Archives for posts with tag: Endless Plains

…Those alien, dedicated men, who walked in Starless Darkness, had no place, really, out here. This was the world of the tanzo, and of nature. They were like the figures in one of Zy’s recent dreams – giants at one moment, dwarfs the next. Out here, they were tiny. Zy understood that they were violent men, ruthless, intent on hurt. And they were powerful, and revered. But what kind of power could dent that astonishing sky? And how could men hurt this land, which stretched on in all directions, absorbing time and space, absorbing light, and darkness, and all the energies and activities of men… Their dreams, their wishes, their conflicts and their needs…

Excerpt | Dustless Volume 13 | River direction

Imagine a beginning…

To a journey greater than any other…


Dustless | Volume 1


And then came one of those moments – increasingly rare, it seemed to Zy – but astonishing when they occurred: a moment when Akzasosan appeared to slip out of the limits of himself, and rise up, unpredictably, towards an entirely different kind of life.

The Lord began to sing.

From the Emperors of Steel to Moin III,
one thing has kept this world pure,
and forged together sky and sea,
made to shine, made to endure:
in the sounds of hammers and the ring of swords,
in the chains of blood and in all our words,
from Moin III to the Emperors of Steel
one thing has bound us, wheel to wheel:
that thing is metal.

Metal daughter, metal son,
we are the Metallic ones:
metal son and metal daughter,
calm in peace, calm in slaughter,
cool, fluent, indestructible,
through our veins runs purest metal,
and – oh, my noble daughter,
oh, my faithful son,
therefore, we are the Metallic ones.

Well, the world it turns and the world it burns,
but always, the world must learn
who alone will rule beneath this lonely sun –
we will, the Metallic ones.

Sleep then, Baby, right through the night
like soft silver, glowing, bright,
sleep my Babe hard and sweet
until Evening and Morning stars meet:
sleep like a metal beyond all dust,
sleep like a metal, through all rust
pass, pure and straight,
through the dawn’s defenceless gates:
and when you rise, rise like a sun,
always a Metallic one.

Fall, my sweet, as light on a lake,
fall, my dear, like white snowflakes:
and when you wake, wake first, wake quick –
for you are my child,
and you, my child,
are Metallic.



The Lord’s singing voice was lighter and higher than his speaking voice: he raised it. The wind had died down, and his voice went up through the cold calmness that had descended on the Sea of Trees.

From the first moment and the first word, Zy felt intensified, alerted, almost painfully so: he stopped breathing. How strange it is, he thought, the difference between the voice that speaks and the same voice entering into song. There is a kind of leap. With the transition from his wry, rather drab speech of the past few minutes to the haunting, twilit melody of the song, the Lord appeared to jump from being one kind of person to another – he seemed expanded, loosened, set free.

And the song itself – was it a kind of lullaby? – had something magical twisted into it, a profound power that instantly called to Zy, and emphasised its own difference from the conditions of normal speech. This was no jahzig song: it had its own beauty, but it was not that of the sunburnt, drought-dazed, aching, empty horizons of peasant melodies – there was a frightening coolness to Akzasosan’s song, its refusal to be quite one thing or another. Its rhythm was irregular, its structure asymmetric. It refused its own order, disdained its own laws. It was warm, and tender, but it was icy, and detached as well. It was gentle, but it was violent. It was a lullaby, but it was a call to arms. And there, out on the wild track running through Ahamuji Forest, when Akzasosan sang into the freezing winter air, it was like lifting a lantern up, and showing it to the world.

Excerpt from Mask [ii], Volume 10 of Dustless

Re-post, with additional text | Original post, April 2015

Yes, how quickly worlds melted away, and melted into being. The stuffy, oppressive grandeur of FerZon, although it was only an hour back behind the riders, now felt particularly dreamlike. For this was Ahamuji, the MerZirvora – the Sea of Trees. The forest was the law here: the forest was real, and the forest would endure. FerZon, it seemed to Zy, for all its venerable history, was an anomaly, an error, even – and for all the massivity of its buildings, its civic weight, it now appeared to the boy to be a kind of fragile bubble of stone, one that, within a few centuries, perhaps, the forest would pop, closing in on it, and crushing it back out of being.

