“We have been paraded around like fools,” Edgar said to their captor, “following trail after trail until they have grown cold. This monster has gotten the best of us a dozen times, and it has made our reputations suffer. It is no longer about securing a reward for us.” Edgar’s eyes flashed with anger and he clenched his fist. “It is personal.”
Their captor paced the ground in front of them, head lowered in deep thought. The conflict within him was visible in every movement. Ava held her breath, hoping against hope that this plan would work. A sigh of relief escaped her lips when he motioned to his men to release them. She rubbed her wrists to ease the pain as the manacles came loose, the steel clattering on the cobbled road beneath them. Somehow Edgar’s crazy plan had worked, and now it was time to implement phase two.
“Tell me,” the leader of the Thieves’ Guild said, “where did the last trail run?” Every sword was pointed at Edgar as he reached slowly into his cloak. He held up his other hand, trying to get them to back off, and then pulled out a map. He walked over to a table, unfolding the thick parchment. Ava watched as the men studied the trails and marks on the map that showed every dead end they had followed in Talesin. She didn’t need to look at the map, she knew every twist and turn on there by heart, but the guild leader seemed most intrigued by the marks made. Finally he motioned for his men to come over to him, issuing orders in a low voice. Each one bowed after being addressed before leaving the area. Finally Edgar and Ava were alone with the man.
“You two should split up,” he said, “and try to retrace these two trails here. Being the most recent, you might pick up on something you missed.”
“Sage advice,” Edgar said as he nodded. “What do you think, Ava?”
She glanced at the map, her thoughts elsewhere. It was time for phase two of Edgar’s plan, and she hoped that this part would go smoother than the first.
* * * * *
This is another installment in the Monster Hunter series. Check out the previous post, The Master Plan.
Victory was nigh. The army amassed outside the walls of Glorian had suffered countless casualties and were no closer to breaching the stronghold than they were a fortnight ago. The loss of morale among the troops outside the walls was causing them to break out into skirmishes among their own ranks. The chaos out there delighted First Commander Ryko. Surely this lopsided victory would bring about a promotion.
He slapped the shoulder of an archer as he passed along the ramparts, the taste of success stamping a smirk on his face that erased years from his face. He made small talk with his men, noting many of them looking bleary-eyed from the long night. He was certain that his own hazel eyes mirrored that exhaustion. He had been running almost nonstop for two weeks, as the growth of his new peppered beard showed. They would soon be rewarded with an afternoon off-duty. The surrender would be coming soon.
Or a retreat. Either way, this battle was done.
A commotion across the wall caught his attention. Some of his own men looked unsettled, quarreling with a shadowed figure. Ryko let out a sigh and started toward the scene, determined to break the argument before his foes caught wind of the conflict. The lack of cohesion might inspire them to renew their own fractured assault.
As he drew near, Ryko was able to distinguish the shadowy figure cloaked in gray. He cursed under his breath. Why was that damned wizard always showing up and stirring up trouble at the most inopportune times? And why didn’t he wave his wand over the wall and turn their opponents into charred ash, or something wizardly like that? All he ever did was run his mouth and cause problems for Ryko and his master.
“Commander Ryko,” the wizard said, taking a step back while bowing his head slightly. The men arguing with him spun around, their faces reddening at being caught unaware by their commander.
“Wizard Hollinder,” Ryko uttered, “what form of mischief brings you to Glorian?” His men smirked at the icy accusation.
“No mischief at all,” the wizard replied with another deferential bow of his head, his white beard reaching down below his knees, “I was merely instructing your men that the battle is far from over.”
Ryko’s jaw dropped for a moment at those words, but he quickly recovered his composure. “It would appear, Wizard Hollinder, that you are as unskilled in the strategies of war as you appear to be in the business of being a wizard. Their armies fight amongst themselves, a large portion of their force has fallen, and they are no closer to breaching our walls than they were in the beginning. Only a great fool would continue to wage a pointless campaign, and that fool would quickly lose his entire army to casualties and desertion.”
“If that were the only information I was basing my decision on, commander, then I would heartily agree with you. You fail to consider alternative ways in which these walls may be breached, and my unskilled wizardly arts have divined the method of their next attempt.”
“And what exactly have you learned?”
