The Land of Wires
by Jonathan Pickering
“Everybody needs to add their own story, to find the two trophies: one of strength, one of knowledge, or they cannot be considered a vidar, a warrior, and they cannot lead.”
His father’s words echoed in young Asmund’s head as he stood on top of the cliff side looking at the valley his people had carved out of the forest.
“We must do this so we know how to avoid another terrible future. It’s all that matters.”
Bodil was Asmund’s first and most constant teacher. He told his story to Asmund, of deciding to face the Trial himself and join the other vidars. He told him about how his father created the Trial and first battled the beasts of flesh and wire, of pushing them back out of their valley, back to the edge of the deep forest and the lost places beyond.
Asmund knew of a time further back still, when there were men everywhere in the world, before the Many Wars and the use of the weapons that joined flesh and metal in abdominal harmony.
He knew the Stories, and knew them well. Now, it was time for him to add his own to the collective. He picked up his spear, made sure his bow was tight across his quiver, and went into the unknown of the deep forest.
In the village below, Bodil waited at the edge of the forest, watching the tree line. He had begun the ceremonial fasting to show solidarity for his son’s hard journey. He massaged his necklace of bone, held tight to his spear, and waited. His days as his son’s teacher and protector had come to an end.
“Go, my boy. Find the two trophies and return to me.”
Although the deep forest was exciting and new to the young initiate, as the day went on, an unfamiliar nervousness absorbed him as he snuck through the trees. Asmund let his mind wander to a day when he and Bodil were walking the outskirts of the village checking their pit traps for prey.
“Fear is our companion until we let it be our enemy,” Bodil explained.
They approached a pit filled with a rezbit. Bodil readied his long spear. “Fear tells us what we need to understand about our surroundings. Look.”
Asmund saw the small, multi-eared beast skittering its many legs up the side of the pit. The animal’s tinny hide made a clinking noise as it fell back into the pit; tried to climb out again; once more fell back.
Bodil went on with the lesson. “It knows it is in danger, and the body responds.” Bodil aimed his long spear. “What makes us different from the beasts of flesh and metal is that we can work to control our fear.” Bodil thrust at the rezbit and pierced its body. “So that we can overcome them.” The creature’s insides sparked and bled out on the long spear. “So that we may survive.”
Dusk came on. By then, Asmund had tracked a herd of gallops into an open dell. He noticed that a series of ravager tracks weren’t far behind. The translucent, fragile gallops grazed in the emptying light of the day, drooping their long necks so they could snack on the rye stalks that covered the dell.
After a few minutes of watching the gallops, Asmund spotted a pair of ravagers in the distant tree line. Goosebumps formed all over the young initiate’s body as he studied the horrible beasts, focusing on the wolf-like creature’s pulsing, electric-yellow eye and the fan of metal spikes that made up their manes.
The crinkle of a nearby leaf grabbed Asmund’s attention. He turned his head. A third ravager was just a few paces to his left, unaware of the teenager’s presence.
Asmund took his bow from his back and notched an arrow. With the care of a surgeon, he pulled back the bow string and aimed at a fleshy patch on the side of the nearby ravager that was between two plates of wire-covered metal.
Without apparent cause, the ravager near him darted out from its cover. Its muscular metal legs propelled it at a fantastic pace toward the gallops. The defenseless grazers immediately spotted the danger when a lookout let out a high-pitched squeal. Each gallop inverted its two sickle-like legs. There was a series of metallic popping noises. The gallops fired into the sky like a group of well-rehearsed dancers, leaping away from the approaching ravager.
The gallops came down near the two other ravagers. The ravagers attacked. Their powerful legs pumped toward their prey as their hood of spikes bristled in anticipation of the kill.
The gallops notched their legs back and jumped once again. Most of the herd sprang into the air, but one of the gallops was a moment too late. The ravagers pounced on the gallop and their blades pierced the soft parts of its hide. The victim let out a sick, robotic cry.
Both the ravagers and doomed gallop struggled in the rye stalks for a moment before the sound of an eerie whirring began. The heads of the ravagers started spinning, their neck blades sparking against the metal protecting the gallop’s skull. The twirling daggers found their way to the gallop’s fleshy backside. Blood and wire spattered in all directions as the gallop was flayed.
The ravagers’ heads churned down to a whisper, then went silent altogether. The blades feathered back into their manes as if settled by an invisible brush. Ravenously, the hunters started to feast.
Asmund cleared his brow of sweat. As he calmed the rush of adrenaline inside him, he watched the third ravager casually come up to its mates and start to gorge. While it ate, the creature revealed a new chance for the teenager to claim his trophy: the ravager exposed his unprotected under-hide as it tore through the wire-and-flesh-enjoined limbs of the gallop.
Asmund again readied his bow and arrow. He took aim — breathed carefully, breathed deep — held it — let loose the shot.
The arrow found its mark. The force of the blow sent the creature rolling over its meal. The other two ravagers ran off and disappeared among the trees.
Asmund waited, five minutes, ten, to be sure the ravagers wouldn’t return. When he was satisfied, the young initiate approached his victim. The ravager lay motionless, panting out an electronic droll.
