Of Storms and Silence - An Exilian Chain-Writing Story

Started by Jubal, October 13, 2018, 10:39:16 PM

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Of Storms and Silence
An Exilian Chain-Writing Story

By Rory HJ, rbuxton, Phoenixguard, Jake, Suzi, Caradilis, Jubal, and Lizard

Atop Three Kings' Crag, the North Wind raged. It was a storm to uproot oak trees, to topple houses, to send all creatures scurrying to shelter. It cut through all the layers of fur, leather and wool I was wearing, chilling me to the bone. I scarce dared to stand for fear of being plucked from the rock and carried to ancestors know where. But I had business to be about that night, business that at its completion would uproot royal trees, topple noble houses and send oppressors scurrying for shelter. At least this high above the clouds, there was no rain to make the mountaintop yet more miserable.

Crouched low against the mighty gusts and roped together for safety, my companions and I inched our way across the bare rock. Ahead of us, Kelgar's Rest – the smallest of the three barrows – seemed to glow faintly from within, a promise of warmth in the darkness. In fair weather, the journey from the top of the path to the barrow entrance was barely a minute's stroll. That night, it was an eternity of biting cold.

At long, long, last, we reached the door. Pressing tight against it to seek respite from the wind, I beat against it with the haft of my axe-turned-walking pole.
"Who goes there?" asked a voice, muffled by stone.

"Can't we do the interrogation inside? It's freezing out here," I replied, more concerned for comfort than security at this point.

"Spoken like a true spy. Who knocks?"

"I am Ren," I said, "With me are Monok, Turin and Pey: three men with only one tongue between them."

The door opened and I ducked inside to find a young Southern woman, weathered beyond her years, staring at the two mutes behind me. She rushed to greet them in their traditional way – foreheads touching – and, though her words were alien to me, her relief at seeing her kinsmen was palpable. Turin and Pey could only murmur in reply. I turned away to find two small children, a boy and a girl, at my feet.

"Isil vai," I stammered, and they responded in kind.

Discomforted by the children's stares, I looked about the room: a chimney hole had been made in the barrow's stones; there were furs aplenty, but little else. Turin and Pey came inside to greet the children, and Monok heaved himself in after them.

"I apologise," said the woman, "I am Surimay. You are welcome to shelter with us tonight, but you'll find no food here."

"We have plenty for us all", I replied, as I sought comfort against the stones.

"How can you bear," growled Monok, "To shelter in this tomb?"

"It will be our tomb before Midwinter," was the curt response, "We have nowhere else to go."

The children, ignorant of their mother's words, looked at us in confusion. Seeing our expressions, Surimay continued:

"I'd rather we die before they take our tongues."

* * * * *

I awoke with a start.

Around me, the other inhabitants of the barrow continued to slumber in their bedrolls, oblivious to my current panicked state.

I heard a snuffling on the other side of the door. Something was out there.

A slow scratching sound emanated from out in the cold, like a gigantic clawed hand dragging down the hard stone door.

My teeth chattered, not from the cold this time, but from fear. I'd never seen a Silencer, and everyone I had met were not able to tell me of them, but I knew that one was outside the door at that moment. Whether it had managed to follow my own trail, or if it were able to track the scent of its former prey, did not matter.

It was there, looking for a way in.

Slowly, quietly, I gathered my things, searching desperately for another way out.

The barrow was too well built for escape. Though furs hid the sharp edges of the smooth metal, silencer's metal, there was no yielding. No exit.

I was fortunate among our broken people, not only had I so far avoided silencers I possessed a modicum of knowledge picked up from those few who had learnt before silencers rooted out our last settlements and we were truly scattered. The vague probing behind the door, as the natural sounds faded a low metallic whine began to fill the air rising in pitch and intensity before an earth-shattering crash sounded, again. And again. The door began to shudder and falter before the onslaught. There was no time.

From my pack I drew a glistening metal rod which seemed to hum in its natural surroundings. The tongueless drew back in fright; the woman spoke over the ear-piercing whine "What are you? That thing is of the silencers".

I could not reply, entranced by the radiance. The soft glow of white behind the furs had been replaced by a dancing brilliance that assaulted my sense. The rod - the Baton - danced in conjunction as I wove it in the first form. New shrieks broke the night. The silencer seemed to grow more frantic, desperately whining. As the door buckled and I caught my first glimpse of the twisted metal and flesh which made the monstrous silencer.

It advanced in triumph.

Behind me, awakened from its slumber, a silencer emerged.

I realised that, in my fear, I had stopped moving. The Baton was still humming, held in the first form by my previous movements, but it no longer seemed to affect the two silencers as it had been. I knew from my research that the first form would only aggravate them, but was a necessary precursor to the end form that would allow a temporary reprieve. Quickly, I resumed my movements, weaving the Baton once again into the second form.