“He claims they are going to attack the west wall at sunset,” one of the soldiers blurted out.
“That is the thickest wall along the perimeter!” Ryko exclaimed, shaking his head. “There is no way that your boasts of clairvoyance are accurate. No bomb can penetrate that stone.”
“You underestimate your enemy,” the wizard said. “A mistake that even a novice would avoid.”
Ryko spun on his heels and marched away from the wizard, hatred bubbling through his veins. In a few hours they would all see who was right when the army surrendered. This war was over, even if a crazy old wizard thought otherwise.
The thundering of drums echoed in the air when the sun began to set a few hours later. A puzzled frown creased Ryko’s face as he peered out at the rallying army below. The men rushed toward the front gate, armed with siege equipment and an array of weaponry. Ryko signaled for his archers to take aim, his skilled eye watching for the proper moment to unleash a torrent of arrows upon the masses below. The gap closes quickly and he gives the signal, smiling at the familiar twang of a thousand bows loosing their arrow in unison. The cries of a hundred wounded men fills the air and the smell of fresh blood reaches his nostrils. To Ryko, it was the smell of success.
During the third volley a cry of alarm was raised along the western wall. Ryko’s face creased with a frown as he dashed along the wall, crouching low to avoid the stray arrow fired over the wall. The wizard was waiting for him at the post, a smug smile on his face. He waved his gnarled stick toward something distant along the horizon. Ryko turned toward it, squinting as he tried to make out the moving object as it moved up a hill.
The sunset struck so brilliantly into the traveling carriage when it gained the hilltop, that its occupant was steeped in crimson. Ryko cursed when he recognized the contents of the carriage, all color draining from his face. He shouted commands to his men, directing everyone to take aim for the carriage.
The sunlight reflected off the carriage again, displaying a dozen barrels of explosive black powder for everyone to see. Ryko grabbed a bow himself, taking aim with his men as they launched a volley of arrows.
To be continued…
* * * * *
I used to love the choose your own adventure stories when I was growing up. It made me feel like I was part of the outcome, even though it was all scripted beforehand. So today I thought I would let my readers have that same power. The story will have one of two things happen at this point:
Option#1 – The archers manage to hit the barrels of powder with flaming arrows, causing it to explode far from the walls.
Option#2 – The archers are unsuccessful in their attempt to prevent the explosion, causing severe damage to the west wall of the stronghold.
It is up to you, readers, to determine which outcome will play out when the story continues. Leave a comment below stating which option you would like to see. Either way, expect to see some more action playing out in the second half of this story!
This comes from the weekly Master Class writing prompt. For this week I chose a line out of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and we were free to use it anywhere in the post. I hope you enjoyed it, and be sure to check out some of the other excellent writing that is turned in this week!
This has to be his craziest plan ever, Ava thought to herself as she stumbled through the darkness. She was mad at him for convincing her to go along with it. She was mad at herself for not prying the details out of him before they headed into the heart of the Den. She cursed under her breath at a stone that sat a little too high, causing her to stub a toe. Edgar’s elbow jammed into her ribs, reminding her to keep quiet. It was essential to the plan.
She had no idea how long they have been navigating through the alleys and unlit streets of Talesin, but the dull ache creeping up her legs told her that it has been hours. Instead of napping, like Edgar did, she chose to sharpen her blades. That was clearly a mistake. Had she known what Edgar had in mind, she would have slept. Or taken a horse and left the town in her dust while he napped. She sighed, hoping that this plan goes better than she expects.
But it won’t. How could it?
She heard voices up ahead, the first she had heard in a while. The voices grew closer with every step and she braced herself for an encounter. She had no way of being sure who they were approaching, but she hoped Edgar’s information and assumptions were correct.
She didn’t even want to consider the possibility if he was wrong.
The voices stopped and she felt a calloused hand push her to the ground. She heard Edgar join her moments later, then felt his hand’s gentle touch of reassurance. She frowned, wishing she could find comfort in his presence. Instead, she envisioned the slow methods of torture she would use later if he was wrong. It had been a while since she heard the exquisite screams of a man under pain and duress, and Edgar had certainly done enough things in the past to merit an hour or two of numbing pain.
