of breaking wood, it launched itself across the ground separating them and fell on top of the woman. They fell to the ground together, the woman’s hood falling from her head and spilling burnt-brown hair across the ground. The spirit’s claws dug into the earth around her, constricting against her as it drew itself closer. It drew itself downwards, pushing against her as she braced her arms against its chest.

“Stupid girl,” it drawled as it drew its head level with hers, “you are very, very out of your depth.”

The woman, her arms braced against the ground to keep the creature at bay, turned her head to regard the glowing eyes next to her.

“No.”

As she spoke a flash of blinding light enveloped the pair, a silhouette of the spirit’s skeletal body reflected through the dust still swirling above them. As the initial flash dimmed the woman pushed up from the ground, throwing the spirit away from her as she did, before climbing back to her feet. Burning, white light shone from her eyes and pulsed through an intricate tattoo running across her left eye and down to her breast, the golden light of the spirit a pale shimmer in comparison.

When the woman spoke next her voice was deeper, resonating with an authority beyond her small stature. “The war is over Yoeshn, but your crimes persist. You have stepped outside your station, created yourself as a god and destroyed the natural order of this land. Submit and your sins will be erased, your crimes forgotten.”

The spirit lowered the arm it had raised to shield its eyes. “You…” it hissed, glaring up at the woman now striding towards it, “you died!”

“Ideas never die, Yoeshn,” she replied, “balance always returns in time. Submit and return to your place in the natural order.”

“Never!” The spirit grew an arm out toward the woman, its tendrils extending again from its fingers to lash across her face as it span away and darted back up the ramp into the depths of the tree.

The woman’s head snapped to the side where the lash struck but whipped back, unmarked, to watch the spirit retreat into its realm, the branch drawing it upwards into the heart of use tree as it’s closed to cover its retreat. Then she was gone, a small puff of dust spinning up from the ground the only sign she had an instant before been there.
Yoeshn turned to watch his pursuer as the boughs of its sanctum drew tight, a smile playing across its mask as it felt the power of huge barrier envelop it. Before it could fully turn the smile died on its lips as a weight crashed into it, driving it from the bough it stood on and tumbling with it through the splintering branches before coming to a hard stop as the spirit hammered into a more solid branch. It wriggled its head to glare up at the woman pinning it in place, struggling feebly as she held it firm. It raked the talons now spouting from its feet against her but with no effect, her cloak shredding to reveal the muscled brown flesh beneath.

“You can’t stop this, Yoeshn,” she said calmly, the kicks to her chest not altering her cadence, “The war is over, it’s time to let go.”

The spirit’s only response was to snarl, but the noise broke on its lips and turned to a whimper as the woman extended her left hand down towards him, tattooed runes tracing white down her arm and onto her hand as she did so, sending waves of light rolling again from her.

“Be at rest,” she said, bracing against the bucking creature as she bought her palm firmly to bear on its mask-like head, “I look forward to our next meeting.”

As her hand touched the spirit it froze, its back arching and a look of surprise etched on its face as everything grew silent. A flash of light burnt from the woman’s breast through her arm to the spirit, slowing where their bodies met and beginning to push, inch by inch, through its being. Seconds passed, though time itself felt suspended around the two frozen together as the wave of power pushed further. As it progressed parts of the spirit already lit began to fragment, small particles of burning white floating into the air from its body as it began to dissolve in her arms. It finished creeping down the creature’s legs and through its feet, finally enveloping it entirely. Another pulse of light burst outwards from the woman through the boughs of the trees, burning them and the body of the spirit to the same white mist the body had already started to become. As it burnt the tree from under her the woman and the spirit’s bodies fell together again, the remains of the being shattering into light as they hit the floor.

The woman looked up from where she knelt, watching the final remains of the vast tree shattering to light and watching as silhouettes amongst its sprawling roots resolved themselves into kneeling bodies which slumped against the ground as the wood surrounding them disintegrated. After a few seconds the burning particles evaporated and stillness returned, the woman’s glowing eyes and markings the only remaining illumination.
She stood then, the light fading from her as she began to move among the bodies; offering a hand here, giving a small shake and a word there as the bodies began to pick themselves up and stare around groggily. Over time, as their senses returned, she corralled them into a single group and, pulling up her hood and drawing her veil against the sandstorm now blowing in across the flattened land, led them from the blasted village into the maze of rust-coloured crevasses and towards their homes.

***

Mid-morning light spilled lazily down the sides of the red valley as the woman, now free of her charges, finally returned to a small shack perched on a secluded ledge. Away from the winds she had lowered her hood and untied her cloak, wearing it loose about her tan shoulders and letting the warmth of the sun flow across her. She gently tried the door of shack, wincing as it creaked as she pushed it inwards, and took a moment on the threshold to let her eyes adjust to the dimness within. As two cots off to one side of the entrance came into to focus she moved softly towards them, unhooking the cloak and laying it on one before kneeling next to the other and softly shaking the figure lying in it.

