The Mandorla Part 1: Dead Bird

This page is an archive for a contest entry that was hosted at a special URL. The article has since been ported to the main site as The Mandorla Part 1: Dead Bird.

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At the intersection of Wethir and the Great Marshes lies a monumental crater, depressed into the earth, with the same shape as the intersection of two congruent circles: The Mandorla. When hit by the orange light of this night's harvest moon, it comes to life. From one corner to the other, the crater transforms. Strands of muscle burst from the stone, coiling together whilst skin peels from the ground. The white of the Eye forms, enshrouded with thousands of tiny red veins, undulating and swelling with blood. An iris of vibrant blue unfolds from under the white, and in the pupil's place sits a sunken pit, with walls of flesh and a pool of red tar at the bottom. The fully formed Eye jerks slowly from side to side, stretching its colossal muscles and flooding its surface with turquoise tears from unseen glands to unseen ducts. Its muscles ripple as it spins about, scanning its surroundings—There's seven tonight. Not a great feast, but enough.

On this cold night, the barrier winds howl from far above. The unnatural glow of moonlight fills the lands with a dim visibility.

A lone dwarf approaches, heaving a two-hundred-pound chunk of Mythril ore. The pristine, lime-colored mineral produces pulses of light, cascading through the rock in waves—as rhythmic and unsettling as the blood pulsing within the Eye. As the dwarf steps closer, the Eye jerks to see what has been brought. The dwarf bends and hauls the ore to the top of his back, preparing to throw. The Eye jitters impatiently, the hole now parallel to the ground, leaking tar that turns to vapor upon contact with the natural earth. He throws the ore and it twists through the air before plummeting into the hole of the Eye.

One by one, the remaining six approach and offer sacrifice: stolen armor from the elf, gelatinous eggs from the orc, sprawling scrolls from the wizard, seed and crop from the hobbit, branches and leaves from the ent, and a dead bird from the human.

All matter in this world is an illusion, printed paper folded and morphed into this simulation. Every page, dense with words, holds meaning. Meaning is form, and form is a body.

The tar digests what's been received, dissolving matter into raw meaning before it's reforged. Out of sight below the earth, a massive structure takes shape.

The feast is over and the Eye turns to stone once more. The gathered beings leave, going their separate ways with little interest in one another.

Ria, the human, slings her satchel over her shoulder and returns to her business before the orange moon: exploring the ruins along the Wethir Bay. On horseback, she heads southeast toward the ruins near Elenhall, a human colony that fell long before the wars. Its name and history are lost to time, its scrolls in human-speak too ancient to understand.

After a two-day ride through the barren plains—careful to keep a safe distance from orcs—Ria reaches the ruins just past dawn.

"Why are you here?"

She ignores the voice, as she's been doing for several hours.

She dismounts her horse and it follows behind her as she saunters through the ruins' cobblestone streets which meander through a dense matrix of broken buildings and fieldstone walls. These ruins are less interesting than the others—no landmarks, no furniture in the buildings—it's all been stolen or reduced to rubble. But she's not going to leave until she's walked down every street.

Her stomach snarls—it's been a night since it was last fed. When she reaches an open area at the top of a hill, she unstraps a burlap sack from the horse's saddle and unties the knot she'd tied the day prior.

A couple days' worth of bread left—enough for this trip and straight back to the village, if she doesn't burn through it. She tears off three mouthfuls, about enough to stave off the hunger. It's tasteless rye bread, but her stomach isn't picky. She sits in the grass against a knee-high stone wall. From this hill, the lower half of the ruins is fully visible, the ocean just a way beyond and to the east. Calm waves splash against the green rocky shoreline. She can make out the opposite side of the bay, hemming the horizon. She can't eat without something nice to look at.

"This village is close to the shore. The shore isn't safe."

She swallows the third and final bite of bread.

"You should leave soon, Ria."

Restraint thoroughly drained, she replies, "Fine."

She stands up, knots the sack, and straps it back onto the horse.

"After I walk through the rest of the area."

The lower half of the ruins has shorter buildings, few parks, and no remaining walls—must have been lower class. It's about as uninteresting as the first half, but Ria feels inclined to follow through on exploring it in its entirety, mostly out of spite. But near the edge of the ruins, she notices something: blood. She slowly pulls a dagger from her satchel and approaches.

"What are you doing?!"

The blood leads to the door of a building which is in better shape than most.


She's not going to leave. It could be someone hurt. She has bandages in her satchel. There's a torn basket on the ground. There's a sound; someone is crying. Ria opens the door.

An old and unfamiliar, human woman sits at the end of the room, blood trailing from the door. Ria shoves her knife into her satchel and takes out the bandages in the same motion.

"Oh my God! I'll help you, I can help you!"

The woman's legs are slashed and a laceration stretches across her right arm. Ria quickly wraps the bandages around her legs and tightens them. Needing more bandaging, she rushes to pull the burlap sack from the house to tear the sack into a flat sheet of cloth, dumping the bread onto the ground.

The woman musters speech through the pain, "L- leave me. You have to find my grandson."

"I need to tie this around your arm," she says, rushing back from the horse.

"We were attacked—my grandson, he got away. The looters left to the north but he ran to the east. You have to find him before the sirens do."

"You can't."

"I have to," Ria says under her voice so the woman can't hear.

"You need to stay alive."

"I'm going," Ria proclaims, running outside and scanning the shoreline for any sign of the boy—nothing.

"I can't put my mother before a child's life," she says, confident.

She jumps on her horse and hurries to the coast.

She reaches the rocky shore. There's a bird to the north end. It's a siren. It has something in its mouth—no, couldn't be.

Her horse takes her northward up the shore. It is—it's the boy. But Ria's close enough to see that he's still breathing. He's alive.

She pulls a bow from her satchel, her only chance. The siren doesn't notice Ria's presence.

"If you shoot the bird, it will come for you."

She's got five arrows. She draws one.

"The bird will kill you and your mother will die. Are the boy and the old hag really more important than her?"

Steady, aim, fire. Miss.

The arrow hits the water and sinks but the bird doesn't seem to notice.

'Second arrow drawn.

"You can't save the kid. He will fall in the water and drown."

Ria pauses.


She yells, catching the bird's attention, but it doesn't change its course.

"It has no interest in you when it has a meal to return to its nest with. You won't be able to lure it to shore."

She draws the bow again. Aim, fire. Hit! The arrow pierces the bird's left wing. It stumbles to the shore, barely able to keep itself from crashing into the water. The boy's neck remains clutched between its jaws.

Ria bolts across the rocks to the bird, dagger in hand.

"The siren only keeps the boy alive because living intelligence absorbs much better than dead brain matter. If you provoke the bird, it will not risk its life. Instead, it will kill the boy and drop him before flying away."

The bird is facing the opposite direction from Ria, dazed and disoriented. She continues forward.


The bird hears footsteps. What direction are they coming from? It can't tell. The world is spinning. The bird sees her approaching. It releases the boy and tries to fly away, but crashes into the rocks once again. Ria reaches the bird and slashes open the back of its head, killing it instantly. She drops to the boy, limp on the rocky ground. His neck is painted red.

She puts her finger under his nose. He's not breathing.

She presses his chest and blows into his mouth, filling his lungs.




It doesn't bring him back. He's gone.

"I'm just glad you're safe now. That bird killing you would have been bad for everyone."

"You know, if the boy's already dead, he would make a worthy sacrifice to me. Certainly better than that dead sparrow."

"Absolutely not!" she shouts.

Moments pass. She falls to the ground beside the boy and cries.

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