Two forces collide, but what powers drive them, and where exactly is the true history?
|The pigeon wheeled high over lush forests, catching the updraft and sailing ever higher. Any person looking from this viewpoint would have been stunned at the sight. In the distance on one side, high, grey mountains framed the setting sun, then gave way to rolling hills and wide, wide plains. Towns and villages were scattered over the land. On the other, the forests stopped abruptly at a coastline that curved gracefully towards the horizon. The orange sun glimmered in the ocean waves. Any person would have found this twilit scene beautiful. But this was a pigeon.
This pigeon was, in fact, trained to transport messages between two locations - after all, it was the safest, most inconspicuous way to do so. It had a message to deliver now, and as such, the pigeon found its bearings and headed south. Soon, the Wall came into view - at first a thin line of stone across the horizon, it quickly grew until its full magnitude was plain. The Wall spanned the distance from coast to mountains in a perfect arc of white stone, thirty feet high. There were regularly spaced watchtowers and guards all along the embattled top - guards growing tired at the end of a long day shift. From the ground the smooth, solid wall would have seemed magnificent and intimidating - from the air, its sheer scope was equally stupefying.
The pigeon passed overhead. On the forest side, the trees had been cleared within a hundred feet of the wall to prevent climbing. On the south side, it quickly became apparent there was no need to. Where previously the forest had lain thick over grassy ground, past the wall the ground was sandy, gritty. What grass there was was yellowing, sparse, and dying. Trees were sparser still, and live ones were non-existent. Bare, blackened trunks stood motionless, or lay broken on the dead ground. There were no animals. Save for the wind, there was silence. Beyond this dead scene, little improved. While the coastline continued its graceful curve and the mountains stood as stolidly as ever, in between, a vast and barren desert lay, silent and lonely. Nothing else was visible, but the merest pricks of firelight on the horizon, a hint of civilisation clinging to its desperate, sandy fortunes.
Yet within this desolation was the pigeon's ultimate destination. Immediately after crossing over the Wall the pigeon descended in slow, decreasing circles. Eventually it sought to rest on a particular dead branch, three hundred feet from the Wall. Beneath it, a man waited.
He went by the name Aran, although that name was to be discarded soon enough. Aran was dressed head to toe in browns and tans, the aim being to camouflage himself - to avoid detection from the Walltop guards. He had not been detected in dozens of visits to this tree, so he supposed it was working out well enough. He carried nothing - he had a hidey hole nearby with all the necessary supplies for one to survive for weeks at a time. As soon as he saw the pigeon descend, Aran was transfixed. Could today be the day? He held his breath. After what seemed to Aran as an interminable length of time, the pigeon landed, Aran reached up, and plucked the thin, warped piece of parchment from its leg. Fumbling to unravel it, Aran held it close to his face, squinting to read the writing in the dim and fading light.
The plan goes ahead tonight. Proceed at the very moment the sun sets. We will be waiting in Yewton, at the Chrysalis Inn. You will have your new life very soon.
As usual, there were no formalities, no signature - the identity of Aran's contact was still a mystery. But more importantly, tonight was the night. Aran's heart thumped within his rib cage. He was escaping this land, he was free, he was going to be able to begin all over again when the sun rose tomorrow morning. He would be a new man. Escape. The word, even now, when he was so close, sent a thrill through Aran. He glanced at the sky. He cursed. The sun was already dangerously close to the mountainous horizon. He had no time to lose.
Aran sprinted back to the hole in the ground, his temporary home, and grabbed one thing only - a long, ugly grappling hook. The hook was wrapped with cloth to soften the sound of impact, but speed and stealth were still essential. The guards changed at sundown, presenting Aran with his chance. The Walltop guards did not take too kindly to illegal crossings, although a legal crossing was almost impossible to obtain. He would be transported back to the southern lands. Aran shuddered at the thought of returning. Best not to think about that possibility. North or nothing, Aran confirmed to himself.
There was just a sliver of sun remaining when Aran reached the base of the Wall. He would have only one chance at this. Again, he cursed. This plan was supposed to be perfect. Mustering his strength, and courage, and pausing only for one short prayer, he launched the grapple upwards with all his might. It sailed higher and higher, inching towards the Wall, reached the top of its flight, and as it started to fall, unbelievably, it caught on one of the battlements. Aran wasted no time in scrambling up the trailing rope, and soon reached the top of the wall. As he swung over the top, he saw that the sun had completely set. The door of the nearest watchtower was open. The guards had seen him. They were running towards him. Aran hauled the rope up as fast as he could, starting to panic. The loose end came up. He crossed the Walltop, and tossed it over the other side. The grapple held against the other side of battlements. The guards were almost upon him. Aran swung his weight over the battlements just as the guards reached him, and grabbed the rope. He dropped.
As Aran dropped, he held the rope with one hand. All too fast, his entire body weight yanked against his grip. He lost his hold. He fell. He cursed one more time.
The ground was hard and unforgiving. Aran felt several horrid cracks through his body, unbelievably loud snaps as some of ribs and leg bones gave way on impact. Aran just managed the energy to look upwards. He could just see the silhouettes of the guards against the orange sky. They saw the broken body below. They knew he wouldn't survive. One resumed the normal patrol, one went to inform his superior. Aran looked down. White bone jutted out of his leg - it had torn through the fabric of his trousers. Blood was seeping out of him. He knew he wouldn't last much longer. He attempted a final prayer, but never finished. His head rolled back as everything went black.
Aran opened his eyes again. He was surprised he could, but even more shocking was the sight of the old woman crouched over him, hands on his ribcage and leg. She had a deeply worn, lined face, one that looked like it had seen many winters, many days of hard labour. She was grimacing, but her eyes were bright and focused. The pain was still pumping through Aran, but looking down, he saw his leg was no longer broken, and there was no trace of blood on the ground. Aran looked at the old woman again. Had she done this? What was she? The pain overcame Aran, and once more, everything went black.