Coterminous: Chapter 3 — Wolds, part 1

Editor’s Note: Continued from Bindle Zine Winter 2024. Previously posted parts can be found at

Crozley twirls his crosier while he whistles and sings his way forward as he leads us deep into the forest ahead. “Now we go into the wild wolds, never were there those so bold, hearts of fire or that of cold, they who went into the wild wolds?” Only the crazy or the courageous would follow the fox into this den of weird. He has a habit of recruiting both, and I am not pleased to admit I have fallen for his charms. My opinion may be different if the money he was shelling out wasn’t so satisfactory. The pay helps in overlooking his more questionable behavior. Still, for the short period of time I have known him he only entertains those whose intentions jive with his own. In that respect I much prefer being on his good side. I would hate to see what would happen if this nut’s line was crossed.

Meresinea, Tala, and Crozley are sharing a large horn of some kind of fermented beverage between the three of them. He is smoking profusely while Meresinea is taking occasional drags from her own pipe, the substance smelling more recreational as opposed to the narcotic that our esteemed guide is more apt to utilize. Vespine is curled up in Crozley’s hood and snoozing away as we continue the trek, while Tala skips along the path humming a cheerful melody. I keep a few paces behind them, occasionally turning around and walking backwards every couple of steps to keep the rear in my sights. Every footfall kicks up the dead vegetation on the ground, and the leaves slowly float upwards, attaching themselves to the branches from which they fell as if they never died. Then they shrivel and fall again.

The hike so far is rather easy. The forest is wet and dense but there is little in the way of obstruction, as if the trees and plants are frequently manicured. This place feels constructed and out of place, and appropriately so. The Wolds are unnatural, sown by the very being who’s grave we intend to invade. It is not a typical forest, as it contains what appear to be arrangements of shrubbery trimmed into topiary and timber carved into abstract totems. But to question something so bizarre in this world is counterintuitive, you just have to accept it. Crozley, however, is always ready to explain, as it takes a mad man like him to decipher the strange.

“The Wolds,” he begins, “was once the grand garden of the gods where they sojourned in the earliest days of their existence after the great wandering. It is here they gathered in mutual meditation by their primal fires to ruminate on their individual existences and the nature of reality. They would stay here for a time, then wander again, always returning to converse, to muse, and to debate about the state of the world. Coterminous was full with the scattered and ragged dregs of primitive life, but for the most part the old gods were alone in their contemplations. For ages they remained itinerant immortals devoid of purpose and ignorant to their powers, willed into existence by their own decree and deposited here without guidance. Such was the test, for their evolution had to be self motivated, and their purpose forged by no hands but their own. It was in this place they realized the skills they possessed and explored their personal intentions for the development of the world. No longer aloof, they became the cultivators of Coterminous, the Preceptors, and they took it upon themselves to make this planet their own. This garden grew and became a sacred place. It was the staging ground for their first creations, one of which you can see now: the great mountain of the eternal ones, the Xenolith. Now a ruin but once the palatial seat of the creators, it is a geological marvel that can be seen anywhere on Coterminous. From the peak they commanded the ages, and gave birth to the first clades that stepped down from the mountain and into the Wolds. Beyond, they found the world ahead of them, and all of it to share.”

“Now you’re a tour guide. This is a hell of a place to be giving history lessons.” I say it so dryly that I make myself thirsty.

You may not care for the history, but I do,” Meresinea says. “To be walking upon the same soil that Ula tread is an act of absolute reverence.”

“Well, I hate to ruin your moment of religious frenzy, but it has been a long time since anything good has set foot in here, present company included. What Crozley has neglected to leave out is the fact that this place was also a petrie dish for the Preceptor’s less favorable progeny, and they weren’t too keen on sharing the world,” I say.

“Seirath is correct,” Crozley says, “and he has forgotten that one of the reasons he is here is to fend off said undesirables. It is of no secret that the Preceptors created other progeny prior to those that now inhabit our world. Some became invasive and needed to be…wrangled.”

“By wrangled he means exterminated,” I say, “and that extermination had a name: the Cull. All the good it did, as there are some remnants that supposedly made it out alive. Proof of that can be seen in most of the breeds of chimera in the caravan. Everything else has retreated here to this botanical tomb.”

“So are you saying that within these woods are the forgotten children of the Preceptors?” Meresinea asks excitedly.

They haven’t forgotten, and you should have no interest in encountering the orphaned mistakes of the gods.”

“Ula didn’t make mistakes,” she retorts. “All her gifts continue to benefit the world. Her legacy is the most sound of all her peers.”

I try to hold back the laugh but fail. “I wouldn’t be so sure of yourself. Her’s is not the only legacy occupying this world Every living thing in Coterminous has a common denominator, and some didn’t go to the grave with their creators during the cull. They continue to thrive despite being endangered. Blacklisted from society, sure, but there are still places in this world that they can go to linger.”

“And here they fester in the gods’ acre,” Crozley croons.

“Seems to me you hold these other species in equal parts disfavor and esteem, Seirath,” Meresinea says.

“I tend to hold things in disfavor when they are trying to kill me. Not all of those little orphaned races are bad, but that doesn’t mean I need to care. But whether bad or good, they deserve respect. They are survivors, and I can’t judge them for that.”

