Flynn Geary

‘Don’t forget this, Chiko: this is what we’re running from.’

Chiko heeded his mother’s warning and stared at the blackened scar before him. He was used to seeing the aftermath of raids, but seeing such a large village completely burned away left a pit of dread in his stomach.

Their home in Rybun had been much smaller. The worst they had seen from a raid there was two burned huts. He hadn’t understood then why his family and so many others had left their ancestral home. Now he did.

It had started out as a rumour, that some powerful lord from the east had died. But gossip was common, and usually inaccurate, so few had paid any attention. Then the soldiers came, proclaiming that the ruler of most of the eastern plains, Lord Hara, had been poisoned. It didn’t take long for every minor lord across the eastern islands to assemble their forces, desperate for the power and influence that Hara’s death had left in its wake.

Chiko’s family had believed Rybun would be spared from the worst of the fighting since they lived close to the centre of a larger island in the archipelago, but Chiko hardly had the time to care about news from distant towns. His days were spent helping his father and grandfather harvest rice instead. However, less than two weeks after the news of Hara’s murder, they awoke to screaming and smoke.

Chiko remembered his father telling his mother and grandfather to take him and hide underneath the false floor in their house. His father then took his old sword and went outside to help defend the village. So, the family hid, hardly daring to breathe for the hours they spent crouching in pitch black.

Three loud knocks on their door that signalled Rybun was safe arrived alongside the dawn. Outside, Chiko saw villagers drenching the two burning huts with water on the north side of the village. The village mages smothered the last of the flames with soil conjured by their chant. Though, any elation Chiko might have felt was short-lived when he saw his father.

His mother wailed when she saw the blood but stopped when her husband groaned, racing to his side. As she helped his father up, Chiko saw an arrow jutting out of his arm, hanging limp, before his mother steered him to the healer’s hut. Chiko ran ahead to warn the healer of his father’s injury.

While the wound was tended to, Chiko hurried around the village, helping the adults where he could. By midday, Rybun’s damage had been assessed and everyone was accounted for.

But the two burned huts had been a decoy. While they burned, a group of bandits had come in from the south and raided the village’s food stores. Chiko’s father had realised what was happening before anyone else and ran to the storage room. He managed to cut down two of them before getting shot in the arm.

By then, other armed villagers had marched to the storeroom. The remaining bandits retreated, but because of Chiko’s father, they had only managed to steal a few bags of rice.

‘The nerves were severed,’ the healer told them. ‘You may regain some control if you’re lucky, but you’ll never swing a sword or kuwa with this arm again.’

Chiko would never forget the look of shame and misery on his father’s face. ‘I’ve become a burden,’ he told Chiko later that night. ‘You will have to take more responsibility now, Chiko.’ And so, even more of the boy’s days were spent working on the family farm while his father recovered.



Chiko looked at his parents, his mouth hanging open.

‘We’ve both discussed it, and we think it’s for the best,’ his mother said calmly.

Chiko’s father put a firm, but reassuring, hand on his shoulder, and Chiko turned to face him. ‘Those strangers who came to town today, they’re from a convoy of people from the Eastern villages. Soldiers who deserted after Lord Hara’s death are burning anyone and anything they come across. We could barely hold off a few bandits. What chance do we have against trained soldiers?’

Chiko was quiet for a few breaths, then he asked, ‘Where would we even go?’

‘We will head west to one of the port towns so we can sail to another island in the archipelago and find a new home.’

Chiko was appalled by the suggestion. Leaving their ancestral home would dishonour their family. But he was shocked to see both of his parents considering the idea. His mother, maybe, but never his father.

‘I cannot protect my family anymore,’ he told Chiko. ‘It is my job to see you safe and well-fed before anything else.’

Chiko was still against the idea.  Even if the soldiers were tougher than the bandits, his father wasn’t the only fighter in Rybun, and they had enough food to last well past the winter, even with what the bandits took. So surely, they would see that fighting them wasn’t worth the men they would lose.

‘Chiko, our village lies in between the soldiers and another lord’s domain. If war breaks out here, Rybun would not fare well.’

When Chiko was woken up early by his mother the following day, told to pack his things, and say his goodbyes, he did so without complaint. Leaving almost everyone he knew was not as hard as he thought. Because of his farming duties, Chiko had never become close with any of the other children anyway. However, the pit that had formed in his stomach swelled as his family and a few other villagers joined the convoy. Behind them, Rybun became smaller and smaller, until it disappeared altogether.

The convoy was larger and better prepared than Chiko and his family had expected. Almost two hundred people, consisting of farmers, hunters, merchants, blacksmiths, warriors, and a few mages, walked with them. However, a group of such size was as much a curse as it was a blessing. Despite the provisions many brought with them, food quickly became scarce with so many mouths to feed, and there were too few hunters and not enough wild game to give everyone full bellies.

Even though the mages in the archipelago had cultivated their magic to adapt to combatting the arid soil that covered most of the land, they could not accelerate the growth of crops, so instead they cast spells to preserve the seeds, so they’d be ready to plant when they found a new home. To get them by, the merchants in the convoy traded for food in the villages they passed through. But it wasn’t enough to stop some of them from sleeping hungry.


