Mark Newton: Nights of Villjamur

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Mark Newton Nights of Villjamur
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    Nights of Villjamur
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Mark Charan Newton

Nights of Villjamur

This much was obvious:

They'd sent him to kill her. And here she was, weeks away from comfort, weeks across the Archipelago and halfway across the night. Still, at least it was a good time to be on the run.

The lanes of Ule were cold and body-thick. Flames illuminated everything, fire from within pits, or from torches. In the shadows you could see young men and women sitting up late, smoking, talking philosophy, all elaborate hand gestures, loud voices, a little laughter here and there. Children slumped bleary-eyed or asleep by their knees. Older people drifted past the stores behind, scrutinizing faded signs, something about their manner suggesting they might be hoping to find the moment where their lives had slipped away.

They just get in the way, Papus thought, such is the nature of an Empire island. You can't stand still.

The island of Folke:

An outpost on the fringe of the Empire, with Jamur soldiers waiting to launch a raid to push back a tribal uprising at dusk, also crowds of locals, passing travellers, morbid tourists. Paranoid, she would frequently see something strange, an erratic gesture between two silhouetted figures, a moment where they'd stare back at her, then she'd wonder at the meaning behind it. On nights like this, it was as if everything happened out of context.

She needed to return to Villjamur.

This far east it was said that war inevitably brought out the curious. They'd come in droves, as if they had forgotten about all the possible ways in which you could die. Despite all the cover these people offered her, despite all the places to hide – he'd be waiting for her, maybe within the trading crowds of the iren, maybe somewhere between the packed fishing stalls where old men chanted their prices in hybrid dialects.

'A charm, lord…' A grubby woman speaking in broken Jamur. Dressed in rags, reeking of manure. In her muddied hands she displayed several blackened bones. Her face was wrinkled, smeared with smoke-stained sweat, a worrying distance in her eyes that indicated she was too far detached from reality for simple reason. 'Bone charms from slaves – holy items blessed by a Jorsalir priest, these. Please. I need coin-'

'I haven't got anything,' Papus said.

The woman leaned forward so close that you could smell the death.

'Get out my way.'

The crone muttered something, spit dribbling from her mouth. 'Put your spirit in a good place. We sin too much…'

Papus drew a sterkr from her cloak, wafted it before the woman's eyes.

A subtle, contained crack of purple light, and the woman was forced into stillness.

Damn, that would've drawn him to me. Papus left the old woman in her statue-still pose, placed the relic back in her pocket, and continued to walk with purpose through the town. All the time acting as if everything was fine, nothing to worry about here, while wishing she could evanesce into the community.

Street corners became hubs of activity. Young lads in particular gathered, armed with dreams of battlefield fame. Women were here to offer their bodies to soldiers and those few travellers with money. Beautiful enough to make a living, but not enough to marry wealth, their place in the economy was unknown, and they each stood alone with expressionless gazes that said too much. Nearby, wine bladders exchanged hands for a little coin. Even the children were drinking to keep warm, but this was a festival night, and so the people of Folke didn't mind.

Papus scanned the town cautiously.

Every detail mattered to her. It could be the difference between dying and getting home to Villjamur.

Despite the eddies of locals that crowded her with a dirty intensity, she felt utterly lonely, a sensation that only heightened her fear of being murdered. Nights like this made her question her path in life, question who she was and where she'd come from, and if her life would amount to anything more than power and secrecy, power in secrecy.

– A man through the darkness.

Was that him?

Perhaps her route across Folke was too obvious. It was meant to be hectic here, provide her with some sort of cover. Should she rip through empty space, he'd find her quickly, if he was as good as she thought. He'd sense where she'd left, all right, sense where she'd gone, and he'd be waiting for her, waiting to beat her unconscious. Besides, you couldn't travel that far in one go, not if you weren't familiar with the surroundings. For all she knew, she could reappear over the sea and then drown in icy water.

Relics couldn't get you out of every situation, because life just wasn't that considerate.

A clamour of armour meant the Jamur soldiers were leaving the town to prepare for their coastal raid. She weaved through thinning tides of locals in their weather-faded clothing, wanting to be lost in their simple throng. As long as people were around her she'd be safe.

She had a relic to get to Villjamur, to show to the rest of the order. He won't have it, she told herself, a mantra by now, a repetition on the tip of her tongue to convince herself this was more than just a possibility.

Down a thin alleyway between two wooden buildings, then under a clothes line, out behind the town towards the coast, and all the time glancing behind to see if he was tracking her shadow.

In the background could be heard the thunder of the sea.


Captain Brynd Lathraea of the Jamur Second Dragoons squinted through the dark towards the wall of water as it crashed onto the shores of Blortath, way off in the distance. Terns fled the wave, screaming as they scattered uniformly, like seeds thrown from a hand.

This was no natural phenomenon.

A hooded man was crouching in the shallow water, a few feet below, a device in his hands which he dipped rhythmically in and out of the sea. Occasionally he closed his eyes, tilted his head towards the night sky as if to perceive the world on some entirely new level. He was a cultist, from the Order of Natura – a minor sect – and he specialized in using apparatus that could change aspects of nature. Brynd ran a hand through his white hair. With a piece of equipment and a method that the captain could never comprehend, the cultist was throwing freak tides at Blortath so as to weaken their defences before the Second and Third Dragoons launched their coastal raid before sun-up.

The mission briefing was simple:


Assist the forces approaching from the north.

Slaughter wherever possible.

In all the major towns and cities, any Froutan and Deltu prisoners were to be executed. As a lesson to prevent other tribes from uniting against the Jamur forces, the Emperor Johynn requested that no tribesmen should remain alive. This was an Empire island, had been for years. A simple statement, the Council would say, no point in rebelling.

Don't fuck with Imperial strategy.

The island of Folke was a different environment to Jokull. Murky sandbanks and sand dunes expanded along the rest of the shoreline. Brynd was standing on top of the foremost dune, long reeds clawing at his knees. Lichens smothered a few stray boulders. Everything here was a fraction wilder – not like the civility of Villjamur. In the distance, dark smoke from the warning beacons drifted around Blortath, only a short journey away by longship. Unseen, two garudas circled the island, and Brynd was becoming impatient for their reports.

The cultist began to load the tide. Groundswells commenced, tips of the surf rolled and then leaned, the water groaning under pressure, waiting to collapse, but instead moving further upwards in some unlikely physics. And an alien noise as waves banked up sharply in a thin wall between the islands, waited unnaturally in the air – then launched themselves towards Blortath.

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