Excerpt from Mask [i], Volume 9 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 9

‘Fourth card, reversed: The Wheel. A card of power.’

Now, here was another card of the Old Suit. Elgen laid it horizontally, signifying that the card was to be interpreted in its reversed aspect. It showed a five-spoked wheel, floating in a cloudy sky. In the background, at the edge of the card, the sky was of a membranous pale blue. In the midground, a whorl of once-pristine, fluffy white clouds appeared to be forming some kind of vortex, a stormy whirlpool in the centre of the heavens. The wheel was either spinning the vortex out of itself, or was infinitely falling into the void at the vortex’s centre.

At the hub of the wheel, there was an eye, staring out. The eye was grey, its gaze unceasing. Again, by some cunning of the designer’s art, Zy had the impression of movement, of turning – the graphic had an unnerving vitality to it, and even viewing it at distance, Zy felt a sense of whirling, of rotation. He leaned further forward, abandoning any pretence of maintaining the proper SharBason – without changing his position, the soft light from the cube lanterns wasn’t sufficient to pick out all the details of the XaMin card.

He stared at this card with greater concentration than at any so far employed. And it, in turn, seemed to stare out at him. He felt a little dizzy as he stared – the wheel within the Wheel appeared to be spinning, an optical illusion of great power. What perplexed and fascinated the boy most was that while, at one moment, the wheel seemed to be turning clockwise, the next moment it somehow abruptly reversed its direction of spin, and in doing so, the whole movement of the card changed.

Not only were the clouds rotating around the wheel, the wheel was rotating upon its own hub – that steely, merciless eye.

Shifting forward still further, as Elgen was delivering his interpretation, Zy leaned a little to one side, too, bringing the card – still frustratingly dim, because of the lenses of his goggles – into a sharper clarity. And there, he saw within the big black pupil of that dominant eye something which he’d initially believed was either reflected light, or the illustrator’s illusion of the same phenomenon – but it was neither. Zy could see now that within the centre of the eye, there was another eye – very small in comparison to the one around it, but exactly the same in all other respects.

Zic zic zic.

Zy began to feel physically unbalanced. The card possessed a kind of energy: all the others had been static, depicting timeless scenes, but here Zy felt himself being sucked into a vortical core – he wanted to know whether, in the centre of the tiny eye, there was another, even tinier eye, staring out – and within that, yet another eye, and then another…

It was impossible to know that, of course, but the designer and maker of the card had been so skillful that Zysoshin had no doubt at all that this infinite descent or regress of eyes, of staring eyes, was implied in what he could, actually, see.

Uh! And the gaze held him. Now, the clouds span around the wheel, and the wheel span around the eye, and the eye dropped away, sank, vanished into the gaze of another eye, around which it, too, began to spin…

Zy had to stick out a hand, and make a mental effort to block himself off from the whorling, machinelike core of this most strange card.

Excerpt from Mask [iii], Volume 11 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 1

…‘But I met this man in great Maril, a traveller, and he showed me those seeds, and told me they were a special kind – “late-sowing wheat”, he said.’

‘Oh, late-sowing wheat’ Bor Gero said, straight-faced. ‘Ah, sai: late-sowing wheat.’

‘Early-dying wheat, more like it’ Ezel Meru grunted.

‘And there! That was a madcap thing, going running off to Maril’ Eppen Agur murmured. ‘That’s no place for a farmer like you, Elgen Ibur. Stick close to the earth, my beauty – that’s what you should do. The earth – that’s our place, and no one else’s. Same as Maril is for town folk, and flash men – and travellers.’

