When the men from the Otherworld arrived, they brought death and destruction with them. When the Otherworlders arrived, the continent of Micsudsa was enshrouded in a pitch-black shadow from which it may never be freed, or so Silas feared. Oh, he knew that it was naïve to think that their lands had been entirely peaceful before they arrived, but they’d not experienced devastation such as this. Sure, Micsudsa had been fractured into two warring factions for years, but that was naught but a petty squabble when compared to this. No, when the Otherworlders came, blood really started spilling. When they arrived… the people from the darkness.
They came in their boxes that moved on rotating tracks, spitting out great big projectiles that detonated on impact. They came in their oversized birds that blacked out the sky and dropped fire and explosions from above. They came with their metal wands that cast spells of unspeakable evil; the damage done by such wicked magic was practically irreversible and almost always fatal.
Silas himself had seen the injuries sustained from such malicious weaponry first-hand. In the spring, the King’s men had brought their living wounded to his small village, which was a few miles short of the warfront. The soldiers, some of whom were not yet acquainted with the metal of a shaving blade, were in a sorry state. Those who had engaged the enemy’s magi with their alien wands suffered damages all over their bodies – several holes of ragged flesh, from which a solid metal poison was dug out. The boys screamed when the metallic toxins were removed by the village’s white mage.
Some of the soldiers had been lucid enough to describe their comrades who had been on the receiving end of an attack from the great moving boxes or the screaming birds that tore through the skies. The soldiers spoke of limbs being blown away, of entire men being exploded in an instant, of entire platoons getting disintegrated from a single assault. None of those boys had lived to tell Silas their tales first-hand. In a way, Silas was glad for that; the stories made him sick to his stomach. He did not wish to see a man suffering such wounds. It would be far better to be put out of your misery instantaneously, Silas thought.
But, in spite of the enemy’s vast numbers and incredible technological prowess and sorceries, the people of Falmah fought back, with what little they had. Silas had also heard rumours that Vigduf had also engaged the Otherworlders in battle. It made sense – there had been no conflict with their western neighbours for the better part of two years. Silas supposed that the old saying was true. “The enemy of my enemy…” he pondered aloud to the empty inn, as he polished the wooden bar from behind which he served drinks come a Fryday evening. Or he had done, at any rate. His little inn saw very few visitors, these days.
As he wiped his oiled cloth back and forth, back and forth, back and forth across the dark brown wood, the old man’s thoughts wandered. Outside, snow had begun to fall. He thought that if there was a god above (and if questioned, he would have undoubtedly professed his belief, for fear of being ostracized), He clearly had a warped sense of humour. It had taken the invasion of a third, much more powerful and insidious army to end the centuries old war between the two halves of the continent. Whilst the Otherworlders were here, Falmah and Vigduf were practically allies, something you’d have been hanged for, had you suggested it merely ten years prior.
So, the people of Falmah and Vigduf engaged the Otherworlders in battle. The continent of Micsudsa, for the first time in almost four hundred years, stood united against this alien invasion. Although, Silas feared it was not enough. And he knew he wasn’t alone in thinking so. They had fine soldiers, yes, but against the weapons of the Otherworlders, what use was a sword? Against the black magic cast by the metal wands, what good was their armour? When confronted with the boxes that trundled across the ground like great lumbering bears, when fleeing from the mechanical birds that dropped fiery death across the world, what use was their petty magics? Their simple attack spells? Their white magic that could only heal the simplest of wounds?
The Micsudsans had been successful in repelling the invasion so far, a fact that the King and his men loved to boast about. But Silas knew that their triumphs were owed mostly to their understanding of their home terrain and weather. The mountain ranges that pimpled Falmah to the south had stumped the attacking forces down there, and the continent’s harsh winters had frozen the battles into a standstill, the tracks of the Otherworlders’ boxes iced over, their mechanical birds unable to fly.
But up north, where the climate was gentler, the Otherworlders had swept in and conquered with frightening ease. When placed on a level playing field, the people from the darkness found no difficulty in decimating the Miscudsan forces. A single soldier from the Otherworld could cut down an entire platoon with a single spray of magic from his metal wand.
Silas knew, as he watched the snow fall and as he polished and polished and polished his bar, that it was only a matter of time before the Otherworlders found a way through the mountains or blasted a course through the ancient rock. It was only a matter of time before they figured out how to brave the Micsudsan winters, how to stop their mechanical beasts from freezing, how to keep their troops warm in the icy winds and never-ending snow. It was all just a matter of time.
Not for the first time, the old man wondered, would he be here this time next year? Would his little inn still be standing? Would his village – the place he had been born in – still be on the map? Would Falmah still be a place? Would Vigduf? Would Micsudsa?
Silas knew that as long as the bangs and booms kept going, so would he. As long as the fight continued, he and his little village was safe. Well, what was left of it, anyway. Or rather, who was left of it…
As long as the people of Falmah and Vigduf put up a contest against the Otherworlders, it wasn’t over. As long the people from the darkness still saw these little village people as a threat – even if they only considered the Micsudsans to be a tiny threat – it wasn’t over. When the Otherworlders lost their fear of this place, of its mountains and cold winters, and of the natives that inhabited it… Well, Silas knew that would be that. Death would be swift and inevitable.
But as long as the battles were fought, as long as the war raged…
It was when the war fell silent, that was the moment Silas was dreading. There were only two reasons that the fighting would stop: the invading forces had been repelled, or…
And so, Silas polished his wooden bar. He polished the wood that was so dark it was almost black. He watched the snow falling outside, through the single-paned windows of his little inn that had been passed down from father to son for decades. It was falling heavily now, and he knew it would snow throughout the night. He pondered his thoughts about life, death, war, and conflict. He thought of magics and technologies that no earthly man should possess.
And he prayed to the god he wasn’t sure he believed in anymore.
And he waited for the day that the war fell silent.
27th December 2019
Written for Reedsy’s weekly Short Story Contest