The Plunge

Hey all! Owing to accumulated experience and the arrival of the spring semester, I’m going to start posting at a different frequency than normal. Starting in February, rather than 2 posts a week, I’ll post something once every 5 days. That being said, I hope you enjoy this story!

He wiggled his toes in the sand as he summoned the courage to move forward from where he stood, staring out into the horizon from the edge of the sea. The darkness nipped his bare skin, pulling his hairs as far as it dared as the full moon and the stars reflected their light off the tip of the harpoon that he held in his hand. He breathed deep, the salt of the sea scenting his sinuses, and he shivered slightly from the cold.

He looked out into the water, shining like black glass as it rose and fell on its journey to the shore. It licked the sand, the white riders reaching the tips of the man’s toes before they sounded the retreat, leaving behind a patch of ground almost as dark as the man that stood upon it. The next charge reached his heels.

The moon had nearly reached its apex, and the man knew that it was time. He stepped forward, and water folded over his foot as he pressed against into the sand. He lowered his harpoon, so that he know held it horizontally, and he took the second step. The water lapped at his ankles like dogs excited to see their master. Or perhaps like men scaling a wall – for every step he took, they got further and further up. Soon the water danced around his belly and the waves were powerful enough to force him back.

If the darkness had nipped, the water gripped. It pressed itself against him like a lover, save that it stole warmth rather than gave it. His legs screamed at the seduction, begging to return to the darkness, or better yet, the fire at their home that had gone out an hour ago when the man had risen to come to the beach. But he would not listen to his legs; he would do what he came to do.

Now he stopped. The moon had come to the top of the sky. It was time.

Some distance farther out, the water began to bubble. The man watched with furrowed brow and tensed muscles, waiting for what was coming. The bubbles seemed to deafen out the sea, so that all that the man heard was the slow pop of bubbles as the darkness crushed them in perverse entertainment.

Then there was a rumble and a great splash. The waves spread in all directions, rocking the stunned man were he stood rooted to the sandy floor. A great shape emerged out of the water. It was long and thick, and from its slithering body protruded fins and spikes, all climaxing in the thing’s monstrous head. Water cascaded down the lithe black and silver body. Or, it seemed black and silver – but if it had any more vibrant colors, they were hidden in the dark night.

Kakophis stared at the little man in the water, its great eyes bulging and its mouth agape to intimidate him. It’s teeth glistened in the moonlight, ready to plunge into flesh.

This was a monster that was used to mixed reactions when it appeared. Some were wise enough to flee before its presence; others were foolish enough to stare at its face. It cared little for the former and laughed at the latter, for it devoured the flesh of heroes with joy. It laughed now, a shrill roar that the man interpreted as a challenge and a threat.

“Kakophis,” said the man, raising his harpoon. “For many months, you have terrorized us and slain the best among us. In vain did my father seek to appease you, and you drank his blood. Those that came after sought you ought, and you slew them all one by one. But know, O great serpent, that I have found you, and I have found the way to destroy you. Look upon this shaft, monster, carved from the tree you despise, and shudder. See this blade, destroyer of lives, forged from pearl and iron, and know fear.”

The beast roared again, but this time it was in anger and in challenge. It wavered, for it knew these words that this little man spoke to be true. But it would not back down, for it’s pride would not allow it.

“Now die!” shouted the man, hurling the harpoon. It sailed through the air, whistling with the darkness as it rode the wind straight on to its target. Kakophis opened its jaws wide, receiving it like a friend before one departs forever. The serpent embraced the weapon and carried it beneath the waves, which sprang up around them in joy, before closing down with all the silence and finality of a tomb.

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The Book Man

This was an idea I got while in editing class, helping out another student figure out what to do with one character, who was stated to have been homeless at one point, but also rather literary. So I suggested the idea of the homeless librarian, who I am now using with my own fantasy coloration. Hope you enjoy!

They called him the Book Man. No one really knew where he came from or who he was – they just knew that he’d show up at random, that big bag of books on his back. They also knew he was the foremost merchant of manuscripts, for he picked up books and dropped off others everywhere he went. A book that was written in the far north would find its way to the deep south with him, or it might travel from the ends of the east to the wide west.

