Short Story Challenge 1: The End of All Things - The Loresworn Order

Jul
26

Short Story Challenge 1: The End of All Things

The Loresworn Short Story Challenge is a regular column in which a member of our team presents another with a writing prompt, or one is chosen from the community. In this inaugural edition, T.J. was given the prompt: “I laughed, for it was the end of all things, and all my fault.”

No one ever told us what lay behind the enormous, etched bronze doors of the clock tower. None were allowed to enter it, nor even peer within, but for the Watchmakers. Withered old corpses with their eyes taken out, the sockets covered by bandages, their lower limbs grafted with clockwork, spindly legs and various harnesses for tools used to maintain the working.

We were but protectors. Pikes and rifles at hand, brandishing the dull, burnt orange sigil of the Clockguard over our hammered breastplates. It was not for us to know why the tower was important. We needed only swear to keep it free from trespass—at the expense of our lives, if it came to that. I had been on watch barely a year, and already we had lost seventeen of our number to the raids.

They came in all shapes and colors. Flowing, extravagant highland nobles on the backs of great, winged terrors. Hordes from the deserts wrapped in cloth and showering us with arrows. Columns of mounted mercenaries from the lands by the sea charging with sureness and abandon. We always turned them back, but they always collected a toll in blood. Some of the fallen were intact enough to be turned into Watchmakers in the fleshforges. Others received only a sleeping place beneath the sand. The old captain said he feared he may live to see the day that there were not enough of us remaining to defend the tower.

We always turned them back, but they always collected a toll in blood. Some of the fallen were intact enough to be turned into Watchmakers in the fleshforges. Others received only a sleeping place beneath the sand.

It was with this proclamation of doom ringing in my thoughts that I allowed the cloaked coach driver passage inside the outer walls, to camp beside our barracks and share our meals. In his cart he carried the tools of a master tinker, and he claimed he could bolster our defenses with his own great workings of gear and steel. Repeating firearms that needed no man behind them to find their targets. Spring-wound scarabs that would seek out approaching armies and release a drop of poison into their water stores. Pivoting panels of fire-hardened oak that could turn aside spears thrown from any angle. Not so many of us would have to die. And the tower would remain safe.

His wonders seemed our salvation at first. Even the captain was impressed. But in the second month of his stay, things began to go amiss. Tools and small oddments the Watchmakers used would go missing. Then the decrepit servitors themselves began to fall ill. They grew sluggish and listless, their machine parts malfunctioning. The fleshforges, far below the courtyard, fell silent, and no word could reach them. The commander was concerned, but no one expected the old tinker. He was kept under close watch at all times, and always seemed to have several good souls who could speak to his whereabouts when something went wrong.

At last came the fateful night when I wandered out to relieve the evening guard and begin my night’s shift to find the doors to the tower abandoned. One of them was slightly ajar, and I could hear the sound of whirring and wheezing within. To never enter the tower was part of my oath, my holy charge. But these were extreme circumstances. I felt I had no choice.

The inside of the tower was dizzying. Vast arrays of cogs and rods and springs, small as a blackfly in places and larger than an ox in others, arranged so intricately up the thirty stories of stone that my mind struggled to grasp the working of it all. Parts of it seemed to glow and hum. Parts looked almost as if they were fashioned from, or to look like, bones and sinews from a living creature. Before me, sprawled below it all, was a Watchmaker who had been torn from his metal moorings viciously, leaving the half of him that was still flesh lifeless and crumpled. I thumbed the wheellock on my rifle and made sure the breach was loaded with a round, before pointing the weapon around frantically.

Vast arrays of cogs and rods and springs, small as a blackfly in places and larger than an ox in others, arranged so intricately up the thirty stories of stone that my mind struggled to grasp the working of it all. Parts of it seemed to glow and hum. Parts looked almost as if they were fashioned from, or to look like, bones and sinews from a living creature.

It was in the far back corner of the tower that I saw him. The old tinker was at work with some manner of a massive hand vise, undoing and removing gears from the great clock. I had no time to consider. He was defiling the most holy working, which I was charged to safeguard. I leveled my weapon and fired.

The shot missed, and ricocheted up into the machine. There was a terrible grinding that wrenched at every bone in my body, and the earth began to shake. Smoke and sparks showered from the mechanism above, and metal disks and pistons began to tear themselves apart. The tinker looked over to me, horrified, for a moment. Then he sighed and gazed at the malfunctioning behemoth above us.

“I only meant to slip in some beneficial alterations,” he spoke with resignation. “But you, my dear… you have done a terrible thing.” Cramming his tool into a sack, he darted past me and out of the tower.

When I went to follow, my blood flash-froze in my veins. The stars and the moon in the sky were spinning and twisting. The firmament itself had erupted into a sick, whirling array of dark shades. My fellow guardians, woken from their sleep, dashed about in confusion and terror as the ground split and great jets of fire spewed forth. Terrible winds carrying sand and ash scoured us where we stood. cloud hosting info The workings of the very world had been ruined, thrown into chaos. It could not be repaired.

I laughed, for it was the end of all things, and all my fault.

Image Credits: Clock face by Nonie, used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Image composition by Brianna Hafer.

About T.J. Hafer

T.J. (@AsaTJ on Twitter) is a co-founder of The Order and co-developer of the Beyond setting, story, and characters. He is probably best known for his work at IGN and PC Gamer, including the Crusader Kings Chronicles, and rewriting EU4 patch notes to address their *real* meaning on Reddit.

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