Sunday, February 26, 2006

Song of the Manticore

Song of the Manticore

Kal-syrinn had been a nice town.
Children had run down its roads and market-sellers had called out their wares from roadside stands. Now and then the lone mule would plod its way down the road causing the drivers of the horse-drawn carts behind to yell out angrily. Older folks watched from balconies or stoops taking in the sights of the younger ones rushing around. The sun beamed down from impossibly blue skies, the warmth of it all mixing with the muffled sounds of hagglings and excited exclamations. Just downhill a path led to the docks where the occasional ship would cause a buzz of excitement through the small community and smaller fishing boats slid across the blue-green water like gilded water bugs.
Kal-syrinn had been a nice town. The winds blew through cooling the wandering shoppers and shepherding the clouds across the sky. The hilly fields surrounding Kal-syrinn were bordered by the coast and unbroken save for the one road leading away from Kal-syrinn and off over the horizon.
In the town itself a person could become lost among the market stalls, moving from rows upon rows of sweets to a booth selling small glowing charms to small tents concealing half-penny soothsayers who would tell you whatever future you wanted to hear. Wives could be found buying foodstuffs while shrieking for their children to keep out of mischief. Said children could often be found in the company of the urchins, plotting minor mischiefs—the startling of a winged horse in order to upset several market-stalls at once, or even releasing spine-imps into the balloon-vendor’s cart.
Kal-syrinn had been a nice town, once.
That was several months ago.
No children ran down the ashy depressions of roads, and the market-sellers would not ever be heard again. There were no mules to block horses that were not there, no elders to observe the sickly staggers of wind stalking through the town. The docks were in ruins, the barest skeleton of what might have once been a ship reached grimly from the oil-slicked waters. Blackened water merged with fever-gray skies in a too-near horizon. The hilly fields were barren, not even the skeletal remains of the few trees lingering. Market stalls lay in ruins, laying open and raw, the discarded wares lying buried beneath the ash of a thousand fires. Here and there a patch of white could be found—lone bones gasping for breath from a sea of burnt grime—amongst ichor-black stones rising like horrible fish.
Nearby, where the ash and tar seemed to hang in the air in a poisonous cloud, a shadow stirred. Moving faster than anything that large should have been able to move, it unfurled titanic wings. Pumping them twice, it rose into the air, hanging for a moment—a stain on the desolate sky—before flying off like a nightmare given wings.
Had there been anything left alive in Kal-syrinn, it would have stopped to hear a sweet song of a voice, like that of an angel crooning into the cradle of a newborn.
“Greenvale is such a nice town . . .” it sang into the sickly wind before heading off in the direction of the blackened road.

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