Personally, Gregor Ritter, the young Lord of Gebiet, had no interest in books. Sure, other, weaker, men might like to stay cooped up and read for hours on end, but Gregor was a man of action. He preferred to do practical things, like run his land and train his body for battle. The pen was for men too weak to carry a sword.

That said, Gregor was very surprised when the Book Man appeared at his door late one evening. Gregor was practicing his swordplay in a small courtyard when a servant came to him, announcing that there was a man at the door desiring a place to stay for the night.

“Lead the way,” said Gregor, putting down his weapon and following the servant out.

There, standing in the middle of the atrium was an old man carrying a tall bag on his back with books attached in a myriad of ways. The man was short, and the way he bent low with age didn’t help his stature. However, his grey beard fell almost down to his waist, and his legs appeared thick and strong. He leaned on a staff with both hands and looked up at Gregor as the young lord entered the room.

“Who are you?” Gregor asked. “What is your purpose?”

“I am he who is called the Book Man,” replied the traveler in a surprisingly strong voice. “I was just passing by and, knowing the time, decided to come here in hopes of spending the night.”

Gregor considered the man for a moment. “Very well. You may stay for the night.”

“That’s generous of you.” The Book Man smiled. “Now, I hope you haven’t eaten yet. I haven’t had a meal since this morning, and I’m starving.”

As a matter of fact, Gregor had not yet had supper. So he sent away a servant present to rouse the kitchens and another to bring the traveler’s backpack to one of the guest rooms. He then led the Book Man to the dining room, where they sat down at opposite ends of the long table.

Gregor was used to eating alone. It was most unusual for him to have guests during any meal, even supper. On most occasions when he ate with others, he was the guest at another lord’s home. He had certainly never had a guest of such low standing before, though.

“I take it that you are Lord Gregor Ritter,” said the Book Man, trying to make conversation.

“Yes,” Gregor replied, a bit surprised that the traveler knew his name. “How could you tell?”

“Your coat of arms, and the fact that this yours is the only castle in Gebiet. I’ve read a lot about your country.”

“I presume so. You are, after all, the Book Man.”

“Yes. Now, there wouldn’t happen to be any books you would be interested in, are there? I just picked up an excellent volume of Denken’s Philosophien.”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m not interested in books. I have no time for them.”

“No time? Then whatever do you do with your life?”

“I practice and do actual, practical, physical things. I don’t see what you get out of those books.”

“Well, I don’t see what you get out of your ‘practical’ activities. What do you do, practice fighting? For what? That doesn’t seem very practical if you ask me.”

“Ah, but when a war happens, I’ll be ready to fight in it, and win.”

“It takes more than fighting skills to win. The biggest difference between a great general and a poor one isn’t their skill in combat, but how well read they are. You know, I think I may have a book on military strategy with me…”

Gregor did not reply. Instead, he ran all the famous generals he knew of through his head, and the amount of education each of them had, or probably had. He wasn’t so sure that the Book Man’s statement about them was right – far too many seemed to possess a natural talent. However, a good education never hurt any of them. He caught himself wondering just what was in this book on strategy that the Book Man had with him.

The cooks arrived with supper. Gregor and the Book Man ate in silence. Gregor watched his guest as they munched. The traveler had very refined manners. Had he not known this was the Book Man, Gregor would have expected his guest to snarf down everything on the plate without even noticing the utensils to the side. But the Book Man had his napkin arranged correctly and even toasted his host.

“That you may increase in strength and wisdom all the days of your long life.”

After supper a servant escorted the guest to his chambers for the night. Gregor also retired to his chambers. There, he lay down in bed, contemplating everything that the Book Man had said to him. He was a little angry with the man for contradicting him and his arguments, but he knew he would get over that rather soon. He’d just whack a few dummies and he would be fine.

It occurred to him that the reason that he didn’t read books wasn’t so much that he thought that they were boring, but because his father had never placed any value in them either. He had been raised to prefer the pike to the pen.

