House of the Living Sky

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 12, 2019

Reads: 63

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Submitted: June 12, 2019

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House of the Living Sky

By Josh Giggy

Copy write 2016

 

Creamy white with mottled caerulean, soft like wax, the adaptive skin of a Mantichaena man began to flake and discolor in the abusive heat of a waterless day; a moist heat burned the restless sands and melted the sky as the stars changed and the season called Mercy transformed to that of Sanguine. That is to say the star of Quetzuaul rose to high in the firmament for its light to reach Maengir, and that of the sovereign Ephielipax fell closer to touch it. The time of growth and goodness began for the living world.

The Mantichaena toiling beneath this changing sky was one of a particularly gentle brood; the Mearnum. Rodentlike features, a narrow face and a downy coat of grey fur accented his gentle nature, but it had not always been so.  This land had changed his people.  His tribe had once been called Galaila, and they had been of a single kind.  But their displacement to this land had resulted in irrevocable changes as their bodies and souls had melded with those of other living things they encountered, flora and fauna alike. Manti was home now, the Island of Skin, and its gifts were accepted, loved and called beautiful. The Galaila had forsaken their birthname, embracing the power of Manti and taking the name Mantichaena, Children of the Skin. They thought this home might be their last and most promising, but once more they were being displaced, fleeing from a new and far more overwhelming foe than the vengeful goddess who had decimated the old motherland and cast them onto the seas.

Originating from the great land of Ellel, where cities were protected and life was easy, the Mantichaena were unaccustomed to this degree of exposure, and had suffered through it for nearly four seasons, since washing ashore on the unexplored tracks of Manti. Generations of prosperity and progress had made life easy back home, and they had reveled in their peace under the benevolence of Loi, sovereign of the sky. Life ended with the arrival of evil Ferraro, conjurer of stone and fire who reduced their proud civilization to ash. Their god had done nothing, forsook them. So, as one, the people turned from Ellel in the hope that Maengir’s virgin lands would give them a sanctuary where Loi had failed.

Mearnum were not known for their endurance, but urgency made this one strong and his tail gave him exceptional balance as he traversed the dangerously rocky landscape. He searched for refuge, sent ahead of the tribe to scout for what could not be found.

There was only sky to the south, a hypnotic expanse of shifting clouds, seemingly endless, above a blanket of wet, scrubby mounds.  In stark contrast, the north was stone, mountains that crawled toward the etherplane, lifted from the horizon by some ancient and godly power as they hung like a stair to the stars. Unscalable, even the strongest Mantichaena could not scale their dizzying heights. The higher earthplane, as it was known, was untouched by those with or without wings. It simply was not a place man could reach.

To the west were the also impassable cliffs Taulthauan, whose ancient bastion had formed where two of the undersea continents of Miohaelia’s domain collided and rose above the landscape in a wall of shear faces and broken edges. The Mearnum’s gaze returned reluctantly to the east.  Like the south, desert stretched to a distant shore, a desert now choked by smoke and destruction. What few stands of trees there had been were now set ablaze, and there was nothing to be gained by looking that direction, not when he was tasked with finding an escape for his people.

Under the Mercy star, this new land had been a merciless scrubland rolling with steep hills and shifting dust. His people had just begun learning to survive without the shelters of stone and metal erected by their ancestors back on the mother-island when this new horror had appeared. Even the coming of Sanguine season would bring little solace.  Its reduced temperature and frequent showers were of no comfort to a people that had been so long domesticated by their comfortable lives indoors as craftsmen, clergy and artists.

Bloodied but undeterred, the Mearnum’s hot breath heaved as he desperately pressed onward, following Laesis’ rise, the breaking of dawn beyond the cliffs. Clawing his way over a gravelly hilltop, he was struck by a high wind that threatened to knock him tip over tail back the way he’d come. Shielding his eyes from the grit that flew against him, his hazy pupils dilated and his bushy tail thrashed in triumph at the sight beyond the curtains of debris: a canyon lay before him, a single passable avenue through the otherwise ungainable bluffs. From north to south, the icy Thaun to the black Dhai, this lithic wall had warned against any attempt to pass, but he and he alone had found a route of exodus. Not Govan, not Keimas, him. Elation coursed through him for only a moment before his rounded ears flattened against his head at a distant scream resounding from the trail behind. There was no time to lose, elsewise more lives would be lost. He tumbled gracelessly backward and scrambled up the opposing slope, dreading to look over, but steeling himself in order to deliver the news of salvation to a people in dire need.

