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Chapter 6 - Moswen

“I know it may seem archaic, but it’s part of the old ways. It’s tradition.”

Having cleaned and dressed their wounds, Kyrill and Moswen were leisurely making their way towards Mido’s camp. Kyrill had a big bag filled with a mixture of nuts, dried fruit and cured meat that he munched on as he regaled Moswen with the history of Shaded Under the Canopy of a Sprouting Seed. What a name, Moswen thought. While finding the dog was their top priority, the camp couldn’t be very far and there was still plenty of daylight left so they weren’t in much of a hurry. Besides, it was refreshing having such an eager traveling partner. He’d been on his own for so long he hadn’t realised how much he appreciated amiable company.

“A lot’s changed, too—don’t get me wrong—but some things never will. Used to be there wasn’t even a barren; they were all nomads. Warriors and wayfinders. Nowadays, pretty much everyone’s a trader, farmer or tradesman of some sort. But bonding? That’s core to the entire culture. It determines who you are as a person, as an individual.”

“Yeah, gotta say the nomad life definitely appeals to me more. I don’t really like people very much. And I don’t think I’d ever be satisfied just being a gardener or something.”

“Actually, as a kid, that’s kind of what I thought I’d grow up to do. I was really interested in gardening, or at least I thought so. Turns out I just really like to eat,” he said with a laugh as he shoveled another handful of trail mix into his mouth. “I thought for sure I’d bond with a squirrel or maybe even a chipmunk.”

Kyrill lowered his gaze, pulling back his expression, as he was reminded of a time when he was younger, but not so much younger that he still wasn’t ashamed of it. Jealousy played a significant, recurring role in Kyrill’s life, but no other instance had been quite so poignant or clear in his memory.

“One of the other kids bonded with a squirrel. I remember hating them so much. Something that should be celebrated and all I felt was anger.”

It was a silly thing to be so furiously jealous over—Kyrill knew that—which only served to feed his embarrassment after the fact. He had built up this fantasy in his head, gave it weight and importance, but it never came to fruition. He really needed to stop doing that.

“The worst part? They didn’t even become a gardener, but a gatherer. They looked over supplies and storage. Not even close to what I so badly wanted. Or what I thought I wanted.”

Kyrill had never talked with anybody about that before. Not Camilla, not even Chione. He was surprised he let his guard down that much. He was even more surprised he’d been talking so much. Kyrill was normally the quiet type. Now, he couldn’t shut up.

“You know what the last gardener actually bonded with? A fucking bee!”

A look of excited incredulousness spread across Moswen’s face, which, in turn, caused a beaming smile to spread across Kyrill’s. A receptive audience and an appreciative storyteller.

“She found a bee that somehow didn’t have any wings, so she took it in and manually helped it get from flower to flower. And then later, as if it were an extra slap in the face, she bonded again, but with a toad. She was even scared of it at first, but it just kept coming back. The little guy grew on her, I guess.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a bit of animosity towards the woman.”

“No,” he said with a wistful sigh. “Quite the opposite.”

The feelings of fondness and yearning swimming through Kyrill’s thoughts were quickly trampled when, off in the distance, Mido’s camp came into view.

It was a disaster.

Situated in a clearing surrounding another of the strange rock pillar formations was what was left of the camp. Shredded scraps of fabric from what was likely a tent were scattered amongst the discarded remnants of his pack and traveling gear that lay strewn throughout the clearing.

Hidden among the detritus were the signs of a struggle. Several trees bore long claw marks in their bark that matched the wounds on Kyrill’s arm, clumps of brown and green pine needles had been thrown aside in the midst of panicked footwork, ash and stones from a long-cold campfire had been knocked aside, and littering the topsoil were dried black droplets of blood sprayed in every direction.

It didn’t take long for Moswen to notice the body hidden between the rock pillars. It seemed that Mido also took shelter amongst the rock, just like he had, hoping the stone would provide a safe defense against the attacking beast. Judging by the amount of blood spray on the pillars, Mido fought long and hard before falling to the predator, his hope for sanctuary becoming his last stand.