One day, three weeks after they had left Rybun, Chiko was walking with his grandfather, listening intently as the old man talked of his adventures as a youth to distract himself from his empty stomach. But as they reached the edge of a clearing, they found the burnt-out village, and realised that the soldiers they were fleeing might have gotten ahead of them. As the convoy watched on in silent horror, Chiko’s mother drew close to him and stared with sad eyes.

‘I understand Mother, please forgive my ignorance.’

Murmurs about demons and vengeful spirits that roamed the land during wartime arose from the convoy.

Navigating the ruins was the only way forward due to steep cliffs on either side, so the convoy trudged through the burnt-out buildings, no one daring to say a word. In the unsettling quiet, Chiko stared at the buildings, terrified that one of them would come crashing down at any moment. Seeing the village proved too much for some members of the group, and some decided to return to their homes or stay in the next village they passed through. The worst revelation occurred when they woke up the next morning to find two dozen people, including one of the mages, missing, along with a large portion of their food. The soldiers assigned to guard the food supply were dead. Large roots had been conjured from the ground to crush their necks.

Outrage spread throughout the convoy, and people demanded that the remaining mages be cast out before more murders occurred. But Chiko’s grandfather and others argued that they would need the mages if bandits attacked. Whilst the issue was resolved, tensions rose among the convoy.

According to those familiar with the area, they were only a few days from the nearest port town, but this did little to improve morale. At night, they could see fires far off in the distance. Those who chose to join the convoy from the villages they passed through spoke of strange ships being seen off the coast.

Uneasy, Chiko and his family continued to travel with the convoy. They had come too far to turn back.

When they were a few miles away from a port town called Hajun, Chiko’s grandfather and his companions went ahead to try and negotiate safe passage across the sea while the rest of the convoy set up camp for the night.

Chiko did not get much sleep that night, anticipation and excitement keeping him awake. Despite all his fears of leaving his home, he now looked forward to sailing away from this war-torn land and finding a new home in the archipelago.

The following morning, Chiko walked beside his parents, and as they got closer to the hill, he clasped his mother’s hand in his. She looked down at him, surprised.

‘Isn’t twelve a bit old to be clinging to me like this?’ She smiled as she asked. When Chiko didn’t answer, she squeezed his hand, and they continued up the hill. If anyone else noticed, they failed to comment on it.

Hajun, whole and prospering, stretched out below as they crested the hill. But not five miles out to sea half a dozen ships had gathered.

As he stared at them, one of the other convoy members cried out and pointed towards the town. One of the boats had docked, and a small group of people disembarked, heading straight for the hill they were all standing on.

Uneasy muttering broke out, but then someone cried out, ‘The negotiators are returning.’

Sure enough, Chiko recognised his grandfather as they got closer. His mother sighed out her relief, and Chiko wrenched his hand away when he realised how tightly she was squeezing it.

The negotiators had others with them, and as they closed in on the hill, some of the convoy’s members walked down the hill to meet them at the bottom. Chiko and his family followed, the anticipation he felt the previous night returning stronger than ever.

His grandfather smiled at him as the two groups met, then he looked at everyone gathered and said, ‘These men hail from a land far across the sea called Grastell, and they have an offer for us.’

All eyes darted towards the strangers in the group. There were three of them, all wearing black robes, with what Chiko thought were white masks. But as one of them walked up next to his grandfather, Chiko realised that it was the man’s face.

The ghostly pale figure eyed the members of the convoy, his expression giving nothing away. He nodded and announced himself.

‘Good morning. I am Inquisitor Ristal. I have come here with my companions with an offer that I think will benefit both of our peoples.’

Despite his unusual accent, the convoy was engrossed in his words.

‘My homeland of Grastell has recently obtained independence from an empire that bled us of wealth and resources for far too long. However, with this newfound freedom, we have realised that we do not have enough people to sustain ourselves. We have heard that your people travelled to this town in order to escape the war that approaches even as we speak. So, here is our offer. Come with us to Grastell, and you will be accepted as official citizens. You will be given land and all the resources you need to establish a settlement you can call home.’

The Inquisitor paused, allowing the information to sink in. Then he turned towards Chiko’s grandfather and said, ‘You have until tomorrow to make your decision. After that, we will have to leave with or without you.’ He turned around and began the walk back to the town with his two followers right behind him.

Chiko could hardly remember any of the conversation that occurred over the next few hours. Out of the almost three hundred people that had joined the convoy and travelled all the way to Hajun, it seemed that all of them had something to say about the offer.

The noise was deafening, but as Chiko watched his family, he saw the nods and determined smiles on their faces. When they all turned his way, he smiled as well. Tears rolled down his cheeks as they all agreed. They would go to Grastell together.

Author: Flynn is a 4th year Creative Writing student with a penchant for fantasy, mystery, horror, and the supernatural. Growing up, Flynn loved reading stories with worlds that he could get lost in for hours, and he hopes that one day he will write stories that others can also get lost in. 

Artist: Harrison Coates is an emerging writer studying at QUT. His work investigates the varied and complex lives of those around him, and their place in an increasingly strange world. Living in Brisbane as a 3rd year fine arts student, he finds inspiration for the absurd situations explored by his fiction easily.

Accessibility Reader: Jamie Stevens

Editors: Rory Hawkins and Suzy Darlington