Flailing his arms and crying out in a raspy voice, he hailed nearly seven hundred of his kind (and more of other broods, for the Mantichaena were not all made as he was) who fought across the rough terrain.

 “Hawth elein! Bethe Hai; th’hauan pohs!” – “Toward my way! See the west; the high is open!”

Even as he announced the discovery of apparent safety, his achievement withered and his features drooped at the sight before him. His tribe fled one from another, scattered across the rolling wastes and evading attacks from their own families. Panic caused them to recoil at the touch of flesh, even weed and stone. Nowhere and no one was safe. Those who heard him responded with an abrupt convergence, directed by their forerunners to attend the signal and pursue it. The rest followed like a herd, moved by instinct, for hard on their heels was a rising tide of decay and death.

The infection had spread ravenously, and within a day of its appearance they had been forced to flee their encampments near the rich sea without even time to gather food or water. It had come from the ground, from the springs and from the fungal thi, climbing through any permeable substance as if it hunted them. Their clothes were moldering, their stores turned fetid, and nearly three thousand strong had been reduced by a third; naked, starved, certain that they too would die.  So soon after their flight from Ellel, and here they were again, fleeing for their lives and perishing by the hundreds.

At the forefront of the disease the flora withered, infested by a bubbling ooze that slithered as if alive.  Even the sand blackened as the plague moved across the land.  The air became choked by billowing smoke as what it touched burst into flames, and a small army of those already contaminated pursued the healthy, belching dark bile as their skin perforated and sluffed off. Possessed by a blind rage, they seemed driven to kill anything in their path until, one by one, they crumbled; loved ones claimed by a outbreak the likes of which had never before been seen. It was not a mortal hatred or some insatiable hunger. It hadn’t appeared to even be a sickening will of the victims. They were possessed, incapable of containing the pestilence’s need to spread. Any attempt to treat the sick had only infected others, and after half a day of seizure and vomit, each victim became like all the rest until the affliction rendered them to creeping, animated puss. Even death didn’t bring them release. The dead were part of it.

The Mearnum scout shook himself free of his terror as an archon of the tribe finally reached his position on the knoll. Trembling, gasping for air, the father of temple Alchunbe gripped the scout’s arm and gaped over his shoulder. His curling white horns flashed in the light, and when he finally stood to full height his broad chest rose over the lesser man’s head. Grimy claws tipping his fingers released their grasp, and he gestured amazedly to the welcome sight.

“A pass…an escape!” He huffed.

As much to convince himself as the Utan, the scout stammered in reply “Utan Novun...we’re going to make it.”

Novun cast a frantic glance to his back, swung about and howled for his many beleaguered houses not to let their strength falter. Where their backs had been against a true and literal wall, that wall had seemingly split itself to give them hope.

Catastrophic though it was, most of those that yet lived were well ahead of the carnage. They had the advantage of distance now, and hearing that there was imminent protection in the stone ahead revived their aching hearts. The fathers and mothers of the other temples echoed Novun’s mighty call and directed all whom they could gather toward it. The trudge had felt eternal, but after thousands of seasons upon this earthplane, this would not be where their species met its end. They had endured and survived the wrath of foes both corporeal and celestial, and they would survive this.

The elders waited at that triumphant crest as the tribe stampeded past, watching warily for any who fell behind. There would be none, for one of their own, a champion beyond compare, followed in the wake of the mob and collected those who succumbed to fatigue: Dace of temple Bpestaeda, a giant grown from the essence of the mountains. As Novun was tall beside his rodential scout, so was Dace uniquely titanic in comparison to any other Mantichaena. A Bakul, the first of his kind, he towered at twenty-three feet of stout muscle and tough mineral shell. With thick tusks weighing his maw, and similar protrusions of brassic stone budding down his back, shoulders and legs, he was armored and deadly, blessed with strength beyond a score of Galaila. Dace’s might was the shield of his precious kin, hauling the fallen from the ground and piling them upon his back, carrying the weight of fifteen from the pursuing wave of death and never losing speed. All the while, he rejoiced at the news of a haven. Fearless, he laughed in his tireless charge, roared across the sands “Hawth inhai! None more will fall today!” Ever the gentleman brute, a jovial warrior, he did not lament those already dead. Now was not the time.

