by Codi Leigh
Aftermath of the apocalypse. Humanity struggles for survival in a wasteland of snow.
The earth shook beneath Amaryl’s feet, planted as they were on the rolling soil. Once-bright robes were tattered and torn, and dusty, empty bottles hung from a leather belt wrapped around his thin waist. His cheeks were streaked with sweat and grime, a scruff of unshaven beard covering his jaw. Deep shadows lined his face, bringing out the brightness of his colorless eyes. The expression playing across his features was one creased in horror, brows furrowed as he surveyed the destruction before him.
Amaryl placed the tip of his staff against the ground, and watched the world cave in on itself.
“What have I done,” he whispered. The sun sank, a burning red ball in a nearly blackened sky.
It was the End of the World. The Apocalypse. The Revelation.
Amaryl’s eyes burned from the ash. The dust from the quaking ground rose up to make him cough. In the distance, he could see a great city falling to ruins, but the screams of the people who had lived there had long been silenced. They had burned in the initial fires. Black oily smoke rose from their remains, and flames licked the ashen sky.
He stepped forward, the smell of death and destruction filling his lungs. He reached, as if to touch the burning horizon, but as his fingers stretched forward, the city crumbled. He closed his fist, and the ground imploded.
Suspended in the air, held by his own dwindling force, he looked at the desecrated land and made up his mind.
With the last vestiges of his power, he swept his hands wide and the ground surrounding the gaping hole beneath his feet slowly clumped and hardened to form a massive, solid plateau. His hands shook, and words began to appear on the surface of the rock below. Sweat streaked his brow.
Fear the man who gives himself power
The soldier who doesn’t weep
The ruler who doesn’t hear
The woman who doesn’t love.
Never tempt the weak with strength
Never destroy the world in order to change it.
I raped the world, and I will spend Eternity in punishment,
For I caused her great agony.
Then, as the last word carved itself into the stone, Amaryl signed his name, and added the starsign date. His power left him, and he let out a cry as the stone swallowed him whole.
As the hard slate incased him, the earth stopped shaking. All was quiet.
002 - Amaryllis
1,000 Years Later
"C'mon, Tyl!" Rory shouted.
The younger boy scrambled to keep up, his thin, lanky legs working hard as he and his brother climbed over the ruined stone wall.
Below, the city of Amaryllis was alight with color. Paper lanterns were strung between the buildings that lined the narrow streets. The light reflected off the hard-packed snow that covered the paving stones.
Rory sat on the wall, and Tyl clambered up next to him. Being twelve had it's disadvantages, as it took him two tries to make it up the wall. Rory, older by four years, and stronger by far, grasped Tyl's forearm and hauled him up on the wall next to him.
"Maybe you'll grow more this year," he said, ruffling the younger boy's fiery hair. "Maybe you'll grow your ear back, too."
Tyl laughed and pushed Rory so he nearly slipped off the wall.
"My ear won't grow back, ninny, once it's most gone it's gone!"
Rory steadied himself and shrugged.
The run-down slums of the East Quarter was behind and to their right; Tyl looked on into the North Quarter and all thoughts of his mostly-missing ear subsided as he sucked in a cold breath and took in the sight of the glittering city streets.
This was the first time Tyl was allowed to accompany Rory on the trip into the North Quarter of the city. Tyl had never seen such a bright world, and he felt as if it couldn't possibly be real. It was so different from home. He was so enthralled, he missed when Rory jumped off of the wall, and began walking down to the street.
"Tyl! Stop dreaming and help me."
"Wha? Oh!" Tyl slid off of the wall after Rory, slipping on a patch of ice on the way down.
They made their way onto the main street, clutching their thin coats against the cold.
"Rory, wha's the building over there? The one with the torches?"
Rory glanced at the building, which had the remnants of three archways surrounding a statue missing its face.
"That's where the Circlet has its meetings," he said. "There's a staircase leading down int' the old holds below the city. The Lords meet there t' discuss city matters."
"Who is the statue?"
"Amaryl, the Hero the city is named for. Legends say that he raised the city from the ground, and brought our people t' live here."
"How d'you know so much?"
"I listen. I talk t' people. I visit the Historians sometimes. They have an entire library devoted t' the history of our world. It would take a lifetime t' learn everything there is t' know about it."
Tyl remained silent after that, trying to imagine an entire lifetime of learning. He and his brother could not read, but Rory would listen to anyone tell a story.
They reached the market and slipped into the food line behind their neighbors, Anni and Launial.
"Hello lads," Launial said, waving a few crooked fingers at them. Anni coughed wetly, and Launial wrapped her thin shawl tighter around her shoulders.
"Evening, Launi," Rory said.
Launi smiled and held out his lantern. The heat emenating from the partly-closed shutters made Tyl shiver in the snowy wind. The brothers moved closer and they and the two elderly neighbors shared the warmth. Sharing heat was not only a gesture of friendliness, but of alliance. If you'd been given warmth on a cold night by another person, you and they shared a bond for the night; if anything went awry outside of your understanding, you would face it together.
Such things were important in their cold city, Tyl knew. Without it, they would die of either frostbite or violence.
