Saloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Kingdom of Saloondria by Michael Kuroda
A curse was not always so common. Nor was it so evil. There was a time, long forgotten, when to curse was to create. To curse was to protect, to cure. That time is no more.
Once, there were no curses, and the Plague Lands flourished under some other name. The land beyond the plague was once connected to the lands of Saloondria, and great nations lost to our histories dealt with us, sharing technologies and culture. In the Plague lands themselves, farmers reaped bountiful harvests from healthy soil. Forests and rivers, plentiful wildlife, a paradise in a different world. The Cursed King changed this. And in so doing, changed our world forever.
It began as evil often does. Quietly and from the shadows, creeping on the innocent and unexpecting. At first the reports were strange but not unprecedented. Horses and cattle began to come back fewer and fewer from the pastures. Strange lights and frequent fires emanated from the forests, but no search parties could find their sources. Some search parties lost men in the darkness, and some entire groups never returned.
The townspeople had explanations for such occurrences. The wolves were more active that year. The native peoples had become bolder, pushed further into the lands of the civilized. But some things they could not explain. The cemeteries were emptying. A mass graverobbing had begun. But whoever it was that was responsible, they were not taking the valuables. Jewelry and finery were strewn across the stones as if they had been discarded by the unhappy ghosts. The bones, however, were missing. And the holes were not square, as if they were not dug out from above, but rather from below.
The smallfolk turned to their lords, brought these supernatural grievances before the courts. The kings in those times were by and large good, fair to the common man, so far as such men could be. Knights were ordered to the towns to offer security and surveillance. For some weeks, there was peace. But the forces of the darkness grew bolder.
Knights began abandoning their posts. At first this was attributed to fatigue, then to rogue dissidence, then simply to rogues. But that was before one of them returned, stumbling from the forest, flesh falling from his face, leaving a trail of congealed blood that boiled in the morning sunlight. No doctor could save him, and no priest would see him for fear of what he had seen. The knights that remained stayed alert, loyal to their king, but it could not be denied that a deep-rooted fear had filled the hearts of every human in the land, united in that word human, beginning to realize it didn’t apply to everyone.
A dark figure emerged from the forest. Or perhaps it is more suiting to say the darkness of the forest expanded outward to meet the townsfolk. Witness accounts tell more of feeling its presence than making contact with any being. Regardless of who or what it was, it had a demand, which it announced through the minds of its victims, possessing no voice but the inner monologue of those experiencing it.
Leave these lands. Leave these lands and never return. For your own good. You have been warned.
And then the presence left. The light returned, the forests retreated, and the knights soon after returned to their lordships. Peace came then, for those that stayed. Many, however, heeded the warnings and left their homes and lands with great, unapologetic haste.
Our books tell of an old prophecy, far, far older than the events of these characters. A prophet would come, with no face and no name, and he would bear warning of a great evil. An evil so great it will divide the world. An evil that can not be prevented. It is said, perhaps, this dark force was that prophet.
But historians argue on this, for in the prophecy, the prophet is good, and wishes no ill upon those it warns, and those people who listen willingly and are saved. This dark force warned of its own cataclysmic enterprise, it is asserted, and does not therefore fulfill the prophecy. Perhaps this dark evil is yet to come. We can only hope this is not the case, for if a worse fate yet awaits us than what happened to the peoples of the Plague Lands, we can only pray we do not live to see such events.
One morning the towns were at peace, and the next it was all out war, if slaughter can be called that. No record exists of where it started, only how it ended. So quick and merciless was the Shadow of Plague. The crops reduced to dust, the waters evaporated, the forests burned in a matter of hours. A shattered dessert scattered with thousands of boiling husks of people that once were. All of them missing their bones. But it was somehow worse than total annihilation, if the stories are to be believed.
It is said ten thousand years of time passed in the span of twelve hours in what would be called the Plague Lands. Witnesses of the carnage, those lucky enough to watch from the outskirts beyond the range of the spell, watched empires build and crumble before their eyes. Great towers of stone rose and collapsed, fires and storms and earthquakes wreaked their havoc. And the people, those on the inside, were torn apart by time.
It is unknown if those within the spell perceived the events in the ways that we did. If it is true that they lived ten thousand years in a few hours of our own lives, then it is unclear why none ventured outward to meet us. Perhaps, it is surmised, they did, and we simply stared back at them like statues in the blink of time they witnessed us. All that is known is that the spell, of violent unknown origin, is that it had been foretold by a dark evil presence that warned us of its own coming. A merciful purging wave of death and destruction.
Now the Plague Lands are filled with worse than cursed dirt, as well you would know. Beasts of gigantic proportion, temperatures far too hot or far too cold, rogues and pirates and dark wizards. And space. Hundreds or thousands of miles of uncharted, uninhabitable wilderness. A hundred times the space that existed before the spell. Was this land created unintentionally, a symptom of the great evil? Was it stretched purposefully, forcing us into isolation? These questions remain unanswered.
But as is continually the case, it is somehow much worse. From these people, their lives were ripped, but from those of us who remain, our very world was taken. It is said that maybe we on the outside were the ones that experienced the spell, forced to extend our lives by ten thousand years and never to know it. Trapped in the past, not allowed to learn or evolve. As artifacts of increasing power and danger were buried in the wastes of the deserts to our east.
Let me ask you this: where do the Plague Lands end? Who among us has dared travel beyond them, if such a beyond exists? We had records of great and powerful nations beyond the desolation. But nothing like has actually come to pass. Now we watch as airships a thousand years beyond our technologies soar over to meet us, to converse with us as if we are savages. And we have no proof to the contrary.