In the unofficial circumstance of the moment, the accumulated archons of the temples offered only the slightest, exhausted bow to the highest among them as he finally arrived. The Primarch was one of the Kuolt, his sinewy arms and legs adorned with thick brown fur, and bladed bone upon each joint, finger and toe. He was no hunter, rather a governor of the homeland, supreme authority of the tribe and revered as the one chosen by the divine skies and their patron Loi. His name, in that honorary capacity, was Primarch Sky.

Resting only a moment, he glanced about at the sixteen temple Utanaia, masters male and female of their city’s council, who’d assembled. This place had changed them all, working its terrible blessings since their inauspicious arrival. He gazed at the various forms his people had taken.  Some had horns, built to endure. Others had claws, built for predation. Some were meek and ingenious, and others still were nimble and sly. Become Mantichaena, their bodies and minds were shaped anew and ever-changing, but each retained the nebulus skin and slitted eyes of the Galaila they’d once been. They were becoming stronger, and each held a valued place in the society they were rebuilding, one where the brood that changed you defined your function.

A tremendous shriek shattered the air, and the thunder of wingbeats thrust back the stench of sickness and ash as four great creatures, two men and two monsters, soared down from the North sky.  Yet another brood of the Mantichaena, this one stood alone as the most dangerous of all. The Kutu were the protectors of the people, and their hunts were the kutliku from whom their wings were stolen. Transformed into the image of the massive reptilian fowl they had found unlikely companionship with, theirs was a life of wind and glory, the most exalted of all Mantichaena killers. With footlong talon on their feet and barbed wings that cast the ground into darkness, there was no beast on Manti that would face a Kutu. They plunged to the unstable hilltop, landing in a cloud of sand, and called with purpose to one of the weary archons. One was just a boy, his wings barely beyond fledging, but alongside his mentor he was considered an equal.

“Father Aroch!” Young Keimas groaned, undone at the wretched sight before him, “What has gone on? What is this black fire? Is Lemalie alright!?”

Aroch, one of the spiral-horned Kubernu and being of great stature, seized him by the wrist and led him toward the canyon wall.

“Thereto, Keimas!” He assured him. “She is already there, safe, and longing for you to come!”

Keimas launched himself from the crest in a whirlwind, off to the shaded crevasse in search of the girl he treasured.

Govan, the first to turn Kutu and greatest of them, remained with the two hunts, the kutliku wyverns that shared their lives and duties. Sotoatna’thane and Bogh’thane, long and lustrous feathers blooming from scaled hides, loomed on folded wings like living statues and blotted shaded the gathering as they awaited further command. They were restless at the still echoing cries of the distressed Mantichaena, but they attended Govan as he addressed Governor Sky.

Utan…what in god’s word…”

Sky never took his eyes from the danger, but took Govan’s hand tightly and imbued him with purpose.

“My boy, tell me quickly, is the Westland in such a state of death?”

“N…no, father,” the Kutu sputtered, still disbelieving what he was seeing. “It is as we first brought word; lush and bountiful.” He looked up at the vast gap in the cliffs, unable to fathom how such a road had eluded him. “And it’s just beyond this stone.”

