Weald Fiction: The Rotten Flame
August 6, 2021 at 2:55 PM #267SlaterMiniaturesParticipant
Anya walked along the grime spattered twisted path that now made up Naer’s Main Street, she could remember before the rot, the town was up and coming starting to get known for local craftsmanship, glassblowers, carpenters and blacksmiths. But no, Naer was no longer up nor coming. It was shrinking, each day the Weald would creep and impregnate the small town, houses once with small gardens now were barely distinguishable from the writhing limbs and tendrils of the Weald. Doorways and windows poking out from the vines and roots leading to old homes now inhabited by unnameable creatures and monstrosities. Anya had lost her own home months before, most of the townsfolk, that were still there, were now living in three or four small houses. Some had packed up and left, tried to escape, those were the ones with hope, those were all gone now.
Looking around Anya saw barely 30 people, the dregs of the once happy town eyes distant and lost, remembering another time? Imagining another place? Nothing at all? The few who moving, sweeping, cleaning, chopping wood seemed to be doing it not out of desire or drive but habit, old bones going through the motions. Anya sighed and shifted the bag over her other shoulder and headed toward the only building that still had no touch of the Weald on it, the old glassblowers workshop. As she approached, she began to feel the warmth from the bellows inside. One good thing that could be said about the Weald and the rot is that there was never a shortage of fuel.
Walking inside Anya was hit by a wave of heat, her mother had been working at the bellows all day, as she did every day. The small workshop was a mess, not just some items miss placed nor the result of a forgetful worker leaving tools where they shouldn’t, this was a real mess any and every space was covered by exquisite vases, bowls, cups, flutes, plates and sculptures. The flickering light from the forge made the hues from the glass objects shift and dance in mesmerising patterns across the walls. The woman working in the forge was stocky and mumbling to herself softly. Picking her way through the delicate chaos Anya made her way over to her mother, clearing her throat Anya upended the satchel that she had been carrying. Falling to the ground next to the forge was the fruits of her days scavenging. Anya was one of the only remaining villagers who braved exploring the consumed houses for items left by those who had gone. It was mostly safe anyway, mostly. Her mother gave Anya and the items a quick glance and almost went straight back to work, but her eye was caught by something in the pile, which she hurriedly grabbed. Anya chuckled and moved over to what had become her customary seat. She had found something that always interested her mother, a small flower that had once decorated the hillsides of Naer in blankets of white and pink. This one however had none of its former beauty each petal was grey like the life had been sucked from it, the centre of the flower had hardened into a solid knot. She’d known that her mother was going to like the oddity as she spent hours fussing over each she had brought her. Anya looked around and wondered if anyone would ever get to see these incredible creations, maybe someday when the rot was gone and the people not so wild, they would be found and treasured. Anya doubted she would ever live that long but idle in her dreaming she hoped…
Anya had tried to leave a year ago, but her mother had refused, she had begged and pleaded that they needed to escape, and that each day had would make it harder and harder for them. Finally, Anya had tried to leave on her own, those memories still shook her awake. All she could remember from the experience was the clawing tumbling mass of wood, boiling flesh, rolling stone, a bright light and comforting warmth. She had woken up days later wrapped up in bandages some of which she still wore some to this day covering her hands and forearms.
It was well into the night before Anya heard anything bar the mumbling and quite working of tools. A laugh. A laugh totally void of humour. A laugh with a cruel intent. Looking up from where she had dozed off Anya saw that her mother was hunched over a small bowl, from which she poured a pale powder all over her hand and forearm, she looked to Anya with a smile that was too wide…and plunged her hand into the molten forge.
