Quarries turned to waterfalls, stripmines turned to savannahs, silos turned to rainforests: the Verdant Waste is testament to the determination and talent of the Walkers who made it. Their biomantically engineered flora have made an eden of a wasteland, and their fauna helps keep the Still at bay. Coaxed and sculpted by the sages, all life in the Verdant Waste serves the Walkers’ wishes.
And yet they are not alone. Opportunity’s Restitution Projects have made footfall here, at tremendous cost. Their outposts are used as a platform for raids into the Tomb Cities, untl the Walkers find a way to tear them down. Now and then, a Valtarian crusade arrives, here to cleanse the Walker scourge. Blood is shed, territory is ‘reclaimed’, and the sweating knights return to their distant castles – ready for the next time.
The Verdant Wasters are likely to feature stories from the Walkers, Opportunity’s Restitution teams, and Valtaria.
The embers are low, pulsing with a steady warmth. The skald leans closer, marvelling for a moment at the tickle of heat against skin.
"So. Do you want to hear a story?"
"Okay then, little one. First, put down that knife."
"Good. You're learning."
The skald breaths deep of the night air, and settles back to enjoy the stars. There are so many more of them, now.
"This is a story about the creature that came up from the earth, and the face that looks down from the clouds. This is a story of the bird that sees you, and the fog that conceals you. This is a story of the spider who wove webs in the minds of the Still, and the grip of the warrior who wished them ill."
The young Walker shifts, impatiently.
"And? How does it go?"
"It hasn't been written yet."
"Ugh. You're so full of shit."
In The Court Of The Little King
Author: Orb Weaver
- “The Cyrenaics were hedonists and held that pleasure was the supreme good in life, especially physical pleasure, which they thought more intense and more desirable than mental pleasures.”
- Court; a place that games are played
The boot came down with a dull squish. A sound notable only for its underwhelming contrast to the crunching sound of previous steps. Its owner broke her stride, peering down at the squirming lizard-esque creature pinned beneath her sole.
“I swear, Philistia, there is something wrong with the southlands. Everything here is just twisted. Where in the back of beyond are we anyway? And where the hell are the damn Degenerates. We haven’t had so much as a hint of contact for almost a week. ”
Thus spoke Knight Victor Columbia, Dancing Blade of the Sun, Commander of the Sunpoint Spear Crusade. Also Columbia the Uncomfortably Sweaty, the Too Damn Hot in this Light-Forsaken jungle, the Irritated to all Three Thousand Hells that the damn scouts can't do their damn jobs and find the damn army that was a few hours march away a few days ago.
The adjunct she addressed considered for a few seconds then cocked her head sidewise at the avenue ahead, the rows of pennants declaring loyalty to the Grand High Imperatrix fluttering gently in the warm breeze. “The waystone was pretty clear. This valley is Cyrene, and the stronghold up ahead is called Adammatu.”
The response, perfectly factual, did not appear to satisfy the Knight Victor in her current mood. frame of mind. “What sort of name is that? Are we dealing with a lost Monarch, or some kind of Black Knight holding court out here in the savage lands?”
The last questions were directed at the young woman known as Autonoe, marked out by pale skin, hooded scarlet robe, and satchels of books and scrolls as a journeyman of the Sanguine Scribes. “Well, it’s hardly the banner of some monstrous overfiend is it?” The thin girl sniffed, pushing spectacles up her nose. “Gold trimmed helm, on a field of crimson dexter facing with sunburst. But it's not in the records, loyal or not, which means a minor fiefdom at best”.
With a slight cough and a look of nervousness the scribe continued. “But another thing... the Oracle spoke of Cyrene. Cyrene, and Dumah of the Stone, and to beware for it is a place of apotheosis and ascension”. The scribe’s pale finger traces lines on a scroll, speaking the Oracle’s words: “Travel not to the valley of Cyrene, for there dwells an Animal, that will not suffer itself to be touch'd by a Man”.
The three knights stood for a few seconds, quietly regarding the second coat arms lining the route onwards.
