October is somehow upon us already and November is soon to follow (typically). We all know what that means! Nanowrimo!
I honestly don’t remember if I took part last year. I might have spent the month editing previous stories. This time, I’m hoping to jump back into it with the aim to complete a short story at 50,000 words. I’m so often busy these days that pantsing seems like it won’t work: that works best for me when I’ve got large chunks of time in the day to idly type as things come to me.
So, I’m hoping to be joining this month’s Preptober, and getting back into the Nanowrimo community. That’ll allow me to know exactly what’ll happen in each chapter to make sure I don’t end up writing myself into a corner, and wasting time figuring that out. Hopefully, the problem solving will all be done this month so next month can be spent building the world and crafting the words.
The most natural place for me to find a story at the moment is in my We Can’t Bear The Dark series, taking the story beats that playing Thousand Year Old Vampire has set up. One of the issues (by design!) with TYOV is that often stories don’t end up getting completed. But, with an extra bit of work they can fit together really nicely.
The week before Sir Aeron finally felt ready to head back to the Barracks he was informed that “his guest” was waiting for him in the games room. Confused, expecting no visitors today, he enters to find a gaunt woman sitting at the chessboard. Her hair matted, and in patches missing, showing grey scalp beneath. A pale bruise covered the back of her withered hand as she set up the board. Even after she spoke, Aeron barely remembered his old friend-turned-tool.
Afterwards, he sent a runner to check her grave and it was exactly how it should be. Well entombed and undistrubed. The runner’s boats were the first to disturb the dust there in decades – the grave of an old bishop’s wife, nearly thirty years after her death, was forgotten.
Between feeling the warmth of Lady Morelli, staying in his childhood home, and now hearing the meloncholy promise of his murder, something might have changed with Sir Aeron. Maybe.
He returned to his new home to cheers of joy from the Fourth Company. They had many stories to fill him in on. The extravaganza of Hunts they’d done without him. Their macabre enthusiasm called his malevolance to the for once again, and he tried to put his home stay behind him. The holiday for his soul was over.
His character wasn’t tested again a few weeks later, when a name he recognised was pulled from the Hunt Hat.
It’s not like Everet Bening is a particularly important person to Aeron. But…
Aeron couldn’t make a case for the man. What was he supposed to tell his bloodthirsty brothers and sisters? That he’d met a woman and she’d probably not like it if her friend was eaten. No. The Fourth Company was heartless. Aeron knew that. He knew it when he tasted the Dust and felt their hearts as if he shared them.
His men all pledged loyalty. But after so many decades, the pledge sounded routine. They were all strong. Some of them stronger than him, Aeron was sure. Especially of late, when he’d fed only in uncontrolled bursts – but not in the way he used to. Not for some time. Would these men and women follow him, if he needed them to? Now wasn’t the time to figure that out, he decided, worried about the answer.
So Everet was moved to the cabin that Aeron had built recently near the Dust farm.
It was isolated but infinitely better than being holed up in hell. The hunt for him continues though, and it likely would never end until one of them finds him.
Some luck in the hunt for Taleb and the girl (now a full, grown woman, of course) that had entered into cahoots with him.
Amandla was found with anti-Company propaganda that looked to have been written by Taleb, or one of his followers. Frustratingly, it seemed that a number of people now whispered about Taleb and the Krishna girl.
The rest of the Fourth know of it, and hunt them down as if playing cops and robbers, but there’s something worrying Aeron about it. He’s kept this Amandla girl safe, away from the eyes of the Fourth as they’ll surely just off her.
The unusual thing though is that his method of information gathering is quite subdued. He’s not hurt the girl. Everet has been instructed to feed her and make sure she’s well. What the heck is Aeron playing at?
It was a woman who gave him a bit of respite from the gloom of his own making. He’d heard about her through Court, and then began writing to her. Lady Morelli was born up north somewhere as the daughter of a butcher’s assistant and loom repairer and so she shouldn’t have amounted to anything. Somehow she found skill as a hair dresser and came across a generous client of higher standing, and her reputation grew from there. Her advice on hair styling (which she knews a great deal of) and fashion (which she can make up on the spot) meant that she soon came to the attention of the upper classes.
Her next challenge was to befriend Sir Aeron himself, as he was the oldest and most respected member of the Round Table.
With no one arround him to question the peculiar decision, he hands over the keys to Cambridge House which she holds on to and takes as her own. Aeron doesn’t mind all that much – his home is the Barracks.
In this time of relative peace – weeks where hunting for blood is only done as needed – he begins to write down some of his story. Maybe he’ll show it to her one day. For now, he keeps the piece private. Having written down how he came to be the way he is, he folds the pages and hides them in his belongings.
The next time he looks, the front, loose endpaper has been written on. “We Cannot Bear The Dark.”
He didn’t write this title. He has no idea what it means. But the handwriting is his. The quill and ink the same style. His finger print smudges the ink.