The hood was pulled from her face. She tried to lift her arm to shield her eyes, but the chains around them restricted the movement. She blinked rapidly, staring at a puddle of fresh blood beneath her. Was it hers? She didn’t think so.
The man behind her grabbed a fistful of her fiery hair, yanking so that she faced the man in front of them. He was seated on a throne of gold and jewels, his beady eyes shining with greed and excitement. He licked his lips tenderly as he gazed upon the prisoners before him. He rose from his chair, brushing the dust from his green and brown tunic before drawing a crooked knife from his belt.
Edgar didn’t deserve torture. He deserved much worse for this so-called plan of his. And, if she lived long enough to see it, she would watch him suffer for it. She tried to remember why she went along with his plan to turn themselves over to the power and mercy of the leader of the Thieves’ Guild. A sane reason eluded her memory.
“So my men tell me,” the man said with a broad smile, “that you want my help. And that you offer me one hundred percent of the reward, should it be successful.” He eyed them as he paused, his face showing the internal conflict between conflict and greed. “Tell me, why should you offer so much? Why should I trust you to keep to your word?”
Edgar opened his mouth to answer, but the man held up a hand to silence him.
“Choose your answer wisely,” the man said. “These words might be your last”
* * * * *
This is another installment in the Monster Hunter series. Check out the last one here.
The night air was brisk, cutting through the cloak draped over his frail figure. A fire burned down in the center of the camp, the flames flickering into the air as it consumed the dry logs, but its warmth seemed to do nothing to combat the chill in his bones. His companions slept around him, rolled snug in a ring around the campfire. Their snores echoed softly into the dreadful night, overridden by the hoots and shrieks of the wildlife around them. He jumped at every new sound, a small dirk trembling in his pale fingers.
He shouldn’t be like this. After all, he was the son of a knight and his grandfather was a knight. He was pretty sure the knighthood could be traced back across dozens of generations. Warrior blood ran strong through his family’s veins, but somehow it decided to skip a generation the night Tyriel was born. It resumed three years later when his sister, Rhys, was brought into the world. Everyone knew that she should be the one out here leading this expedition, but his father would hear none of it. He said it was time that Tyriel stepped up and earned his keep as the future heir to the tower.
The men with him all thought he was craven, and Tyriel wished that he could prove them wrong just once. But it was hard to be courageous and bold when every sound in the forest made him panic. He feared an ambush at every turn, saw rabid eyes in every beast, and felt cold steel swinging down every night when he slept. And now, after three weeks, they finally forced him to take a watch during the night. They gave him the first watch, reassuring him that if there were to be an attack it would come during second or third watch instead. Tyriel didn’t believe them.
It was dreadful out here, under the open skies and among the wilderness. Even though the open land stretched far beyond his sight in each direction, he felt more confined here than he had been at home. Things had been much better when he had been hidden, snug within the safe walls of the tower, buried beneath stacks of tomes in the library. Nothing bothered him up there, apart from the thick layers of dust, because no one else held any interest in the ancient books and scrolls. But Tyriel felt that the information contained in them was far more important than knowing how to swing a sword or shoot a bow and hit a target on horseback. Knowledge was a superior weapon, and he would prove it if he could ever get his nerves under control.
A log in the fire popped, making Tyriel jump to his feet. His dirk fell from his hands, the clattering of steel on stone startling him further. An owl hooted in the darkness and Tyriel spun toward the sound. His eyes hunted the depths of the blackness before him, willing the haunts of the night to reveal themselves to him. When nothing emerged from the depths he squatted down, retrieving his dirk. He felt, for the first time in his life, an odd comfort in having a weapon in his hand. He eased back to his perch, peering into the perilous night with a new sense of calm under his command.
The night crept by in silence as Tyriel struggled to remain awake. His watch was nearly over, judging by the flames of the campfire. It had been an easy watch, like they had said it would be, once he had his nerves in check. He was a far cry from becoming a knight, but at least it could be said he was no craven fool anymore. He felt control, a new sensation, and he relished it. He welcomed what the night had in store for him now, thinking there was no sight nor sound that could rattle his resolve.