Sunlight reflected off gleaming metal as the assembled knights moved on through the valley.
Some time before
Breath fumbles with the stiff catch, prying at the dark metal though it bites into her flesh.
“I wouldn't open that yet. You may be family, but you might still, ah, set her off. “
The Weaver’s voice breaks the silence. A crack as the catch snaps back. Three drops of blood fall to the sand, discolouring it only slightly.
He continues, justification sounding unnatural coming from his throat. “She was broken, and she came to me...”
“But she could be healed. I could have…” Breath’s cheeks are flushed with emotional exertion, the edges of her voice raw and cracked.
“That…’, Weaver gestures at the remnants of flesh bound in steel. ‘That's her choice, her path, her walk. Would you deny her that?”
It's obvious to both that the conversation is meaningless, a game, a play, necessary theatre.
“She must hate it, being sealed away in there.” Breath’s fingers twitch instinctively towards the armour.
“I hope so. “
The man shifts uncomfortably, tries to meet the woman's gaze, drops his head a fraction, face twisting into a look of pain or a least an affectation of such.
“Well, if she didn't, if it didn't hurt, physically, mentally, the emo-tech would run at maybe a tenth of capacity.”
The Weaver straightens his form, shoulders back, diaphragm expanded. Time then for the speech, somewhat excruciating in its pre-preparedness.
“I’ve heard Valtarians claim that history will be written by their ‘Victors’. But I'm going to pre-empt them. I'm going to write my own prophecy, bait them with a hook of inevitability, then drown them in the blood tears of a dying angel…”
A slight faltering of words, voice cracking subtlety, evidently not prepared. “Your sister… if there was an angel among us….”
Our vision dims, the camera pulls back to outside the jungle cave. Light pours out of the entrance into the dark night. Light, and the sound of sobbing.
The court and the throne
Ranks arrayed: Knights, the sun insignia of the Shining Spear crusade emblazoned on their chests stand in a courtyard. Adobe walls, the sun high in the sky. Without the shade of the jungle, the heat is truly oppressive.
The white walls reflect the sun while ranks arrayed shuffle their feet on the flagstones, where dust and sand partially obscure the bright geometric lines in deep orange and turquoise. A squire shields his eyes from the sun, tries to make sense of the lines dividing the yard into opposing territories; areas of attack and defence; lines of force and influence; places where warriors may have once sweat and bled for some lord’s favour.
The triumvirate stand: Columbia, Philistia, Autonoe, at the foot of steps leading to a dais. A throne, overlooking the courtyard. A figure sitting, armour dark and heavy, unmoving, unchanged and unbowed in the heat.
“Damnit, I can hear her breathing. The ignorant, arrogant bitch just likes watching us sweat.” Columbia, agitated, in hushed discussion.
“In the name of the Grand High Imperatrix, the Sunpoint Spear Crusade bring greetings and seek hospitality.” Columbia, through gritted teeth.
Silence for a few moments, then snickering wet breathing.
Columbia strides up the steps, hot anger clear on her face. She raises her hand, yanks the visor upwards with a sharp exhalation of breath. The metal is stiff, but under the Knight Victor’s powerful grip it snaps open, and beneath… beneath is a visage of pain and hatred, burning, searing light. The face is barely human anymore, a death moment held for Imperatrix knows how long until now, a life deployed as a weapon. And Columbia realises: this is the way a Shaper dies.
Columbia takes a step back, then another, holding her hand to shield her eyes. She clears her thoughts, focuses on a course of action. This can be overcome, if she channels the force of devotion of her knights.
“Knights of Valtaria, Stand Firm! Together we take down this monster. Draw and advance with me!”
Knight Victor Columbia, Dancing Blade of the Sun strides forward towards the throne, her sword aloft, adjunct by her side. And she rises, a glorious ascension, the light from the helm obscured by a beam of sunlight from the sky. And at the peak of her ascension, her light goes out.