Moswen leaned down and carefully removed the necklace of beads from around Mido’s neck, the accomplishments of his shortened life. There were so few. Instead of badges of honor, displays of his personal achievements, they were instead proof of how little he was allowed to experience before his life was taken from him.

Had Moswen accomplished as much in his life? Had he accomplished anything? He couldn’t help but imagine himself in Mido’s place. They were around the same age, two young hunters out in the forest, alone. Mido at least had his bond. He turned to look to Kyrill, jealousy instantly being replaced with understanding and sympathy.

He stood as Kyrill came walking towards the scene, disappointment in his eyes. Moswen held out the young apprentice’s beads, hoping they would be enough. Kyrill regarded the necklace in his hands. Mido’s family would be devastated, but at least they would have closure. His face expressed no signs of a sense of accomplishment.

Kyrill stepped to the side to approach the body himself.

“Don’t,” Moswen said, placing himself in front of the big man. “Kyrill. Please.”

“I have to.”

He walked past and approached the body, head hung low in somber recognition as if he were attending a funeral. His demeanor instantly changed as he got close enough to notice, lying next to Mido’s corpse, the lifeless body of the dog, Elle. It seemed as if the dog had fought right alongside Mido until the very end. Admirable, but they still never stood a chance.

Kyrill fell to his knees.

“She was supposed to— we were supposed to—”

Moswen laid a gentle, comforting hand on Kyrill’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”

Flames licked the air, sending a plume of smoke up through the stone pillars and out past the treeline. Kyrill stood close enough to feel the heat against his skin, the smoke stinging his eyes, yet there he remained, stoic and silent, as the fire burned before him.

They hadn’t said much since discovering the camp, but not much needed to be. They both understood what it all meant, the implications of their discovery.

During his travels, Moswen had heard many stories about the people from Shaded Seed. None of them, he had recently come to learn, were incredibly accurate, especially in regards to their rituals for death.

Some believed the people of Shaded Seed, as a means of giving back to the land, practiced natural burial. No coffin, a shallow grave, the land reclaiming the body. It seemed fitting, poetic even, until you realized any number of predators would sniff out burial locations and dig up whatever they could find.

Worse, others believed that these nature-loving hippies were actually, in fact, savage cannibals that ate their dead. The spectrum of rumors was wide and often disrespectful at best.

Cremation makes a lot of sense, Moswen thought as the pyre continued to burn. Conservation of the land was certainly something Shaded Seed believed in, plus there was no risk of desecration. More importantly, fire offers a certain sense of finality.

There would be a ceremony once Mido’s necklace was returned to the barren, but that was more about giving back to his community, allowing his beads to become symbols of others’ achievements, the deceased’s past accomplishments helping to pave the way for future generations.

It took some time, long after the pyre had been reduced to ash, before either spoke.

“I thought my path was finally laid out before me,” Kyrill said in a soft, unassuming voice. “I was wrong. And now I don’t know what to do.”

“We keep moving, that’s what. Mourn their deaths, of course, but don’t start getting all oh-woe-is-me. Nothing’s changed, not really.”

Everything’s changed.”

“No? You made an assumption that turned out to be wrong. That’s it,” Moswen said bluntly.

“Okay, sure, but I’m back to square one with no clue what to do next.”

“What’s the name of the old lady who sent you out here again?”


“Chione,” he repeated back. “I think this might be why Chione told you to just let things happen. Anything specific only serves to guarantee disappointment. We were literally hunting down a dog that, honestly, we should have assumed was already dead.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Looking for that dog just... it made so much sense. Before that, I was... lost. I need direction. I don’t know if I’m capable of just letting things happen.”

“Well then it’s a good thing you met me. I’m an absolute master at directionless meandering. That’s how I met you!”

“Yeah, after almost getting dismantled by a bear-monster-thing.”

“Hey, it all worked out, didn’t it?”

Kyrill glanced at the bandage on his arm and the pile of ash that used to be Mido and Elle.

“I guess?”

