This is one of the shortest ones I did, it seems to work ok though?
Just breathe for a moment.
There, south east, about a mile, a silence in the song.
Following. Can you know that?
It's not random. A hunter or chance traveller would have kicked out bird plough, a scattering of rising birds. This wasn't that.
So it’s something quiet, that moves well. A big cat maybe?
Too close to winter, could one still be roaming around?
Maybe. It's possible.
And following you? Tracking the scent of multiple armed strangers?
Maybe, it it's starving. Wounded maybe. Can't catch anything faster.
But you don't think it’s that.
Somebody once told you that the land speaks to you. It was one of the stupidest things you've ever heard. All you do is pay attention.
It's hard to do though. (And a lot harder if people can't stop making NOISE! How in the Dream of the Gods have your friends survived this long? Stumbling, stamping, snapping twigs, snapping branches even! Coughing, wheezing, gasping, laughing and talking, always talking talking talking, you may as well have brought a bell factory with you.)
Of crucial importance are socks.
Once they get wet, from rain or swamp or sweat, they chafe. You blister. Then they wear through and the blister bursts against shoe leather. Then you are down to two miles in the hour and continual pain.
You can dry wet socks by wearing them on your hands at night, by the time you wake up they are warm again and ready to wear.
Nobody ever brings enough socks, or takes enough care of them.
It's that and water, and not dying of cold. That's all you really need to know.
It's going to try to kill you tonight. Whatever, whoever, picked up your trail at the river (you dried clothes on branches afterwards - thread caught on a branch, you would bet that's how they got you) and it will likely rain tonight, that will dampen the fire, and the spirits. Everyone will want to sleep.
That would be the best time.
Don't stop. Don't look back. If you find their sign then they can find yours, (an old rule you learned the hard way).
They will be here, in this spot, in fifteen, twenty minutes. You can't let them see that you stopped, or that you discussed something.
Depends how good they are...
They'll wait, they try to kill the sentry, then attack while everyone sleeps. Over in five minutes if they get it right.
It's good out here, one of the few surviving natural lands. And sad. Those living in cities and valleys think they live in a large world, they only dimly intuit that they are trapped.
The world was vast once. You could start walking and go.. well, anywhere. You could never stop walking if you wanted to. These wild lands, as vast as they are, are but a slim margin of wilderness trapped between the Queendoms, the Cities and the Waste.
As to the depths of the Waste, who can speak of them? Who can survive them?
Some have called you 'Waste Walker' - a crazed phrase. As if there could ever be such a thing in that crawling anti-nature. You have gone deep enough into the margins of nothingness to know that. That bleak un-world is like a book of nonsense verse or an idiots code, read upside-down, changing with each page turned.
Tumbling arcologies of pale smoky glass, swarming hive-fields of mindless pseudo-insects, the live plain piling like the stories of seas, a gloaming dusk-streaked sky that seems to melt like old paint, the roaring of Gogmagogic Name-Takers, swollen to grotesque stupidity with swallowed names, their facile cunning lost, locked together in brutal dominance displays that shatter the Alkali plains into shards like ice with the fury of their rage. You never dreamed they could grow so large.
The maddening Sargasso greyness of the place, and the transverse un-sense of its shadow ecology, can only be survived, not explored. And then only through a combination of insane hypersensitivity to any imaginable threat along with impulsive and immediate counter-intuitive action.
The Waste plays games with you. You must play back, and do what it cannot expect. If you act too rationally, if you stick too much to any particular plan - then it’s as if a hand moves against you invisibly, out beyond the wreathes of mist and falling ash.
(One day, maybe, you will try the trek to Phosphorfall. Just to see if you can make it. just to see if there is anything beyond. If Uud still lives beyond this small dream.
Here, though, it’s quite pleasant, with only a handful of almost-predictable things trying to kill you.
You will get lost.
"Hand me that drink will you?"
The Deoth looks surprised. You realise you haven't spoken since this morning. You smile.
Where would be best? The crags somewhere. Amongst what the mage calls 'karst', the pillars of white rock. That would be a near-believable mistake to make. Lead them into the karst.
They will follow you in. The hard stone will hide tracks. The pillars will give cover.
And where to be seen making it?
Here is good.
"Wait." You say. And walk a little. Back and forth. Back and forth. A tread here, a mark there. Five, six minutes of lost time.
Lean on this stump and make sure to take of a smear of moss.
Some like you have disappeared from the world of Humanity, walking off into the high country or the deep swamp, surviving on their skills somewhere impossibly distant from the noise and murmur of thinking beings.
You know a few of them. You can see the attraction.
But not you, or at least, not yet. You keep coming back, back to the noise and the stink, the booze and the idiot politics. Why?
You need things, very occasionally, complex or manufactured things, and for those you need coin.
But it is not that alone.
It feels good to be of use.
There are things out here in the wild, things even you cannot avoid or escape, and which even you could not fight alone. More is needed. Not just numbers or bodies but different skills, different thinking.
And it feels good to be needed. These people, clinging to their valleys and their river and stone, sometimes seem almost blind in how they live.
You down the drink in one. They've never seen you drink before and someone makes a joke. Not that city-Aeth with the quick hands though, they might not know you are being hunted but they know trickery when you see it.
You hurl the booze-bottle into the bushes nearby, empty.
"I thought," the Aeth says, "you told us never to leave signs behind?"
"This way." You reply. "We don't have much light left."
"Are we stopping to camp?" Asks the Deoth.
"Yes. But before that, in about thirty minutes, we must kill a silent hunter in a labyrinth of white stone. Then we can eat."
Oh and there's seven days left to go on the Kickstarter and I think there's new stuff on there?