Litwell was once a bustling city. It had its merchants hawking goods, artists painting canvases, thieves cutting purses. It was a growing place a great place. It may not have been among Tauria's top three cities, but it was in the top ten.
Of course, this is not the case anymore. Things... Change, and Litwell is now referred to in the past tense.
It is located on a trade route between Redstone and Isador, but not the common one that goes directly between the two cities. It lies on the more circuitous route, the one that goes more west to get some of the outlying provinces and cities. Then the road, passing through some less important cities and towns, reaches Isador.
This is the main reason why the road is preserved and, more importantly, guarded.
Approaching Litwell from the road, one would first see a curiosity. After hearing all the stories of Litwell, travelers are always a little surprised upon seeing to see that its walls are completely intact, as of a day has not gone by since its glory days. Indeed, the walls themselves were famous back in the day. The local stone has a far amount of red and orange crystals in it, giving the impression, at dusk, of the walls burning (which was why it was originally named Lite Wall, and time and people saying the name modified it).
Then that traveler enter the city, and he gasps. Seeing the walls in perfect condition, one expects that at least the bits near the walls are in decent shape. This is not the case.
The entire city looks burnt, as if a massive fire had raged within the walls. Ashes coat the streets and allies, unable to escape the city, despite the efforts of the wind. Melted iron slag pools have long-since hardened into a misshaped mirror.
The one thing that seems missing from this picture of devastation are bones. Sure, there are bones here and there, but they are from Litwell's new inhabitants. The charred skeletal remnants you would expect to see from the city's citizens before the catastrophe are not here, no matter how far the curious dig into the shifting ash.
The main road leads a winding way through the city to its heart, where you fin yourself at a crossroads forming a T. The perpendicular split leads off west to the border towns, cities, and forts, while the other two lead to either Redstone or Isador. This road is maintained by Tauria, with some people constantly brushing ash off the main road.
These ash sweepers are usually veterans of the military or mercenaries. Failing that, they are given a minimum of military training and provided with a sword. They sweep in trios for the sake of protection. The Sweeper's Hall lies about a 1/4 mile away from Litwell, and is where they live and keep their supplies, as the sweepers refuse to renovate a house inside the city.
The Taurian government first instituted the ash sweepers within a month of the catastrophe. It was always intended to be a temporary measure, with the plans for the side road all ready being drawn up. This side road was never actually started. People simply didn't get around to it, saying that evacuation and disaster relief was the more pressing problem, and then getting the farmers and poor in the area dependent on the city to sell their excess food into places closer to the other cities. Eventually, it became a sort of a common joke; saying 'it'll be done right after we finish the Litwell road,' became an idiom for something that the person would never actually complete.
Of course, with the ash sweeper's deaths, perhaps one or two a month, the issue stays somewhat current, and stays on the Taurian to-do list, but it is never actually done. There is never enough money in the budget. The ash sweeper's lives aren't important enough to warrant either a new road or military action.
You see, after the catastrophe of Litwell, things moved in. The ash sweepers call them Shadows, because that's all you see. A flicker in the shadow, and then one of your fellow ash sweepers has disappeared, and there's a bit of blood on the ground. Well, I say a bit. Its more like a pool of blood, quietly getting soaked up by the ever-present, never-red ash.
There was an effort to rid Litwell of the Shadows. The ash sweepers had, out of their clothing budget, hired a bunch of mercenaries. There were five, but they seemed confident; they told tales of how they had defeated great and powerful enemies. The ash sweepers nodded and smiled and told them to get along with defeating this one.
The ash sweepers found the cleaned off skeletons of all five in the middle of the crossroads the next day, perfectly cleaned off. There was a note, written in the scrawl of the leader, laying on his skeleton (or, at least, the one they assumed was his skeleton). The man had been clearly driven insane by the end of the note. Instead of a signature, there was some foreign scrawl, in very clear lettering, but somehow gave off the idea that the writer had never picked up the pen or spoke the language, 'good try, ye who own the wide ways.
The ash sweepers went about their duties as they always do, ignoring the danger and the monsters that lurk in Litwell's allies. Since the day with the mercenaries, there were slightly less attacks on the sweepers, which makes the expense worth it in there eyes.
Then there came the... Event, you could say. A traveler stopped to speak with the ash sweepers. Of course, travelers would speak with the ash sweepers all the time, as the sweepers guided them through the city. But not staying as a guest in the Sweeper's Hall for an extended period of time. The traveler asked many questions, up to and including the whereabouts of Mark, since Mark had not returned from sweeping that day.