He could hear the wind’s menacing howl before he felt its icy tendrils caressing his body. The dwindling flames in the campfire struggled to cling to life as the wind relentlessly assaulted their camp. Thick clouds blanketed the moon and stars above as the final embers were snuffed out, leaving Tyriel shrouded in darkness. His newfound confidence drained as the night sounds emerged in a terrifying crescendo. Bushes rustled, twigs snapped, and noises echoes from every direction. He spun toward each sound, holding his dirk with white knuckles, his tongue mute in spite of attempts to sound an alarm. He stumbled toward his companions, hoping to rouse them before the evil closed in upon them. He sensed it drawing closer with each ragged breath, his throat tightening as the seconds passed.
The toe of his boot caught the edge of a rock, bringing him crashing forward. As the ground raced to meet his face, a sense of dread overwhelmed him. He had failed as the first watch, just like everyone expected.
The chirping of birds greeted Tyriel as he regained consciousness. He shielded his eyes from the glare of the morning sun in the horizon. A numb pain flared when he ran his hand across his scalp and he noticed a smear of dried blood on the rock where he fell. But he was alive.
A new joy flowed through him as he felt the joy of success. He had not failed, after all, and led them all into the hands of death. He was still alive, and relatively unharmed. Perhaps he might even volunteer for a watch tonight. He took off toward the creek to wash his wound and ease his thirst, but along the way he got a nagging sense that he overlooked something. He shrugged it off to lingering nerves and drank deep from the flowing water, feeling relief as the cold liquid hit his dry throat.
And he realized what was bothering him. He ran back to the camp, weaving around fallen logs and hurdling rocks. He arrived and doubled over, gasping to regain his breath while his eyes confirmed what his mind had feared: everyone was gone.
But their stuff was still here, and the horses still tethered, as though they collectively woke up and wandered off into the forest without him. But he knew better than that. They were lost to the dark creatures during his watch. How was he ever going to explain this to his father?
This post is my entry into this week’s Master Class session, run by one of the infamous Fab Four members. We were challenged to use the line “Things had been much better when he had been hidden.” from Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Not only that, but it had to be in a “fourth” position, and mine so happens to fall on the 20th sentence of this post. Be sure to head on over to SAM’s blog and check out the other entries this week!
I gave kgwaite this prompt: The rain assaulted her skin with heavy droplets as she crouched in the cover of darkness.
Here is the conclusion to Ava’s poetic adventure. Hopefully you enjoy this. In other news, I have been accepted into a Master of Arts in English program for the fall, so my journey in Higher Education will continue for a few more years! And I also found out that at least one of my pieces is being published in the annual Simpson College magazine. I’ll be picking up a few copies of it next week and it feels great to know that I’m going to have my writing in print a second time. Maybe now I’ll be convinced to actually submit to a few places this summer and see if I can pick up more than rejection letters this year.
She weaves between the swipes of cyclops’ spear,
nimble with grace unfound in men. She stabs
its skin, striking spots exposed, keeping clear
of attempts to counter. He spins to nab
her frail form. She dives onto the drab
grass that has been trampled by goblin feet,
rolling to evade. Orc hands reach to grab
her and a cry is raised from troops to call out
their foe’s craven deceit interfering the bout.
Some shallow scrapes remain behind in the wake
of claws letting her go. They crowd to press
toward her waiting foe, eager to partake
in spectacle of gore. Her eyes assess
the brute for some advantage to possess
that would even the odds, any small flaw
she can exploit. She determines success
belongs to her if she provokes to draw
out his weakness, to strikes his pride until it’s raw.
She breaks from the army behind her, arms
held overhead, taunting her foe. She cries
out, hurling insults and vile names to harm
his vast ego. A sharp crimson hue dyes
his cheeks, his veins snaking up as they rise
to be exposed. Ivory froth appears
around his lips, he stammers and denies
the claims and roars for her to come stand near
and say those lies. She smirks at his response severe.
He spurs into action, rushing toward
her, spear lowered to pierce right through her chest.
His self-restraint is gone, mind in discord
with emotion. She spins away, unstressed
by his assault, moving as though possessed
by dancing warrior spirits. Her blade
strikes flesh time after time, getting the best
of the exchange. She sees pride has betrayed
him here; the realization makes her feel dismayed.