Sneering over the disgusting creature, Asmund eyed the sick play of metal, wire and flesh that made up the horror. He spat and unsheathed his knife. With a few vicious stabs, the young initiate struck the ravager again and again under its neck where the metal faceplate didn’t cover. Out leaked more blood and a sticky, black substance. The teenager watched the life leave his kill as the blades of the ravager flicked in and out several times before retreating for good.
Without much care for the corpse, Asmund reached into one of the deep stab wounds. Slipping his fingers past the blood, black liquid, and wires, he found what he was searching for. With a yank, the teenager pulled out a piece of bone, perhaps part of the shoulder, or the neck, he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that it was proof — proof that he’d conquered one of the horrid beasts of metal and flesh. Asmund smiled.
The elation of getting his first trophy vanished as night descended. Unable to track the movement of any of the beasts of flesh and wire, Asmund was forced to dig into the hot earth and hide. He waited out the long night unable to sleep as he listened to the awful, mechanized warbles of known and unknown creatures.
When the sun slipped in through his blanket of leaves and dirt, Asmund thanked all who came before him for the chance to continue his journey.
It took Asmund two more days to reach the end of the forest and the beginning of the Land of Wires. The transition was marked by the mingling of many different kinds of metal slivers that began to pop up from the earth in random places. These foreign objects seemed to be trying to consume whatever bit of nature that were attached to, running themselves in and around everything the way tree roots stretch through soil.
Sugar pines and sequoias were replaced by smaller and smaller trees. The ground sprouted increasingly fewer shrubs, plants, and grass, replacing them with more and more wire. With the increase of the lacing metal, Asmund had to slow his pace, for he recognized the tracks of larger and deadlier beasts: caves of hulking ursas, felled trees where a berserking charger had chased after a meal, the canopy-like nests of the bigwings — all creatures that were too big and powerful for him to destroy on his own.
On the afternoon of the third day, Asmund came upon a fresh sight: a road. The teenager had been taught about these long stretches of rock and knew it meant he was approaching his destination.
The young initiate followed the road for the rest of the afternoon. When he emerged from an intersecting glen, he stopped, awestruck. All at once, The Stories of the Land of Wires, that moments before were nothing but wild parts of his imagination, became real.
Down in the valley were huge structures of metal and wire that forced their way into the sky. These giant creations were surrounded by smaller buildings that seemed like steps to their larger counterparts. Covering everything, giving the entire sight the look of one massive living yet nonliving abstract, were the wires: a twisted creation that appeared at any distance to be one gray-black mass but, on closer inspection, were found to be countless strains of all manner of metal sinew that were part of everything in total dominion over the landscape.
Asmund went to one knee and averted his eyes. He thought once again about what Bodil had told him — this time, when they were fixing the fallen roof of a neighbor’s house.
“When faced with the unknown, our reaction is to flee from it, to remove it from what we know to be true. But this is foolish. It is in the unknown where we find our story and where you will someday face yourself if you are to become a vidar.”
Asmund sprinted back over the small wave of a hill he had climbed when he first took in the grotesque valley. The young initiate went down the slope and slid into a nook of earth. Panicking, Asmund covered himself with soil.
The teenager shook with fright as he held onto the necklace of string and bone he had made from his kill, a memento that, just a few days earlier, he thought proved how brave he was.
That night, Asmund dreamed. He dreamed about returning to his village to find it overtaken by wires. He went through this place he once knew, discovering villager after villager dead and spun through with metal.
He woke up the next morning to what felt like the sting of an insect. The young initiate was both relieved and ashamed the only real danger that came to him in the night was a slither of wire that had crept onto his body and poked him in the hand, trying to force its way into a fresh organism.
Asmund uncovered himself and wrenched off the strand. He refreshed himself with his water skin. Slowly, he rose to his feet.
Standing in the small patch of earth, he remembered the day when his father took him to fish the village’s river.
Bodil was once more telling Asmund what he could of the Trial as the pair picked out the metal parts of a river troth. “There will come a time when what you have learned from me, from anybody, will fail you. At this time, the time when there is nobody, you will not be ready. You will never be ready. This is the time that will define you.”
Asmund lifted himself out of the pit. He wandered onto the road; wandered to where he could take in the Land the of Wires. His face contorted and he let himself cry. When he opened his eyes again, the young initiate stepped forward, cleared away his tears, and began making his way into the valley below.
The valley was both mesmerizing and scary. There were signs and placards with all manner of strange names and shapes, weird structures and objects made of even weirder material that were unfamiliar to the touch. Littering the roads were clunky metal rectangles that seemed to have no purpose whatsoever.
Adding to the chaos of the new environment was the endless wave of metal that covered the world like a skin.
Asmund carefully traversed the Land of Wires with his spear pointed ahead. The feeling of the wires under his leather sandals made him feel he was walking on a massive tuft of hair. This illusion was undone at random intervals when juts of wire would scratch the teenager’s feet, causing him to wince and bleed. He had to remind himself that not only was the seemingly dead, infinite cross-stitch of metal alive but, if he let it, the blanket of unending wire would make him part of its tapestry.
Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Pickering