The traveler learned about the inhabitants of Litwell. He smiled and said that he would 'take care of things.' The ash sweepers protested, not wanting the kind man to get killed, to perish. But the traveler still entered the city completely unarmed.
Nothing happened for one year. The ash sweepers dismissed the traveler as dead, killed by the Shadows. They went back to sweeping the ash and dying at the hands of the things in the alleys. Then, the traveler emerged from the shadows, acting as if nothing had happened, as if no time had passed. He said he had found out what had happened, and that he had fixed the problem. He smiled, and left, but not after saying one thing:
Terror stalks the streets of Litwell
In hope that the hour of the bell
Might come to save the many,
Eating to maintain the petty.
The traveler left after this, but these final words stuck with the ash sweepers. They had been said with such voice that they had come to believe that it was true. One of them, being a skilled whittler, carved the words into a piece of wood and hung it above the door.
The secrets of Litwell:
There was a decade old boy who lived in Litwell. This child was named Lucas. Now Lucas was born into a rich merchant family, and so was... slightly spoiled. By slightly we mean, of course, extremely. There came a time that Lucas' father became rich enough that living in Litwell stifled his financial ambitions. The solution, of course, was to move to Redstone.
Lucas did not want to leave Litwell. All of his friends were here, you see, and the ten-year old could not fathom a life elsewhere. Thus, Lucas refused to leave his room the day they were to leave. When his father came to remove him, Lucas threw a temper tantrum, and clung to his doorframe.
The moment his fingers slipped came a roaring noise.
You see, unknown to the family, Lucas was a wizard. He was born with the gift, and for him it was an extraordinary gift. If he had been given a chance to grow up, he would have perhaps been the most powerful wizard in all of history. But, you see, he wasn't given that chance.
Lucas screamed, a yell primal and untempered. It was not the voice of a child, but of an otherworldly force. He spread his arms wide and fire escaped from him. The child was incinerated, his father was incinerated, his mother was incinerated.
The city burned. It was not a normal fire, however; it only touched each thing with enough heat to reduce it to its melted form. Thus steel could melt but door-frames remain, albeit charred. The walls of Litwell, which Lucas did not want to leave, remained untouched.
Farmers nearby reported seeing a massive pillar of red and orange and yellow and blue flames spear the heavens. Some of these said- and these would be the more creative and imaginative ones- that they thought they even saw people made of fire charge up the pillar.
It was only ashes that remained. Ashes that could never leave the city. Ashes that refused to be sullied. Ashes that remained eternal.
The citizens of Litwell did not die. A consequence of Lucas desire not to leave meant others had to. And so the people of Litwell found themselves on a strange land, in a strange place, in a strange time. They found themselves on a volcanic archipelago, next to a new continent, 500 years in the past.
An entire city's worth of people ripped from their place in space and time so violently takes and awful lot of energy. It fights against history and nature itself. And all history wants is for the people to return to where they belong. Where they should be is burned to death in a ruined city.
To keep then citizens safe, energy must be provided. This was done somewhat intentionally. The massive sorcery Lucas did leave traces. Some animals were attracted to it, and came, and then became, in essence, slaves to it.
The magic did not give them sentience. Everything they do is purely animal. However, the force that changed them and adapted them and overwrote them was sentient in a way. As magic is born of life, in very specific and very rare circumstances the magic can gain a degree of free will.
The animals became wizards. Each and every one of them. The predators' natural weapons were enhanced as well, with claws and teeth elongating and becoming sharper. Their very biology was also changed. Instead of eating to supply energy to themselves, they now eat to transfer the victim's souls to the magic, to be used to supply the magical energy to keep the citizens of Litwell safe in the past.
The energy must be maintained until the Litwellians come home, and arrive at the shattered ruin. The Litwell Catastrophe occurred in the year 123 PE: how much longer must the Ash Sweepers die to maintain the spoiled son's sorcery?
The Ash Sweepers:
The Ash Sweepers are composed of a variety of types. Though nearby town and villages that the Ash Sweepers frequent on supply runs have learned, gradually, of the dangers of life in Litwell, most of Tauria, and thus the world, is unaware of the inhabitants. Thus, there are plenty of people who join up.