This same weakness she now exploits has been
her own downfall, her flaw she faced the day
before against the raging beast. Her sin
she sees clearly for the first time, the way
it has consumed her soul. With great dismay
she vows to change, to cast aside the pride
that could have caused her fall. Guilt fades away
with her resolve, with the changes inside
her heart she has become cleansed, the weight brushed aside.
She weathers his fierce storm of rage, the two
trading blows with weapons until the sun
begins to set. They drip sweat and blood, hew
armor with blows mighty. With each strike given
both sides react, cheering their champion.
Her sword, once light and nimble in her hands,
feels like a boulder from constant action.
Between gasping breaths she issues commands
provoking the cyclops to give in to demands.
His giant fist slams to the ground, forming
a small crater. His motions are slow so she
swiftly seizes the chance she needs, storming
across the battlefield, striking gutsy
blows while running up his long arm. A sea
of red spatters the ground as she slashes
his neck and stabs his eye. She stops, dives free
from his body as he blindly thrashes
around, desperate flailing as life flees from gashes.
The corpse blackens as breath departs, decay
in death reigns triumphant. Monsters all cry
in low lament, their champion today
has been beaten. They turn and flee to try
to find escape from their defeat. The sky
is dark and men around campfires rejoice
in victory, proclaim her name, and cry
out she is their savior. Within her a choice
arises: bask in pride or deny their voices.
Their jubilee carries until morning,
the men lavish her great gifts and praise
and feast in her honor. She gives warning
that they should keep their gifts, she only stays
to rest from her battle and will part ways
as soon as she is healed. Those words they heed
not, insisting to give reward for days
to come. A part of her calls to concede
to their requests, but she rises above her greed.
She mounts her horse, no rest will she find here,
and so she rides again along the road.
Fatigue threatens to plague her mind, but fear
of going back, giving in to pride, goads
her on toward the next village. The load
she bore upon her soul has now withdrawn,
mastered the past two days, those fights showed
her flaw and the problems that could feed on
her pride. Unbroken now, she rides into the dawn.
Vibrant thrumming of drums echoes across
the plains as the armies gather. No stream
nor tree between the two, and one could toss
a stone and hit the other side. The theme
was clear with both the camps, the men could dream
no way to win the war, and monsters thought
the end was here. They shout and cheer, they teem
with confidence; they taunt and jeer with naught
a care about the way this day of war is fought.
A shrill horn sounds, silence comes in its wake.
The waves of orcs and goblins part to clear
a path for their champion to come and make
his daily call. A cloud of chilling fear
consumes the men before their foe draws near.
Their stance grows tense, ready to bolt like wild
animals at first sign of danger here.
Suspense cuts through the air, tension compiled
in such a way to perfectly drive both sides wild.
A dark figure towers over the lines
of enemy soldiers, covering ground
swiftly with his great strides. Armor entwines
his large body. His melon head is crowned
with plated steel encircling its round
face. One red eye, bigger than a man’s fist,
scans through the crowd of men gathered around.
A more fearsome cyclops does not exist,
wearing white bones of men he has slain on his wrist.
His massive maw opens, a vast bellow
bursts forth, “Is there no man here who is bold
enough to accept my charge, no fellow
who thinks their might meets mine? I hold
no tricks, no deceitful lies have I told,
only seeking a soul who will wager
his life against mine. Come forward, uphold
your glorious kingdom against nature.
Grapple and spar with me, come forth into danger.”
Stepping forward is she, monster huntress by trade,
red curls emblazoned by morning sun rays.
A hushed silence ensues. She draws her blade
and calls back to her foe, “Go! Run away
if you value your head or I shall slay
you where you stand. Your words may strike terror
into the hearts of these men, but today
you face a stronger soul. I am bearer
of truth. Facing me would be a fatal error.”
Laughter erupts from the mouth of the beast,
that hideous cyclops towering high
above her head. He thinks she is the least
of his concerns, brushing aside her cry
to answer his challenge, wanting an ally
of noble line or some warrior man
to heed his call. She stands firm to deny
his jest, rooted in place, knowing she can
defeat this foul monster and ruin his evil plan.
“Does race of man now place their faith within
the feats of a woman? Do you mock me
now with insult, sending mother of kin
to wage your war? Not one will remain free
by end of day if this woman will be
your champion, mark down my words. Your end
will come unless man steps up. I foresee
what your future will hold, now simply send
some strapping youth among you forward to amend.”
