A Small World
Trapped in captivity, he’ll stop at nothing to win humanity’s freedom.
Harl is a prisoner. He’s stuck in a tank populated by 300 other people who look just like him. Beyond the walls of their cage, Harl and his fellow captives can see the titanic creatures who live on the other side of the see through wall. The giants provide sustenance and light, and the humans worship them as gods in return.
Despite the religious fervor that surrounds him, Harl is unwilling to accept a fate controlled by the giants. When an unexpected series of events reveals the truth of their situation, Harl resolves to fight for humanity’s freedom. But is he truly ready to face the epic world that lies beyond the only borders he’s ever known?
Wind whipped against Harl Eriksson’s face as he sped across the fields. He leapt over a rotting fence and landed at a run, his feet pounding clouds of dust into the air. Troy raced at his side and glanced back over his shoulder at the town the moment he landed.
‘Guards!’ he yelled.
Both men threw themselves into a gully and splashed through the water as they scrambled out of sight.
‘Damn!’ Harl groaned. ‘How close?’
Troy was holding his side and breathing hard.
‘Just… leaving… the barracks,’ he said, collapsing against the clay bank.
‘And the boys?’
‘Far edge of the forest,’ Troy jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction they had been running, ‘right where it breaks against the barrier.’
Harl risked a quick look back at the town. The guards were marching along the road towards them. Their spears glinted in the harsh light thrown down from the roof of the world. Harl slid back into the gulley and grabbed Troy. He hauled him up and they stumbled along until a curve in the wrong direction forced them to scramble up out of hiding.
A dark tangle of forest sprawled ahead of them, but it was a haven of light compared to the barrier that rose up behind it. Smooth and unmarked, a vast black wall spread along the horizon and climbed up to the roof of the world. It marked the end of everything. Impenetrable. Unknowable. It was the edge of their world and surrounded them on all four sides, like the shell of a giant cube slammed down around them.
This was their world, their prison. Harl couldn’t think of it any other way, no matter what the priests claimed.
’Oh Gods.’ Troy whispered.
Harl glanced over his shoulder to find the guards much nearer than he’d thought.
’We can get to them in time,’ he said, determined.
Troy looked at him as though he was mad.
They scrambled acrossthe rolling grassland in a crouch and stumbled into the dark mass of trees thatbacked against the barrier. Harl found a narrow animaltrail leading in the right direction and the two men followed it.
They ran on. When they burst out of the forest, the barrier rose up before them as though the gods had struck them blind. The two boys were hacking into the soil at its base. Both their black-haired heads popped up over the edge of the hole at the sound of Troy and Harl charging towards them. Fear clouded their muddy faces. They scrambled out of the hole, dragging a pair of shovels with them as they sprinted for the nearest trees.
Harl jumped on top of them before either could get away.
’What do you think you’re doing, Luke?’ Harl demanded as he dragged one of the boys across the clearing towards the trees.
’Digging,’ Luke said, as though tunnelling under the barrier was a common occurrence.
’You daft buggers,’ Harl said.
Troy snatched the shovels from their hands and tossed them into the hole.
’What were you thinking?’ he hissed.
‘Please mister!’ Luke pleaded, ‘We don’t want trouble.’
’It’s not us you want to worry about,’ Harl said as they reached the first tree.
’But, father’s tools...’ Luke said, looking back at the shovel handles poking up out of the small pit.
’It’s too late,′ Harl said. ′The Elders know you’re here. Just run. Run!’
The four of them plunged deeper into the woods, before crouching in a thicket to look back.
Moments later the guards surrounded the hole. Their uniform was simple leather padding and iron gauntlets. The leader worebright white robes and carried no weapons. He crouched on the rim of the pit and scanned the edge of the forest. His robe flickered in the lightas he twisted to face them, reflecting the ornate gold patterns that markedhim as an Elderman.
’Rufus,’ Harl hissed, recognizing the man, ‘the pious vulture.’
The Eldermanjumped down into the pit. He kicked at a few loose stones, shaking with rage, before climbing back out holding a shovel in either hand.
‘Find them!’ he screamed. ’Search the woods. They′ll be lifted for such heresy.′
’Move!’ Troy said as the guards spread out.