Sensing the change in the Baton, the two silencers once again began to move. However now they seemed dazed and I knew this was the work of the Baton. They shuffled sluggishly, as though half awake, towards me- they were pulled by the workings of the Baton. I began to weave the third form and finally dared myself to hope that I could pull this off. As long as nothing broke the trance that the Baton was creating, I could get myself and these people out alive.

Fate, it seemed, had other ideas.

As I began to weave the fourth and final form with the Baton, one of the barrow inhabitants finally decided that he should run. The noise he created broke the trance and I stared in horror as the two beasts advanced on me.

Okay, so subtly sneaking away wasn't going to work this time. Fine. Violence it is then. "Run!" I shouted at the others, charging right at the two beasts, Baton still in hand. Hungry? Choke on this! I jammed the Baton right between their razor-sharp metallic teeth as I slid through the small space between them. This gave me just the second I needed to pull Songweaver from my belt. The albinium blade gleamed bright blue, humming contently and vibrating in my hand, thirsty to bite into the Starforge Titanium skin of the Silencers.

I had only done this once before. I had sworn to never do it again. Songweaver was one of only seven albinium blades, the only swords that could cut through Starforge Titanium, but there were consequences. Destroy a Silencer and the Lords of History – I did not name them, take it up with them if you have issues – would know immediately where you were. They would find me, but for now, that didn't matter. The others still had a chance to escape.

The growling beasts were done chewing down on my Starforge Baton and turned to face me once again. The others had all made it outside. I had to believe that they would make it far enough away before the death of the Silencers would home in the airstrike. I lifted Songweaver and braced myself for impact. "These are my words. This is where I stand." I thought, as I made my blade sing.

It sang of the Lords of History, the Takers of Tongues. It sang hope beyond death, joy beyond fury, and freedom beyond chains.

The blade tasted the shapeless, metal-jawed silencers, slicing the flesh-knots and the cacophony of jarring, jutting metal, singing lost harmony past the titanium skin and into the dark knots of energy that kept the silencers... alive, if they could be truly said to be living. Fighting is usually a grim, physical, sweaty business, but the blade of songs made it almost serene.
The two silencers slumped where they fell. And now they knew.

I looked down at myself. Beneath the heavy furs and gloves, I quivered. I took a glove off for a moment and just stared at my hand – earth-dark with a pale palm, as my family's always were – and wondered what that hand might do with its fingers round such a hilt. I had sworn never to take that risk out of fear. That night, caught between the song of a sword and the cry of the thunder, I found the courage to become the oathbreaker I was destined to be.

Stepping up to the door, I passed out of the barrow. None of the Southerners could be seen. The dark, close curls of my hair tossed in the breeze, and lighting ripped across the sky. I held my sword aloft, and the sky seemed to roll around me. I screamed my name – my real name – and in the distance, shapes loomed through the clouds.

* * * * *

The maelstrom of storm-clouds, flickering with forked lightening, swirled, parted, and closed again around the man who held his sword high, challenging the night. He was manic, frenzied, broken by time and fear and held no qualms with his final stand being here, fighting off the ships which loomed on the horizon and were ready to purge.

Malcette watched, as if seated behind her pilot's shoulder, but remained within the safety of the Lords of History's court. She was fascinated. This provincial man, haggard by years of hard work and fear, so small when all things were considered... He should stand in the darkness, as if his albinium blade stood any chance of taking out three strike ships cruising at a thousand feet? It was absurd, comical, really. She sat forwards, over the communications array, and called off the strike.

"Lady Malcette?" The squadron leader's voice crackled, the signal only just penetrating the storm.

"I said 'disengage'." The lightening stopped, the thunder gave one last clap, and the clouds began to lessen. The last she saw of the man, before the strike ships turned, was a look on his face somewhere between disbelief and triumph.

If he should fancy himself an Oathbreaker, she thought, then he would have to learn. They were dead, extinct, and it would do everyone good to relive the pain and remember.

She did not look forwards to the task ahead of her, breaking the people, destroying this man. But it had to be done. Before things could get any worse.

This is one of three stories written as part of our summer 2018 chain writing project. You can read the other two here and here, and find the project wrap-up announcement here.

Editor's Note: This was the one of the three chains that was designated from the outset as "definitely SFF" though the other chains managed to fit that bill equally well. Storms and Silence ended up being a fairly consistent narrative throughout, and was probably in some ways the smoothest of the three resulting stories. The cliffhanger ending does rather beg for more, though...

The Editor Is Now Concerned About: Silencers. Silencers are scary.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...