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Neil Charles Cladingboel
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Wraith Tide (Book Excerpt)
         by Neil Cladingboel
Page 1 of 3

Wraith Tide

by Neil C. Cladingboel

 

Prologue

The skies burned with an unearthly, orange glow, scorching the bloodless skin of the banished immortals toiling endlessly on the wastelands below.

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 magic.

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 bring.

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 itself.

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.

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