Bleak Bluffs

I stood at the edge of the ledge, cloak pulled tightly around my armored body as the wind screamed past me.

Before me, thirty longships were being pulled from the water below, warriors flooding from their wooden bellies and building massive bonfires on the rocky beach.

Behind me, on our shelf of stone halfway up the cliff, one man sat calmly at a flickering little fire, slowly dragging his whetstone over the blade of his great sword.

The odds were not in our favor.

“This looks like the end of our rebellion,” Joran said, setting aside his sword.  Using a thick branch, he struggled to his feet and limped over to join me at the edge.

“Not how I expected to go out,” I said.

Two days ago, thirty of us had been clustered on the shelf, preparing to make the journey though the soaring peaks at our backs.  Twenty eight bodies now lay rotting in a cave further along the ledge. Among them was the corpse of Vaeron IV, the late emperor.

“You’d think they would give up after we fought of the first two attacks, or after they killed Vaeron.”

“Houd doesn’t think like that.”  I thought I could see him on the beach, the hulking usurper directing his warriors with frantic gestures.  “He won’t rest until everyone loyal to Vaeron is dead.”

Joran limped back to the fire and lowered himself gingerly.  “He’ll be able to rest soon, then.  The two of us—well, the one and a half of us—” he lifted his maimed leg “won’t be able to hold them off.”

“We’ve done all we could.”

Joran snorted.  “We’ve done nothing.  Absolutely nothing.”

“We must have killed two hundred of those damn rebels.  Twenty eight men died!  It counts for something.”

“Those men died so that Vaeron could live, but now he’s feeding the same worms.”  Joran lay back onto the rough stone, setting his blade his chest and his hands on the cross-guard.  “Believe what you wish, if it makes your last night easier.”

He closed his eyes, leaving me to stare bleakly at the men massing below.

“Wake me up when it’s time to die.”

Roots

I stood and watched as the thick roots crept forward, strangling the city with their unstoppable progress.  They crawled inexorably up the sides of buildings and shot quickly down the streets, wrapping up anything in their path.

Hordes of terrified men and women sprinted past me, their eyes wild.

“Run, you dumbass!” one cried.

But I couldn’t.  Jason had told me to wait for him beside the statue of Sherman, had promised to meet me.  He would be here.

He would make it out.  I had been repeating the thought to myself, but as the roots stretched forward, and he remained away, I was becoming less and less certain that he would ever show.

“Move it kid!” another of my fleeing neighbors yelled.  This one, a balding man who I had seen once or twice at the Laundromat, stopped to see what might be wrong with me.

“I can’t,” I said, my gaze fixed on the writhing forest consuming my home.  “Jason is still in there.”

“If he hasn’t gotten out by now, he never will.  The city will be forest by nightfall.”

“He’ll make it.”

The man shook his head, disgusted at me inability to see reason.  “It’s your funeral,” he said, turning to sprint away.

He would make it out.  No.  I was kidding myself.  The mass of roots was moving ever closer—now only twenty yards away.  The smart thing to do would be to turn and run.

I did, but not away.

“I’m coming, Jason,” I called, though there would be no way for him to hear me.

Pushing my way through the fleeing crowd I charged into the expanding roots.

“Jason!” I kept calling his name as I moved deeper into the forest, past gutted cars wrapped in wood and skyscrapers sheathed in the stuff.  Wherever I stepped, thick vines sprouted around my feet, attempting to seize them.  One wrapped all the way around my ankle, but I slipped from my shoe before it could fully tighten.

Less one shoe and stepping lightly, I pressed on.  By the time I reached Costeau Street, sunlight just barely filtered through the vines above.  The only signs that I was even in a city were the cars and stoplights being strangled by the forest. The previously bustling metropolis was dead, choked into an eerie quiet.

“Jason!” I called again.  At this point, I was repeating his name as a comfort to myself.  My words no longer rang true to myself.  He will make it out.  The words were empty, and I knew it.

“Frank!”  The shout rang through the silence and shocked me into stillness long enough for the vines to resume their clutching at my feet.  It was definitely Jason’s voice.

Slipping out of my other shoe, I sprinted after the call, my bare feet strong against smooth bark.

“Frank!”  Terror in his voice made me redouble my efforts.

I finally found him hanging ten feet in the air, rooted to the side of a building.  The shifting vines covered his entire body up to his neck, slowly and unstoppably moving higher.

“It’s too late for me, Frank,” he said, eyes wide with terror as a thick vine wrapped around his head, pulling it harshly to the skyscraper’s wall.

I shifted rapidly from foot to foot, not allowing the roots to take hold.  “It’s never too late,” I said, looking around for anything that could cut him free.  “We can both get out of here.”

There.  A hardware store two doors down.  “I’ll be right back, I promise.”  After shattering the window and shuffling through the tools on display, I found a handsaw and raced back to my brother.

Only his dark brown eyes and a corner of his mouth were visible.  “Save yours—” A vine slipped over his mouth, muffling whatever was to come next.

“No!”  I leapt against the roots and began to climb.  If I could get to Jason before his breathing was cut off, I could free him.

But climbing with a saw in hand was harder than I had thought, and was slow going.  Before I could reach my brother, a root the size of a small tree shot out and wrapped around my left arm, pinning it to the building.  I tried to cut myself free, but the roots and vines moved quickly, as if sensing danger.  They moved across my chest and pulled my right arm to my side, squeezing on the wrist.

The saw fell as my hands went numb.

Weapon gone, I kicked and screamed, but was instantly subdued by my living bonds.  Jason was jut out of reach.

We won’t make it out.