‘Oh, I just wanted to see it. It’s a very great place!’ Elgen floated out in a reverie: Zy could picture Elgen, wandering around in a great – well, in whatever kind of a place MarilSan was…

‘Well, now you’ve seen it, and now you know. That’s enough wild footsteps to last a lifetime. Red Rock born, Red Rock bred: Red Rock living and Red Rock dead – that’s us, or it should be. Just as the rhyme has it. The earth for us – for me, at least.’

‘Ay, and me, Eppen – and me’ Ezel Meru agreed.

Sai, sai – and me. Village life is best: let me alone here, in RotaBerl, that’s all I ask’ Affen Zema joined in, his deep, sonorous voice lilting out his words.

‘I have never seen Maril, nor want to, neither’ Eppen said with conviction. ‘My old dad, he said to me, he said: “Eppensodur, there are only three things in life that a farmer can trust: earth, family, friends. And you can’t trust your friends or your family”.’

Eppen delivered this last piece of wisdom with a flourish: there were smiles, nods and laughter, but something about the way in which Eppen’s remark was greeted suggested to Zy that these neighbours had heard it many, many times before, and that their pleasure lay in its familiarity, in a kind of rhythmic, seasonal quality to the expression, rather than in the plain significance of the words themselves.

‘AyYi, he was a wise old fox, old Dursojay was’ Affen Zema commented.

Sai – he was a good man, and a good farmer’ Eppen acknowledged with a dour pride. ‘Of course, he was joshing a bit. But he loved the soil, did my old man. Often talked about it. Same as his old man, my granda. “Trust the earth”, they both used to say – “the earth can’t let you down”. What do you stand on? Earth. What’s there for you when you fall down? Earth. And where do you go when you lay out your dusts? What holds you when the living is over? Earth. YiYi: it stays put, the old earth. It doesn’t go running off. Sai. Trust the earth, that’s what we jahzigs have always done. Feel it breathe on a summer’s night after the rain – mm: fresh! Feel it under your boots baked with two months’ drought: hard as iron, solid, strong. Yah! And I know, there are them that think we jahzigs are just topohir, potatoes – I’ve heard it said, and I remember. But I tell you, my boys, this old earth will be here long after other things have gone down to the nothingness – and there’s many a thing a man puts his trust in will flitter away or melt like ice – but the earth, never! That’s my feeling. Yi! This old earth will still be here – and we jahzigs will still be standing on it. Always have, and always will. Trust the earth.’

‘Ung! Wise, wise words, Eppen Agur’ Ezel Meru remarked after a long pause in which this speech of Eppen’s was absorbed by his neighbours.

Sai, Eppen – never better said. Well done’ Affen Zema agreed. ‘Yah!…’ he sighed, and murmured, ‘Wise, wise words.’…

Excerpt from Mask [iii], Volume 11 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 9

Zy, perhaps infected by the Lord’s returning sense of urgency, watching the work going on as the riders ambled along the u-so’s central track, rather envied the villagers their quality of time. For the riders, time was fundamentally inadequate – the day always ran out, the night always came on, and for the Lord, at least, it seemed as if they had never ridden far enough. For the riders, time was always fleeting, they seemed to beat it before them like partridges as they went and send it whirring off ahead, leaving the human beings behind, earthbound and stalled. Perhaps it was partly RezIsimgria’s fault: they had been travelling for months now, and they had come great distances, and yet here they were, still out on the edge of nowhere (as the common people said), still thousands of karsts from their destination. Then they would ride again the next day, and again the next day would run out, and the village they reached would be similar to the village they had left that morning, and the Sea of Trees – after all, only a part of the Endless Plains – would seem pretty much the same, day after day.

For Zy, there was a kind of enchantment about the forest, the sense that you could lose yourself there for years among the snows, the resinous air, the frozen streams, the soaring, gigantic pines, the little tracks and the higgledypiggledy villages. On paper, certainly, on the map, there you could see progress, ground covered: but in the flesh, on the pulse, in the daydream, under the branches, the outside world, the “great world” as Zy had heard it described, appeared to have vanished: and every day, the MelZia Track looked the same, and every day the night came, and the riders were forced to interrupt their journey.

