Friday Flash: Beyond Borderlands

Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain
Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain

“This is an auspicious day,” speaks the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, raising his palms to the passive crowd. The people squint up at the Alchemist as though staring into the sun, unaccustomed to looking directly at his grace. When his radiant smile falls upon them, a collective sigh whispers among the people. “For on this auspicious day, the people of the borderlands beyond the Seven Realms, who have been tried to the crime of sacrilege and been found guilty, will meet their punishment.”

The People of the Realms applaud with the polite respect due their Guardian.

The Alchemist lowers his hands, a light wind tugging at the edges of his robe. The robe, like the dais he stands on and towering walls of the temple behind him are laced with the luminescent weaving of centuries old magic. First planted as a protection and declaration of peace within the temple, the magic has since grown like a weed, swirling vine-like charms and enchantments into stone foundations, extending from the heart of the central city out into the Realms. The poetic pattern retains inertia, a soothing weight upon the People who do not struggle against the web. Even the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, no longer questions it omnipresence.

He signals to his retinue and the borderlands expire thanks to a hundred violins. Bows draw along strings to carry the same note over and over again, building the resonance lashing long woven lines of power, building into a tidal wave of destruction to wash the borderlands from existence. The spell was complicated, requiring three-dozen scholars performing months of research to distill how to tie it to the source of the temple’s power. The protection magic had not been intended to mete out death sentences, but the Guardian of the Seven Realms is satisfied.

In his elation, he does not notice the deviation.

No outward signs mark the criminal for what she is, a child of the untamed borderlands and purveyor of indiscreet freedoms. Her robes hide the whorls of wards, the cartography of counter poetry etched across her skin that shields her from the effects of the temple’s magic. Death awaits her if she is caught here, but she can not help the single tear that rolls down her brown cheek as her homeland burns.

Beside her, the inventor watches the proceedings with scientific fascination, noting the shrill resonance of the violins rising in pitch. No markings line his body, but he has his own mechanical defenses again the temple’s magic. He tugs on the criminal’s sleeve, calling her back to their purpose. From his coat pocket, the inventor pulls a small wood box that fits into the palm of his hand. A trumpet shape rises from the box lid and a brass crank protrudes from its side. He turns the crank.

The people in the crowd notice the vibration first. They can feel the plucking within their chests, as one by one their connection to the temple’s magic is severed like the snapping of harp strings. Fear, uncertainty, dissonance, once held in check, begin to proliferate. Murmurs swell into shouts as the ground beneath their feet quivers.

The Alchemist, too, feels the shift. The spell of destruction he had so carefully woven continues to grow, extending beyond his control, sucking too strongly at the magic that feeds it. “Enough,” the Alchemist calls out. “Stop!”

The violinists continue their shrill dirge. The thrumming hum of magic swells louder than the screech of the violins. The violinists shrivel into desiccated corpses as the spell feeds through them, dying even as their arms continue to saw the bows back and forth across the strings.

The swirl of the poetic pattern within the temple, the dais, the courtyard under their feet loses radiance. As each tendril goes dark, the stones rupture. People scream and flee, stumbling, falling over each other as the ground crumbles beneath them.

With a crack to shatter the heavens, the temple topples, crushing the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, beneath its weight.

The criminal’s nostrils burn. The air smells hot as after a lightening strike. The shaking earth tossed her to the shattered stones, which cut into her palms. Beside the inventor also falls.

She grasps the inventor by the collar and shouts over the tumult. “Stop this! It’s enough! We’ve done enough!”

“I cannot,” he calls back and points to the box, lying broken between them. His eyes are wide as moons, not from fear, she realized, but a kind of manic glee. She jumps away from him as from a poisonous snake.

The inventor removes another box, even smaller than the last and cracks it open. A ragged hole splits the air, opening a door to a land beyond the Seven Realms, beyond even the borderlands, beyond anywhere her or her people could have imagined. The inventor steps through the opening and vanishes, and the criminal disappears after the inventor.

The chaos falls to silence as the opening closes behind them.

The inventor laughs. “It worked! I told you it would wor–”

She cuts him off with the swipe of her blade across his throat. He gurgles to stillness at her feet.

If her elders had known the level of destruction the inventor would wreak, they would never have trusted their revenge to him.

The shrub-pocked plains of the empty territory stretch out before her. She leaves the inventor where he lies and begins walking. Her people escaped into this desolate place before the borderlands were destroyed and she means to find them.

* * *

Footnote: This week’s Friday Flash was created in response to Chuck Wendig‘s flash challenge, “Must Contain This Sentence.” The challenge offered three sentences, one of which had to be included in the final story. The three sentences are:

  • “The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”
  • “A poetic pattern retains inertia.”
  • “The criminal disappears after the inventor.”

I managed to work in all three phrases with only slight cheats, changing “a” to “the” and vice versa.

This was an interesting story to write, as it grew out of each of the sentences simultaneously, rather than linearly from beginning to end. When I started I had no idea which order they would ultimately appear in.