Wraith Tide (Book Excerpt)
by Neil Cladingboel
Page 1 of 3
by Neil C. Cladingboel
The skies burned with an unearthly, orange glow, scorching the
bloodless skin of the banished immortals toiling endlessly on the wastelands
Clouds of sulphur rained down upon them at regular intervals,
stinging their eyes and choking their lungs as they struggled to complete their
designated tasks. Tomorrow, the Anvils would come again, littering the plains
of Tartarus with a barrage of flaming rocks. Some would leave craters the size
of oranges; others would swallow acres of the hot, desert sand. Yet, unlike
their mortal-world counterparts, the Anvils of Tartarus contained no power or
Anvil detail was hated by almost all of the condemned. The
continual cleanup seemed to most, a complete waste of time, knowing that every
week the desolate and tortuous expanses would again be littered and the
collection gangs would be assigned the task of recovering the fallen rocks and
filling in the numerous craters they left behind. For now though, the igneous
skies remained silent and an eerie sense of foreboding swept over the
collectors, silently fearing the new day and the rain of Anvils it would surely
None of the condemned knew for certain where the Anvils came
from. Tartarus was buried deep beneath the many levels of Erebus; itself
located far below the soils of Earth. They often queried the guards of course,
but their requests for knowledge brought only sardonic grins and derogatory
insults. The banished need only know that the Anvils fell regularly and must
therefore be collected, they were told. Nothing more and nothing less.
Rumors were plentiful and nearly every worker had a theory.
Most believed they were the work of a skeletal serpent or dragon, known only as
the Rock Demon, an Anvil-spewing creature with bones of gold that had been
banished into the cliffs at the edge of the plains when Tartarus was first
created. Legends claimed that the creature's eyes were solid diamonds, and many
souls had tried to escape to the cliffs in search of the supernatural beast and
its prized bones and gems. All but one had perished on the fiery plains, far
short of their destinations, and he had been lucky to survive his subsequent
punishments when the guards eventually recaptured him.
They had since nicknamed him the Scavenger; a sallow-faced,
weed of a man always searching for unusual rocks or mysterious trinkets left
behind in the aftermath of the Anvils and the frequent tremors that they
caused. He alone enjoyed the cleanup details, believing they offered him the
chance of wealth, although most of what he discovered were only lumps of
colored rock. Occasionally though, he uncovered Anvils filled with veins of
gold or precious gems.
These souvenirs had become a currency of sorts, desired by
many yet afforded by few. Most, he traded with the guards in return for favors,
although he could never understand their attraction or why they desired such
things. But the pay offs allowed him all the time he needed to fossick through
the plains and build his collection.
His fellow inmates began to despise him for the leniency he
received, and for his obvious consorting with the easily bribed guards. Yet in
truth, they were all happy not to have him around. None of the banished were
saints of course, far from it, yet the crimes the Scavenger had committed as a
mortal afforded him little respect or acknowledgment.
The Scavenger was aware of this and it troubled him greatly,
in spite of his relationship with the guards. Very few prisoners had any time
for him and fewer still accepted his gifts. But he was confident that soon, his
position within the ranks would change. His latest find would bring him nothing
short of a King's ransom, he believed, and earn him the respect and acceptance
he so eagerly sought.
When he first discovered the small fragment of glass, his
heart had raced, hoping he had stumbled across a diamond. But as he sifted
through the dry, red sands, more of the glass caught his eyes. He had kept the
location of his find a secret, returning regularly until he had found all he
could of the ancient shards.
He was left now with the daunting task of piecing the
fragments together, jigsaw-like, and repairing the ornate gilded frame, most of
which he had also recovered. The frame itself was of little consequence, he
thought. The Scavenger's real wealth, certain respect and his only chance of
escaping Tartarus would come from being the undisputed owner of such a find.
Carefully placing the pieces onto the surface of a rock, he
was a little disappointed to discover that he didn't appear to have them all.
Nevertheless, when he fingered the fragments into their rightful positions,
they instantly fused together, reflecting more and more of his excited face.
Intrigued, he watched as each new piece became momentarily liquid, filling the
gaps of the missing fragments as the shattered glass and frame slowly restored
The Scavenger's gleaming eyes and unshaven face stared back at him as he
lowered his head towards the surface of the glass. Then, unseen by the others,
he gently kissed his reflected lips before hiding the valuable prize inside his
torn and dirty shirt.
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Neil Cladingboel, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.