The Book Man left early the next morning. The servants made sure he had breakfast, and woke Gregor just in time to send the guest off. The young lord stood in the atrium, bleary-eyed, and waved off the traveler.

“Many thanks for showing me such hospitality,” said the Book Man.

“It was nothing,” replied Gregor. “I just hope you get wherever you’re going safely.”

“Yes. Farewell! Perhaps we shall meet again.”

And then he left. Gregor watched him walk down the road and into the distance. At length, though, he realized one of his servants stood beside him, holding something in his hand. It was a book.

“What’s this?”

“The traveler told me to give this to you,” said the servant. “It’s a book on military strategy.”

“I see.” Gregor took the book, running his hand over its cover. The servant left atrium. When he had gone, Gregor quickly checked to see if anyone was still present. Seeing no one, he opened the book.

Interesting.

Promise of Hope

This is the twelfth of the world-building series I’ve been writing. I hope they have been entertaining, and that no one’s too terribly lost in all the names and places and chronology. I hope you enjoy this addition!

“When will it be finished?” Thanis asked.

“All in good time,” replied Adenso, turning the crank of a complex machine slowly in his hand. “Please, return to your master – I shall have it done by the time you need it.”

Thanis sighed for the dozenth time since he arrived at the smith’s workshop. Adenso was insufferable. Was he not aware that there was a war going on? That Kasmer was losing and was desperately in need of a weapon to turn the tides?

But he did as he was told. He walked out of the workshop, not a little in a huff and rather impatiently. King Iminder would not be pleased. He was even more impatient than Thanis, and the war was costing him his sanity as he worried daily over the state of his kingdom and his people.

Thanis mounted his waiting horse, spurring it on so that it galloped forward, carrying him southwest to his homeland, Kasmer. During the whole three days that it took to reach the capital, Laviri, he pressed his horse as fast as it could go. By the time he would return, he would be gone a week, and too much could change in the war in that amount of time.

Even as he made his way back along familiar roads and paths, the sufferings of war lay bare for him to see: bodies cast away on the sides of roads; villages burned to the ground; weapons and rubble littering the ground. Interpreting these as signs that the armies of Evorion had already passed through, and he sought alternate routes to Laviri, routes that made his journey even longer than he had planned.

At last, though, he arrived at the capital, weary and despairing from Adenso’s news and the horrors of war he had seen on the way back. The shadow of Evorion drew closer every day, and it seemed as if the soldiers of Kasmer fell before the enemy like wheat under the sickle. The capital was full of refugees and poor folk who testified to the awful state of Kasmer. They lined the streets in their rags, all the way from the gates to the doors of the palace.

As he dismounted, an old friend of his, a lady-in-waiting named Adrina, rushed over to him, her blue eyes looking expectantly into his own and worry plastered on her face.

“He won’t help,” he said, answering her silent question.

“What? But Adenso’s never gone back on a task he said he would do!” Adrina replied.

“No – he’s going to make it. But he’ll never get it here in time. I was worried when he said that he couldn’t deliver it with me, but the whole thing seems hopeless now that I’ve seen how far Evorion has advanced since I left.”

“Surely it can’t be hopeless. Adenso’s always been … mysterious about stuff like this. Even if you don’t get it, I’m sure the king will.”

But when Thanis approached the king and told him the news, the king didn’t hold with Adrina’s optimism at all.

“I see we must do without hope,” he said. “Or any chance of memory.”

Despite the hopelessness of the situation, most of the soldiers and the palace were far from despairing. The peasants reacted much differently to the news, but King Iminder quickly sent them on their way, away west where perhaps they could escape the claws of Evorion for a little longer. Adrina left with them, though it took a lot of convincing from Thanis, since she still clung to the hope that Adenso might send his creation in time.

“If you’re so worried about the city falling, why don’t you come with us?” she asked him as they stood to the side of the train of people leaving the city.

“Because we have to try to stop them. Otherwise there’ll be nowhere for you to go.”

She sighed. “Well, don’t be stupid. I want to see you again, alive.”

“We’ll see.”

They embraced, and then she left, leaving Thanis and the rest of the city in dark hopelessness, with only the coming black tide to look forward to.

