It’s Been a While

Something has been nagging at me, gnawing away at my soul. I have neglected something. That something is this blog. People, too, have been nagging. I’ve had requests. They were easy to ignore for a while. But people are persistent.

‘Why?’ they cried out. ‘Why hast thou forsaken us?’

Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration.

I’d apologize,but I am fairly certain it would fall on deaf ears. I’d also write something clever, but I’ll save that for a coming blog post which I will endeavor to write soon.

In the meantime, I have news. Lots of it. I’ve been a busy Captain of Chickens.

Let’s kick things off. In September this little thing came out. It’s called ‘No Worse Sin’ and it was published by the Black Library. I’m pretty proud of the story and it may be leading to more awesomeness in the future.

I wrote a few more things that, hopefully, I will be allowed to talk about soon. There’s an image to go with one of them that I would dearly like to show, but I shall resist (for now).

So here’s me holding a baked potato instead. Apparently potato day at the state legislature is a thing.

As you can see from the picture, I’ve been working. Holding down a proper job, wearing a proper suit and being a proper, upstanding member of society.

Let that tide you over until I write a real, fancy blog post.

Confessions

I am tired. Bone-weary, I sit and stare at the computer screen. My fingers move sluggishly across the keyboard in a slow dance. Words flow like treacle.

But my brain, it jumps and capers, jibbers and howls. It keeps focusing on other things to write, on other ideas. I corral it into shape but soon it flitters away to focus on something new. I have ideas. So many that flow past like leaves upon a river’s rapids. Some are pulled, sodden and messy, from the water. Others are allowed to float past.

Each is soon put back into the water as interest wanes.

This state of mind is not good. It is not productive. And yet…

And yet it persists.

I know why it is here. I am caught in the midst of a great personal undertaking. But I would rather, in my selfishness and naivety, that it were not so. My mind longs for the heady pleasure of creative writing. Even that is corrupted. Riven by guilt. Riven by doubt. Riven and gnawed through by notions of duty.

I try to save creative writing as the reward for work accomplished but my mind tries to drive me in this direction regardless. Even then, even still, it will not focus on these new ideas. Self-questioning, self-doubt, these worms have dug deep. Each new idea seems cliché or trite. What is the purpose? What is the relevance? Where is the deeper meaning? These questions pierce even the greatest armour.

My mind longs for a time without questions of relevance, of purpose. Why? Why? Why? The same questions over and over again.

I am dogged by this refrain. I come to peace with it, give it answers. For a time it is pacified, but then it comes shuffling back, resurrected by my subconscious.

For the moment the questions are silent, but the restlessness remains.

One hundred words before reward. This is all that remains.

Those one hundred words seem like one hundred miles of waterless wastes to my thirst-addled mind.

Thunder at Seasbury Moor

Hello, friends. It has been a while. I could make excuses for my absence. I could make excuses for my silence. But I am lazy and therefore will not.

I decided to do something a little different with the blog today. A quote danced in my head while I took a short break from the library earlier. I explored that quote and this little piece of flash fiction was born as a means of escape from dusty research.

The story is set in an original universe that has surfaced a time or two on the blog before.

Without further ado, here you are treated to ‘Thunder at Seasbury Moor’.

He was alone. The air was humid, rife with clogging warmth. The gentle drone of ambitious midges flitted through the still air of the tent. Seasbury Moor. The name made the place sound pleasant. It conjured images of a pleasant bit of flat land near to the sea. The reality was anything but. It was a blasted heath, coated in gently waving heather, thick thorny spinegorse. The ground was split by boulders and by defiles. Now it played host to a few thousand soldiery of the Glorious Union.

The maps before him were sodden lank things. He stared at them and swigged from a flask, hoping to derive some meaning, to gain some insight. They were ill-drawn things. They were crafted by some hand nearly a century before, the work of a missionary seeking to spread Reason’s holy light to these benighted places. In short, nothing you’d want to plan a campaign from.

But that is what Lord Captain-General Benedick Shrewe was forced to do. Thunder rumbled in the distance. It had done so at this time for the past twelve nights. It made the regiments nervous, ill-disciplined and superstitious. That was the problem with troops raised from the slums of Shack. They were barely better than the thrice-damned Inlanders they hunted. Shrewe wished the thunder would go away. He wished he would go away. Away from this misty, humid upland region at the back-end of the Union. But the Inlanders had risen and Reason called.