Some of this time away from his kin was spent chasing tales that Welles had told him about Dust. It’d be hard to come by – he’d found very little of it for himself. Welles himself has about a coin pouch worth of the stuff; Aeron remembered it well. It stuck in his memory like an itch. This chasing took him well outside of the Realm’s lands, into the unmapped and inhospitible desserts. He found some luck though.
It’s impossible to knew who planted this farm. It doesn’t occur to Aeron to think on it. But it might do him well to consider that it was not an accident that the Dust gathers so well here.
The Council of the Round Table have clung to stagnation for long enough.
Empty seats have been left unfilled, the Monarch’s throne especially conspicuous. The Empire’s lands are being held, but expansion has stopped. King Statton’s light burnt bright but dirty – his rule brought comfortable prosperity but that stability could not last.
The problems for the Council began the moment the first of the coal mines ran dry.
Our warden of the Barracks at the Easern Front has only grown in strength, politically. His physical attendance at Council was rare, nonetheless amongst the circles of people who mattered there was very little resistance against him. By this time he has all but forgotten his Lain, a key tool of his at the time, but now the Church had moved on without her and her husband, leaving behind the traditions she had encouraged.
Within the Barracks the Fourth Company grow restless and have to find ways to entertain themselves.
Within the isolated walls are the first generation who have grown into adulthood, knowing only the darkness of their “military” leaders. To this new generation, the dark creatures that toy and prey on them are not supernatural. On the contrary, they’re just a way of life. The feeling of being a prey creature shrinks their souls. They understand their purpose in this world, and find know pity in it.
The people outside of the those walls have no pity for them either – but only because they have no idea that hell is just a few days ride away. No word escapes. At least, not until someone found a way.
It seems Tabel is more of a concern than Sir Aeron realises, and their motivation no longer appears to be entire political. There are now two people within the walls who have managed to find a fire within them, and that can’t be good news for the Fourth.
It’s been a little over thirty years since darkness came to the Eastern Front Barracks.
There’s still no King on the throne of the Empire, but the Empire remains strong in the hands of the Round Table. Annoiting someone is right at the top of their priorities, but they’ve found a few ingenious ways of avoiding it.
All threats from the east hit the Barracks stones and are repelled. Sir Aeron continues to do a marvelous job in that respect – so marvelous that no one needs to know what’s going on inside his walls. With no royalty to keep balance, faith has soaked up all the power it can, so there’s no difficulty in sending heretics to their doom. The story, of course, is that they’re sent to fight for their country, to pay for their crimes, but rarely do they last more than a few hours once inside the gates.
A dank, depressing society trudges on within the City Barracks. The Fourth Company still rule – the world outside believes that their ranks must have changed a little. They were deathly ill when last seen, but no. Their ranks are the same, to a person.
Hope can still be found in the children though. They tell each other stories of escaping one day, out of the never ending gloom.
One such girl is Krishna Youssef. She’s certain that it’s the Fourth Company who are making their lives hell. She’s filled with horror stories from her parents about them, and knows to stay away. Her bravery gets the better of her sometimes though, and she follows them around at a distance.
She watches them more than anyone else dares to. She’s spotted the darkness that seems to leech out of them.
The darkness that hangs over the city is obvious from afar now. For those that know what they’re looking at, it stands out like a beacon.
The man that called himself only Welles entered the City of his own volition. His footprints leave behind oily patches of darkness that the meagre sunlight takes hours to wash away. He holds his cloak close around his face, hiding the mutilated flesh below. A wound that Sir Aeron notices, and immediately feels a familiar pull towards.
He pulls behind him a trunk. Heavy, stained oak with heavier looking padlocks and iron rivets. He drags it along the floor by a dark red rope which threatens to – but never will – snap at any moment.
He opens it for a moment whilst talking to Aeron, the process of unlatching locks taking a few minutes. He chucked in what he came for and then slammed it closed. The glimpse Aeron caught was unimpressive; a roll of twine, maybe, sitting a top a clay jug.
The armor would be returned to Sir Aeron two days after Welles had left, found tossed quite near the edge of the City’s outer walls. It was dusty and missing four of the gems that were previously inlaid in the silver and gold.
In exchange for the armor – or at least the gems, it seemed – Welles shared how he came across his own wound. Creatures of shadow stalked him whilst he travelled and camped. He knew now that they didn’t immediate kill him because he was chewing raican grass. They pounced the moment he spot out his last blade of it. He couldn’t stand the taste of it now. “Neither will you,” he said.
The shadow pack that got him were straight from the other side, he said. “The Alius See,” he said. “They’d probably never seen a human before me. Feral things, the native ones.”
He took a pinch of a chalky, fine substance from a pouch, and dabbed it on his tongue. Immediately the man seemed larger, his shadow darker, his eyes clearer. He was so mesmorising that Aeron forgot to flinch when he smushed a small amount of the stuff on Aeron’s lips.
The world sang around him. Each time the torchs’ flames lasped it sang louder. He was instantly aware of his brothers and sisters of the Fourth. Knew their hungry hearts. Their strength. Their loyalty.
Somewhere off, much further away, there was a wild cry of thirty or forty beasts screaming in … joy?
“That will last a few minutes. It’s hard to come by.”