It arrived in two days after the evacuation. One day, the plains before the city were green and empty; the next, the black ant-like shapes of the soldiers of Evorion covered the plains from horizon to horizon. The King attempted a sortie, but it failed miserably, and few of the horsemen who sallied forth returned inside the great gate.

As the last of the cavalry came within, a horseman of the enemy trotted forward. It was a captain, some lieutenant of Evorion, who spoke in a cold, ruthless voice to those on the walls.

“Surrender! Do not be fools and throw away your lives, which no one shall remember or honor. Choose life! My master is merciful, and his rule is gentle. Is it not better than a desperate death, overpaid and soon forgotten?”

“Never!” Thanis shouted from the battlements, to the cheers of the soldiers assembled there, looking down on their enemy before their gates.

And then began the siege of Laviri. The enemy had come prepared for such measures, and unleashed all their machines, from complex battering rams to catapults that hurled flaming stones into the city, destroying the lower sections with ease. The men of Kasmer fought desperately, but there was little to do against the swarms of enemies at their gates. Every man they struck down was replaced by two more; and they couldn’t touch the machines doing the most damage.

It only took Evorion a day to break down the gate and flood into the streets. Here they swept away all resistance, pushing back the soldiers of Kasmer all the way to the citadel, leaving their bodies strewn across the streets as blood flowed over the cobblestone.

Thanis sat in the atrium of the palace, awaiting death. Around him, soldiers either watched the gate or braced it, all jumping at every thud that signaled the impact of the battering ram outside. There were still some archers at the higher levels, firing down into the mass of men in the city, but there was nothing to be done.

But then Thanis heard something strange. Outside, what had once been cheering and battle cries suddenly turned to screams and yells of pain and fear. Thanis stood up and ran to the nearest window, his heart leaping in his chest.

There, high above the city, was a great spherical object – a balloon. Every few seconds, a light would drop from the balloon to the ground, where it would explode. The soldiers of Evorion couldn’t touch it, and now they milled about in panic, unable to cope with the new threat.

It wasn’t long before they found the best course of action: not to fight it at all, and flee. It had taken them several hours to climb up to the citadel, but only a few minutes to go back.

When they were out of sight, the soldiers opened the battered and bruised doors, looking up as the great balloon, now clearly holding a large basket beneath it, descended from on high. As it approached the ground, Thanis saw that the driver was not Adenso, as he had assumed, but the young apprentice Thesule. The King now came onto the street, looking in confusion from Thesule to Thanis.

“I thought you said we wouldn’t get his help,” the King said to Thanis.

“I thought we wouldn’t,” Thanis replied. “I didn’t know you could get here so quickly.”

“My master said it would be done by the time you needed it,” said Thesule. “And I suppose you needed it now. But Adenso is the creator of a whole host of amazing things. Why did you ever doubt him?”

Thanis shrugged, unable to conjure a single good reason from hindsight. And as he considered it more, he could only laugh at himself, and laugh for joy. He was alive, and so was hope.

Sneaking Out

This is a shorter piece than most I’m used to writing, about something I’m sure a lot of people can relate to (that is, sneaking around home at unseemly hours). Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

The son rose with the moon, using the dark night to protect him from the watchful eye of his mother who, knowing it was Friday, was likely awake, keeping watch over her domain for any attempt of escape.

Robby touched the handle of the door, treating it with all the delicacy of a bank combination to which he does not know the numbers. He turned the handle, bit by bit, until he felt all the tension and the slack. He pulled open the door, inch by inch, the light of the moon walking inside and resting on Robby, just like when a parrot shows up while it’s pirate owner is trying to intimidate information from a prisoner.

The spring of the door handle slowly loosed in his grip, lest it betray his presence. Then he crept out, only his toes touching the carpet so that he looked like one of those cartoon spies sneaking around the villain’s home. Only here, there was no slow-paced thriller music, but rather the sound of the ventilation. And Robby’s mind tuned that out as his ears focused on every insignificant noise that might be detected around him.