Sai, it was like King Canoopay and the Magical Theatre of Djing. The Sea of Trees was like scenery on the stage – such wonderful scenery, so life-like, the world of a forest in spring, where, one night, Princess Afsanay, daughter of King Canoopay, had crept in secret into the Theatre of Djing, set up in the grand forecourt of King Canoopay’s palace, and heard a golden bird sing, fluttering among the branches of flowering plum and flittering through the bamboo glade that, as you looked from the seats, seemed to go on and on, deeper and deeper, under the moonlight, so Princess Afsanay had stepped up onto the stage, and walked towards the back, but found no end to the scenery, and the night air was mild and full of the glittering, sparkling song of the golden bird, and the buzzing and sawing of night insects…

Like Princess Af, the riders had wandered into this magical forest, where they found, no matter how far they rode, they never had enough time, they never seemed to get out of the forest…

Excerpt from Mask [i] | Volume 10 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 9

Oh, the snow it falls, the way is long,
long, long, long as a song
and this path is strange to me
for I am lost in the Sea of Trees:
I must get home, to my wife Mari –

– in my house she waits for me:
she is warm, and I am cold,
and she is young, and I am old,
for I am lost in the Sea of Trees
upon this path so strange to me:

Ah, she is my world, my all-in-all –
oh, why must the snow fall?’

Excerpt from Mask [i] / Volume 9 of Dustless

Dustless | Volume 9


hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha…

Zy was warm enough. The night continued still, with virtually no breeze – and it was usually the breeze that brought the more violent cold.

Gradually, the noise grew louder: Lord Berensota was right about the direction – they were moving towards the source of the sound.

They’d crossed the footbridge, and trudged through rougher and deeper snow, less compacted, in the empty area between perimeter fence and the main part of the outskirts of BerKur. There were some isolated buildings, but they seemed to have been abandoned by the town, and let stray out there in the darkness. There was no one about.

hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha… hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha… click! Zrrrrr! Click! hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha…

The lord had also been right: it was a machine making the noise – it could be nothing else. As they walked through the tranquil night, with the uninhabited darkness of the Endless Plains out on their right, and the town on their left, its centre giving off a soft aura from the many lanterns, its outlying streets and buildings black and silhouetted, the machine could be heard uttering a repeated sequence of sounds: on this day of wonders, a new, alien wonder was waiting for Zy.

Zrrrrr! Click! hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha…

Zyso began to tremble: he had never heard anything like this before. Or… Well: he had grown up among the sounds of a working SharDo – the low hums and clicks of a tower whose tanks were operative; and the almost inaudible tickings of Ancient mechanisms, the mechanical sighs of pumps, the purr of filters, had served he and Zysa for lullabies, almost for a mother – but those sounds weren’t, somehow, the utterances of machines; they were what home sounded like; they were natural; they were the only world he knew.

But this sequence of sounds…

hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha… hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha… click! Zrrrrr! Click! hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha…

He could see smoke – a number of fires were burning, on the outer edge of the town, although Zy’s view was obstructed by some straggling buildings. The riders worked their way round the wasteground, and approached another bridge – and there was another one further ahead, as well – which was covered in snow, though only by a thin frozen paste. The ground was more uneven here, with softly swelling, shallow dome-like mounds; and it was from a depression beyond one of these mounds that both the smoke and the repetitive noises of the machine were coming.

Under the clear sky that hung above them, the stars and the rising moon visible through a giant, motionless hole in the surrounding grey cloud, the air was very still and pure, and the machine’s noise was penetrating rather than loud. Its sound travelled not only through the air, but seemed to be communicated through the earth as well: the sound possessed Gur – “weight”. Indeed, even before he saw the machine, Zy felt the heaviness of its being, its presence – it seemed to be the sound of weight, of massivity, of bulk: of metal.