Alas, he was trapped, bound by the duty entrusted to him by the Inviolate Council of the Glorious Union. So Lord Captain-General Benedick Shrewe stared at a map made by a missionary who had never been within a hundred miles of the Inlands.

The thunder rumbled again. Shouting cut underneath the deep rumble. Shrewe ignored it. Damned Shack savages. They jumped at everything.

He stared until the lines became squiggles, until the thunder became a constant rumble.

Something tickled at his consciousness. Something to do with the sounds. Someone kept shouting outside. Someone else screamed, high and wailing. Shrewe had half a mind to go out and berate his men, but there were loftier things to attend to.

A thunder-clap sounded perilously close and now there was the sound of branches breaking, of little twigs snapping over and over.

Sweat trickled down Shrewe’s forehead, reaching into his mustache, dripping onto the map spread before him. The ink, cheap, mass-manufactured stuff ran in blotchy circles. He tugged at his collar and removed his cap, the feather drooping in the air. He puffed out a breath and hoped for the damn storm to break and take away the heat.

Light bloomed in the tent as a little hole peppered its way through the canvas. A zipping sound cut through the air near his ear, followed by another. Something punched Shrewe in the gut, where a speckle of light poked at his stomach. He looked down. He felt hurt, bewildered.

He felt like he had been shot, but that was patently ridiculous. Lord Captain-Generals were not shot inside their tents.

He reassured himself that there was no blood, not that he would have been able to see it against the deep red of his uniform. There was a little hole in his coat though. That would require mending, he felt the thought blunder into his brain. The thought brought pain, deep and lancing.

The tent flap opened and an unfamiliar man stepped in. The man was bald and filthy. He wore no uniform. The man raised a hand in half-hearted greeting. Shrewe noted through the pain that the man had no fingers on his hand, just a solitary crooked thumb.

Shrewe fell backwards, flat on his arse. The other man made no attempt to help him up. He just cocked his head and stared. His eyes were shit-brown. The man stepped towards Shrewe.

The Lord Captain-General tried to scramble backwards but found himself unable to move. The ground felt wet around him, like he sat in a puddle of water. That made no sense though, since it wasn’t raining.

The unfamiliar man spoke, ‘You know who I am?’ His accent was rough, thick with the slums and guttural with the affectations of the Inlands.

Shrewe couldn’t answer. He could barely see and a sudden thirst clutched at his mouth.

The man sighed. ‘They never do seem to know,’ he mused to himself.

Shrewe’s mouth filled with wet iron. ‘Who?’ he might have spluttered if his voice hadn’t been stolen by coughing.

The unfamiliar man flashed an ugly grin, lopsided and filled with missing teeth. ‘Me?’ He said. ‘They call me No Luck Jaq. I’d say I was pleased to meet you, but I would hate to lie.’

The thunder outside ceased but Shrewe couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t hear anything past the laboured thunder of his heartbeat. The unfamiliar man, No Luck Jaq, came forward and put his foot on Shrewe’s gut. He leaned down close to Shrewe’s face and gusted a rotten breath out.

Shrewe coughed little red flecks all over Jaq’s face.

Jaq cursed and walked away, whatever words he’d meant to say abandoned. He left the tent.

Shrewe closed his eyes.

He was alone. The air was humid and muggy and still. He could see a map, inscribed in the bursts of light that danced in the darkness.

His last thoughts were of thunder.

I, Witness

I’ve been mulling over this blog post for a while, letting the thoughts and ideas crystalise. It has sat, words clamouring for attention, in my head, waiting.

I also wanted to give people some time to read ‘Witness’ in case I spoil anything. If you’ve not read it yet, then this post may not be for you. Also, go and read it and come back. I’ll wait. Maybe.

I wanted to do something different with this blog post and delve into my writing process, into the generation of characters, in the subconscious stew that prompts my words.

But first, let me set the scene.

I am on a train. There is a big grin plastered across my face, reflected in the windows, reflected in my iPad’s screen. The source of the smile is an email, received a year ago, come to fruition, and the fruits of that email sit in my hands. It is a short story, crafted, lovingly, by my hands, by my thoughts. I never thought I’d be writing this, but here I am and here is the final result.

The story is called ‘Witness’ and the author’s name is Joe Parrino, my name. It follows an officer of the Imperial Guard, fresh-faced, hungry for glory, scared of war. His name is Danel Prestoff and he is me.

A strange way for me to phrase it, but let me explain.