His hand reached back and took the door handle, turning it with the same straining sloth as he had used twice before. He steadied the frame with his free hand, and it soon touched back on its home ground, and it only took one last painful release of the handle to close the door more silently than the chase between a cat and a mouse.

He returned to his spy impersonation, creeping along the hallway until he came to the top of the stairs. Now came the hardest part of his journey. He stepped as though the floor were lava, and the only way to avoid it was to find the small stones that had inexplicably not melted in the deadly flow and were conveniently placed for the hero to cross. Unfortunately, Robby wasn’t just crossing the lava river – he was going downstream, and then crossing. The stairs creaked even more than the floorboards.

After what seemed nearly an hour and he was at last at the bottom of the stairs, Robby knew he could relax a little. His parents were in their room down the hall from his own, and he doubted they would really hear him on the first floor – though of course it would help to be cautious.

He crept to the coat closet, where he retrieved his shoes and jacket, before coming at last to the door. His hand reached forward, like Adam reaching for the finger of God. But it was not meant to be. For as his skin touched the cold handle, there was a soft click, and a light in the living room burst and bloomed to flood the room with light. Robby looked at the source of light. There, in a chair beside the table that held the lamp that lit the room, was his mother.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked, taking advantage of his surprise.

“Out.”

“Out where?”

“Just a party with some friends.”

“Will Tommy be there?”

Robby grimaced. Yes, Tommy would be there, with all sorts of things Robby’s mother disapproved of.

“I see,” his mother continued. “Well, you know what I think of him and the company he attracts. You ought to get some sleep anyway.”

He sighed dramatically. “Fine! But – how did you catch me?”

His mother stared at him perplexedly. “Well, with all the racket you were making coming down here, I wonder why you even thought you could get out and avoid me. You made about as much noise as a starving bear crashing through the woods for food – probably more. Go to bed.”

The Substitute, Park 2

Happy New Year’s! As said in the title, this is the second part of a story, the first part of which can be found here. I hope you enjoy this!

The company headed out early the next morning, hurrying on to the beleaguered town subjected to the rage of the dragon. Bravis rode reluctantly in the front, next to Lord Karkomin. Behind them was a small group of brave soldiers and volunteers from among the noblemen.

Bravis had never felt dread, or fear like this before. He had been nervous, frightened that someone might see through his disguise, but he had never felt a threat on his life, much less gone toward the source of that danger. Shouldn’t they flee the dragon, rather than confront it?

But he had resigned himself to his fate. He was going to fight this dragon, even if it killed him, though still wasn’t sure why he had decided that. Some stupid excuse about honor. He didn’t even have honor, so why did he care? Perhaps because this might be his one chance to gain some.

The road took them up and down and around hills as they went southeast, and the mountains grew larger and darker in the east as they went. They made Bravis uncomfortable, since the dragon probably resided somewhere in their depths.

After several hours of riding, they came to the crest of a hill, a place where they could see the surrounding countryside for miles – at least, save for the obscured backs of the hills. But on one of the hills was a city, and smoke rose from it. There, wheeling through the black ash, was the dragon. It was a long, red, snakelike, specimen that made Bravis want nothing more than to turn around then and there. But he didn’t.

“There he is!” exclaimed Karkomin at the sight. “Come, let’s finish him, and prevent him from further damage to the kingdom!”

They quickened their pace, hurrying on in worry toward the ruined city. Along the way, dozens of refugees ran past them, seeking respite and sanctuary from the menace that had left them homeless. Bravis steeled himself, trying not to let the fear in these refugees infect him as well. It wasn’t working.

The last to flee down the road was an entourage of soldiers and guards, who stopped before their lord, breathless and worried.

“He just showed up an hour ago and began destroying the countryside around us,” said what appeared to the be chief guard. “He only moved inside just as the refugees began leaving. We tried fighting him, but we couldn’t hit him – he’s too fast in the air, and his armor is too strong.”

“I understand,” replied Karkomin. “Thank you, captain. Attend to your charges.”

The guards left, and then there was nothing between Bravis and the dragon. They rode on in tense silence, the air still and heavy, save for the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves on the road, the low roar of the burning town, and the occasional roars of the great dragon. But these were just background, and Bravis was deaf to them all as he approached his doom.

