PrinceCon 39 Theme Teaser #1

PrinceCon 39: Shroud of the World

“Evening, General.”

Garret just scowled as he climbed past Magistrate Zed on the first terrace. He wasn’t sure whether he was scowling at the double-shift he was just coming off, the man in a position of some authority who still couldn’t tell a Watch Commander from a General, or the foothills of Mount Sheld that were the price for his view. His scowl lasted as he climbed past five more terraces, and only softened when he reached his door. Home.

“Claire?” he called. “Anelise?” Claire squealed as she flew in from their terrace like a shot from a longbow. She leapt off a stool with outstretched arms and all the confidence in the world.

“Oof,” he grunted as he caught her, staggering a little under the weight. “You’re getting a little big for that, kiddo.”

“Daddy,” she scolded.

“Sorry. Good altitude, but if you’re going to tackle an ogre,” he pointed at himself to emphasize his advice, “aim for the gut rather than the chest.”

Anelise came in from the back room, holding the baby and smiling at their game. “I don’t think she was trying to tackle the ogre — I think she was just trying to leave her mark!” And it had worked — his surcoat was streaked with fresh dirt.

In a flash, Claire was headed back for the terrace. Grinning happily, and likely off to find the rest of the mud while she could still see anything at all.

Garret’s smile faded quickly as she left. He sat down with a sigh.

Anelise frowned. “Sorry, baby. Bad day on the Wall?”

He glanced toward the terrace reflexively. Their home on the base of Mount Sheld usually afforded a spectacular view, both of Mount Gard across the valley, and the wasteland out over the Wall. It was late, though, and the scenery had faded from sight. He looked down and sighed. “The worst. We lost another patrol.”

“You mean…?”

He looked up sharply. “Exactly.”

She handed him the baby, and began to work at the knots in his shoulders. There was only one thing worse than burying your own men, and that was when you had to kill them first.

“It can’t go on. You tell them it can’t go on! Just stop the patrols!”

Garret snorted. “That’s right, because they’ll listen to a Watch Commander. And the wasteland — it’ll just take care of itself.”

Her hands stopped. He relented. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”

A shriek from outside saved him from trying to find the words. “Daddy! Daddeee! The Stars!”

He shook his head and growled again, his frustration finding another target. “Have those kids been taunting her again? Night of No Stars and all that?”

“Shhh… You sit. I’ll check on her.” Anelise took the baby back, and headed for the terrace. A small rumble shook the ground. Garret just put his head in his hands, back on the Wall in his mind. Taking the shot. His own men. Once the wasteland had a grip, there was nothing else to do.

“Garret?” His head snapped back up as he registered the fear in her voice. “Garret!” Now it was desperation. He ran for the terrace, a hundred thoughts flashing through his mind.

Claire was pointing in awe, Anelise in terror. “Look at the stars…”

Another rumble shook the mountain, bigger this time. And Garret watched the stars — falling from the sky, melting into a stream, the stream pouring into Mount Gard. He took a step back. Anelise took two.

When the first stars hit, the top of Mount Gard exploded into fire, worse than a volcano. Stars flying up, stars flying down, his mind told him unnecessarily. Another rumble, and then the ground bucked, throwing him down. When he looked up, he was facing backward, Mount Sheld barely visible past the terrace above. Another funnel of stars. And another ring of fire. The top of Mount Sheld was already gone.

Analise screamed and ran for the back room, carrying the baby. He reached out for her, but Claire, still on her feet, wrapped him in an iron grip.

“Daddee!”

The ground bucked again, rock struck his temple, the world went red, and then black.

* * *

“Daddy. Daddy!” Garret felt fists pounding his chest. He opened an eye, and his head exploded in pain.

Claire was sitting on his belly, dirty and bleeding, forcing him awake. Another tremor shook them, but gentler this time, only enough to kick up the dust until they coughed.

He tried to clear his head. “We’ve got to get–” but the words died in his mouth. The upper terraces had collapsed, and what used to be his home was only an impenetrable mass of rubble. Half of their own terrace was gone, fallen down into the living space below. In one stroke, his family was shattered.

Claire’s eyes were wide. “Daddy they’re gone.” She stared at him for a beat. “I think we have to go too.”

He stared back in astonishment. “Yeah, kiddo, we have to go.” He cupped her face with his hand for a moment, the only moment he could spare. Then: “Help me up.”

She rolled off to the side, and he began to move. One leg was stuck under a rock, but another tremor knocked it free. Limping, he took her hand. “Out now, away, before the rest falls.”

Backlit by the falling stars and the fires that used to be peaks, they climbed slowly over the side of what used to be a terrace. Then, stripped of their home, their mountains, and their family, they headed for the Wall.

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