AD MORTEM US PARTEM
He rose from his bed with a groan that echoed through the stillness of his chambers. Slipping on soft woolen slippers, he turned out of his bed, thin sheets rustling underneath the man’s weight. He shuffled towards the window, floorboards creaking, his hands wrapping about the heavy drapes before ripping them open, daylight flooding into the room as his chamber was set ablaze by the midday sun. Closing his eyes, the man did not open them until accustomed to the light.
Upon an old desk in the room lay a pile of papers, tattered and bruised from poor care. The man sat. He procured a quill from a jar and dipped it in the silky black ink beside his hand. And so he began, burning hours away, while below him rang out church bells, echoing throughout a bustling marketplace crowded with people from all corners of the realm. The shouts of store tenders played as a soundtrack to his writing. And when he found that the night set upon him and the sounds quieted, an oil lamp he burned.
Another day came. Birds chirped outside amongst the roofs. The ISA patrols moved throughout the city, greeting passersby on the road below the man’s chambers. Elves gave delicate curtsies to the men, dwarves headbutted each other in passing. Orcs grunted harshly at each other, usually ignoring the patrols of soldiers. And the man wrote, as he did for months before. Toiling endlessly at the stack of papers.
Tap tap tap tap, a knock. Four times. The old wood door shook violently with each knock. An object outside the door thudded harshly on the hallway’s floor. The man trudged lifelessly towards the door, a wistful glance offered back towards the stack of papers sitting upon the desk, now whittled down to the last few pages.
Tearing the barrel bolt from its rusted confines, he yanked open the deadbolt as the door creaked open slowly, a faint glimpse of a smile forming on the corners of his mouth. Nothing. And just as soon as it had come, the rise in his mouth had fled. He looked right. Empty halls. A portrait hung at the end of the wall stared him down, the cold eyes of Emperor John VIII following him. He shuddered. Left now. A mother entering her room with a baby, cooing loudly. She fumbled for a moment, hands shaking and palms sweaty as she fished through her pockets for the key, and he turned back.
Now, down, he looked. To a box. He hefted it up into his hands and brought it into his room, letting it down onto the bed. The man examined the box, running his hands along the smooth, white cardboard. Shaking it briefly, he listened for sounds within the box. The man began pulling at the colorful ribbons wrapped around the box, tearing them apart and throwing them to the side, digging his fingernails under the lid as he pulled off of the top of the box
a stack of papers.
New, no blemishes upon the clean white sheets. Small, black letters and words littered the papers front to back. Butcher’s twine was holding the stack of papers together, he ripped it off as well.
The man flipped the box over onto his desk, making room for this new batch of work. Crumpling up the unfinished old papers, he set them into a separate container and placed the lid of the newer box onto it, taking it out and setting it outside his door. He did the same with the finished older papers.
Another day came. This time, horses prodded around the outer walls. The bells did ring, but not church bells. Raid bells. Women and children ran inside, men stayed around to watch their shops, taking arms. But, even still, nothing came of the such, and the city resumed business as normal. The market was still alive and buzzing with elves, humans, orcs, and more of the sort from all over the island.
Another day came. Another package arrived at the doorstep. Another two were shipped out.
Another day. More writing. More shopkeepers yelling throughout the market. More lively music playing, only to be interrupted. More bells.
Another day rolled on by.
The days slowly melted in with the nights. All of it was a blur of words and ink blotches, melding together to form some semblance of a method. Some sort of structure to his work.
Weeks rolled by. Hagglers in the market kept at their business, yelling over the crowds at the shop tenders as they hollered back their disgust. The bells kept ringing.
The man worked endlessly as the bells, the bells, chimed out in a symphony to his toil.
The market seemed quieter. Less orcs, at first, he noticed. His morning glimpses of the world were becoming more dull. The elves soon followed, and the dwarves next; retreating to their homes in the mountains around them. The city was hollow. Nothing but the sound of the bells echoed throughout the once full streets. But the silence was deafening. Every once in a while a passerby could be seen, but nothing more.
Another day, another bell. The attacks began. Soldiers were sent to fight against them.
And the number of patrols walking the streets dwindled.
Another day. Another bell. Fighting broke out in the streets.
And now, even the number of heartlanders chatting in the marketplace dwindled.
Still, he wrote. But the marketplace had all but become deserted by now. The patrols of soldiers roaming the streets had all but left.
And the man worked still. Engrossed by his writing. Until one day, he looked outside at the world around him. Carts were rolling out of the city, taking everything in their wake along with them. He’d never seen this before. They were leaving. Why? They’re safe here. This is Providence, after all.
He went outside in a rush, papers flying through the room as he abandoned his workspace, throwing his quill across the chambers. Dust kicked up as the man walked across the bedroom and out into the halls. He took the right stairwell down at the end of the halls, running past a painting of King Adrian I that had been knocked to the ground. He stumbled out into the street.
“What’s going on?” The man called. “What are all these carts for?”
“Haven’t you heard? The Mori are coming! We must make it to Savoy.” A passerby called, halting his cart. “Hop along, I have room in the back for you.” He kindly let out a hand.
“Mori? Savoy? This is Providence, isn’t it? We’re in Oren, we’re safe. The ISA is here to protect us.” His eyes, red, bloodshot. Denial plagued the man. Horrible, shaking fervor and tremors rippled through his demeanor.
The man upon the cart cast a mournful gaze down towards the man, before looking down at the ground and soberly moving along.
“Wait! Sir!” The man's voice shook as he looked about the square, “Please!”
Nobody stopped to help, and the sparse gazes he had gotten turned quickly away as he dropped to his knees. Where was he to go? This is his world.
And so he returned to his chamber. Writing. Only this time, no new packages came. None were shipped out.
The world was dark. Empty. Cold. He was the only one left. Writing on papers over and over again, the silence of his own desire. His own creation.
And as days and nights passed, the man felt uneasy. He felt empty, like a part of him was gone. Weeks later, strange dark figures rolled through.
As the man awoke and went to sit upon his desk to write, it took him too many moments to realize what was happening. Men, shouting in the streets, razing the city. Flames, harsh, scorching, red flames, billowing from the streets and carts upon the ground. Ashes picked up in the winds, spreading the flames across the market, up the stalls, through the shops.
Horrible, screeching celebrations from the Mori echoed through the streets and alleyways of the city. Buildings came crashing down, succumbing to the insatiable beast rippling through the town as it grew ashy, the monstrous flames lay waste to all around it in a horrid display of brutality. But there was nobody to see, nobody to notice, nobody to scream but the man.
The dark figures were shouting a language he couldn’t understand. He didn’t want to understand. His eyes were glued shut, hands over ears. As much as he denied it, it was here. He knew it to be so. And the bells, they kept ringing.
The whole time… the bells.
And as the world caved in around him, his world, he denied it. His chamber burned around him. Fire leaked in beneath the door, eating up the carpet, the rugs, the trash scattered upon the floor. It crawled around the room like a lion, engulfing everything in its path, climbing up his desk, up the chair, tickling the papers upon the desk. And it set fire thereafter, going up in a brilliant inferno of red, orange and yellow. All of his work set alight, consumed by the pyre. But the man began to smile. For once in his life, he had witnessed true beauty as the flames swirled and grew around him, a perfect, passionate storm engulfing everything that he held so dear. A spark, however briefly it lasted, burned inside him like nothing had before. And how nothing would after.
AD MORTEM US PARTEM