Monday, 28 March 2016

Cities of the Plain

A red plain with red grass and red poppies opening after the rain like blood welling in a water-washed wound. Canyons bridged by red stone spans, slender and still haunted by the sacrifices made to hold them steady in the air. The heat of the plain and the waves of the heat. The haze of the poppy-pollen rising in the baked air. The red sun setting and the light from the red west staining the red grass white like fields of ghosts. Then the cold and the black and the great incalculable sky, and wolves. Coming down from the hills, out from the forests and the caves, the intelligent wolves of the plains.

And cities, abandoned and burnt black, ruins on the red plain with the red grass whispering against the carbon-caked stone of their unmanned walls, their towers howling in the wind like bottle tops.

No-one builds in the plain any more and no-one lives in the buildings that are there. Abandoned pueblos of green adobe hidden in the creeks, shrines and temples carved into the wind-blown rocks where the trade-routes cross, watch-towers for vanished nations and fortresses of forgotten kings. Even the tombs and barrows of the horse-lords, both recent and more ancient ones who rode the plain before the cities were ever made. Places to shelter for a night perhaps, to fortify against wolves, to decide whether to light a fire and risk a ghost or face the teeth in the dark, but not to stay.

The horse tribes will allow no-one to settle on the Phyrrous Plain, and allow no access to its ruined cities. In Jukai, or the Court of the Caliph of Holes some will say the the horse tribes are protecting the ancient treasures of those burnt cities, so long inaccessible and so far un-plundered, and they are right. But the tribes are also protecting the wanderers, adventurers, historians and thieves who would access them becasue the burnt cities of the plain are very dangerous indeed.

John Martin baby!


Skeletons and doors to the past. Skeletons are blackened in the fire that burnt the city down, with chunks of coal-meat clinging to their bones.

They seem fine though, best not to bother them.

The dead bones lead normal daily lives. They get up in the morning, wander around, cradle their skeleton children and go to the market to buy invisible food from other skeletons, silently performing all the actions of an average life.

They don't see people and pay no attention to them but if you jostle, push or interrupt, they will become confused, then frightened, then run to get help, and return with spear-armed and armoured skeleton guards and priests. Living priests in ancient clothes and basketwork masks that walk with the skeletons as friends and who will point you out and whisper to the dead in their silent tongue and have them blindly hunt you down.

The treasures of this city are lost or decayed, stolen or wasted away. Its chests are empty, its crown oxidised, its coffers and treasury empty, though the skeletons still fiercely guard the empty places where they would have been. Deep in the city, in its empty halls and temples, hidden in its libraries beneath the drifts of ash, are stained brass mirrors, man-high ovals.

Clean the tarnish from its surface and look. Within you find another world, or this world; this city in its past. Press your hand to a mirror and you can pass through and walk in that city.

It's the same buildings, the same streets, but the people are alive, not skeletons. The walls are hung with banners, the market full of music and sound, armoured guardians walk the walls. It's a city, a whole, real, living city with all the adventure and opportunity and wealth and colour and seduction you could wish for. And here the wealth is real. The treasury is full, the paintings and jewels are still there, though they are guarded now by real, living people.

The population don't go outside much, they leave that to the military, and they are frightened of ghosts and invisible spirits which sometimes seem to terrorise the population and which can only be captured and dispelled by the cities secret priests.

To anyone watching this, anyone who has not passed through a mirror, it looks like a normal person wandering around, chatting silently to skeletons, miming eating food and drinking drink, no more aware than the dead of the dark future and the black walls that surround them all.

A day or so after you arrive in the city beyond the brass mirror you feel strange pangs in your stomach, then a passing weakness in your muscles. Around three days in this briefly becomes a wave of overwhelming and incapacitating agony. But don't worry, it's over in minutes, and as soon as its done you feel fine, you can go about the rest of your existence in this ancient place without impediment.

Of course, in our world and our time, your body is dead. It walks around as a mummy while the eyes dry to shriveled nubs and the the skin cracks like parchment in the wind of the plains. If you come back through the mirrors after your heart has stopped, you come back to a dead body. Not a nice reality. Nor a pleasant end.

Of course if you can grab one of the treasures of the City of Brass Mirrors and escape to a mirror, then you can bring it back with you. You just have to be sure not to stay too long. Not to get caught and contained in a cell, or to be banished from the city walls, trapped outside by the secret vampire priests, immortal, living in both the present and the past, ruling them both.


By day this is a bright, burnt, empty place drifting with the the sad ghost-like dandelion seeds of the vermilion flowers that grow between the black bricks.In the charred beds in the charred homes, under the wolfskin sheets, are things curled up like sleeping people.

They are not.

As the sun sinks the things put on their furred black sheets and wolves walk out of the homes. Wolves in the watchtowers, wolves in the streets, and in the streets the space between the wolves is filled with rats. Millions of rats, swarming like a river. At the centre of the city is a Court of Wolves and a Wolf King curled up upon a great stone throne once made for human limbs. The Crown and Sceptre of this kingdom lie in the dirt of the ground, the ruined rugs and torn carpet, but they are not forgotten and the Wolves guard them still. By the side of the King is a Vulture larger than a man, that whispers in the Wolf-Kings ear.

As the dark comes on, the wolves race from the city, out into the darkening plain, dashing in packs, looking for prey. They are faster and more tireless than a mortal wolf, as soulless and intelligent as men.

Twice more fearful still, as these wolves cannot be killed by mortal men.

Mortal women and children are a bit different, they can kill the wolves, and for this reason the Horse-Tribes teach their women and children to fire arrows and guns at a young age. You are literally never too young to kill a wolf.

And for this reason also, the Horse-Tribes take the bodies of their women, and their children, and surrender their flesh to the sky, but keep the bones and carve from them arrowheads and spear blades, to be used only by the family they are from.

And for this reason as well, the Wolves of the City of the Court of Wolves, hate and fear women and children, attack them by whenever they can, dig up their corpses and cairns, feast on their flesh and chew on their bones.


This place is haunted by a storm. Spirits of the air who were the people of the city, now they live in the air and are the air and the walls are continually cloaked and obscured by an eternal hurricane.

They can never be still, never be quiet, never be at peace. They build and destroy and transform without end. The storm of its population passes away or disperses at times and the city becomes quiet. They go to some far corner of the world to fetch a building or roof, water rushes through the streets as the river floods. Then they return carrying towers from alien lands  in a hurricane of bricks and screams, sometimes with people in it.

A river of ghosts dragged by devils in an endless cycle. Claw marks on the buildings. Tombs burst open as ancestors were dragged out. A hell in the air, chasing from the empty sky.


  1. I can't write like this. Which is why I read you.

  2. So, when I first saw, then immediately bought, Burroughs' Cities of the Red night. I imagined strange Interzone-like places dotting a surreal red landscape. Needless to say I was disappointed in that respect. Though, it was Burroughs, so its hard to be completely disappointed. So, yeah... You made my hopes for a book a reality. I'm wearing a tinfoil hat from now on, your brain-scanning machine is useless now. As a side note, the imagery is incredible. Short, powerful paragraphs that would totally kill your English teacher.