And the clamour of noise, of armour against armour, of voices raised in battle cries seems to recede into the distance. Autonoe stands alone, book clasped in one hand, amongst a field of statues, eyes dark and full of stars. And atop a pedestal, ascended above the rest stands the once Knight Victor, leading her troops of unmoving rock towards glorious battle, maybe forever.
As Autonoe stands, the sun goes out, and twilight streams through her body, obliterating the hatred, the pain, the blinding light, and eventually the dais, throne, and figure. Twilight twirls and swarms like fireflies, and she turns on her heel and strides from the courtyard.
Thus leaves Autonoe, Knight Errant. Autonoe, Conduit of Stars. And she leaves to trace the path back to Valentia, to the court of the Imperatrix, where the prophecies that ring in her mind already tell her the words she will say.
For the Sunpoint Spear Crusade is over, but one day the Twilight Crusade will walk these lands, and they will change forever.
And the plaque at the foot of the statue reads Columbia, the Idolised and Exalted. May she stand forever in her victory.
For see, my friend goes shaking and white;
He eyes me as the basilisk:
I have turned, it appears, his day to night,
Eclipsing his sun's disk
- - A light woman
My therapist said that putting my thoughts down on paper could help with my rehabilitation; perhaps defining how I feel about my predicament would reveal a solution. Pathological self-doubt certainly has to have some use - the potential to unveil the inconsistencies in what I see as an ever increasing landslide of meaningless obligations? It's getting harder and harder to keep my head above water...
Had this really odd dream last night, which I can only put down to the meds. I don't need them, you know. They just... make things easier. It started, as it normally does, with being pushed off something high. As I fell, time slowed right down and I fully understood the nature of my descent. There was no fear, just an intimate understanding that I'd die if I hit the floor. I was presented with a choice. Save myself, or die.
Simple really. My dream-self transitioned from the choice to a new angle on things. I was standing on the wall of the tower I'd been pushed off, taking in the view. Everything was so small - I had a long way to go but my path was clear.
Decided not to go into work this morning. Also decided that my alarm clock was more suited to pride of place in the toilet bowl. On a whim, penned a letter to Constance. If anyone could make head or tail of why I'm losing my grip on everything, she would. Perhaps that creepy aetherhead who haunted the den wasn't as cracked as all that. Perhaps he really did understand the nature of things. At this point, I was ready to throw any obliviator down my gullet just to make the uncertainty stop.
I've never been quite so glad to see another person in my life. The bottles of moonshine may have tinged what remains of my recollection. I remember that we started going somewhere, and ended up walking along the canal bank, the algae glittering with the sheen of factory effluent. Even that took on the nature of emeralds floating on an immaculate sheet of obsidian. We talked as the sun fell into memory, and were still doing so when it dragged its reluctant carcass over the horizon the following morning. Not a care in the world.
The game of dares was a mistake.
I did go into work eventually. My supervisor decided to take out his inadequacies, and exercise what meaningless authority he believed he was due.
I threw him out of the window
Realising that remaining there would be unwise, I took my leave, straight out the main gate, never to return. My therapist would probably have said that I had achieved the much-vaunted 'closure.'
I'd taken my first real steps on my Walk.
Over most of the next year, I vented my frustration at the system. I came to a curious realisation that unbridled violence while gratifying, did not enrich me and did not serve to bring me any nearer what I stomped purposefully toward. Pacification squads, once ironclad terrors, paled on the idea of trespassing on our rampage grounds. The idea of suddenly choosing to reject the invisible cage that has, up until now, defined our very natures. To lie down and be pulverised into the foundations of submission - Kneeling, until you know nothing else?
Or standing for yourself and walk.
Eventually, our movement had infected every echelon of society, and those who did not join us were not of sufficient resolve to oppose.
With the entire city at our feet, we became all too aware of the building tension brought on by wanderlust.
We had to think bigger. We need to give the situation a push.
When presented with the options that reshapes the world, that dictate who lives and who dies; shouldering responsibility for the utterly monstrous things we were destined for, being one of those people who actually pushes the button that ends all that you ever knew - How are you supposed to feel?
