July 30th, 2016 - No Responses

No one had ever thought to give Peat a fancy name. It isn’t even a town – not really. It is an accretion. Huts and houses and two inns and a few simple shops and perhaps a hundred souls stuck to the outskirts of the fen like a boot in the mud. The well maintained overland route running east to west passes within fifty yards of the trading post, but does not turn or fork. Bare mud and dirt and the occasional rut show where people come and go, but most of the wagons that stop pull up on the road itself. Most of the residents never venture even that far onto solid ground. The boardwalks and piers and shallow-bottomed barges poled through tight, twisting waterways are their domain. The air is thick and damp here and, some days, when it is still, the fog never lifts and there are only a few hours between the pre-dawn dimness and the twilight gloaming. The muted glows of indistinct lanterns glide to and fro across the water as people go about their work, and the wagons come bearing supplies and leave bearing peat, and the world turns.


July 22nd, 2016 - No Responses

From the upper balcony of the palace, the city of Semb stretches before you. The sun is setting, casting long shadows where it catches on buildings, and shining directly into the royal terrace as it does for only a few minutes each day. The opening in the western wall of the cavern yawns wide, but from this angle only a small slice of sky can be seen above the low hills before the city and the buildings of the outer enclave. Down below the light from lanterns and torches begins to reassert itself as the sunlight slides away up the eastern wall passing over the carved windows and arches of the palace’s facade. The city is stirring again after the late afternoon lull. The crowds in the main market square are picking up, the sounds of haggling and hawking rising to echo off the cavern’s ceiling. To the right, away in the lower reaches of the northern district where the sunlight never shines, the distant staccato sounds of metal on metal or stone ring out from forges and workshops – the industry of the city will continue late into the night. Off to the left, the muted crump of a small explosion sounds from where excavation teams are working to uncover a ruined district of the old city. The last direct light of the sun slides off the terrace and you turn back towards the small group assembled there.

“Before you arrest me,” you say, “you’re going to want to hear what I have to tell you.”


July 11th, 2016 - No Responses

The people of Amria don’t believe in druids anymore. It has been centuries since anyone claiming to be from the Sacred Isle made landfall there, so one tends not to be surprised. But the druids still believe in the people of Amria.

People are good and people are evil. It does little to delve into it any deeper than that. Evil brought down the World Tree, and risking another disaster of that magnitude was beyond even the Grand Council’s capacity for folly. Still, tending the tree was never our only calling and in order to do good in the world one must be in the world. And so, for centuries, we came and we went and we hid our origins and our purpose.


July 1st, 2016 - No Responses

It is early afternoon, the sun just tucked away behind the eaves leaving the small balcony in shade but still radiating a low heat. Spread out below, the tiled roofs and cobbled alleys of the town reveal secrets of geography not apparent from street level. Away to the left a string of pennants snap and flutter in the fitful breeze above a small square tucked somewhere behind the great cathedral. Occasionally the cheer of a crowd can be heard. Closer to in that direction a shimmer of light plays on the sandstone wall of a courtyard; its source is hidden from view but the patterns and shapes it forms in ephemera feel oddly familiar. Off to the right the towers of the common palace rise up behind the canvas awnings of the lower marketplace. They are difficult to count from this angle, but it definitely seems like there are at least few more than can be seen from the gates of the grand square.

Those are mysteries for another day.

Directly out and down across the labyrinth of roofs and alleys there is a wide terrace fenced on two sides by thickly ivied trellis. There are a dozen tables arranged there in the space between the pond at the near end and the low roof at the far end. It is far enough that the people are unrecognisable, but near enough that you can see that people drift in and out lazily at all hours and that the place it at least half full whether in the bright sun of a clear afternoon or the soft lantern light of the early hours.

There is half a bottle of wine left, and we are in no rush. Let’s rest our feet here for a while and enjoy the view. But tonight, I know, we are going to find it.


June 17th, 2016 - No Responses

“He could not find the World Tree,” they say in Amria. Today it suggests inevitability, a fools errand, even hubris. From the oldest to the youngest they all know the fantastical tales, but even those who believe them think it forever lost. They do not remember their history. They do not learn from it. Centuries ago, the saying meant something very different: obliviousness, stupidity, incompetence. Centuries ago you could look into the sky and there, rising above the horizon, you could see its leaves and branches.

When the Tree fell, the seas swept across the land leaving countless dead – towns were washed away and cities were left in ruin. Centuries passed. Slowly, people recovered. Slowly, people forgot. Cities were rebuilt, babies were born, and history became stories. Stories that do not know how close they came to ending.

Forest, Early Afternoon

June 10th, 2016 - No Responses

You have been walking since dawn, your hastily-erected camp broken just as hastily as soon as the thin scraps of sky you could glimpse through the leaves began to lighten. You did not sleep the night before, not under these trees, but your legs at least feel rested and your companions seem in high spirits. In an hour or so you will be in high spirits as well, when the hard-packed dirt of the trail finally breaks free of the oppressive canopy above and begins to slope downwards towards the plains. When you can see the city walls in the distance and the wide sky above. When you can start imagining the waiting bag of gold and the first tankard of ale you will buy with it. For now, you are on high alert – every minute that has passed without incident in this place has made you warier, the last day and a half sitting heavily in the pit of your stomach. For now you watch.