Some simply need work. A poor man might hear or see the Sweeper recruitment flyers and join, thinking it easy money. Others do hear about the dangers, and sign up for the fun of it. A mercenary might decide that his fighting skills shouldn't go to waste, or that he'd rather die in battle than of old age. And then there are the criminals.
A while back, a Taurian politician realized that Ash Sweepers keep dying in Litwell. Thus, he decided to start shipping off criminals on a work assignment to the ruin. After all, might as well get some use out of them, and who cares if a criminal gets killed. Still, it wouldn't be moral to deprive them of the choice, so going to Litwell takes time off the criminal's punishment.
Why do people simply not quit? Duty is a big reason. This is their job. Its a dangerous one, but it needs to be done. Another one is that they need to. They might have a family elsewhere they need to support, and this is the only job they could find. And then there's always that thought in the deepest corner of a person's mind that they aren't going to die, that they can't die. This thought is contributed mainly by the fact that the Sweepers are composed mostly of young men.
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? Responses (4)-4
How interesting! A sad tale, but it would make for an interesting encounter.
I think I'm still a bit lost on the details re: the Litwells current where/whenabouts. Are they just stuck in the past someplace? Do they have to wait 500 years to return? Are they still hanging out with Lucas?
Lucas burned. The magic consumed him. The spoiled brat died off. As did his family.
As for where the Litwellians are now, well, that shall be examined in an upcoming sub. Basically, there's the continent of Atheus (where Tauria and Litwell are), then another one off to the east of Atheus that the Litwellians got dumped 500 years ago. They are building a soceity and living. Eventually, their descendants will return home. They will come to the ruins of Litwell, and all will be made right. The Litwellians are in Litwell, and thus history will happy. Hopefully, the ambient magics will cease when that happens, and the sorcery-wielding animals killing things in Litwell will go off into the countryside and live life. I hope this answers your question.
An interesting read, but I had to go back and reread it to figure out what happened because the transport of the Litwellians 500 years into the past into a new place is glossed over in one sentence. I would add a paragraph explaining what you've answered above, about the descendents of the Litwellians eventually returning to their home, because it would help with the cliffhanger.
I was hooked into reading this story, I wanted to know more about the city, and the foolhardy or unlucky men who sweep the road, and about what sort of evil was taking them as they worked. Very good work there.
There is lot of information presented in here. I love that we get a lot of the information through the backchannels of the piece and not in the direct delivery. We have natural born wizards, a constant battle between the will of men (or ten year old boys) and the will of nature that wants to burn up the citizens, and shadow beasts the make are agents of human sacrifice. We also have consistent voice in the piece.
You see the person telling us about the road and the city is same person who knows all the secrets. But that is unknown to us at the beginning of the pieces, because the speaker uses a very passive voice and asserts almost a second person perspective. He also tends to repeat himself and by repeat himself I mean say the same thing two different ways, like saying it twice or three times. You see this repetitive voice, it gives you the sense that there is a bit a folktale quality to story. You see? This, I reckon, makes us, I mean, now you are a little more tolerant of uncertainty when your narrator is a little folksy.
But what is the narrator's point? Why is he telling us this story? I am 100% behind writing game stuff like a writer first not a like a gamer. That demands consistent voice, considerations of perspective and bias. You have done that here, and I love it. But I don't know what the narrator is getting at besides few cheap surprise moments (clean skeletons, the guy coming back after the event, or the boy blowing up his town). Using this narrator's voice, you use twice as many words or more than you probably need to describe the town.
The use of voice would be even stronger if there was more back channel delivery of information and you might achieve this if we knew a little more about the narrator and his intentions.
How does the narrator know all this?
How can this narrator, who drops so may little 'surprises' on by taking the round about way to get to his/her point and not end this story with climax or a hook? You have weak ending that does not fit the tone of the rest of the piece. The piece by its nature promises a reveal and it does not give us one.
The people get sent back 500 years and rise to power: spreadout, conquer the world and all that. They then begin to actively support the human sacrifice in Litwell to maintain their defiance of the personified force of history you mention. Thus a plot may be to overthrow the tyrants, you have to stop the human sacrifice in the Litwell, this will pull the tryants ancestors out of time, burn them and eliminate the ruling class. Screw that the Litwell return makes everything right idea. HOW CAN YOU HAVE A TIME TRAVEL STORY WITHOUT A PARADOX?
reread this later, couldn't tell what I was talking about