His mind wandered as Rory and Launi discussed the weather, and food shortages. Tyl's eyes wandered along the street, looking at the big, black pillars of the townhomes. How heavy they must be! How could anyone even think of building with such heavy stone? It would take a score of men to lift it.
Then he remembered that the people in North Quarter had Privilege, and didn't need anything like his family did.
A flicker of movement caught his eye, and a black...circle, he supposed, hovered for a moment just beyond a pillar. Tyl squinted into the semi-darkness beyond the paper lamps, and he thought it may have pulsed, like his heart did when he jumped off of tall rocks. Then he blinked, and there was nothing there.
Rory's voice cut though the noise of the crowd and made him jump.
"Don't get distracted, I don't want t' lose you in this crowd."
Tyl looked into his brother's brown eyes. He opened his mouth slightly, about to ask what the blob was, but something in him halted. No, he wouldn't say anything. He couldn't. It would be very bad if he did. Don't tell Rory.
Shaking his head to clear it of the echoing thoughts, Tyl smiled and moved up the line with Rory, helping him fill the heavy sack they had brought with roots and dried fish, seeds, salty bread nuggets, and a small round wheel of bean cheese. Rory deposited one copper loop onto the counter and recieved a palm-sized stone box of leaves for their mother's stomach tea.
Sack filled and heavy, the brothers lingered behind to help their neighbors with their food allotment. Being a family of smaller size, theirs was substantially smaller, and Tyl noticed Anni and Launi exchange worried looks. Reaching into his own family's sack, Tyl pulled out one of the smaller bags of seeds.
"Here," he said, handing it to Launi.
The man's eyes widened and he hurriedly handed the bag back towards Tyl.
"Not here, lad. They'll arrest you if they see you playing with food allotments."
He clutched at the bag, looking up just in time to see two navy-gloved hands reach for the older man, wrapping around Launial's shoulders. Tyl let out a yelp as he was roughly grabbed from behind as well.
"The sharing of food allotments is an offense against the Circlet," a rough voice said in Tyl's ear.
"I didn't know, I didn't know it was wrong!" Tyl said, pulling against the arms that encircled his shoulders.
"Let him go, he's only twelve," Rory said. Another soldier, dressed in the navy blue of the Circlet Guard, pushed him forward.
"This one is responsible for the brat," he said, voice clipped.
Tyl struggled harder, pushing with every muscle in his body against the entrapping arms, but the man was three time his age and at lest twice his size. Panic flooded his body, and he felt hot tears drop from his eyes, a tightening in his throat.
"By the order of the Circlet, you are hereby-"
"What is this? What is happening?"
A man had stepped into the snowy square, black coat falling to his ankles. His collar was turned up against the cold, and eyes like shards of ice glinted tein behind thick black eyebrows.
"Lord Mavrik," the guard behind Tyl said, straightening. Tyl could feel him quiver behind him. Was he scared of this Lord?
"I asked," Lord Mavrik said slowly, "what is going on here."
"S-Sir," the guard said, "I witnessed this boy give this man," he gestured to Launial, "a sack of allotted food. This is against the Circlet's-"
"I know the Circlet's Law, soldier, as I have written plenty of it." Mavrik turned to survey each guard in turn. "What I do not condone, however, is the manhandling of young boys from my city. Release them."
Tyl's heart leapt, and relief flooded through his limbs as he felt the arms of the soldier ease from his chest.
"I will deal with him."
The relief was gone as sudden as it had appeared. He was rooted to the spot as Mavrik calmly walked over to him, boots crunching on the icy paving stones.
"What is your name, boy?"
"Tyl," Tyl swallowed, mouth dry. "Tylvander of the East Quarter."
"Do you have a surname, Tylvander?"
"Our ma used to be an Elisan," Rory spoke from behind the lord, "but she gave it up when she married our da, m'lord."
"Elisan," Mavrik said quietly. "Interesting.
His cold eyes stared into Tyl's, who felt as though the lord were looking straight through him. The cold wind seemed even colder all of a sudden.
"Well, Tylvander," Lord Mavrik said, "it seems we have ourselves a bit of a problem here."
"It's my first time here, m'lord, I didn't know it wasn't allowed."
Mavrik nodded slowly. "So do you share food at home, with your neighbors and friends?"
Tyl stilled. If he said yes, he would risk his family. If he said no, he would be lying to a Circlet Lord.
The lord smiled slightly, as if he wasn't surprised. "I see then. So this offense only applies to yourself."
Turning to the group, he spread his arms out in a gesture of question.
"Normally the punishment for breaking the allotted food guidelines is a heavy fine, but seeing as we are dealing with a first time, and very young, offender, I see no reason to cause hardship on his family. In fact, I think we could make it easier on them."
"Na!" Rory shouted, moving toward his brother. "Don't kill him! We'll teach him not t' do it anymore."
"Kill him?" Mavrik's eyes widened. "I don't mean to kill him, boy."
He turned to Tyl and smiled.
"You'll be taken from your family, Tylvander, and you'll be trained to work. But you are going to spend the next ten years being taught the greatest art of all."
Tyl felt his eyebrows raise up high on his forehead.
"What's that, m'lord?"