Wounds nor Scars
rating: +13+x

Someone dies on the first of June, 1312.

It always happens, everywhere you go. Every scene you touch, every street you walk, every cloud you curse for the sake of the sun — in worlds so strange as to seem broken, or planes so perfect as to be blinding, someone always dies. On that day, in the same way.

You remember them all. You have to, really. If you’re ever going to win, and that’s by no means guaranteed, you need all the help you can get, and all the data you can amass. “Data.” You often think that’s the wrong word: it’s too cold, too quantified, too categorised. The memories aren’t cold, they’re hot and fierce and wild. Burned into your cerebellum. Barely cohesive enough to use.

But then again, you’re barely cohesive enough to care.

You always seem to find them just before it happens; to late to save them but too soon to be absolved of responsibility. Time is always against you – you seek them out and fail them in a last-ditch race-against-the-clock high-speed pursuit, and you do this every single time.

And what then? After you fail them, and leave them a torn and broken heap for the authorities to deal with, what do you do? You move on. To the next time, the next place, always running forward and never looking b-

No. That’s wrong. Always looking back, that’s you. Consumed by it, saturated by it, wading up to your waste in a slurry of 1312s, none of them belonging to you.

You think about that a lot. Do you even remember which one was yours, all those years ago? On that fateful day, when you first killed a man?

Sun-bleached and rain-wrecked stone stands ringed around an ancient millpond, far from any river on any map you’d care to mention. On the other side, your friend stands braced against a wall, hook levelled at the ripples that spiral out from the middle. Always one to bow to convention, you wield a sword instead.

The ripples surge. Your friend shouts something. You don’t hear. You have other things on your mind. There’s a flicker of black in the darkness, blacker than black, deeper than deep.

You often think “friend” is the wrong word, for reasons that are as familiar as they are unwelcome. It doesn’t matter now, for better or for worse. Definitely for worse, but you won’t — can’t — let yourself dwell on it. The ground aches and bends as the pool shatters down its length, spilling out across the hill in a cascade of mud and blood.

The plan fails. The thing happens. It all goes wrong, and the world gets a little bit worse, for everyone, forever. You run from the place too soon to forgive yourself, and far, far too late to forget.

A year later, alone and entrenched in work, you find out how to live forever.

A year later, on that same day, you wake up somewhere else.

Now, it’s the present. Your present, the one you see when you look out of your skull every morning. For many it’s the future, and for even more it’s the past, but that doesn’t matter – for you it’s the present, and the present is the first of June, 1312.

The beach is almost empty. It’s uncharacteristically cold and characteristically wet – you’ve felt all heat leeched from the sand in the hours you’ve been walking the coast, and now your bare feet are numb to the cool summer waves. Hours pass, and the sun arcs slowly behind a grey shroud. The sea glistens and darkens and laughs. The ice begins to creep up your legs and into your stomach. You pull your coat around you, grip the handle in your pocket, tighten the straps of your armour, and walk.

You see them. Eventually. A hundred metres ahead, maybe less, sliding out from behind a rocky outcrop as you force blood back into your limbs. You stop walking and start screaming, and running, and pounding your feet against the ground in a sacrificial sprint. A shell slices your heel. Wind casts grit in your eyes, and your chest’s old wounds scrape against cloth against steel.

You run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and you run, and

you run, and you




you are upon them, knife in their gut, fingernails in their eyes, screaming and tearing and desperate. Their face is already stained in your mind, another memory to add to the endless collection. They buck, trying to shake you off, but your armour is weighted and spiked and they’ve already lost a lot of blood.

You cry with exertion; your limbs are old, far older than your body, and wear has taken its toll. You twist the knife up, trying to get the heart. Trying to kill something important. You take your hand from their face and place it next to its brother on the handle, wincing as their ribs break under the new pressure. Their ruined face turns to you, barely screaming, barely crying.

And they stop. And they blink, slowly, once. And then it smiles.

The explosion almost knocks you over.

The knife falls from your fingers and you throw yourself to your knees. The body shatters and crumbles as the thing inside wrests itself free, digging its claws deep into the red-matted sand, scattering clots of hair and bone as it twists and shrieks. No point attacking it. You’ve made that mistake before. Instead you just let yourself slip backward onto the shore, eyes crusted with equal parts tears and sea-spray, and you let yourself think “Why?”

The sea doesn’t answer you; it just shrinks away, embarrassed, leaving nothing but seaweed and a disoriented hermit crab. You blink as your eyes try to focus. “Why?” you think again.

If the crab answers, it does so in a way you can’t understand. You pull yourself into a sitting position and exhale, a heavy breath that spirals into a cough and winds down into laugh. The bloody thing has fully extricated itself from the body now, and focuses on tunnelling downward. Its scales are red, ostensibly, but time has worn them so dark as to be black. Now, wet with viscera and brine, they glisten like an oil slick. The steam of hot blood on cold sand has started to mingle with the gas that flows from between the creature’s fangs, and its limbs – raw, bladed, numerous – scrape at the ground as it coils deep into the Earth.

You know it will be back. The Lambton Wyrm is the last of the true dragons, and its stubbornness has been forged white-hot by time. You know it doesn’t learn; dragons are ancient things, fossils born of patience and stagnation. They’d sooner wait for the world to change around them. You know it doesn’t tire, and you know, deep in your heart, that your fight can end in exactly one way. It will be back, and you will too.

You pick your knife from the sand and wipe it clean on your tunic. With shaking fingers you trace the edges of the blade, stunted by the years. How many bodies has the steel felt? How many times has the Wyrm been driven away? The blade is almost smooth, except in the places where damage has cracked it into points. If you cast your mind back, you can remember the days when this knife was a sword.

You slip it into your belt and turn to the sea. You don’t even need to ask it the question; it refuses to answer anyway. You inhale, and prepare to make the jump. To the next. Always to the next.

Because someone dies on the first of June, 1312. It always happens, everywhere you go. And maybe one day, when your sword is worn down to the hilt, it’ll be you.

But not here. And not today.

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