They clunked across the bridge, and began to follow a path that led round and through the swelling mounds.

Zy’s heart was like a flower, tensed and opening before the light of the sun.

Trembling: a trembling inside Zy, where his heart was; and a trembling in the air; and a trembling through the ground.

hoo-sha-ha: hoo-sha-ha… hoo-sha-ha: HOO-SHA-HA: HOO-SHA-HA… CLICK! ZRRRR! CLICK! HOO-SHA-HA: HOO-SHA-HA…

Still, the sound wasn’t loud – if the riders had spoken (but they didn’t speak), their natural voices would have been perfectly audible above the sound of the machine – but there was something profoundly convincing about the solidity and denseness of the noise.

Zy sensed an animal patience about the throbbing, humming, buzzing, clicking thing: it was curiously bestial – passive, ponderous, unmoving. It was the sound of waiting. For a few moments, just before he saw the machine, Zy associated it with the Chun trekking ponies the riders had used to cross the dusty eastern provinces of the Endless Plains; if they had been metal, this was the sound the ponies would have made as they stood, motionless, at the command of their human riders, during a halt in the ride.

The two riders entered a surprisingly large bowl-shaped dell. There were about ten fires, burned down low, arranged in a wide ring: they were embering now, and the blackened wood was cooling and smoking in parts, and only in the hearts of these small bonfires was the timber glowing and shimmering and sparkling in its own heat.


In the centre of the ring of fires, it stood: a vast machine. Before he’d seen it, Zy had felt its sound was the sound of weight: now, once the two riders had entered the dell, and gained an uninterrupted view of the machine, Zy knew he was hearing the sound of power.

He was shivering, not with cold but with excitement: his whole being was fanning open, responding to the deep, bowel-rippling sound – even this close, not particularly loud (you could still hold a conversation in your normal speaking voice, and easily hear each other) – emanating from the machine. This was sound you could feel: it was physical, it made the air shudder and, from within the foundations of the air itself, the sound throbbed out, hitting you in gravid waves.

Zysoshin was thrilled: he felt as if the sounds were making his nerves quiver in awesome sympathy.

The machine was about three times as high as the tall Lord Berensota, and about ten horselengths long – about twenty dedaziles. In terms of width, it was around seven or eight dedaziles. It was basically oblong – a stretched block of metal. The block was curved and smoothed, however, so that the sides didn’t form sharp right-angles with the top of the machine, but flowed gracefully over into it. The front and back of the machine – if it could be said to possess a front or back – were identical: here too there were no straight angles, but at both ends the oblong resolved itself into a high, basically semi-circular forehead, which then descended and pushed outwards to form a massive snout.


Zy’s initial impression was of sleekness and of enormous weight. The machine appeared seamless – cast from a single block of sculpted zuth – a metal of rich, glowing, silver-like sheen. There was no snow on it: although Zy could see no vent, the machine was steaming with a very fine, almost invisible pale vapour. The air around the machine rippled faintly with exuded heat. The ground seemed to be throbbing and trembling in time to the rhythm of the machine.

After standing for a few moments, contemplating the wall-like bulk of the machine’s sides, which flowed down and then flanged out to form a kind of armoured skirt at the base, the two riders walked along a little way towards one end of the machine, where the mighty, snub nose gleamed in the firelight. Here, near where the forehead began, Zy now made out a metal ladder, which seemed not so much fixed to the main frame, but to grow out from it. The ladder looked at first very dainty – against the mass of the machine, it had a rather slender delicacy – but seen close up, the ladder itself had a moulded, chunky weight to it. Glancing upwards, Zy could just make out faint seams in the metal, which appeared to indicate a door or at least a break in the flawless surfaces.

About a third of the way from the ground, the machine’s snout emitted two large, short, horn-like prongs, which ended in flattened discs of shining metal – if the machine had arms and hands, then these stubby protuberances were its arms and the discs its hands, the palms held up and outwards. These were towards the sides of the snout: from the centre, a hooked extension was sited not far from the base of the machine.