As I read my story again, I realised something.

Danel Prestoff’s fears are my own, reflected in fiction.

His uncertainties, his naivete, these are mine also. I wrote this story in a strange, unfamiliar place. The story was written back in September, started on one side of the globe and finished in another. My experiences, my feelings shaped those of my main character in ‘Witness.’

I was alone at the time, recently relocated to the United Kingdom. I’d crossed the pond, left family and friends behind, to attempt graduate school. I felt trepidation, uncertainty, all those things that Prestoff feels when he first descends on Margentum.

In the beginning of the story, in the true beginning, he is brusque, full of boasting, full of comfort. He is on his troopship, surrounded by his wife and daughters, by friends and familiar faces. War (graduate school) these are far away, in the distance; a problem for future Prestoff, for future Joe. These were my reactions before leaving for Scotland. I was home, with friends and family, leaving was a few days distant. I was full of nervous energy, ready for anything graduate school could throw at me. I was brave, brazen, bold. I could handle this.

Flash forward a few days and I was on a plane. The unknown started to buffet me, the first gnawing sense of doubt. This became Prestoff on his dropship, still prepared, but the doubt eats away at him. He panics.

The first few days in Edinburgh were filled with me keeping myself occupied, wandering around the city, gawking at all the sights. In the same way, Prestoff’s experience of war is one from behind Brindleweld shields, kept at a distance. The fear is still there, but it is hidden.

School begins and the true doubt sets in. I am ill-prepared for this. The readings, the coursework, all unfamiliar. The accents. The languages. So different from what I was used to in the US. Now I was truly down the rabbit hole.

This too is Prestoff’s story. As the Margentine War turns into a thing of horror, as they begin to lose, driven back by things they cannot fight. The essays, the readings are the xenos (*cough* daemons) in the story. They begin to overwhelm.

Then defiance sets in. This is something I can handle. This is something Prestoff can handle.

As the story goes on, of course, Prestoff and I separate. Our journeys differ. His ends in a dark place.

Hopefully mine ends in glory.

Glasgow

I have always liked trains.

There is something comforting about the gentle swaying to and fro, the clickety-clack of squealing tracks.

And so, with excitement in my heart, I rode the train on Thursday last, into the west.

I departed from Edinburgh, bound with two companions for the city of Glasgow.

Armed with recommendations, we were looking forward to a day of misunderstandings, wanderings, and museum gawkings.

An hour’s journey by train saw us in Glasgow’s centre.

The transition from Edinburgh, stately, gothic, to Glasgow, bustling modern, Victorian was shocking.

We chose a random direction and set off.

Before us rose a building, spired, majestic: the Glasgow City Chambers. The rotating door, a favourite architectural design of mine, left me laughing. Inside the building, the hall glowed warmly.

It was beautiful. Tiles, marble, magnificence. Glass doors led into secret parts of the building. Polished wood panels danced with light. We were prevented from exploring further due to signs of forbiddance.

Our feet took us from that place, through the city streets, past hundreds of people towards some nebulous and ill-defined goal.

The Museum of Modern Art. This place, this museum, stuffed full of the pretensions of artists, cloaked behind the shield of the modern, proved entertaining. Shapes, colours, objects, arranged in what I am sure to a practiced eye could be considered pleasing and full of meaning, was entirely lost to my less appreciative mind. We wandered through the halls, interpreting, joking and judging. Three floors felt our treads. Three floors heard our scathing voices.

Once more the city streets beckoned. Glasgow, with the song of the Sirens obscured beneath honking cars and shouting voices, called us into her streets.

We became lost. The maze of modern life swallowed us. Galleries flashed by, their expensive glow filled with expensive things. Pubs, crowded with empty tables refused us lunch service. On and on we walked. Through areas both savoury and less than such, our feet carried us.

In the covered light of the Market Square, we took our repose, consumed a lunch worthy of the miles we had walked. More lay before us.

One final museum, one final goal lay in the city. It was far to the west, miles way. We set forth, sated from lunch, ready to expand minds.

We became lost again.

Distracted by sightings of a Blue Box, that may or may not have been bigger on the inside and an inhabitant of Glasgow that could only have been a pirate, we found the river.

The Clyde, frothed and whipped by passing wind, surface dappled by falling rain, lay to our left as we followed its path.

The smells of wet leather and freshly turned earth accompanied us on our drifting path. We weaved between construction workers as the buildings disappeared, replaced by empty lots. Doubt ruled our minds, but we persevered.