I was remarkably comfortable with it.
Unleashing the Bloom was an event that everyone remembers, a milestone scarred into our souls.
If everyone to claim that they were there, where there actually was, those rooftop gatherings would have been far different occasions, wild revels of hedonism as the revellers exalt, reforged as rampant gleaming lust-angels.
In fact it was a pretty quiet affair, about 7 or 8 of us. Each and every one of us bore the ravaged, desolate bearing of the truly hung-over, being held up with little more than prescription stimulants and roiling life essence. As the appointed hour fell, we understood.
We *were*. More so than we ever thought possible. Our instant of realised divinity.
The tendrils of steelvine that reinforced the tower block felt a shock of vitality as the years of life it was denied returned in an instant, sending spear-roots into the belly of the planet, unleashing the ancient aquifers below the city's foundations. The deluge that followed seized the very viscera of the city and cast it to the winds. The cities' massive entropy nets spilled out all nature's undesirable behaviour, tilling the debris into fine dust.
Following the dust cloud, sweeping across the face of the broken Tomb City, came a crashing breaker of verdant oblivion. Life had been brought back to the lifeless. Those who opposed went on to cut their fellows down, lives claimed as tribute, the gift of their lives drove it further on.
Then we were faced with a new problem.
What do we do now?
The Hand Of Friendship
Once upon a time there was a Bunny. This Bunny was very happy with its life, as it walked all across the Verdant Wastes. The Bunny ate plenty of delicious food, drank plenty of delicious drinks, and sniffed, ate and snorted things that made it feel very nice. It listened to lots of lovely stories and even told some from time to time, making them up as it went along. It had plenty of lovers and even some children, as much as children can be said to be anyone’s rather than everyone’s. There were plenty of people in the Bunny’s life. It had a problem, though. It couldn’t remember anyone very well.
That isn’t to say that the Bunny didn’t care about people. Quite the reverse, in fact. The Bunny liked people a lot. The Bunny found people very pleasant. The Bunny just had difficulties working out which person was which. People were often very similar in many ways, wanting the same things and saying the same things and thinking the same ways. The Bunny tried to remember their names, and sometimes did if it spoke to them enough, but that never lasted long. The Bunny didn’t know that it was lonely, but it kind of was.
Then there came another person who travelled around. His name was Shield. Shield was strong, and he cared about people, and he told better stories than the Bunny had ever heard. The people that the Bunny cared about were strong, but Shield taught them to be stronger. They fought the invaders well, but Shield helped them to fight smarter. They remembered their histories, but Shield remembered more. Shield left, sometimes for a long time, but he would always come back eventually. And the Bunny always remembered him.
One day Shield came back, but he was different. The colours had gone, and he looked slightly more sad than he had been before, but he still trained the fighters, still told the stories, still remembered the histories, and the Bunny still remembered him. He and Bunny talked many times, and the Bunny learned many things, some of which he remembered.
Then Shield disappeared. The Bunny didn’t get sad often, but it was a bit sad sometimes when it remembered that Shield existed and wasn’t there. But the Bunny didn’t like being sad, so it decided not to be. Forgetting that Shield existed would have made that easier, but the Bunny didn’t want to do that. It was alright being a bit sad sometimes to have Shield still be there.
Then the people wanted to know what was on the other side of the big glowy thing. The Bunny was the only person who could go through the big glowy thing to find out, so off he went. He was a little bit sad about not being able to go back, but he decided to make it so that other people could come as well, so that was okay. But that wasn’t the most important thing. Shield was there! The Bunny hadn’t seen Shield in ages, and it was very happy to see him again. They hugged and kissed and were friends, just like always. When the Bunny realised that it could make them be such good friends that the world would remember as well, it didn’t need to think twice.
The Bunny likes having friends. Even if Shield isn’t Shield any more, he’s still a constant friend. The Bunny had lots of new friends now. And maybe, just maybe, it will start remembering some more of them.