Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pillar Chapter One, pt. One

Shing wasn’t like the other major cities of Pillar, nor did it try and boast as such. Nestled atop Lake Lokinelli and the surrounding marshes, the floating buildings were interconnected by bridges and ladders that spanned the two and three story houses and shops that compromised the largest city in all of the Lower Ring. Those buildings not drifting in an interconnected series of rusted chains and frayed ropes were built of clay and stone, and served as what some would call the noble district.
Everyone that lived outside of it just referred to it as the Sepulcher; unlike the lush foliage that choked the Lower Ring, the Sepulcher was completely paved with perpetually cleaned stone, and ringed by towering walls of heavy granite. Those that lived within its walls, including the heads of the Merchants Guild which acted as the cities council of leaders, looked at their home as secure. Everyone else just looked at how the rich had pushed the vibrant life of the Lower Ring as far from them as possible, and laughed at the whims of those flush with gold.

Walking through the Sepulcher, however, was a man who did not care what the fortified section of Shing was called, nor what the denizens of the merchant city thought of their way of life.
All he cared about was earning him some of the gold that flowed through the city streets like the rivers of the Lower Ring.
The muggy heat of the summer air, along with the dense fig rolling in from the other side of the great lake, made for poor conditions to seek employment. Almost all of the signs were written in the local dialect of the Imperial Tongue, essentially a different language altogether for a traveler like himself. Pulling the striped scarf that trailed over his coat tighter about his face (in order to keep the stench of the city out of his mouth and nose), the man looked at the poorly written letter of recommendation he’d received from a stranger he’d met in a bar out on the Southern Docks last night, in the Southern Dragon Tavern.
A scraggly sort with a wandering eye and a withered hand, the man had seen better days that was to be sure. But there he sat, apparently in what was known by the owners of the tavern as “his” seat at “his” table. The old man had grown angry when the traveler had plopped down in one of the Birchwood chairs at his table, ordering a flagon of Everchill Stout from a passing waitress.
And so the two had gotten to talking, as the old man tried to get the traveler to leave his table while the traveler wearily tried to placate the old man by offering him a drink.
This had done wonders to improve the old man’s attitude, and soon the old man was treating the traveler as if he were his long-lost nephew, telling him stories of the local ruins and the local legends and mysteries of the swamps and jungles pervading the local countryside. It was around this time, the old man had discovered, that the traveler wasn’t a traveler at all!
He was a mercenary.
“Ah, the life of an adventurer,” the old man had rasped after draining the last of his pint, waving for another round for the two of them. “A life I always fancied but never tried.”
“Why?” The mercenary had asked, sipping his own bittersweet drink, two untouched pints sitting beside his drink waiting to be properly drunk.
“Because I’m a coward and a fool!” The old man had laughed, reaching into his vest and pulling out a crumpled sheet of linen, a square of tattered grey cloth really. “Here, take this. If’n you really seek to be an adventurer in this city, then you best go to the one lady who is always in need of a strong arm.”
And that had been how the traveling mercenary had wound up wandering the muggy cobblestone streets of the Sepulcher, looking for a specific shop hidden in the maze of narrow streets and interconnected buildings. As the fog rolled in, heavy enough to cause anything beyond ten feet to be hazy, the mercenary began to curse his ill fate.
“Elena’s Ends at Odds… how hard could it be to find a shop with a name like that?” He grumbled softly, looking from the scrap of linen to one of the hanging signs, smiling as he found a landmark depicted on his map. “Apparently not too hard when you have a map! And here I thought this thing was going to be useless to me…”
Walking down the silent street, heels clacking softly against the cobblestone road, the mercenary slowly made his way down the narrow road until it suddenly, and with little architectural warning, became a much wider road, splitting into two paths. Just before he could once again curse his luck, the mercenary gave a small hoot of triumph, pumping his fist in the air.
Sitting at the junction between the two roads, perched like a worn gargoyle on the edge of a cathedral, was a tall storefront with a single dark red door and two glass storefronts flanking it, displaying a variety of goods and wares to those passing by. Hanging just above the stoop leading up to the door was a sign made of lacquered wood, gleaming with dew from the humidity, bearing an arcane symbol as well as the name “Elena’s Ends at Odds”.
Staring up at the symbol for a few moments, the mercenary wracked his brain trying to think of where he’d seen the alien sigil before in his life. In his line of duty, he’d traveled everywhere, from the icy reaches of the High Ring to the rolling hills of the First Ring, and even the searing sands of the Mung desert that dominated the Middle Ring. He quickly discounted it as a symbol magical in nature, as such things were truly dangerous if not handled with caution and care; placing such a trap on a sign in an urban center would most certainly draw attention.
Perhaps it was just a different language he’d seen… Gods knew he’d seen enough of them.
“Well no matter,” he said after a few moments of staring up at the sign in wonder, “best get this show on the road before this fog eats me alive.” 

Authors Note: A newer novel I'm working on, a Fantasy/Horror combination that I hope to have published late this summer or early next fall. I figure I can allow my dedicated readers the first chance to read it as I write it, and critique me as I go along.

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