Where once there were sights of city centre buildings, now we found car rental lots, office parks on a massive scale and computer shops.

Farther into the west we went. Farther into the west we wearily trod. Rows of flats, rows of restaurants, rows of strangely named pubs, met our gaze, followed our footsteps.

Signs, infrequent, inconsistent, pointed towards our destination.

Finally parkland opened up and at its centre, crouched like a fat red spider at the middle of her web, lay our destination.

We sprinted up steps, feet lightened by accomplishment, weariness falling away.

The halls beckoned. Knowledge called.

Inside such sights were seen!

There was the massive head of a pike, an empty display case where a taxidermied haggis once lingered, the heads of birds, awkwardly articulated monkey skeletons, dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies guarded by the sons of a primarch.

This we saw and more. We climbed the stairs, intent upon viewing yet more of what the museum offered.

A uniformed docent found us among the arms and armour of bygone eras. ‘We’re closing,’ he whispered in the quiet voice reserved for museums.

Shoulders slumped, we left the place. We left, back through the city. Back down the path. Back on the train and back to Edinburgh.

Now my friends, I must away. I must prepare my soul. For Chaos once more descends upon Edinburgh and I will witness its coming.

Published

Yesterday, yesterday I should have made an announcement here.

I apologise that I did not. Social media, conversations with friends, proud boasting, these things occupied my time and attention.

So the announcement shall be made today. My work is vindicated. I am allowed to speak.

I was published yesterday.

I still can’t get over that thought.

I was published.

A lifelong dream, held, cherished, scrunched tight within my soul emerged into reality, realised, fully formed.

I am now a writer, not just a blogger, not just a Captain of Chickens.

I am now Joe Parrino, writer.

Beyond that fact, beyond that vindication comes the fact of what has been published, what will continue to be published (Emperor and Editor willing).

My name is Joe Parrino and I am a writer for the Black Library.

That may not mean much to you, but to me it means everything.

Ever since I was a young child, I have read the works of William King, Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, since that fateful day I strode into Powells and found a copy of Trollslayer, Necropolis and Storm of Iron.

I was lost, lost within visions of a bleak future, of camaraderie, betrayal, all the things my young self wanted to read, to write.

Last year a friend of mine did the impossible. He won the lottery on my behalf with a selfless act. I was floored, astounded, shocked, honoured.

Then came the response, the response that left me stunned and ecstatic by equal measures. I could scarce sit still when I heard the news and yet, at the same time, I could scarcely cease moving.

An editor contacted me, asking for my work, asking for more.

It felt surreal, writing about the things that I had always read, that I still read.

I was no longer going to be a passive observer, I would contribute, add, create.

My first short story came months later, as I stumbled through pitch after pitch, striving, and not achieving. Finally one broke through.

The words flew from my mind and onto the page.

Then more came. I was asked for more and the dream deepened, became more real with every passing day.

A new story was commissioned, a new premise introduced. It was challenging to write for a subject with which I was scarcely familiar, with a viewpoint I had never before considered.

Yesterday that story was released. Yesterday I was published. Yesterday I was vindicated as a writer.

Yesterday a dream came true, burst forth from the aether, into reality, made manifest.

It is the first. It will not be the last.

My name is Joe Parrino and I was published yesterday.

Cold

Dear God this damn country is so cold.

I walk to class, huddled deep into a coat, compressing myself into as small a profile as manageable. My hands are shoved deep into pockets, swaddled in gloves, clenched tight into fists of discomfort.

My face, my ears, these things freeze.

This would be normal, acceptable even, were it winter.

This is not normal. This is not acceptable.

This is March.

By rights, by virtue of my experience (limited though it is) it should be raining, sunny, cloudy. Anything really, other than this soul-eating cold. Snow drops serenely from pregnant skies, drifting down in miserable white clumps.

I love snow. I really do. It reminds me of childhood, of sledding, of cancelled school, of the million things that little kids love and the million adventures a little kid can commit in the whitewashed world of snowfalls.

I love snow. But let me clarify. I love snow in the winter. It is now spring. I would like it to go away now please.

I hate walking to the gym as the snow drifts around me, shivering in the early morning cold, existing early morning misery exacerbated by inclement weather.

I hate walking to class as snowflakes tumble.

I hate sitting trapped in my room as the winds howl.

I hate staring hatefully out the window as snow swirls around dim light-posts at night.