At first, Zy had thought the machine was standing on perfectly flat, level ground: now, though, he could see that one end was slightly higher above the earth than the other, and that the machine was also tilted over a bit to one side – the more Zy stared, the more definite was his impression that the machine had sunk into the ground and subsided a little as well.

The broad swerving snub nose – so smooth, it seemed to have been drawn from an immaculate, gigantic mould; and so shining that it appeared as if someone must come every day and polish the metal (but the machine was so big, a single person would take hours and hours to do that) – held a square plate that didn’t seem fastened on, but an integral part of the fundamental structure of the machine; and within the square, bone-like struts of metal formed an unusual Gonfic cluster. This cluster wasn’t like any Zy had seen before – it was more sophisticated than any LateAncient cluster, and yet it didn’t possess the dizzying complexities and asymmetries of truly Ancient hypergrams; and Zy was able to interpret it only very tentatively, and only in part – although of a rather alien configuration, the boy reckoned he could make out, at the centre of the dense array, in a large, bold cluster: AmAm Trai – “No. 3”.

Walking right the way round it now, Zy had a quite swooning sense of this gigantic machine. His earliest intuitions about it were confirmed: weight, power, patience; mass, strength, weight.


It seemed to be breathing. Breathing, not like a person of course, but like a machine. That hoo-sha-ha sound, repeated over and over again in what felt like an utterly regular and ceaseless circuit – it was the sound of metallic lungs. From somewhere within that sleek cladding, there must be moving parts – the innards of such a machine were unimaginable, but Zy had the sense of giant but beautifully organised elements working through a very limited sequence of actions, over and over again. The metal breath of this No. 3 machine was like a kind of panting, only, paradoxically, Zy didn’t feel the machine was exerting itself, or had exerted itself – it was simply there, breathing, waiting, prepared.

He became conscious again of the sounds that were rippling through his flesh, it felt, and moving up through the ground, and the thick soles of his boots, passing into his bones and treeing off through his whole nervous system. The clicks the machinery uttered were profoundly interior, but, like the exterior, sculpted, precise, integral. The zrrrrr!, a buzzing, toothed noise, seemed to indicate movement, as if, under the burnished cladding, one part of the machine was being passed along, then halting, then being passed back again in an endless shuttling cycle.

Zy felt flushed with the heat from the fires. The two riders moved slowly on, coming to the end of the machine, the one that was slightly sunken into the ground, but which otherwise appeared a perfect replica of the end they’d already walked round: there was the same forehead and snub nose, the ladder, the door-like seams, the moulded protuberances. Seen now from every angle, the machine – bigger than many single-storey peasant houses – stirred Zy’s imagination and his senses: the machine was brutally beautiful, it seemed a thing of dense, almost tragic power – though why tragic, Zy couldn’t have said. As big as a house, and like a house, in some ways – a house for power, a place power sheltered. It was staggering.

Yes – staggering. But what did it do?

Excerpt from Mask [iv], Volume 12 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 1


Early, Lord Akzasosan’s barbarian servant, is applying fat to the boy, Zysoshin, in order to fend off the terrible cold of winter in the Endless Plains…

There is more, and I will tell you.

As for you, you need do little: just relax, and listen to my voice.

I know everything. I spoke with them all – every one of them.

Patience. This very place is the Way.

Early worked with a sure, laconic grace. Something in Zysoshin, perhaps because of his prone position and the requirement of him only that he remain passive, spoke up. Early is like Shinsota, he thought – the way they move, the way they go about things – as if nothing else at this moment matters, nothing else is worth doing, they will both do this one thing now, and then move on to the next task, quickly but without hurry.

Early’s small dark eyes glittered in the light reflected from the snow. A pony snorted from behind them somewhere. The sky was still that peerless pale blue, empty, without birds, or clouds.