 

~~~

 

As the last of the stragglers gained the high entrance to the chasm, they met furious activity as their fellow tribesmen surged around them, mounding stone upon stone at the mouth in a vain effort to stem the onslaught of disease.

“Heave to!” Novun bellowed at the gasping workmen. “Tightly laid. Leave no crack!” He sprinted back and forth across the wide opening of the canyon, he himself hauling boulders to build a wall with little hope of its effect. Some had begun to collapse as fatigue overtook them and were hefted and carried away while others toiled on. This most desperate day was not over yet.

Standing amidst the frenzy was a brittle old man, Raru, his body transformed not by the blood of beasts, but by the sap and frond of the thi’tskreol. One of the Mantichaena Thiwa, vines grew in and among his muscles, bark across his skin, and in the short time he’d stood stationary he was already taking root in the ground.  Though his kind worked at common tasks their communion with the flora made them privy to unspeakable secrets beyond the mortal coil. His newfound command of nature combined with a lifetime of study in the art of classical mancy, the manipulation of the elements, had made him one of the most accomplished enchanters of his generation. His full power was about to make a rare appearance. Shaking the dust from his leaf-woven hair Raru growled through the haze at the enemy rising over the hills before whistling sharply and calling to those who had committed to become students of his practice. Only four joined him, but they had enough; enough power to make a stand. The last of the tribe were through the rising wall now, but it was far from finished. The Thiwa Archon held a brief conference with his students, explaining and instructing quickly.

At his war cry, the laborers closing the gap fell back as his chosen few aligned near the opening and began drawing floating glyphs in the air, he himself vaulting over the shoddy wall and back out into the waste.  Cries of alarm and protest followed as he ran past, but he would not be deterred.  Raru shouted a single word as he stood his ground against the horde: “Bathleshauan!” – “Close the gate!”. The students raised their hands as nearly invisible trickles of amber energy crackled along their curious scripts. The master traced an intricate inscription into the ground in a flash, joined them in lifting his arms, and repeated “Bathleshauan!

As one, the students flexed and roared as they pulled their open palms inward, as though they pulled against an invisible force. The earth shuddered and debris flew from cracks in the cliffs as their combined efforts ripped sheets of rock from them and dragged them over the mouth of the canyon. A flurry of concerned hands and voices tried to reach through toward Raru, but they could make no ground as the stones already piled were bullied out of the way by the collapsing walls.  

With no time to lose, Raru’s fingers fluttered and twisted the ground around him as he set his own writing alight and channeled the living essence of rock, plant and air through it. He waited, the hungry eyes of rotting Mantichaena and tendrils of ruinous muck clamboring through the hummocks toward him until he could feel their foul stench on his skin. Without a word or sound, he arched his back, thrust his fists down, and sent the summation of his power into the earth. It buckled and thrust upward, rolling over itself and plowing forward in a crashing wave that crushed and drowned the forefront of the infection. Thrice he landed the same blow and each time it drove back the dunes themselves, reshaping the ground into a steep slope as their unliving enemy was swept away in a storm of stone and dust. A stunned silence gripped the Mantichaena. Knowledge of Raru’s study had not prepared them for what he could do when his souls accumulated essence was poured into a single miracle. This great and horrible day was not to be their last.

Still they screamed for him to save himself as the last glimpse of him was being obscured by the barrier, and in the last moment before its sealing they were knocked to the ground trying to catch the master enchanter as he hurled himself through the gap, its sundering edges nearly catching his legs when they slammed shut.

The good people continued to pile stones in earnest, but there was no more that need be added. Enchanter superior Raru kept his entourage close at hand, ushering the last of the laborers away before they felt their work was done. Sky and a few other archons lingered, along with Govan and some of the foremen among masons. They apprised the work with unresolved concern, unsure of the usefulness of stone in the face of a death that swam it like water. Quite unafraid, Raru gestured sharply to the enchanters once more, putting them to task and turning to Sky.

“Father, go and lift up our tired tribe. I will make a new wall of this and hang it high.”

There was a moment’s pause, and Sky affirmed the man’s loyalty with a trusting nod. All departed heavily, finally feeling protected enough that the sheer enervation of what had happened finally caught up with them. They had faith in Raru’s power, for his works were widely renowned since he was very young. Though now he seemed more leaf and branch than man, his demonstration had proven he’d lost none of his former glory, in fact was more glorious than they imagined.

Raru’s school approached the sturdy barricade and began a long night’s work of writing a soul into the living rock. Bit by painstaking bit, they would give it a mind of its own, a blessing that would purge any uncleanliness that dared draw near. Earth interwoven with Minpaxa, the veil of purity, could not be breached, not even by this inestimable corruption. Every time a level of enchantment was complete, they joined together over their carvings and their power coursed into it, driving the foundation upward to expose untouched rock, and repeated their labors until two-hundred feet of gleaming spellwork sealed them forever on this side of extinction.

What a different day this might have been, Raru dourly imagined when his task was complete, if he had attempted such an achievement in anticipation of this unforeseeable affair. Never again, he vowed as his fingertips caressed the glyphs upon his gate. He would build his school stronger, and with it all schools and all practices that could defeat this evil. Never again would it pose a threat to them. Not while he drew breath. Classical, Romantic and Gothic practices needed new blood. Their Enchanters, Sanctifiers and Witchers respectively needed to train like never before.


© Copyright 2019 Josh Giggy. All rights reserved.

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