“Chione sent you out here to do two things. And you’ve already got one of ‘em done. Let’s just do our own thing, follow our whims, and wait for fate or destiny or whatever to fall into our laps.”

It was hard not to admire the kid’s laid-back optimism. It was contagious. Kyrill didn’t bother to hide the smile that spread across his face as he, for the third time in two days, decided to believe in the positivity of another.

Then fate or destiny or whatever fell into their laps, in the form of a corpse. And it didn’t fall into their laps insomuch as it came hurtling towards the ground from above. Also, it might not have been a corpse until it hit the ground, but it was hard to tell after the fact. The universe had heard their conversation and decided to reply, but did so with a morbid sense of humor. They both looked at the corpse with horrified confusion, then each other, then the sky. They raised their hands to shield their squinting eyes as a large shape eclipsed the sun, a shadow without detail.

An airship.

They had only ever heard of airships in stories from the old Empire, from before Shaded Seed had a name, from when the nomadic life wasn’t a choice. And here was one right before their very eyes. It would have been a more impressive sight had it not been in the process of crashing.

The ship rocked from side to side as it twisted through the air in a steady decline, its movements sporadic and uncontrolled. Kyrill and Moswen quickly lost sight as it passed the clearing, but their course was leading them to an all too glaring destination: the edge of The Shelf. Without a word, they took off running, following the sound of snapping trees.

They quickly came across debris strewn all around the forest floor. Tree limbs and pine needles, of course, but also broken planks of wood and smashed crates and boxes. Just beyond, snapped and fallen trees made way for a freshly carved ditch where the airship hit the ground, its momentum carrying it past the treeline until it hit stone.

It wasn’t until the ditch that the debris started to include bodies.

Kyrill and Moswen kept running until they reached the ship, which they found balancing precariously over the cliff edge. A large hole had been torn through the underside and one of the wings had been ripped completely off from the side of the ship. The sound of cries and moans coming from the deck of the ship was chilling, but neither were enough to give them pause. They pressed forward, fueled by raw determination.

“We’re here to help!” Kyrill yelled.

“Everyone just stay cool and we’ll get you out of here in no time!” Moswen added.

With a simple nod, Kyrill motioned towards the deck. Moswen backed up as Kyrill turned his back to the ship, dropped to one knee and cupped his hands. In one fluid motion, Moswen ran towards Kyrill, stepped into his hands, and was launched over Kyrill’s shoulders. Moswen grabbed the ship’s bow and swung his legs up and over.

He was greeted by a confusing scene. Debris littered the deck where people hung to loved ones in tears, as would be expected, but laying dead before him was a lone hooded figure with a scimitar sticking out of his chest. Scanning the rest of the deck, he noticed several other corpses wore sheaths at their sides, swords and scimitars lay scattered amongst the debris.

His concern would have to wait. He tied a rope around a length of railing he could only hope was still structurally intact and threw the other end down to Kyrill.

“Everyone!” Moswen shouted to the crowd. “Remain calm and slowly make your way to this side of the ship! We’ll get you outta here in no time!”

From the back of the crowd, another voice yelled out.

“Those that aren’t hurt, help,” the woman demanded. “We do this together or I will personally kick your ass.”

Two gruff, older men approached Moswen, carrying a woman with a broken leg. One of them leaped off the ship and hit the ground next to Kyrill with a thud. He turned to Kyrill.

“Some are too hurt to climb. He’ll throw ‘em”—he motioned to the other gruff man still on the deck—“and we’ll catch ‘em.”

“Let’s do this,” Kyrill said with confidence.

The man up top carried the hurt woman over the edge of the railing and let her fall, as delicately as possible, into the waiting arms of Kyrill and the man below. One by one, they helped the injured off the boat. Others climbed down the rope or simply leapt to the ground. This could work, he thought. And it did, for a moment.

Until it didn’t.

The ship began to creak, its bones grinding within, as the bow of the ship started to rise ever so slightly. The delicate balance had shifted.

Kyrill leapt and grabbed the edge of the ship, hoping to weigh it back down. The gruff man grabbed a hold of him, then another. Several people grabbed the rope and pulled. It was just enough. The ship began to settle.