Zyso’s face was now evenly smeared in the fat. His ears, which had been vein-blue and stripped, raw pink with the cold, were also attended to, Early having to brush and hold back the tight, streaming ringlets of Zyso’s blond hair. Chin and throat were also fatted, and then Zyso was asked to sit up, and Early applied the protecting substance to the back of the boy’s neck, again having to pull up and clear the long, unruly coils of hair.

Nearing the end of his task, Early returned meditatively to his earlier theme.

‘So, you see, even though I am a barbarian, without name, place, Rank, station: though I am a nothing under great law, still, the Lord told me, I belong to the Way. I become Way. He take me, he teach me. I am a nothing. But you – you are a ghost. Even a barbarian nothing more than you under the great Way. Put goggles back on’ he added, re-covering the pot of fat with its lid of hide, and securing it with string.

Zyso re-fitted his goggles, as did Early. The light blazed across the frozen land around them, smearing it with dazzle.

Zysoshin felt the warmth in his feet, and in his hands. Now, he could face the cold. He could beat it. He was strong.

‘Early,’ he asked, pointing at the pot, ‘is that what Chun-shu wolf troops use when they ride?’

‘This?’ Early replied, pausing and glancing slowly to where Zyso pointed. ‘This is what our women use to keep babies warm.’

‘Oh,’ Zyso said, wrinkling his nose at the stench. ‘Babies.’

Excerpt from Stories in the Falling Snow | Volume 3 of Dustless

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The Sentinels

Dustless | Volume 1

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…The Shion of Alzu gave the Shion of Suli another long, skewerlike glance. Even Lord Kurososhora’s glances seemed thin, somehow. ‘I see’ he said. And then, after a moment’s calculation: ‘You are an intriguing fellow, Suli – I must say that. I really don’t know what to make of you’.

Akzasosan raised his eyebrows faintly in surprise. There was something very direct about the fur-coated man’s statement – it was the kind of thing no jahzig or sentinel would ever say. Only the extraordinary Utman Gor, perhaps, would have been so straightforward – although Gorsoga, it was true, tended to be straightforward for three words, and then scuttle crabwise for ten, so that what seemed straightforward to begin with appeared less so by the end.

‘There is little enough to make of me’ the Lord declared, after a brief pause. ‘I’m a traveller on the road – as you are, Alzu.’

‘Ah, no, Suli: or at least, not exactly. It’s as I said before: there’s a tale in you, I can see that plain enough. You’re a man with a story. I am keen for stories, myself.’

‘And you?’ the Lord responded, with a kind of wary blankness.

‘Me? Oh – I have a story too – not a very interesting one, though, I think. I’m modest about my own story: I’ve heard too many boring stories from other men to rate my own dull life too highly. Some people, you know, Suli – they have no story at all’ Alzu went on, elaborating his thoughts carefully, and giving Zy the sense that this subject was one to which Lord Kurososhora had devoted considerable time: ‘really: it’s true – no story at all. They may think they have a story, but – phwah – when they tell you it, you hear nothing at all.’

Alzu warmed to his theme.

‘They’re like men without shadows: that’s how I see them – shadowless men’ he said. ‘And others, they have a story perhaps, but it doesn’t really belong to them. You’ve heard it all before. Really: you can anticipate the whole thing. They’ve really only got somebody else’s story – you follow? Ah, the bores I’ve listened to! Men and women both. But still: that’s my fault. You never know. But the thing about that type, Suli, is that they haven’t had the spice to make up their own story – d’you see what I mean? Their lives are just… I don’t know – the cut-out parts of other people’s lives. But you, now, old man – please, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not prying – you: you have a true story to tell. And that’s why I can’t make you out, you see’ he ended, gazing firmly into Akzasosan’s attentive face – ‘because your story has taken you to a new place, and I don’t see how you’ve got there. Or here’ he added, with another lugubrious shrug, indicating the flickering trees of the Rez­Isimgrian road.