Anya screamed and went to pull her mother away from the forge but as quickly as she had put her hand into the flame, she withdrew it, but her hand was not scorched nor scarred it seemed unharmed instead she seemed to have caught the flame between her fingers, it licked up her arm seeming to reach and grab at the powder that covered it. Looking on in awe Anya watched as her mother walked over to the pile of logs which were used to fuel the forge and pick one up. The Rot was pervasive it hooks its claws into everything that lives, wood the easiest for it to penetrate. The log that Anya’s mother now held was no different, the flame seemed to almost sense the rot and pulled hungrily toward the wood, within seconds the flame consumed the wood leaving a husk which fell to the ground. The flame transfixed them both its hypnotic dancing sending shadows scattering around the room across the glass oddities, dazzling shapes cavorted across the wooden walls.
At that moment shouting could be heard from outside, snapping Anya out of her revery, she rushed to the door she threw it open. Outside dark shapes were stumbling from the Weald small, almost human shapes, almost. Anya glanced down at her hands wrapped in bandages then shook herself, looking back she saw something else, something that caught her breath and held it in impossibly deep and dark eyes. The hulks uncountable limbs seemed to drag its large body out the Weald. A heart of Rot and a mind of hunger. The villages stood, unflinching, this was not bravery they showed to be brave they must feel fear, they must feel. The inhabitants of Naer had slowly watched their home grow sick and die, they had seen the beauty and had seen it crumble. They all were waiting for death, and death had arrived.
Fearful Anya looked back to see that the fire now covered an entire wall of the small workshop, the flames crawled and slithered along the wood. Her mother still stood completely entranced by the flame still gripping her hand like an anchor. Gritting her teeth Anya grabbed a hot poker from the workshop searing her hand from the heat of it, gripping it she strode toward the dark shapes that shambled toward her. She was no warrior, the heat from the poker dissuaded a few of the creatures but not for long. A wooden limb swung hitting her, throwing her to the ground. At that moment a huge limb smashed into the ground throwing up dirt and gravel, the hulking monstrosity lumbered past steadfastly moving toward the small workshop which now glowed from the flames within. Out of the open door stepped a figure, both arms now aflame. She seemed to be pulling the fire from the inside of the workshop which was now an inferno. In the blazing light the world seemed anew, the Weald which hugged and embraced the old town pulled back away from the flame almost waiting to watch what would happen next.
The creatures rushed at her but as fast as they charged, the flames, sensing the rot, leapt faster consuming the figures and lighting up the night with pillars of unnatural flame. The villagers, including Anya, were mesmerised, they had been moving, breathing even talking at times but that was nothing compared to the life they saw in those flames. This life was new forged and sustained from the rot that sustained it. Anya looked to her mother, her arms were ablaze hands seemed to have burned away in the heat, the rest of her body was charred and scorched but the true beauty was in her eyes…
For years the Rot had called to Melina, it had drawn her, in the way it burned and danced, in the way it whispered back when she whispered to it. Her daughter had begged her to leave, she did not, could not understand, Anya couldn’t hear the voices the beautiful lies it told. Anya could not feel the thousands of lives it lived. The rot had infected Anya’s mother differently to all the others, it hadn’t twisted her body, it hadn’t stopped her heart from beating, it had infected her mind. That’s what Anya sees burning now the eye sockets empty of anything but an intense flame.
The figure that was once Melina turned to look one last time at Anya as a huge limb from the hulking creature slammed her into the ground crushing her body. Anya had just seen her mother die but her only thought was for the flame, the beautiful flame. She watched as it leapt and twirled up the arm of the hulk burning away the pathetic imitation of life as it went. The hulk burned. The living flame danced playfully through the knots and boughs, eyes following as it moved all the hopeless villagers watching enraptured. They had lost everything their beautiful home, their souls, their hope to the Rot. In this flame they found the beauty they had lost, they found their souls, they found hope again.
Soon the hulk was nothing, but a charcoal skeleton and the fire was nothing but a candleflame. Anya approached eyes, wide with hope, the fire seemed to reach out to her as she drew close. She heard a small voice the same that had whispered to her mother, the same that had whispered to the Rot. Looking down at her hands she saw that the poker had burned away some of the bandages revealing the result of the night she had ran away, her fingers were gone. In their place grew twisted wood and thorns the Rot grew within her. Smiling she proffered her hands toward the dying flame…
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