So now I am torn. I love snow, but I hate it. I hate it now in this moment. I have hated it for the past few weeks.

I am notorious among my friends for reveling in foul weather, for greeting wind and rain with open arms, a glad heart and laughter.

Now I find myself full of curmudgeonly complaint. I want springtime. I want spring showers. I want flowers, and green, and a moderate increase in warmth.

Thus far the weather gods have deemed my complaints unworthy, unworthy of their consideration.

Winter please go away. Spring should be here and much as I appreciate your snow, it’s a bit inappropriate now.

The Politics of Primarchs

There is a spot in the Meadows near to where I live. There is nothing special about this spot, nothing visually appealing. It is just a quiet bend in a quiet park.

This is where ideas come from. They whisper in quiet voices. They whisper with the thunder of surety, of betrayal, of politics, of philosophy. They are the imagined words of primarchs and legionnaires, men who exist only in fiction. The quotes are usually not long, simple statements of intent and interest.

I do not know why I always think of the words from this spot. Perhaps because it lies on my route home from class, my mind still abuzz with the notions and theories of International Relations. Perhaps the walls between reality and the Immaterium lay thin there and the echoes of thoughts and deeds resonate on that spot. Perhaps it is just a spot and my fevered mind only ascribes significance conjured from the heady heights of nothingness. Perhaps it is all of these things. Perhaps it is none of them.

Most of you who read this blog may not find this post interesting, believing it to be part of the fandom from which the Hallowed Captain of Chickens draws inspiration.

There is an announcement that will soon brighten this webpage, but today is not that day. Instead listen to the glory, the heresy, the thoughts and philosophies of fictional beings.

‘Do you do the right thing because it is right or because it is the right thing to do?’
-The Primarch Lorgar Aurelian (c. M31)

‘Without the rule of law we are nothing.’
‘No, without the rule of law we are everything.’
-Interrogation of Anarcho-Heretic Milias Hartfel (c. M40)

‘The Emperor taught us to be brave, to know no fear. We carry that with us even now, as we dismantle His Imperium.’
-Unknown Speaker, Vox Capture, Elsidias Massacre, Shortly after Isstvan V (c. M31)

‘There is no good versus evil. No darkness versus light. There is only survival and extinction.’
-The Primarch Horus Lupercal, Address before the Siege of Terra (c. M31)

‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lies written by idealists in an age of idealism. There is only one life worth preserving, that of humanity as a species. Liberty must be sacrificed towards that end. As for the pursuit of happiness, I have never agreed with this as a fundamental right. Happiness is incidental and trite. Preservation, order, duty. These are the values I prefer.’
-Private Correspondence between the Emperor and Malcador the Sigillite (c. M31)

‘The old adage, “fortune favours the bold,” has always rung false to me. I would replace it with “fortune favours the clever.”‘
-The Primarch Alpharius (c. M31)

‘A tyrant is a tyrant, no matter whether they call themselves Emperor or Warmaster. We reject both.’
-VIII Legion Captain Aral Tarn, Hours before his Assassination (c. M31)

‘I reject the doctrine of non-intervention. Those who will not see will be made to see. Those who will not hear will be made to hear. Those who will not bow will be made to bow.’
-Attributed to the Emperor, Onset of the Unification Wars (c. M31)

The Eating of the Sandwich

As per request and due to the paucity of blog posts of late.

Herein this moste dreade accounte shall I reveale to you the most harrowing storie of howe I consumed a sandwiche.

Once more I found myself in the library, doing battle with readings upon readings. They fell before me like wheat before the scythe and other appropriate metaphors.

A grumbling noise intruded upon my epic conflict. A headache thudded into being behind my eyes, my focus drifted away. The readings gained ground, sensing my weakness.

I cried out. People stared in the library. I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of this place. There is no noise allowed, only the hallowed silence.

I stumbled to my feet as the readings crowded closer. ‘No. No. No,’ I muttered under my breath, backing away from my computer screen, from my desk, from the dastardly readings.

The grumbling noise returned, insistent. I raised my pen into the air, brandishing it about with heroic aplomb. White coated librarians stalked out from the shadows, gathering to remove this threat to their domain. Eyes dashing back and forth, feet splayed, I elected to make good my escape.

The computer screen slammed down, the readings defeated, hidden, out of sight and now, out of mind.

I ran down the stairs as the librarians howl in mute silence, in frustration, and in triumph.