For better or for worse, the dragon got to them first. He swooped low over the road, blasting fire from his gaping jaws at the company, causing them to scatter in all directions. Bravis quickly turned back, though, in time to see the dragon wheeling back around for another run. Karkomin raised his hand, and there was a flash as lightning lanced across the sky toward the dragon. But it missed.

Along the road there were already wounded and burnt members among their number, and yet the dragon had only made one pass. At this rate it was going to be able to just fly back and forth, untouchable.

“Lord Karkomin,” said Bravis. “I see that you’re a sorcerer. Is there any way you could get this dragon out of the sky?”

“I don’t think so,” replied Karkomin. “We should head into the city – the ash should provide some cover.”

“Right.”

Bravis spurred his horse, and he and the rest of the company hurried into the town, vanishing in the black smoke and ash rising from the burning buildings. He heard a roar as the dragon passed overhead, foiled for the moment. Karkomin summoned yet another bolt of lightning, but this one did little more than illuminate the rising cloud and show more clearly the silhouette of the dragon.

The company stopped by a ruined building not far from the wrecked gate, all the beams and wood turned to black charcoal already and the floors coated in ash. They drew swords, looking out into the surrounding darkness as they waited for the dragon to reappear. Soon enough, they heard the stomp of great feet, and they knew that he was searching for them. Bravis lamented his decision to help again, but he had passed the point of no return a long time ago.

And then there was nothing. The sounds stopped, and the company looked around in confusion as to why the dragon had stopped moving. But then there was a roar, and the dragon suddenly pounced on them. Flames flew down, consuming some of the soldiers, before the reptilian head turned its attentions to Karkomin, swiftly crushing him between its claws and the ground. Immediately Bravis raised his sword and pointed it at the beast, bravely staring into its great eye.

“Welcome, Torun Bravis,” said a voice suddenly, echoing around him.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?” he replied, trying to look around for the source. But now he found he couldn’t move, and his eyes were fixed in one direction: at the dragon’s eye.

“I am your current foe, perhaps. I can see into your soul.” It was certainly the dragon. But what did it do to him? “Such a poor specimen. So much garbage in here.”

“I’m not garbage. Release me!”

“No! And I was referring to the garbage that made you come here. Why? You know you’re not needed. You should have left – you can still leave. And no one will think any less of you for running from a dragon. After all, I am about to kill the great sorcerer Karkomin. You’ll be much happier staying out of such dangerous affairs like this one. Go home, Bravis.”

The war that had been raging inside of him ever since dinner the night before suddenly boiled up once again, fresh and new. It seemed his cowardice had found new steam, but he was at a loss to see where it had come from. The dragon’s argument was very persuasive, yes, but he had heard those arguments a thousand times in the last twelve hours and more and had rejected them. That was why he was here.

“Bravis! What are you doing? Kill it!” A voice suddenly broke through his thought, sounding much like Karkomin. He blinked, and looked away. His sword had drooped since when he had held it out against the dragon, which now roared in anger and the foiling of its tactical gambit. Bravis took quick advantage of its brief outburst, and thrust his blade into its eye.

The dragon roared again, tearing the sword out of Bravis’s grip as it thrashed around in agony. It smashed its head, its body, against buildings and the ground as it attempted to cope with the pain. It wasn’t going to work. And after several moments of this, the beast at least rested its head, dead.

The remaining company began crawling out of the rubble, looking at the last damage the beast had ever caused. Karkomin crawled out from under the dragon’s claws and stood, embracing the shocked dragon slayer.

“Thank you,” Karkomin said. “You’ve proven yourself an admirable warrior. Regium would be proud.”

“I should thank you,” replied Bravis. “You gave me the opportunity make him so.”

“It was nothing. Would you like the opportunity to see what a real celebration looks like, rather than a polite dinner?”

Bravis nodded. “Though, I think I’ll brag less and listen more. I must search for something to do with my life.”

“A wise decision,” said Karkomin, smiling. “Come.”