Sunset on the Borderlands – Dark Fantasy Short Story, 1/2

On the outskirts of the world lays a land displaced.

It welcomes visitors with the acrid scent of salt. Its grains glisten faintly, carried by the shifting winds.

Travelers may pull their fingers out of their robes and up in the air to check the breath rushing in from the horizon. They would feel how it grates against their skin, as coarse as battered leather.

As they would try to get a sense of their surroundings, they would see a misshapen land. Hills and mounds scattered across a crimson horizon of old rust and far-off shifting towers of smoke.

These are called the Borderlands.

Beyond the line of barren hills atop which half-rebuilt towers keep ceaseless watch, the bents shapes of the City of Veils appear.

They arise like a fleet forgotten amidst the red gravel, tall ships and countless, for the men and women of this land before the abyss cover so their homes and their balconies and their windows and their towers. With thin shrouds that the night wind blows through and against, so that under the corridor of stars the entire city looks like a flight of giant seagulls, scurrying against the wind.

By the break of dawn most of those veils are thick with useless rust powder – and yet hidden beneath it industrious hands might find tiny fragments that shine with peerless light like forgotten shards of stars fallen from the firmament.

This is the source of the Silt that’s boon and doom to every Mage this side of the Welcoming Sea, and they will find their lasting use in the pockets of each of the Twelve Cities in Tramontana and further north spread all over the Treviri Throne, for as long as the wind lasts and the desert is not emptied of it.

For the unerring catch has expanded the City of Veils beyond what reason and prudence might counsel: shrouds are erected ever closer to the first line of the defense of the hills, always eager for more.

Prudence is, after all, a source of very bad advice in business.

Tall stone and metal towers stand where their shadow is lonely and no bird flies. Beacons to greed and to the curious eyes of the slithering things that sleep under the rust. These slumber just a couple hours away from the City of Veils and the roads to the waking world of men; the watch of ruffians and brigands, as misplaced as the land itself, does little to hinder their advance.

Fanged and hollowed by hunger, more and more of these forgotten monstrosities encroach the inlands of the world, ripe with prey.

There are even those who bereft of patience if not ingenuity have discarded all prudence and garb themselves with thin clothes that do little to stop the chafing rust – and yet armed by bottled water and the little help their hands and eyes can give them jump on a sandray, never to be seen, or seen with their hands full of bottled, pure Silt.

A few, and those are never seen for long.

They enjoy the fruit of their luck in the rich cities of the Treviri Throne, might even find a few whole Dreaming Jewels, and those are sold for twelve times twelve their price in gold.

For the ever-distrustful cities of Tramontana fears above all to be found wanting in the occurrence of another Eldritch War – and even here on the outskirts of the world the weary traveler can see the effects of the latest one.

In fact, not far from the City of Veils the terrain is flecked by a series of very low mounds, circular in shape – they are covered by withered grass and gnawed willows, their branches seemingly spiraling endlessly like tiny grasping hands.

Many orchards grow there, and yet they seldom bear fruit. What they do bear is misshapen, twisted by the effects of the ghost fire that lies buried under the roots, together with the men that shifted sand and earth to put it to its restless grave.

At times, strange lights and wraith-like shapes can be seen arising from the mounds. The wise do not trod there, lest they bear seeds of ghost fire themselves, and they are then forever doomed to carry it in their womb and their stomach, never knowing when such a twisted plant may bloom, using their own flesh and bones to grow its hideous flowers.

At times, prisoners and unfortunate souls are chained and made to walk over the forbidden mounds, purposefully impregnating them with the tainted flame that dead burns still – they are then put into containers and shipped off to the lands of Tramontana, to display the effects of ghost fire to scholars and frightened dignitaries, so that sacred dread may steer their hands.

Or lest any Academia of Mages forgets their mandate and the loathsome consequences of their power.

To stand against such loathsome tidings, or to better carry their sorrow, men and women of the Borderlands worship their own strange spirits, maybe even the half-forgotten gods that managed to slip through the ruinous Capsizing, as lacking as they might be.

Persistence is among the few abundant things found around these shores of sand.

Many carry words of the Three, for the interests of the Treviri Throne are pivotal here and always priests of the Patrimonium walk among the City of Veils, sharing their words and their counsel, always finding eager ears.

Not just priests: to manage the commerce of Silt, that most wondrous of dust, the Throne has dispatched all of its Orders.

Amidst the contorted streets of the City one can often meet tall men in armor belonging to the Gyrfalcon, proudly displaying their banners of war, or iron-clad Seagulls guarding both a merchant’s goods and their greed.

And if one is lucky, they might catch a glimpse of the shadow of a Raven ere they extract them to their doom.

Such is the life in the City of Veils, not much different from any other anthill of wood and stone – not all dwell there, though.

Some still prefer the comfort of wilderness to the risks of civilization.

Author’s Notes: a piece of world building. This has been a vision that literally came to me in a dream several years ago. I have decided to put it to pen. My style here is a tad different from what you are used to. Thanks for reading.


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