We are deeper into the woods now. Straying from the path and into the bush would be foolish. The vegetation grew so thick here now that there is little room to pass, and the labor involved to cut it down will be too much. Out of boredom I swing my sword at a thicket of brambles, shredding them in a single cut and stirring the ember flies that had been hiding within. They scatter, spreading smoke and char as their wings flutter, with tiny blue flame trails emitting from their thorax. Tala tries to grab them as they flee, but they burn her hands when she gets close. She growls and giggles at the pain and continues to chase them. Crozley chastises my weed whacking, saying it will all grow back anyway then suffocate and swallow me whole as an act of revenge. When I look back at what I had cut down it has indeed returned as though I never interfered. I stand there for a time, hypnotized by the veiny formations of vines and wild roots. I can hear the things that move through the underbrush. I feel they are full of curiosity and fury as they watch us. Are they planning an ambush? Are they waiting for us to stop and rest? Are they even there?

There are areas of rock that jut out of the ground that barely pierce the tree line, like bony fingers of earth and stone extending toward the sky, but too weak to reach the warmth of the sun. Instead they remain a multitude of jagged monoliths, grave testaments to this forsaken environment. I think I see something stalking along one of them, with four legs then two. Then it is gone. The rocks are covered in a thick moss which Crozley warns against getting too close for it is toxic, and not in the pleasurable way that his products are. Meresinea ignores this warning, keen on gathering what she can for her sorceries. She harvests a bit of the moss with a pair of gloves, jarring it immediately and stowing it in one of her satchels. The understory is covered in ferns and various other species of flora which the sorceress inspects with excited scrutiny, smelling and feeling and clipping what she deems valuable reagents.

Tala attempts to climb a lichen-coated boulder that is being claimed by a thick network of creeping woodbine growing upwards from the soil. They stir and recoil as she disturbs them with her grip, focused on reaching a neighboring ash tree covered in a flowering ivy. She did it so quickly and with deft precision none of us had time to scold her. She flips from the boulder and plucks a flower, the vines whipping and ivy hissing in a reactionary rage as she escapes with another flip. She presents her prize to Meresinea who is gushing with gratitude.

“Beautiful is it not? That is bindweed,” says the sorceress. “With the right refinement it can be made into a salve that can close wounds and mend bones. But tweak the compound another way and it can become quite an effective paralytic, seizing the muscles and deadening the nerves.”

Tala shrugs, “Huh, well, I just thought it was pretty.”

“Such is the irony: that which is beautiful can both heal and harm.”

“I don’t know about that,” Tala scratches her head. “Most iron I know is ugly and used to make heavy things that can do heaps of harm.”

I trail behind as Meresinea begins tutoring Tala on the meaning of irony. I reach into my cloak and fumble through the layers until I find the pocket in my patchwork brigandine where I keep my tobacco pouch. I lower my scarf, unbuckle the leather bevor that protects my face, and raise the dark goggles to my forehead. I slow my pace in order to roll shredded bits of leaf into a paper, eyes shifting forward to keep the others in view. But my oil lighter does not ignite. I forgot to fill the damn thing.

“Need help with that?”

Meresinea looks at me with glassy eyes that have been affected by whatever tinctures and tonics she and Crozley have been sharing, but still carries herself sober enough. Before I can acknowledge her, she waves her fingers over the paper cylinder hanging from my mouth and manifests a tiny spark of flame.

I take a drag and gesture in thanks, “Fulmination?”

She lights her pipe in the same manner. “A useful skill.”

“So I have heard. I hope you can do more than just light a man’s coffin nail.”

“Oh, you don’t want to know what else I can do to a man.”

“We aren’t dealing with men in these woods. That fire of yours better burn hot.”

“Always does.” She nods at the slug rifle I have slung over my shoulder. “Are you any good with that?”

“Doesn’t take much to master it. You aim, pull the trigger, and bullets come out. Then, the bullets go into something alive and it dies.”

“You have the fundamentals down. Anything else under that armor better than bullets and fire?”

“I suppose you’ll find out soon enough if we run into trouble.”

“That was a proposition, Mister Seirath.”

“I don’t have anything under here that you would want.”

She laughs, “Well you certainly know how to shoot a woman down.”

I smile and wink, “You’re an easy target.”

We exchange a long gaze and for a moment I forget where we are, lost in her countenance. She wears a lot of that cosmetic dust and paste on her face, but it is within reason and in an artisanal fashion. Such is her way, being what she is. She has a further advantage with her powers, as though she creates a shield of cleanliness around her and remains forever immaculate. She sticks out around here, and may as well be wearing a dress made of neon lights. She has incredible eyes — perhaps her prettiest feature — like opal stars that sparkle with a blue luminescence, so beautiful that they almost seem fake. Usually beautiful things tend to belie something quite the opposite, but I sense no malice within her. Then again, I think everyone and everything wants to tear me apart in this world.

“You seemed a little upset by our discussion before, Seirath. I wanted to make sure there was no tension between us.”

“This place makes me tense. As for that prior conversation, I am in no mood for listening to history lessons when I am trying to listen to what is going on out there.”

“Sure it isn’t paranoia? Maybe that smoke doesn’t agree with you.”

I dragged long and hard on the cigaret, holding it between my lips as I reached for the pill bottle in my coat. “Suppose I will have to go for something more potent.”

“Ah, anything good?”

“Nothing that would agree with you. It’s for my headaches.”

“Well I certainly wouldn’t want your performance to be affected. You should let me take a look though, I could whip something up or weave a little spell that would do much better than whatever those are. May I see?”

“No, and no. They help enough, and I am not interested in any whipping or weaving. I don’t care much for thaumaturgy, I have my own methods.”

She brushes my arm gently with her hand, “And how I would love to see them, Seirath.”

Continued in our next issue!