“Nobody else jump!” Kyrill screamed.

“Only two more back here!” Moswen yelled out from the back of the ship. “Stay at that end and keep the balance! I’ve got this!”

“Everyone come to me, but stay the fuck here!” yelled the woman from before, standing at the very tip of the deck, her arms spread wide. The sheer authority in her voice seemed to be enough to quell the crowd’s fears.

Until it wasn’t.

A man clad in a green hooded cloak over a sleeveless brown leather vest pushed his way through the crowd, headed for the side of the ship, uncaring of those around him. A young woman, pressed against the railings, was flung over as the man shoved her out of his way. She hit the ground with a hard thump as he leapt over the edge and hit the ground running.

The delicate weight shifted once again, the ship letting loose a long creaking sound before something inside it snapped. The deck dropped from under the crowd’s feet, bounced, tilted to the side. Another snap, a crack, then a cascade. The ship fractured itself in two under its own weight. Like an earthquake, the hole in the bottom of the ship sundered its way along the side where the wing was missing and the deck folded along the faultline. The front half of the ship, no longer tilting, crashed back to the ground like a hammer as the back half of the ship swung down and slammed against the vertical cliff face, dangling by a thread.

Moswen flew into the back wall of the cabin, now his floor. To his left, a new hole had been blown through the wall by falling furniture and cargo. To his right, two corpses, the people he had been trying to rescue. It seemed his rescue attempt had been in vain. With them so close, he could now see their gaping stab wounds. They had been corpses long before he ever stepped foot on the ship.

What the hell happened on this boat?

He quickly disregarded his concern for past events and focused on his present. He needed to get the hell off this ship. He made his way to a hole in the side of the cabin, regretfully looking down, as if maybe there wasn’t a plunging fall awaiting his worried gaze. He carefully stood on the cusp of the hole; whatever had caused it had also smashed through the railing across the narrow walkway.

Don’t hesitate, he told himself. Don’t think. Jump.

With a crouching leap, he flung himself up and across, grabbing the existing railing as his body bounced against the vertical walkway and swung above a vast nothingness. He took a deep breath, began climbing, his eyes fixated only on his path above.

He was fast, but careful. The ship groaned and cracked with every step, every hold, every push and pull, until he reached the end of the railing. A large gap was missing between his half of the boat and the other. He crouched again as he gauged his ability to jump, uncertain and indecisive, just as a rope dropped down from above.

“Moz!” Kyrill yelled, leaning over the edge of the cracked deck, the other end of the rope firmly in his grasp. “Grab hold, buddy!”

He reached out for the rope, but the ship reacted, determined not to let him escape its grasp. The two halves of the deck, held together like interlocking hands, fingers twisted and mangled, finally let loose their grips. The boat fell. Moswen leapt, desperation and instinct taking over. No thought, just reaction. He caught the rope with one hand, swung his other around, never let go. His footing vanished as the ship fell out from under him, but his grip would not falter.

The boat hit the slope of the cliff and coasted down, a plume of dust and rock in its wake, ostensibly sailing on stone until it began smashing into various outcroppings and crevices on its journey down, shattered and splintering until it was nothing.

Kyrill hauled the rope up and Moswen was greeted by an outstretched hand from the woman barking orders earlier. She had a smile on her face now, much less intimidating than before. He grabbed her hand, got his feet onto the deck, and let out a huge, relieved sigh. The woman motioned toward the bow.

“Gents, let’s get the fuck off this boat, shall we?”


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Posted by Anonymous on 04.29.20
I have to say I really appreciate the interactive map. Reminds me of classic fantasy books that allowed the reader to follow along. It took me this long to realize it updated after the first chapters!
Posted by Matt on 04.29.20
Glad you like it! The map at the beginning of a book is a fantasy staple, imo. Doing it online lets me add a few bells and whistles! 🙂
Posted by Colby Kaasch on 05.01.20
I hope you didn't read this chapter to poor Elle.
Posted by Matt on 05.01.20
I don't think I'd be able to without bursting into tears.
the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet