Art Pact 75

I had no way of calculating exactly, but judging by fullness of the mountain range to the west I thought that he was right - we probably were equidistant from all three of the kingdoms. I found it all rather depressing, the idea that there was no single footstep I could take outside the clearing which would put more time between my neck and a knight's sword. But he was positively glowing, as though it had been his life's ambition to wander out into the (precise) middle of nowhere and there to build his dream - well, to call what he constructed a house was perhaps to treat the word in too cavalier a fashion, but a cabin at least. He set about it with great gusto, using the measuring rope with him to fashion a giant right angle by some mathematical wizardry, then marking out lines and points in the clearing and hewing down trees left and right in order to make the clearing a perfect square. Well, as perfect as was possible given the tree-based substrate. The rope and axe seemed to be all the tools he needed - the one employed to topple trees in favourable directions or to create straight lines where nature could provide none, the other to set the trees toppling in the first place and to carve the various notches and blocks into the side of the felled logs which allowed him to stack them in such a manner as to manufacture walls from them.

For my part I was not entirely opposed to helping, but I did not seek out any particular task from him, and so happy did he seem with his work that he did not comment at all on my apparent idleness, only asking for a lend of my arms on the odd few occasions when a tree needed particular husbanding to the ground to prevent it from destroying part of the structure already in place.

Apparently, though, my torpor (although perfectly acceptable to him) was not approved by everyone. On the third day that we were there, as the square of the grounds began to take shape from the irregular clearing, I began to notice certain shapes and colours at play in the woods around us - shapes and colours that I did not expect to see in the forest, the odd purples and reds of the Order's servitors. At first they simply hovered around, slithering up and down the trunks of the trees at the periphery. But by the time a week had gone by they had lost their fear of failure, and they began to creep forwards. None of them wanted to be the one who had to actually make contact with me, so the approach had the feeling of a slow race, an awkward shuffling of infinitesimal gains, just enough to ensure that any given servitor could not be accused of cowardice but not enough that they would risk emerging into the full light of day, causing whatever reaction it was that they feared from me.

Ultimately, it was my own irritation with the game that brought it to an end, rather than a fatal misstep on the part of one of the servitors. While the cabin in the middle of the clearing was being roofed, three weeks after he began its construction, I noticed that there was a line of five of the competitors only a couple of steps into the forest proper. I moved backwards, lifting my arm so that it looked as though I were just surveying the continuing building work. I knew they would be unable to retreat, so although they could circle around the servitor in the middle would find its options somewhat limited by reaction of the creatures on either side of it. I kept walking backwards until I was within what I thought was leaping distance, then in one movement I twisted and sprang, catching the servitor's throat in my hands and wrestling it to the ground.

"Don't kill me!" it begged, writhing in a desperate attempt to escape. Its skin was a terrified violet, and under my palms I could feel its spines pressing up, trying to dislodge me. I held on tighter. It tried to pry my fingers away, but even the poison spikes at the end of its claws were nothing to me.

"Tell me why you're here!" I demanded.

"You didn't tell them you were leaving!" it screeched. "They want two years!"

I released it suddenly, letting the creature tumble to the ground.


"Two years," it croaked, rubbing its neck. "They're fining you two years."


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