’Take the long route,’ Harl said. ′If we make it back to your pa’s before Rufus, then no one can prove that you were trying to tunnel out.′
The boy’s home was on the northern edge of the forest bordering the town. Manicured flower beds lined the wide garden leading to the cottage. As they approached the rear garden, Harl heard raised voices and knew they were too late. Rufus and the guards stood in a semicircle around the back door.
The Elderman was shouting at the boy’s father, Earl, who was standing in the doorway scratching at the stubble coating his chin in confusion. Earl cocked his head to one side when he noticed Harl holding the children inside the tree line at the end of the garden.
’The tools have your initials on them Earl,’ Rufus shouted as he brandished a shovel under the man’s nose. ’And you expect me to believe they were stolen this morning? Fool. The evidence clearly points at someone from this house.′
‘My wife was lifted,’ Earl said placing an open palm on his chest to ward off lifting. ’It’s just me and my boys now.′
′Somebody must be guilty,’ Rufus continued, ‘and I’m going to find out who would dare-’
’Who are accusing?’ he barked, cutting Rufus off. His eyes flicked past Rufus to the boys and back. He stepped forward to stand over the shorter Elderman.
Rufus shook with rage. ‘Where are your children? They were overheard plotting to break into the realm of the Gods. Blasphemy! Pure and simple.’
Earl looked at Harl before standing straighter and staring the Elderman down. ’It was not my boys, Rufus. I dared the wrath of the Gods. I′ve no wish to live in this prison any longer.′
’Blasphemy!’ Rufus screamed. ‘Seize him.’
Two of the guards grabbed an arm each, and Harl watched, helplessly, as the soldiersmarched Earl towards the town. Both boys made a start towards their father, but Harl kept a hand on Luke’s shoulder while Troy did the same with the other. Rufus turned to see the four of them standing beneath the trees. A nasty smile formed on his lips and then he laughed as he turned to follow his men.
‘It’s not fair,’ Luke wailed, his face buried in his hands as he sobbed. ‘Pa didn’t do nothing wrong.’
’There’s nothing you can do,’ Harl said. ‘He’ll serve his time in the quarries and be back soon enough.’
But even as he said it, he knew that the words were hollow. He watched the guards drag Earl away and realised that Luke was right. But what could he do about it?
’Bastard,’ Harl said as they marched a short distance behind Rufus and his men. They had fallen into step behind the procession as it took the main road back to town. Rufus must have heard as he looked back sneering and drew a finger across his neck making Luke sob and grab Harl’s hand.
‘He knows,’ Troy said. ’Earl’s just another heretic to add to his list when he reports to the other Eldermen.
The road led through the cobbled streets until they reached the Elderman’s chamber. The building was a large roundstone structure set with stained-glass windows.Pillars lined the curved wall, propping up the overhanging roof that covered a walkway around the building. It’s domed roof dominated the areaand eclipsed the smaller, half-timber buildings that filled the rest of the town centre.
Harl suspected that Rufus had chosen the busiest road through town. Dark-haired men and women lined the street and frowned at the spectacle, whether at the lawbreaker or at Rufus’s actions, Harl couldn’t tell.
’Hey,’ one man said, stepping out of a butcher’s shop. ‘What’s Earl done?’
’Keep your questions to yourself, Pinkleton,’ Rufus snapped.
’What about his lil ones?’ a woman asked from a doorway.
’Not my concern,’ Rufus said, looking back at Harl, Troy, and the boys, a smirk on his face.
’Come ’ere lads,’ the woman said, scowling at Rufus. ’You’re gonna be stayin’ with me for a while.’
’Go on,’ Harl said and then watched them run to her.
He decided he′d follow Earl until he was swallowed into the council chambers. It was the least he could do.
As he turned away a shadow loomed over them all. Screams broke out along the street. Harl looked up and saw the god’s hand reaching down. It was the size of a house, its four fingers outstretched as it descended. It smashed into a roof and tiles rained downonto the cobbles. Those nearest threw themselves into doorways andthe guards scattered, leaving Earland Rufus alone in the centre of a deserted road.
Rufus fell to the ground wailing, hands raised above his head as if to ward off the limb. The god’s fingers spread above Earl and snapped shut, sealing him inside. His terrified scream filled the air.And then the hand was gone, rising towards the roof of the world as more tiles and masonry thundered down.
Harl watched it all, terrified and frozen by the horror of what he was seeing. The colossal fistswept out through a hinged opening near the back of the world and vanished
Not again, Harl thought as he fell to his knees. Not again.