The figure, a girl, turned slowly to face the woman in response to her shaking, startling the woman as the matching dark brown eyes, already open and wide awake, met her own.

“You said you wouldn’t leave me again,” the girl accused quietly, “You said you’d take me with you.”

The woman pushed some stray hair back from the girl’s face. “My sweet girl, it was safer this way. I could never see you harmed…” the woman trailed off momentarily. “It’s done. Next time. Maybe.”

“I can help you!” the child protested, pushing herself upright and batting the woman’s hand away from her, “You can’t keep leaving me alone when I don’t know if you’re going to come back!”

The woman thought back to the presence now resting inside her and smiled sadly. “Until this is finished I will always come back, have no fear for me,” she replied, pushing herself up from beside the cot and sitting back on her own.

“So it’s finished? It’s time to go?” the girl asked, shuffling the sheets from her.

“Yes.”

“Then would you please help me?” The girl gestured to the wheeled chair sat to the side of the bed and held her arms out to the woman.

“Of course, sweet girl,” the woman replied. She stood and gently plucked the girl from the cot to settle her into the chair.

The girl grabbed the rims of the wheels, pushing the chair towards a small wooden tub in the corner. “Where to next?” she asked sullenly.

“I don’t know, sweet girl. I don’t know.”


All done? Fantastic! On with the lessons then:

1) Dark Souls would have made a boring novel.
What I mean by this is that, regardless of how fantastic a picture I have in my head that I want to get down in great detail in text, long paragraphs of description and a character moving through scenery alone doesn’t make for particularly gripping reading. I understand some people may enjoy this form of writing, but reading back over this I got a little tired of not a lot happening for the majority of this story.

2) It’s hard to get behind someone with no autonomy.
In retrospect, The heroine of is piece comes across as reasonably powerless regardless of magical ability as all that she does is at the behest of a greater power over which she has no real control. If I were to complete a second draft of this it’d need major work to make the relationship between the woman and her passenger a more cooperative and mutually beneficial arrangement rather than having her traipse around feeling sorry for herself.

3) Once you’ve started something, stick to it.
This is a double-pronged lesson. Firstly there’s the obvious fact that I took a two month gap in the middle of writing this and after having done so had difficulty getting back in to it because I couldn’t really remember where I was going with it and exactly what mood I was trying to set with it (I came back to a cursor flashing in the middle of a sentence and I had no idea where I was going with it). Secondly it refers to sticking to an idea in general; even after I’d picked up where I thought I was going with this piece I decided I didn’t really like it and decided to switch gears a bit. The result is a piece which changes pace and tone about 2/3 of the way through and doesn’t really pay off on the build-up of the slower-paced first section. Honestly the piece dwindles dramatically at the end, but I can’t find the care to do more to it now.

4) Description where description’s due.
For all the woes dedicated to description in this piece I feel it’s surprisingly sparse where it really could have counted, leaving the reader lacking useful information at various points. This, thought, is the point I am least sure about and would love to hear from other people whether they thought the description was lacking in places, specifically of the heroine and her adversary along with their encounter.

I would honestly be very please to hear any thoughts any of you have about this piece; it’s been a bit of a labour for me and it’s not turned out quite how I had imagined but I am glad that I managed to pull it back from the brink and at least finish it. TIA for any and all comments.

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2 thoughts on ““Six Cities” teaser piece

  1. I like the overall shape of the story. I completely agree that the woman needs more agency though the mystery of what the thing inside her is and why it’s there is quite interesting.

    As to description, I agree that some of your sentences are overly long and have too many adjectives. This is something I’m prone to myself so I definitely sympathise.

    There’s some lovely imagery here though, and I think it did help to visualise the scene more clearly. The wood spirit in particular was well-described and I enjoyed the descriptions of climbing past the tree limbs etc.

    You still need to work on when to use it’s (only ever used for ‘it is’ or if you have something actually named It) and its (the possessive form of it; just as he becomes his and she becomes hers, it becomes its).

    Speaking of descriptions, a few times you mentioned that the glowing runes were towards the woman’s breast, but I presume her breasts are covered? Were they glowing through the fabric?

    There are a few other typos and spelling glitches but I’ll go over those with you in another venue.

    • Thanks for the feedback Skimble.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the imagery and didn’t find it too overdone for the most part. To follow-up some of your other points:

      I have realised some of the problems I am having with its and it’s are due to the fact that I do a fair chunk of my writing on a tablet which is auto-correcting every instance to it’s. I am catching some of these in editing but clearly a lot are still slipping through the cracks, and should put more effort into picking them up.

      With regards to clothing the tattoos I was imagining the markings showing around her clothing but this I guess is one of the situations where a bit more description should have helped; thanks for pointing out this oversight.

      I look forward to the email/message full of typos 🙂

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