No man dares move, no courage stirs, because
of mocking words. But on that plain she cries
again, “I will be the end of your cause,
the one to break your reign. You can chastise
me all you want, but truth will shatter lies.”
With sword she sprints across terrain, toward
her fearsome foe, thinking how to devise
a plan to bring the giant down, to ward
off the attack of the champion of the horde.
This is the first of three parts to the long narrative poem I wrote. The stanza style came from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen, which I would highly recommend to anyone to read. I plan to pick those books back up, hopefully this summer. The next two parts will be posted this week, and then look for something newly written to go live this weekend.
It feels good to be back to blogging, even if I’m not writing anything new (yet) this week.
TAKING DOWN GOLIATH
She rides across the grassy plains, weary
from the trials conquered the day before.
Her cheeks are pale and worn, green eyes bleary
and dull. Her fiery hair is matted with gore
from the fierce fight with a beast, a war
waged between two souls locked in a stalemate.
Silver armor, once bright and strong, is scored
with scars from the monster’s tight grip. The weight
from the encounter dug up dark shadows of hate.
The dual she had has forced her to battle
the depths of her weakness, to face exposed
character flaws. Her mind sought to grapple
with truths revealed, with the hubris imposed
toward enemies. Every instinct opposed
this new revelation, yet denial would not
suppress the thought. This inner conflict posed
a threat, immune to blade, a mental fight
that cannot be conquered by weapons or her might.
Her appearance matches her soul. Her shield,
bearing a large amber cross, is battered
and misshapen, layers of paint peeled
from its surface. Her tunic is tattered
and frayed, fragments are visibly splattered
with blood discolored. Layers of grimy
dust have settled upon her skin, scattered
spots of smeared soot fighting hard to stymie
the attractive features of her anatomy.
Razed fields of wheat surround her on both sides,
dark smoke caught spiraling into the air
from smoldering remains. The haze provides
an obstructed view, providing a rare
chance for riding concealed. She is aware,
yet unfocused, seeing damaged terrain
but not recognizing meaning. Despair
lances through every thought, usurping reign
over her soul as she gallops across the plain.
Two scouts appear amidst the smoke, blocking
the path. They cry out, “Halt,” and draw their blades,
questioning why is she out here stalking
into the heart of a raging crusade
between the King and the monster brigade.
“This war against the monster horde,” said she,
“is why I come. If my skills can bring aid
to you, I will gladly defend country
in the service of your royal King for a fee.”
The two men shared the briefest glance, a look
that spoke volumes, before turning to her
with frowns on their faces. “You are a crook
taking the advantage of plight. A cur
comes forth each day to taunt our troops, to stir
into action one brave man to combat
with it to determine who wins. Now spur
your horse and turn back now. This caveat
is wise: ride far away. Do not stay here to chat.”
She ignores their plea, the signs of tension,
advancing down the road. After riding
for an hour, she spies the battalion
of troops huddled around their tents, biding
their time. She dismounts from her horse, striding
among the soldiers. Their long faces express
absence of hope, the result of hiding
in fear. She finds new strength in their duress,
coming alive to be their hero amidst distress.
Within the heart of this body of men, the king
is found next to an oak table. Gray eyes
are fixed firmly upon a map, searching
for strategy to save them from demise.
His robes are torn, coated with ash, his guise
one of deepest lament. He bites cracked lips,
uttering words of prayer to seek advice
to guide his men safely from their hardship.
The wood of the table indents beneath his grip.
He starts when he sees her, a flash of hope
appears on his face. “Who are you?” he asks,
looking above. She says, “why do you mope
as though this war is lost? Cast off this mask
of hopeless despair and rise to the task,
my lord, and lead your men! Be courageous
and bold!” He sighs and says, “I drown in flask
I shall until some man arrives, gracious
enough to fight my foe. None here are audacious.
“For days I stood, bereft of food and sleep,
poring over these maps, lifting prayers
for miracles to save us all. Each night I weep
for my army, waiting for a slayer
of monsters to appear,” he says. Aware
the king believes she will accept the fight
and will relieve them from their plight, a snare
deep within her snaps shut. The weight of right
has her trapped. No monster will make her flee tonight.