June 3rd, 2016 - No Responses

It had taken her more than a year to rebuild the wards after the old woman had died.

Not that the temple had been unprotected in that time; that would be far too dangerous.

Still, every time she was forced to light a lantern she had not built with her own hands, she could feel how her lack of familiarity hampered her control – left blind spots and cracks that could be exploited with some cunning. Even the simplest, a river rock smoothed by the tumble of water with a small depression in the top for a pool of lamp oil, suffered because she hadn’t collected it with her own hands.

Of course, most nights the wards weren’t really needed. Most nights just the light from the torches would keep things from blundering out of the forest.

She lit the pool of lamp oil in the river rock every night, regardless – and the lantern of willow bark stretched over a frame of lashed sticks. Sometimes others, never more than four or five at a time. That was the other problem with wards she hadn’t made herself, of course; it was difficult to maintain a mental model of more than a few of them at a time. Difficult to picture how they fit together, where they overlapped and reinforced, and where they needed shoring up with her own energy.

Or her sword.

The first time she had drawn her sword after the old woman had died was the first time she realised she would need to rebuild the wards. It was the first time she realised she wasn’t stuck here, she was staying here.

To protect.

The Austrian Border, 11:37pm

May 27th, 2016 - No Responses

A light dusting of snow was beginning to fall as I stepped from the relative warmth of the border post into the bitter cold of the late evening. The newly arrived train hissed and sighed in the puddle of light it had brought with it, too large by far for the small mountain-pass station. I jogged the short distance to where the driver was stepping down onto the platform, waving him back aboard and jumping up after him.


“Wolf. You are Henrik?” I shook the man’s hand. “They phoned ahead.”

“Yes sir.”

“Very good. I’m going to need you to get us moving again as soon as possible. The longer we sit here the more chance the culprit will have to slip off and disappear into the night.”

“Of course sir,” he turned his attention to the controls and pressed some buttons, stirring the engine back to life, “though I’m not too worried about that.”


“Well, sir, the only exits from first class are through here past the two of us, through a door on the platform side of the sleeping car which your man in the border post can clearly see, or out the rear of the dining car where a guard has been posted since we left Rome. The five suspects are still in their cabins and have no means of escape.”

“You are an amateur sleuth yourself, I see,” I nodded. Henrik smiled with gratification as he released the brake and the train began to roll out of the station. “Of course, I count at least eight suspects.”


“I was led to believe an attendant found the body? And naturally there is this guard of yours.”

“Ah, I suppose so. Which makes me…”

“Number eight, yes. Let’s start at the beginning.”

The Paper District

May 20th, 2016 - No Responses

The paper district crouches atop a small rise, tucked between the glass merchants to the west and the woodworkers to the south. The tumble of closely packed buildings, shot through by a maze of winding alleyways, seem piled atop one another in a great heap – a single edifice, set apart from the rest of the city across the wide cobblestoned gulf where Spring Street carves around the base of the hill. To some it is a welcoming burrow, to others a forbidding labyrinth. At first glance, its windows overlook naught but the grey stones below and the blue skies above, but if you follow closely the right passages you will discover vantage points that open onto wide vistas revealing the city behind or the world ahead.

The Cradle

May 13th, 2016 - No Responses

Most mornings, I set out as soon as the sky is light enough to pick my way through the trees. Close to the village the woods are sparse; my eyes are keen and I know the paths well, so by dawn I am well beyond the hedge, where the forest earns its name. The villagers do not truly understand the size of the forest – some lack the imagination to consider it might be much larger than what they can see, and some lack the imagination to consider that there might be anything beyond it at all. A day’s walk along the hard-packed dirt road to the west there is a neighbouring village. A day’s walk to the east, there is another. That is as far as most of them have been in their entire lives. Old Kerrick came from a long way away, a long time ago, but even I don’t believe half of his stories. I know of six other villages bordering the forest, which is to say I know their witches by name. I have heard of others, second and third hand. How many there are in total, I could not say. I have met three of the witches personally, but our people need us and so we cannot stray too far. That is why I am so deep in the forest so early in the morning – I forage far and wide so that nature has time to replenish its bounty, and I am back in my hut by mid-morning in case I am needed.

This morning I find the shell of a wren’s egg tucked behind some mossy rocks, pluck a perfect tiny bloom from an island where two streams meet, and scale a tree to collect some mushrooms from where they are growing in soil collected in the crook of a wide branch. I pick my way southwards, following the slow rise of the terrain, coming at last to a bare outcropping of rock where the land drops away sharply. Before me lies the Cradle, spreading nearly to the horizon. The valley is cool and dark; I can feel the chill lapping at my ankles though the sun is beginning to creep above the trees, casting light and warmth across my face. The forest down there is deep and old and all but untouched. I have been a little ways in, but the going is tough and I suspect it would take days to reach the centre. I cannot spare that time, and even knowing the forest as I do I am sure it would be dangerous. I scan the trees intently – my vantage point is different than it was yesterday, different again than it was the day before when I first spotted it, but my eyes are keen and it does not take me long. There, far off in the distance, deep in the valley, rising up from the trees: a thin curl of woodsmoke.