White marble surrounded me now, cold, gleaming. The grumble reverberated again, shaking my being.

I gasped. I knew this grumble. It was hunger.

There was only one solution.

Food.

My mind raced trying to find a solution suitable to the occasion.

The clatter of plates and dishware intruded upon my considerations.

Then the notion hit me.

There was a café in this place.

I bounded down the stairs, heroic monologues streaming from my mouth.

I saw my goal, but a line stood between me and victory.

I gathered the tools I would need to defeat this dread threat. A packet of chips, a bottle of green tea, good, but not entirely the solution.

In the cold climes of the refrigerator I spied the greatest weapon. Wrapped in cellophane, gleaming in preparation.

The sandwiche.

Printed on a label upon its plastic covering, said the words: turkey, brie and cranberry.

Perfect.

This would do.

Twice was I almost defeated in this task. Once by the dread prospect of technology run rampant, the other, by unyielding plastic covering.

And then, before my eyes, triumph flashing, hands shaking, lay my prize.

This was the Rite of the Eating of the Sandwich and all would look away.

Minutes later, sated, I returned to my reading, returned to dread dreariness.

Snowfall

It began with a question. A question half made in jest, half made in hope.

It was a question to which there was only one answer, given without consideration, without reservation.

Four there were who set out from the Court of Old Archers. Only three completed the journey.

The snow fell silent last night, blanketing the city in a thousand clichés made for more clever tongues. Some welcomed it with open arms, others, I am sure, were not so sanguine.

We set forth, feet clomping through snow-covered streets, not towards the castle, not towards the realms of man. No, our goal that evening was something other. We sought the heights. Some impulse drove us there, some ineffable desire to conquer the wild places filled us.

Snowballs flew through the air, a means of making light the arduous task to come. The wind tugged and pulled, drawing heat away.

Cars rattled past in the night, their tires making a mockery of that which our footwear could not grip. We left them behind, turning onto a road unmarked by tire or feet. The only hint that something else had come before were the marks of foxes and rabbits.

The silence became absolute. Three stolid shapes trudged through the half-light of the snowfield. Steps curled up before us, their presence only tangible on the face, the tops lost in snow.

A hill, wild and majestic, graced with mist and fog and falling snow rose ahead. The path before us wound its way zigging and zagging up its sheer sides.

The smiles have slipped our faces. Their is only labour now. We climb. Through slips and slides, pumping hearts and muffled breath, we dare the heights.

We are soaked through to the bone but once this journey has begun there is no turning back. Silence greets us as the wind slips away. The path grows narrow. My heart beats faster. I have never been comfortable with heights and I am reminded of this as I make the climb.

We reach the tops of the steps and step from step and grass to wind and snow swept rocks. The path broadens, but becomes more treacherous.

The city gleams all around us, save for one direction. We pause for a moment and admire the glorious tableau around us, a shining jewel in the night.

There is only one direction that blocks the city lights, one direction in which our destination lies. Fog and mist whip their way across its scarred face.

The mist opens, just for a moment and the peak pierces the night sky. Two towers, the only hint of humanity’s presence on this weather scourged hill, stand proud from the bare rock. At an unspoken word we continue our journey, our tracks swiftly fading behind us.

The wind picks up, no longer blocked by the bulk of rock and earth. It howls and pulls at our ears. It steals breath and sound, insistent and jealous in its cries.

The pathway, unmarked and noticeable only as a thread of white through the pockmarked surface, straightens out, pointing arrowlike towards a cleft in the rocky peak.

We brace hands and feet, hauling, climbing our way through the cleft. The cleft ends and we stand. The city extends all around us, veiled one moment by snow and fog, the next clear as any other day.

Triumph fills us. We seem the first to have climbed this hill. The only to have dared its heights this night.

A muffled voice puts paid to that notion. A fellow explorer joins us at the top. He has ascended another path. We feel diminished until one among our number notes that we were the first and we took the harder path.

We gaze upon this new world as the wind howls. Unbidden a tune emerges from between lips, a conjuring of a remembered movie.

We linger there, for minutes, secure in the knowledge of what we have done, of what we have accomplished. Victory tastes sweet, pure, and it sounds of silence.

Our pathway up was filled with stony silence, of private wrestling with inner demons. The way down is different.

We descend in jubilation. Snowballs fly afresh, laughter fills the silence.

Weariness fills our limbs as we make our way back home, but it feels righteous.

We dared. We dared and won.

The hill lies conquered.